A mixed bag, and that’s the way, uh-huh uh-huh, I like it.
I hope you do too.
This article – A new app is failing India’s fight against child malnutrition – made me so angry I couldn’t think straight. What could I possibly add? Luckily for me (and you?), Cory Doctorow wrote an analysis, seeing the app in question as a prime example of “solutionism”. It says what I would have wanted to, much more eloquently.
As any fule kno, you should not drink seawater if you find yourself cast adrift or shipwrecked. What if that’s wrong?
A French doctor called Alain Bombard believed that drinking small amounts of seawater daily could help one to survive. In the early 1950s, he tested his theory very directly, by sailing a small inflatable across the Atlantic with almost no provisions on board.
The Austerity Kitchen retells Bombard’s story, and a rolicking good tale it is too. Of particular note was that Bombard was well aware that those who survived shipwreck had often eaten fish guts as well as the flesh, just as explorers who survived Arctic misadventures ate entrails and organs, like the Inuit around them. (Longtime listeners will remember my discussion with John Speth It’s putrid, it’s paleo, and it’s good for you.)
The Austerity Kitchen does not go into subsequent controversies over Bombard’s claim, but for that there is always Wikipedia and beyond.
Gastrohistory pointed out this fine article in Atlas Obscura about How a Librarian and a Food Historian Rediscovered the Recipes of Moorish Spain. Long story short, the very famous Fiḍālat al-Khiwān fī Ṭayyibāt al-Ṭaʿām wa-l-Alwān by Ibn Razīn al-Tujībī, a 13th century cookbook, is deeply frustrating because many of its recipes are missing. In 2018, Dr Bink Hallum, curator of Arabic scientific manuscripts at the British Library, discovered 200 pages of a cookbook in a medieval pharmacology text. The interloper turned out to be an almost complete later copy of the Fiḍālat, as confirmed by food historian Nawal Nasrallah. And the happy result is that Nasrallah’s latest book, a translation into English of the most complete Fiḍālat to date, was published last month.
Of course, there’s a lot more to the article than that, most notably a discussion of how Jewish conversos and Muslim moriscos maintained their foodways in the face of the Spanish Inquisition.
Oh, and those ancient recipes being cooked again today in Andalusia.
This one is a bit of a puzzle. Jason Lusk, the economist, makes a case that, whatever you think about fragile supply chains, trade makes communities more resilient to shocks in their food supply. He points out that if you eat purely locally, then a local shock – fire, pests, whatever – not only affects you badly, it probably also affects your neighbours. And if they are eating locally too, they will be short of food and in any case will not have planted a surplus in order to be able to trade. If, however, you source food from many different suppliers in many places, then a local problem is unlikely to affect all your suppliers and in the longer term, if prices rise locally, that’s a signal to suppliers to produce more.
[T]rade can act as a form of insurance for food consumers against adverse local shocks. The old saying “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” applies here. Relying only on local production is literally putting all your eggs in one local basket. … A more resilient strategy would entail trading with a large number of partners unlikely to be affected by the same adverse shocks.
And yes, I get that, in spades. But it doesn’t reckon with troublesome bits of the real world that aren’t all about growing food. Like, if three or four supermarket chains are the source of 75% of your food, it doesn’t matter how many trading partners they have in how many places if ships are backed up and there is nobody to drive the trucks. Or if all that traded food arrives through places and systems that can be overwhelmed.
A truly fascinating paper in Current Biology mines a rich deposit of information about human diet and guts from the Bronze Age to the Baroque. The title will either whet your appetite or else persuade you that you already have enough information to be going on with: Hallstatt miners consumed blue cheese and beer during the Iron Age and retained a non-Westernized gut microbiome until the Baroque period.
The miners in question were digging for salt, which had the happy side effect of preserving their faeces. Investigated with a staggering array of modern techniques, those palaeofaeces tell a remarkable story of what the miners ate, how it changed over time and how their gut microbiome resembled that of non-Westernized people. The blue cheese and beer must have been the icing on their cake.
I wonder whether there are any similar items that could shed light on the history of kimchi and gut microbes in Korea. Or maybe there is no need. Janie Kim at Small Things Considered offers insights into the varieties of kimchee and how they are made. I enjoyed reading about the importance of “mystical bamboo leaves”, which mirrors my own experience regarding the need for mystical cherry leaves to pickle cucumbers. And then there are the onggi, traditional fired earthenware fermenting vessels. Kim explains that these are made from iron-rich clay, and as a result they have “high microporosity, which can be further controlled with the surface glaze that is applied”. And that, apparently, can affect the taste of the final fermented food. Overall, it seems that onggi result in higher levels of the bacteria that make kimchee kimchee. Whether that makes it worth seeking out a genuine onggi to replace your current glass, plastic or steel container, only you can decide.