My plan was to lead this issue with the news that foie gras can now be had legally in California, with a link to the episode about foie gras with Michaela DeSoucy. I had to abandon that when I realised I couldn’t make head nor tail of the story in Eater LA. So I’m just going to leave it until it clarifies.
Jane Mayer’s piece in a recent isuue of The New Yorker is an eye-opening exposé of one American chicken-processing company, Mountaire. It details what is happening on the lines at Mountaire’s facilities, and how the company’s profits end up buying it the license to do almost anything it likes, secure in the knowledge that it will never be held to account. Of course, with things being the way they are, there’s a lot of politics in the story too, but even without that it is clear that there is nothing and noone that Mountaire won’t sacrifice on the altar of profits. I’m even suspicious of their motives for selling 20kg boxes of chicken parts to ordinary people during the lockdown.
Last week’s newsletter talked about consumer boycotts, but the target in this case is indistinct. You won’t see Mountaire branded chicken anywhere. However, the company boasts that it is “the leading supplier of private label fresh chicken to supermarket retailers in the United States,” adding “We partner with many of the industry’s best retailers in the private label market.” It also exports to 80 countries worldwide. I doubt you can avoid Mountaire chicken specifically, even if you wanted to. You can, however, buy chicken where the butcher may even know the person who raised it.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Just release an advisory about Salmonella infections in backyard poultry. As of last Wednesday there had been 938 cases and 1 death traced to backyard chicks and ducks. There’s lots of advice on the CDC website, notably “Don’t kiss backyard poultry or snuggle them and then touch your face or mouth.”
What have incense sticks got to do with all the tea in China? A lot, as it happens. Andrew Liu’s essay The China tea trade was a paradox of global capitalism shows how the dominant view of China as precapitalist owed more to European notions of what constituted capitalism than actual observation of tea production in China. A fascinating, long read.
Another long read, this time on that icon of global coffee chic, Nespresso. Never having been in the target demographic for that sort of thing, I had paid no attention to the rise and fall of the coffee pod. I’m happy enough to drink them, if I have to, quietly moaning to myself about waste, recycling and the usual suspects. So I found it entertaining to read about Nespresso’s invention and development. There’s a nice tension between the inventor and the marketer, neither of whom could have managed without the other. And for a taste of the size of the business, consider that George Clooney reputedly has amassed more than US$40 million for his Nespresso work alone. I wonder whether he pays for his own coffee.
I was intrigued to read I have always been jealous of the eggplant in The Forward. Vivien Sansour, the founder of The Palestine Heirloom Seed Library, writes with longing and sorrow about “uniquely tasty eggplants” — bitinjan in Arabic and aubergines for the rest of us — that “hail from the village of Battir and are thus referred to in Palestine as Bitinjan Battiri.”
Sansour starts with her “fascination with its thorny crowns, particularly the ones that floated in my mother’s lamb stew at the end of summer. Thorny and tender at the same time,” before using the aubergines of Battir to explore the global diaspora and current circumstances of the variety and the people who grew it.
No sooner have I read about a seed spreading around the world than I have summoned my compadre Luigi, who bestrides the crop biodiversity databases like a colossus. He immediately conjured up a couple of maps, where each little green dot represents a place where someone collected a sample of Bitinjan Battiri and sent it to a genebank for safekeeping. A few things to note.
First, it really has spread around, almost certainly because it does indeed have all the qualities that endear it to Vivien Sansour.
Secondly, call me naive, but I might have expected at least some samples to have been collected in its native territory, but that area is noticeably free of green dots. Why?
(Third, for database pedants only, the dots in the middle of the sea, south of Cyprus and in the Indian Ocean, for example, just show how hard it is to get reliable geographic information into your databases. I’m sure Luigi has already alerted the responsible genebanks.)
Last words (almost) to Vivien Sansour:
[I]t suddenly dawned on me, as we were eating our history, that we were engaging in the greatest revolution of all, because with each bite we took, we were dispelling the lie that who we are was not good enough. We were falling in love with ourselves: A people, persevering, and much like the eggplant, generous, even in the direst of times.
I do still want to know, though, why her mother included the calyx in her lamb stew, and whether I am somehow missing the best part when I slice if off.
A final, brief, public service announcement. If you’re into edible cannabis products, be warned that truth in labelling, at least in the USA, is still a ways away. And the legislation is as slippery as foie gras.
The Food and Drug Administration sampled a bunch of CBD-containing products and found that “for the 20 edible and beverage products tested that had an amount of CBD marketed [sic] on their labels, five had less than 80% of the amount of CBD indicated and six had more than 120% of the CBD marketed on its label”. At the same time, almost half the products tested contained some THC. If this means nothing to you, that’s fine. Just, y’know, caveat emptor, man.
All the best, and take care,
p.s. If you have insights into foie gras in California, please share.