My thanks to the people who wrote to tell me that garlic noodles is indeed a dish worth pursuing, and especially to Lenore, a supporter, who pointed me to her favourite online recipe. I have yet to try it, but I will, and I will report back.
First, though, this week’s collection of food-related trifles.
The recent announcement that the US has increased the value of food stamps, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (so, just SNAP, rather than SNAP program, for pedants like me) brought forth praise from (almost) all sides. Even the right-leaning National Review called it “the least bad welfare program”. The USDA reassessed its thrifty food plan, defined as “the cost of groceries needed to provide a healthy, budget-conscious diet for a family of four”, and the increase amounts to about $36 a month for the average recipient.
David Beriss, of the University of New Orleans, uses the SNAP increase to write more generally about Food Justice, the topic of a seminar he will be teaching. In the piece he cites a few recent stories from the US that are central to the topic.
All of these stories, framed by food, point us to the deep injustices of class, gender, and race that are central to the organization of society in the United States. Food ties them all together. Food becomes the total social fact that helps us think through the social and cultural relations in all these instances. That is why it is helpful to think about these as questions of food justice.
Should be an interesting course.
By the way, you may remember me talking to Parke Wilde about his study Using the Thrifty Food Plan to Assess the Cost of a Nutritious Diet in February 2017. It will be interesting to see how the increase affects his conclusions.
It always struck me as odd, in the days when I followed closely the machinations of the International Whaling Commission, that the United States was vehemently opposed to whaling as carried out by countries such as Norway and Japan while at the same time supporting its own Inuit people in their “traditional” whale hunts. Indeed, I often wondered whether the IWC might have been able to enact a complete ban on all whaling were it not for the need of the US to ensure the agreement of other countries for the Inuit quota of bowhead whales. So I was very pleased to come across an article – Eating the Whale – by Wyatt Williams in Harper’s Magazine.
It is an interesting read that sheds light on the town, formerly Barrow, now Utqiaġvik, that remains the centre of Inuit whaling, with a potted history of the white man who made his whaling fortune there and stayed. It brings some of the people and one of their rituals to life, but it didn’t tell me much about whaling; I can’t fault it for that. Worth your time, I reckon.
The Romans introduced many fruits and vegetables previously unknown to the Britons, some of which are still part of the modern nation diet: to name a few, asparagus, turnips, peas, garlic, cabbages, celery, onions, leeks, cucumbers, globe artichokes, figs, medlars, sweet chestnuts, cherries and plums.
Grapes too, and a taste for seafood, plus mint, coriander, rosemary and radish, not to mention livestock of various kinds.
This I learned from a rapid round up of Roman Food in Britain on the Historic UK website.
Starting on Wednesday 25 August, should you happen to be in the vicinity of Bergamo in northern Italy, you can indulge in four days of Cibo & Cinema Festival, aka FoodFilmFest. You might think I would be all over that, but the truth is that I didn’t find out about it until yesterday, Sunday. I did look at the programme, though, and there are lots of films I would like to see. Is there a streaming version? Well, if there is, they make it very hard to find. There is a QR code that gives access to streaming in the event of bad weather. I will try that, even if the weather is good, but I’m not hopeful. How about allowing me to pay a small amount for streaming access to all the films for a couple of months?
It has long been the case that when I have done a podcast on some topic, I am hypersensitive to other news on that topic. This week is no exception.
First, there’s a long piece in the Guardian about how Brexit, and with it the promise of “cheap” sugar imports from Australia, could spell the end for British sugar beet growers. Sugar is one of the commodities that Chris Otter covers in his book Diet for a Large Planet. In the podcast we didn’t talk as much about sugar as meat and wheat, but having learned abut the history of sugar beet in England, there’s something of an irony in sugar from a former colony possibly ending it. (There will be knock on effects on tomato production too.)
Then there’s Robusta coffee, which I talked to Stuart McCook about in October 2020. Robusta is JSTOR Daily’s plant of the month, and it quotes McCook and others extensively to give the background to robusta’s history and its role in instant coffee. Robusta’s rise came about because it is resistant to coffee leaf rust, which first destroyed the coffee plantations in Ceylon. The article notes that the disease was known colloquially as “Devastating Emily”, possibly a corruption of its scientific name Hemileia vastatrix. Really? I suppose some planters were up on the scientific description of coffee leaf rust published in 1869 and diminished the threat by corrupting the name, but I’d like to see more scholarship on that.