banner-03.jpg" alt="A woman in Western Bangladesh offers a range of fruits and gegetables for sale" width="700" height="258" class="aligncenter size-full wp-image-4129">
cover-site.jpg" alt="cover artwork" width="320" height="320" class="alignleft size-full wp-image-4130">About two billion people around the world do not get enough micronutrients in their diet. This lack of vitamins and minerals — often called hidden hunger — has severe and lasting effects on individuals and their societies. One very popular approach to tackling hidden hunger is known as biofortification, engineering or selecting varieties of staple crops so that they produce higher levels of one micronutrient or another. On the surface, this makes perfect sense. Hidden hunger is strongly correlated with the amount of energy people get from staples, so putting more micronutrients in those staples ought to be a good thing, except that there’s little evidence that it works and yields of biofortified staples are generally lower than those of unfortified varieties. That’s a waste of land that could be used to grow the fruits and vegetables that contribute to a more diverse diet, which offers a far better approach to micronutrient deficiencies.
All this and more is brought out in a recent paper in the journal Global Food Security. I interviewed one of the authors.
banner.jpg" alt="Two water buffalo ink on silk scroll by Gao Qifeng" width="700" height="311" class="aligncenter size-full wp-image-4121">I’ve long believed that the reason there is no milk or cheese in Chinese food culture today is because ethnic Chinese people are likely to be lactose intolerant. But that may well be an oversimplification. In looking at old texts, Professor Miranda Brown of Michigan University discovered recipes and advice on butter, milk and cheeses. So she set about trying to make the cheeses, with some success. As for intolerance, yes, a study in 1984 concluded that 92% of Han Chinese exhibit “primary adult lactose malabsorption”. Nevertheless, milk consumption is growing rapidly in China and the genetic basis of intolerance may be more complicated than a simple, single gene.
banner.jpg" alt="Sesame coated chicken wing held in chopsticks above a plate of similar wings" width="700" height="254" class="aligncenter size-full wp-image-4110">
Time was when chicken wings were barely a thing, appendages that nobody much wanted to eat. Chickens were bred to deliver big breasts and wings were an afterthought until the advent of Buffalo wings in the 1960s. Now, and especially in the run-up to the Superbowl and March Madness, wings are in much greater demand than breasts, which is reflected in much higher prices for wings.
I wanted to understand how the market copes with changing demand for the different parts of the whole bird, so I turned to Professor Wally Thurman, of the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at North Carolina State University.
banner.jpg" alt="Decorated butter handmade by the Butter Viking" width="700" height="200" class="aligncenter size-full wp-image-4089">
viking.jpg" alt="Dall-E's rendering of "A viking made of butter"" width="320" height="268" class="alignleft size-full wp-image-4090">
Ten years ago, the first episode of Eat This Podcast featured Ben Reade talking about some butter that he had buried in a Swedish bog, the better to understand the bog butter occasionally unearthed in Ireland (and elsewhere). The butter for that experiment was made by Patrik Johansson, using methods taught him by his grandmother, lightly churned with some modern food science. The result is a product that can be found only at a few fine restaurants. That is unlikely ever to change, as Patrik says he couldn’t possibly scale up production.
We talked about that, and much else besides.
banner.jpg" alt="A boy holds up a loaf of bread while making a peace symbol at Tahrir Square in 2011" width="700" height="264" class="aligncenter size-full wp-image-4078">Egypt spends about 3% of its budget subsidising bread for about three-quarters of its population. Threats to that subsidy provoke massive civil unrest, helping to topple the regime in 2011. As a result, bread and wheat are fundamental to the government’s security and that of the people of Egypt. Wheat yields in Egypt are among the highest in Africa, but they are no match for the population, which is why Egypt is the biggest buyer of wheat on the global market. Even when government raises the price it will pay for local wheat, the farmers who grow it prefer to keep their harvest — for their own family food security — rather than sell it to promote the government’s security.
These are just some of the challenges Jessica Barnes brings to light in her new book, Staple Security: Bread and Wheat in Egypt.
wheat.jpg" alt="Sheaves of harvested wheat in the foreground with a row of date palms behind" width="700" height="318" class="aligncenter size-full wp-image-4080">
banner.jpg" alt="A bluefin tuna leaps clear of the water off the coast of California" width="1200" height="392" class="aligncenter size-full wp-image-4067">There is an awful lot of disagreement on the subject of mercury in fish and shellfish and how harmful it might be to people. That’s especially true for tuna, which are top predators that accumulate mercury from all the fish they eat over their long lives. Many countries, including the USA, offer guidelines about how much tuna it is “safe” to eat, but there are problems with that. First, not all tuna is tested for mercury. And second, some individual fish contain way more mercury than others. Safe Catch is a relative newcomer to canned tuna, with a unique selling point: it tests every single fish, and to a standard 10 times more stringent than the level at which the FDA might take action.
Sean Wittenberg, CEO of Safe Catch, told me how his company came about and how it operates.
banner.jpg">banner.jpg" alt="Rouge de Bordeaux wheat" width="1343" height="438" class="aligncenter size-full wp-image-4062">
sq-sm.jpg" alt="Factory at Drie Fontenein brewery, Belgium" width="320" height="320" class="alignleft size-full wp-image-4055">Since 1966, the European Union has had the most restrictive laws in the world on agricultural biodiversity. To be marketed, a variety has to be distinct, uniform and stable, which in principle means the individual plants have to be effectively identical. This has never suited organic farmers or any other smaller scale growers, including home gardeners. Finally, after a few false starts, a new regulation permitted the marketing of “organic heterogeneous material” from January 2022.
One of the organisations that campaigned for the new regulation is Let’s Liberate Diversity, an association of European groups. I went along to their 10th anniversary forum to hear how farmers and food producers were responding to the new regulation.
pesata-banner.jpg" alt="A row of nurses breastfeeding orphans in Rome" width="720" height="288" class="aligncenter size-full wp-image-4041">
cover-320x320.jpg" alt="" width="320" height="320" class="alignleft size-medium wp-image-4042">At the end of the previous episode on mothers’ milk Professor Amy Brown mentioned an important source of anxiety for new mothers: they cannot easily see how much their baby has eaten, and that pushes them to use a see-through bottle and switch from breast to formula. It may surprise you to learn that the Italian Fascist regime came up with a solution 90 years ago. In this episode, Professor Diana Garvin provides some insights into Fascist breastfeeding, and a friend of mine explains how it lingered to traumatise mothers 50 years on, and continues to do so today.
As for why this episode is being published today, rather than on Monday, that’s because the Fascists chose 24 December 1933 to first celebrate the Giornata della madre e del fanciullo, the day of the mother and the child. Why Christmas Eve? Diana Garvin says it was “originally meant to coincide with the mother Mary’s labour pains. Ostensibly.”
That ostensibly is interesting, because while they might have been against the church, the Fascists must have known that Mary suffered no labour pains at all. At least not after the middle of the 14th century.
That was when Birgitta Birgersdotter, later to become St Bridget of Sweden, had a vision in the little town of Bethlehem, one of a series of visions that started when she was quite young, which had a profound impact on art and depictions of the nativity. Bridget relates how, in this vision, she “saw the One lying in her womb then move; and then and there, in a moment and the twinkling of an eye, she gave birth to a Son, from whom there went out such great and ineffable light and splendor that the sun could not be compared to it”. In another vision, Mary says “When I gave birth to him, it was also without any pain.” So, no labour pains.
Before Bridget, many depictions of the nativity show Mary lying down exhausted and resting, as a new mother surely would. After, she is usually shown kneeling before the baby emanating light, along with the manger, Joseph and a candle and various other details she envisioned.
banner.jpg" alt="" width="700" height="343" class="aligncenter size-full wp-image-4033">
It has been a difficult year for food supplies, and even more so for food markets. Prices everywhere seem to be higher than they have been for a long time, and that’s just in retail shops. On international commodity markets, things have been wild. Wheat shot up after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, but had started rising well before that, in mid 2021. Prices began to drift down in mid-May, while fighting was still intense and no wheat had yet left the Black Sea. As became clear, there was no great global shortage of wheat, although it had become scarce.
There was a lot of talk about speculators and starvation, which just happens to be the topic of a blog post by David Zetland, an American political economist who teaches at Leiden University in The Netherlands. He, like me, had long dismissed claims that speculators exacerbated price increases, but unlike me had changed his mind, at least in some cases. Of course I wanted to understand why, so I asked David to walk me through that and other some fundamental economic ideas as they relate to food and water.
park-banner.jpg" alt="Neon sign at Piggie Park in Columbia, South Carolina." width="1400" height="349" class="aligncenter size-full wp-image-4023">
glueck.jpg" alt="Gabriela Glueck" width="320" height="400" class="alignleft size-full wp-image-4022">Perhaps unsurprisingly, barbecue restaurants have featured in two really important decisions of the US Supreme Court. Katzenbach v. McClung held that Ollie’s Barbecue in Birmingham, Alabama, despite being a minuscule mom and pop operation, was nevertheless subject to the Civil Rights Act and could not deny table service on the basis of race. Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, in addition to denying the owner’s racist justification that “his religious beliefs compel him to oppose any integration of the races whatever,” also established that plaintiffs in civil rights cases were entitled to recover their legal fees if successful. Ollie’s, apart from a brief later renaissance, closed in 2001. Piggie Park is still going strong, still claiming to be the World’s Best Bar-B-Q.
Maurice Bessinger — the man who started Piggie Park — was an out-and-out racist. His sons, who run the business now, have to contend with that legacy. But they don’t seem willing to confront it.
Gabriela Glueck, a graduate student at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies, offered me her story on Piggie Park. I was delighted to accept.
This podcast could use a review! Have anything to say about it? Share your thoughts using the button below.Submit Review