Back on the usual timetable, alternating podcast episodes with newsletters, and finding that being more selective produces what I hope is a more interesting newsletter for you too.
In ETN-218 I linked to an article in Hakai Magazine about the history and consequences of turning fish into fish meal. Shortly after that, the papers here in Italy started talking about the disastrous invasion of blue crabs. They have been here since the 1940s, but are now reproducing like crazy in warming waters all around the coast and chomping their way through beds of clams, mussels and oysters. As (some) Italians gingerly consider eating the unfamiliar species, I find myself wondering where to find some Old Bay. And some crabs, which have not yet made it to our local fishmongers or supermarkets.
In light of that, and of course the global state of extractive fisheries, I was intrigued to be directed by Naomi Duguid to a recent newsletter by Nancy Harmon Jenkins, who knows a thing or two about eating in Italy. After a mouth-watering introduction to the fish of her childhood and early travels — “because I want you to recognize that I do know something about seafood” — Why I Only Eat Farmed Fish (Mostly) swings into explaining the why of her headline. Because, in essence, “We are in effect raping the oceans”.
I’m not going to repeat the details, but I will recommend Harmon Jenkins’ summary if you need a refresher. I did appreciate the point that more than half of all seafood consumed worldwide is farmed, although of course not all those farms are equally benign, as she explains. So now, the dilemma: when next in Italy, will Nancy Harmon Jenkins do her bit to consume the wild blue crabs that threaten farmed seafood?
It is bad enough that the clams for spaghetti alle vongole are under threat. Now comes bad news from Canada. Drought has cut the durum wheat harvest there by around two-thirds and has also affected supplies from the Pacific Northwest of the US. Italian pasta eaters fondly imagine that all their pasta is made from local, Italian durum wheat, but the country has long relied on imports to bulk out its needs. Now, according to the International Grains Council, global durum production is forecast to be the lowest for 22 years. Will that affect pasta prices? Barilla says no. I’m not convinced, but I’m not stockpiling either.
Here’s a problem that needs solving: “if humans are to continue to explore outer space, going further and staying longer, reheating and rehydrating food will not be sufficient: Astronauts will need to cook.” And if they end up cooking pasta, that might be thanks to the work of Larissa Zhou.
A lot of experts seem to think that Africa is unable to feed itself. Certainly it has been spending more and more on food imports over the past several years. A new analysis from the Brookings Institute paints a much rosier picture. The report took the highly unusual step of looking at the countries that make up sub-Saharan Africa separately. Imagine!
[F]our countries—Nigeria, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Somalia—account for most of SSA’s net agricultural import position. The rest of the countries in the region are actually net agricultural exporters.
There are some other eye-openers in the article.
The report is optimistic that trade among countries within the region can satisfy increased demand for food at the same time as improving country economies. That will take investment and policy changes, but the authors suggest that it is doable and worthwhile.
Two long, informative and entertaining reads:
Unless you read the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, you may not have known that fermenting onions with Polyporus umbellatus, the lumpy bracket fungus, can produce “an intense meaty and liver sausage-like flavor under proper fermentation parameters”. This discovery is being offered to the food industry as a way “to make plant-based meat more ‘meaty’”. Which, of course, is just what the industry needs.
The rest of us will probably just continue to use dried mushrooms when we need some extra meatiness in a plant-based dish.