Using food to explore all manner of topics, from agriculture to zoology. In Eat This Podcast, Jeremy Cherfas tries to go beyond the obvious to see how the food we eat influences and is influenced by history, archaeology, trade, chemistry, economics, geography, evolution, religion -- you get the picture. We don't do recipes, except when we do, or restaurant reviews, ditto. We do offer an eclectic smorgasbord of tasty topics. Twice nominated for a James Beard Award.
A very modern spice merchant
Midleton, in County Cork in Ireland, is not the kind of place where you would expect to find the headquarters of a growing global spice merchant. The farmers market in nearby Cork is where Arun Kapil and his wife Olive first started selling spices. Since then the company Green Saffron has grown steadily, drawing on Arun’s love of spices and family connections in India. It is still selling at farmers markets. But it is also shipping containers of carefully sourced spices to a European hub in Holland. And Arun told me that he has not compromised on quality along the way.
* As promised, a link to the Green Saffron website.
* Arun referred to “the very unfortunate cumin incident”. I knew nothing about that, and am investigating.
* A few other episodes from Ireland:
* Eating Alone
* A sweet sour story
* A cheese place
* An experiment in sound and taste
* Banner photograph of cumin seeds by Ajay Suresh on flickr.
Coffea stenophylla tastes terrific
A little less than a year ago I talked to Professor Jeremy Haggar about his search for a forgotten coffee of Sierra Leone. It was a species called Coffea stenophylla, named for its narrower than usual leaves, which had an extremely good reputation a hundred years ago. Unfortunately it was not very productive and so, despite its excellent flavour, it was shoved out by much more productive robusta coffee. After quite a search, Haggar and his colleagues found a few plants, probably not more than 100 in total. Although they were delighted to have rediscovered stenophylla, they were disappointed that there were no coffee berries on the bushes.
In early 2020, a colleague returned to the rediscovered bushes and gathered a handful, literally, of fruits. Then came covid, and efforts to taste the coffee stalled. In the meantime, prompted by the rediscovery, the French agricultural organisation CIRAD decided to take a closer look at the C. stenophylla on its research station on the island of La Réunion in the Indian Ocean. They gathered a slightly bigger handful, maybe half a kilogram, and both sets of coffee beans have now been appraised by experts. Just last week the researchers published their conclusion: “we are able to corroborate historical reports of a superior taste”.
For this episode I spoke to Jeremy Haggar again to catch up on the story and what it means for the future of coffee and the future of Sierra Leone.
* The original episode with Jeremy Haggar is It’s coffee, but not as we know it.
* If you are in the UK and interested in good coffee, the outfit that micro-roasted beans from the Sierra Leone is Union Hand-Roasted Coffee
* The transcript will be here in a few days.
* Banner photo by CIRAD, others by RBG Kew.
The Great Re-Think: What is agriculture for, really?
Colin Tudge has been writing about food and farming for a long time in a series of thought-provoking books. His latest is The Great Re-Think, which examines the current state of the world and sets out the steps needed to get to where he (and many other people) think we ought to be. They include skill and craft over automation, complexity over simplicity, and diversity over monoculture. The start, though, is to really think about what it is that we want our food system to provide.
A word about the pictures. They are from a Puffin book for children, Farm Crops in Britain, and are undeniably bucolic, rustic, from a bygone age. But that was only 65 years ago. The book was written by Sir George Stapledon, one of the great agricultural scientists of the early 20th century, who wrote at length about many of the same things that we talked about in this episode. I should do one on him.
* The Great Re-Think: A 21st Century Renaissance is available from Pari Publishing.
* Three places to find out more: The Campaign for Real Farming, the
Oxford Real Farming Conference and The College for Real Farming and Food Culture; all of which come under the umbrella of The Real Farming Trust.
* Get tickets for the two-day online discussion of The Great Re-Think.
* There is a Henry George Foundation, “Promoting Economic Freedom Since 1929”.
* Illustrations by S.R. Badmin. I cobbled the banner together from a two-page spread.
* A transcript is available, thanks to the generosity of supporters. Please consider joining them.
What is the value of functional foods?
Açai, goji, chia. Pepino, mangosteen, rambutan. Quinoa, teff, fonio. Names to conjure with, especially if you’re in the business of selling food dreams. All of them have been touted at one time or another as being the next big thing. Superfoods that can cure all the ills that ail you. Many more mundane foods — chocolate, coffee, red wine — have mutated into functional foods, imbued with power to promote good health and fight disease.
“[B]etween 2011 and 2015 there was a phenomenal 202% increase globally in the number of new food and drink products launched containing the terms ‘superfood’, ‘superfruit’ or ‘supergrain’,” according to Mintel research.
Whether you believe the claims — I remain dubious — there’s one group of people that these foods could definitely help: the farmers who grow them. There are, however, reasons to be cautious.
A recent issue of the journal Choices brought together a set of case studies from Central and South America. I chatted to Trent Blare, one of the two editors of that issue, about some of the success stories and some of the difficulties.
* Choices Magazine Online: Functional Foods: Fad or Path to Prosperity?
* Chocolate really does “contribute to normal blood flow”.
* But here’s what Harvard School of Public Health thinks about superfoods.
* And that enlightened Swiss chocolate company Trent Blare mentioned? That would be Choba Choba.
* A transcript? Sure, as soon as it is ready.
* Cover photo by Neil Palmer/CIAT shows a lulo farmer in Darién, Colombia. Banner image of açai fruits in Brazil by Kate Evans/CIFOR.
Naomi Duguid: Exploring the World through Food
Photographer, writer, traveller, cook, geographer, culinary anthropologist: Naomi Duguid is all this, and more. True, her books contain approachable recipes that have won awards and accolades from food-first organisations, like the James Beard Foundation and the International Association of Culinary Professionals. But they also offer sensitive insights into the lives of people far from her native Canada. Why do they prepare, cook and eat the foods they do? How does the way they live influence the way they eat, and vice versa? And all illustrated with her photographs, at once both informative and atmospheric.
Though the people and food she chronicles are from far away, she has a knack of preserving their distinctness while making us all neighbours.
A cheesemaker farmer in rural southern Georgia, not far from the Turkish and Armenian borders.
* Naomi Duguid’s website is at naomiduguid.com, but you’re much more likely to find her on Instagram or Twitter.
* You can find Burma: River of Flavors and Taste of Persia at bookshop.org and getting them there gives independent bookshops (and me) a hand.
* The transcript is here.
* Cover photo by Randy Risling/Toronto Star
The cost is too damn high
Anna Herforth is the lead author of Cost and affordability of healthy diets across and within countries, a background paper prepared for The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020. In the paper, Herforth and her colleagues calculate the cost of getting enough energy, getting adequate nutrition, and getting a diet that meets healthy eating guidelines. The results are sobering.
All this is possible because the World Bank collects a massive amount of data in its International Comparison Program, including the market price of hundreds of food items. Governments and other bodies issue healthy eating guidelines that offer their considered opinion on what a healthy diet should look like. And at Tufts University in Boston, where Herforth has been working, they’ve been building models that can take the full range of what’s available in the market and calculate the cheapest way to meet the requirements of any specified diet. Put all that together and you discover that, globally, roughly three billion people cannot afford a healthy diet.
How should we respond? The paper concludes: “To make healthy diets cheaper, agricultural policies, research, and development need to shift toward a diversity of nutritious foods.”
* Cost and affordability of healthy diets across and within countries is published by FAO.
* The paper is part of the work of the Food Prices for Nutrition program at Tufts University. There is loads more information there.
* Here's the transcript.
* Interstitial music by mmleys.