Nice to have a little uptick in subscribers this past week. Welcome, and thanks to Susan MacMillan, whose newsletter Taking Stock is one I enjoy reading.
Last week, I was heaping scorn on the prospect of lab-made milk, arguing that there’s nothing wrong with milk, only with the way almost all dairy cows are treated. So I greeted news of lab-concocted chocolate, via the always excellent Gastronomic History, with enthusiasm. If ever a natural product needed replacing it is chocolate, and I reckon there’s more chance of the dairy industry reforming itself than the cacao industry. One of the good parts of the article I linked to is the explanation of the problems. Even that, though, is marred by lazy dependence on an automated transcript.
Other bits can’t be blamed on the transcription.
Alan Perlstein, CEO of the company working to culture chocolate, explained some of the drawbacks that had held back the large-scale culture of plant cells:
They were usually grown using undesirable synthetic chemicals that are also found in many other herbicides, for instance, one of the most powerful synthetic plant hormones is something called 24D. It sounds pretty innocuous, but it’s one of the main ingredients of Roundup weed killer.
Is that so? I’m pretty sure glyphosate is the main ingredient of Roundup. 24D is dicamba, which is not nice stuff, to be sure, but …
He also says “we can now make full bodied chocolate that reflects all of the global terroir”.
Global terroir? M’kay.
Right now, I personally would not bet on cell-culture chocolate disrupting the global chocolate industry. And unlike dairy, where it really is rather hard to make a fully informed ethical choice, you can buy responsibly-produced chocolate if you try.
If you heard Erika Rappaport on the podcast, explaining How the Brits became a nation of tea drinkers, and even more so if you read her book Thirst for Empire: How Tea Shaped the Modern World, you’ll know that one of the things tea-planters in India did was to encourage local markets throughout the British Empire. In India itself, this posed a bit of a problem. While the British were in charge, “the nationalists argued that it was a product of brutal colonial exploitation; the very ‘blood of the peasants of Assam’ that no conscientious Indian should dare drink”.
Immediately after nationalisation, “tea now became part of the nationalist project of state-building and pan-Indian unity. Advertisements now went against years of nationalist rhetoric and began assuring customers that tea was Swadeshi, an indigenous product.”
Those quotes are from a fun essay – How British Tea Became Indian Chai – by Samarth Singh Chandel in Goya magazine. The latter part of the article, about how tea became chai, fascinated me most.
At its core, chai is a drink that emerged from the prolonged simmering of the colonial encounter in the Indian teapot.
That’s the essence of evolving foodways.
I treat Twitter as a source of ideas, but I don’t generally go looking for trouble, so the whole brouhaha about Congee Karen passed me by. You too? Fear not. Frankie Huang, writing in Grub Street, summarises the story and explains the underlying problem with how it started and, more importantly, how it was reported.
It is not that Asians are offended by white people cooking and selling slow-cooked rice, which is what many articles implied. Even though the idea of cultural theft is the thrust of these stories, the real issue is disrespect: the way this kind of appropriation links Westernization and whitewashing with sophistication and value, while deeming nonwhite cultures to be less refined. It perpetuates the corrosive notion of “exotic” food that must be tamed for American consumption.
And not just American, but that’s not a fight I intend to pick I urge you to read it. With a cup of tea or chai, which ever you prefer at the moment. Or even something else.
OK, this may be a fact that fungus freaks and modern music mavens have known for ages: John Cage had a mania for mushrooms.
Seriously though, who knew? If you did, fine, move along. If you didn’t, prepare to be amazed.
Old European Culture has done another of their nice illustrated threads about some aspect of ancient agriculture. This time they take a look at the Karakachan sheep, “the most primitive, coarse wool sheep in Southern Europe”. I took two important things from the article. First, in the Balkans, to be a black sheep is to be normal. Secondly, if you want to conserve the breed and, especially, the way of life it supported, you also need to conserve the special breeds of sheepdog and horse that the shepherds selected.
And speaking of sheep, just in time for my first trip to the UK since the before times, a rather nice website about a motorway service station that is actually a nice place to visit, and how the enterprise grew over the past 50 years.
Take care, and drive safely.
p.s. Images of Indian tea drinkers from a fine collection that Goya linked to.