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Posts Tagged ‘Food

“Agriculture engenders good sense, and good sense of an excellent kind”*…

In an influential 1943 essay, Polish economist Michał Kalecki staged a contest between capitalism’s pursuit of profit and its pursuit of power. While the benefits of government-sponsored full employment would benefit capitalists economically, Kalecki argued, it would also fundamentally threaten their social position—and the latter mattered more. If wide sections of the country came to believe that the government could replace the private sector as a source of investment and even hiring, capitalists would have to relinquish their role as the ultimate guardians of national economic health, and along with it their immense power over workers. Kalecki thus saw how the desire to maintain political dominance could override purely economic considerations.

This analysis finds a striking illustration in historian Ariel Ron’s award-winning new book Grassroots Leviathan, which advances a major reinterpretation of the contours of U.S. political economy and the origins of the U.S. developmental state—the government institutions that have played an active role in shaping economic and technological growth. In Ron’s revisionist account, the groundwork for the rapid economic development in the second half of the nineteenth century was less industrial and elite than agricultural and popular. “Despite the abiding myth that the Civil War pitted an industrial North against an agrarian South,” he writes, “the truth is that agriculture continued to dominate the economic, social, and cultural lives of the majority of Americans well into the late nineteenth century.” This central fact—at odds with familiar portraits of a dwindling rural population in the face of sweeping urban industrialization—carried with it shifting attitudes toward the state and the economy, dramatically altering the course of U.S. politics. Far from intrinsically opposed to government, a consequential strain of agrarianism welcomed state intervention and helped developed new ideas about the common good…

How a grassroots movement of American farmers laid the foundation for state intervention in the economy, embracing government investment and challenging the slaveholding South in the run-up to the Civil War: “In the Common Interest.”

Joseph Joubert

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As we hone our history, we might recall that it was on this date in 1952 that Mylar was registered as a DuPont trademark. A very strong polyester film that has gradually replaced cellophane, Mylar is is put to many purposes, but main among them– given it’s strength, flexibility, and properties as an aroma barrier, it’s widely used in food packaging.

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Written by LW

June 10, 2021 at 1:01 am

“My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it’s on your plate”*…

Elizabeth David’s first cookbooks burst upon a Britain newly delivered from wartime rationing… By 1960, when French Provincial Cooking threw its mighty heft against the drab tyranny of “meat and two veg,” the author’s characteristic mix of tart practicality and deep erudition had already begun to work its changes on the English palate. In the late 1980s, David, by that time a living English institution, C.B.E., Chevalier du Mérite Agricole, and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, embarked on a study that would leave behind the anecdotal world of recipes for a sustained historical study. Although she did not live to see its completion, her extensive drafts for the work have now been edited (by Jill Norman) and published under the title Harvest of the Cold Months: The Social History of Ice and Ices

Harvest of the Cold Months began as an investigation (launched in the mid-1970s) of early European ice-cream recipes, but quickly expanded to a global scale, reflecting Mrs. David’s longtime interest in early travelers’ accounts. She then turned her endless curiosity to the mechanical means of producing cold, an art that first emerged in the seventeenth century, and finally to the impact of the Industrial Revolution on means for supplying the world’s ever-growing demand for ice.

Yet, ice cream aside, the subject of frozen water is strange food for thought. If fire is the Promethean gift that first made us civilized, ice is a bewildering opposite; it has been tamed only by civilizations so advanced into decadence that they can warp the seasons, demanding snow in their summer drinks or ephemeral sculptures of pooling ice at the centers of their dining tables. The primal, elementally human quality of the campfire or the hearth gives way to a shiver of perverse pleasure when it comes to the activity that our forebears called “drinking cool.” (What, indeed, could be more limitlessly suggestive than the proposition a friend received in Athens one summer day years ago: “How about a nice tall cool one?”)…

Unseasonable ice brings up the ambiguous specter of civilization at its most aggressive: overlords, empires, and the Industrial Revolution, which eventually replaced the worldwide shipping of natural ice with mechanical manufacture—not, paradoxically, by means of the manipulation of cold, but of heat.Iced food and drink have continued, all the while, to be associated with ill health, sin, and bad company, the sustenance of decadent colonials or devil-may-care gourmands. In 1624, Elizabeth David tells us, Francis Bacon declared that “the Producing of Cold is a thing very worthy of the Inquisition.” To this day, most Italians avoid iced drinks as harmful to stomach and liver; they drink their summer tea chilled, but mistrust it when poured over clinking cubes of frozen water. Ice-cream manufacturers, meanwhile, invite their customers to give way to sin and temptation…

Cool, cooler, cold- Ingrid Rowland on Elizabeth David’s Harvest of the Cold Months: The Social History of Ice and Ices: “The Empress of Ice Cream.”

Related (i.e., also cool): “Pellet Ice Is The Good Ice.”

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* Thornton Wilder (whose advice Elizabeth David happily ignored)

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As we channel Márquez, we might recall that it was on this date in 1901 that Chapman J. Root opened the Root Glass Company in Terre Haute, Indiana; his specialty was the manufacture of glass bottles that would withstand high internal pressures. In 1915 the company entered, and in 1916 won the design competition for what would become the iconic 6.5 ounce Coca-Cola bottle.

The 1915/6 bottle

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“Every pizza is a personal pizza if you try hard and believe in yourself”*…

The fateful experiment happened in 1962. Sam Panopoulos, a restaurant owner, was not afraid of taking chances. He had left Greece at the age of 20 to start a new life in Canada and went on to run a successful restaurant in downtown Chatham, Ontario. He was also known for his mischievous sense of humour. His fateful culinary creation combined both elements of his personality. While he was making a pizza, he cracked open a can of sliced pineapple – and did the unthinkable.

Sixty years on, the Hawaiian pizza, a standard mozzarella-and-tomato base topped with pineapple and ham or bacon, has become a contender for the most controversial dish ever made. Unlike other joyfully divisive foods (Marmite, anyone?) it’s not enough simply to love or hate it. In an era defined by a propensity for polarisation, the debate over the merits (or failings) of pineapple on pizza has become a global pastime. Profiles on dating apps tease potential matches with the prospect of a food fight. “Do you like pineapple on pizza?” is simultaneously an icebreaker and a dealbreaker. Public figures have taken sides: Paris Hilton loves it; Gordon Ramsay is very angry about it.

The pineapple-pizza debate has become so pervasive that in 2019 the American government launched “The War on Pineapple”, a public-information campaign that illustrated how people can be manipulated through online posts about divisive issues [see here]. Why does the Hawaiian pizza provoke such strong opinions? Panopoulos added pineapple, he said, only “for the fun of it”. When the controversy over his creation went viral in 2017 he emerged from retirement to wring his hands. “What’s going on with everybody?” he asked…

A thorough examination of how pineapple broke the internet– Will Coldwell (@will_coldwell) explains why Hawaiian pizza is the polarizing issue of our times.

* Bill Murray

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As we keep it simple, we might recall that it was on the date in 1985 that the McDonald’s #1 Store Museum opened in Des Plaines, Illinois. A replica of the former McDonald’s restaurant there, opened by Ray Kroc in April 1955, the company usually refers to it as The Original McDonald’s, although it is not the first McDonald’s restaurant but the ninth: the first was opened by Richard and Maurice McDonald in San Bernardino, California in 1940, and the oldest McDonald’s still in operation is the third one built, in Downey, California, which opened in 1953.

Still, the Des Plaines restaurant marked the beginning of future CEO Kroc’s involvement with the firm. It was the first opened under the aegis of his franchising company McDonald’s Systems, Inc., which became McDonald’s Corporation after Kroc purchased the McDonald brothers’ stake in the firm.

But lest the corporation seem sentimental, the museum was completely demolished as of January 2019.  A new, modern McDonald’s was built across the street– at which there are a half-dozen glass-enclosed exhibits arrayed around the tables. These include red and white tiles from the original restaurant, and string ties worn by employees from the 1950s to the early 1970s.

The McDonald’s #1 Store Museum, while it stood

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“And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed”*…

The first patent on an animal was granted in the U.S. in 1988. But the first agricultural patents date back to 1930 and the Plant Patent Act (PPA). Since then, patent protection on seeds has been both broadened and lengthened; in the 1980’s, protection was extended beyond “utility” (a plant that uniquely did one thing or another) to the living thing itself. And the seed industry has consolidated…

For years Haribhai Devjibhai Patel has been growing cotton, peanuts and potatoes in the western Indian state of Gujarat. For years he and his family have used seedlings from one harvest to plant the next year’s crops on his four acre field.

Last year he planted a new potato variety known as FC5. It was a decision that ultimately landed him in court, because the US company PepsiCo had already claimed the rights to that very same potato variety. Patel claims he wasn’t aware of the potato’s name, much less PepsiCo’s claim…

According to the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Anand Yadnik, the lawsuit alleges that the FC5 potato is especially bred for PepsiCo’s subsidiary company Lays and their internationally distributed product: potato chips. PepsiCo was seeking 10 million Rupies or $140.000 (€ 126.000).

“I was completely devastated. I was afraid. Not in my lifetime would I ever have been able to pay the kind of damages that were being claimed by PepsiCo,” Patel said. The 46-year-old farmer has two children and earns around $3,500 per year.

The lawsuit was based on findings that PepsiCo gathered from Patel’s field. According to his lawyer, the company hired a private detective agency to provide the data. “They took secret video footage and collected samples from farmers fields’ sans disclosing their real intent”…

The case is another example of  an ongoing global trend of companies claiming property rights for plants or genetic material of plants  across the globe. 

“Resources that used to be available to mankind as a community have now been confined to privatization,” Judith Düesberg from NGO Gene Ethical Network… The number of patents on plants worldwide has increased a hundredfold from just under 120 in 1990 to 12,000 today – 3500 of them are registered in Europe,according to the European initiative No-Patents-On-Seeds

Critics argue that patents block access to genetic material for farmers and minimize biodiversity, the diversity of species and increase farmers’ dependency on seed producers.

But Bayer, Monsanto’s parent company, told DW in a written statement: “Farmers have the choice of whether and which products they buy from which supplier. [… ] Each farmer decides freely. […] Farmers will only use our products if they gain a clear advantage.”

In Europe, a case involving Monsanto and a particular breed of melon drew media attention several years ago. Monsanto had discovered that an Indian melon variety was naturally resistant to a specific virus. At the European Patent Office it then successfully applied for a patent on that trait after breeding into other melons. 

From this moment on, not only did this trait belong to Monsanto, but so did every melon variety containing it, including the Indian melon from which it originated. Patent opponents call this practice  biopiracy

According to the Indian-based market research agency Mordor Intelligence, revenue in the seed sector will reach $90 billion by 2024 compared to about $60 billion in 2018. And over 50% of the worldwide market share is in the hands of Bayer-Monsanto, Du Pont and Syngenta…

The UN report “The right to food” has raised concerns about food security caused by “the oligopolistic structure of the input providers” warning that it could also cause food prices to increase and deprive the poorest of food.

A further concern is who owns the seeds and who produces the food. According to the NGO Germanwatch, most of the seed producing industry comes from the Global North, but 90% of biological resources (agricultural products, natural materials come) from the Global South. 

While patenting laws remain more restrictive in the Global South, an Oxfam Study shows that big global players appear to be finding loopholes

A few companies are angling to sew up the world’s seed supply: “Patents on plants: Is the sellout of genes a threat to farmers and global food security?

* Genesis, 1:29 (KJV)

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As we reap what we sow, we might send well-organized birthday greetings to Antoine Laurent de Jussieu; he was born on this date in 1748.  A botanist, he is best remembered as the first to publish a natural classification of flowering plants; much of his system– which was, in part, based on unpublished work by his uncle, Bernard de Jussieu— remains in use today.

220px-Jussieu_Antoine-Laurent_de_1748-1836

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“Barbecue may not be the road to world peace, but it’s a start”*…

As we noted in an earlier post, Robert C. Baker– “the George Washington Carver of chicken,” a member of the American Poultry Hall of Fame– is best-remembered for his invention of the chicken nugget. But on his home turf, he’s remembered for something else entirely…

In 1950, Robert C. Baker, a professor at Cornell University, published Cornell Cooperative Extension Information Bulletin 862, which changed summer in upstate New York forever. Entitled “Barbecued Chicken and Other Meats,” the bulletin describes a simple vinegar-based sauce that can be used to turn broilers—chickens raised for their meat rather than their eggs—into juicy, delicious barbecue heaven.

At the time, this was an innovation. When Americans ate meat, they preferred beef and pork, and the poultry industry was just beginning to increase production. As an agricultural extension specialist, part of Baker’s job was to convince Americans to eat chicken. Before he passed away in 2006, he invented chicken bologna, chicken hot dogs, chicken salami, and, most famously, a prototype chicken nugget.

Cornell Chicken Barbecue Sauce, though, was his first great triumph, and what he is best known for in upstate New York. All summer, every summer, Cornell Barbecue Chicken features at backyard parties and family get-togethers. Younger generations of Finger Lake residents don’t even recognize this as a regional specialty so much as the default way to cook chicken outdoors. “Every fund-raising event, every fire department cookout, every little league barbecue, must serve this recipe or nobody would come,” writes barbecue expert Meathead Goldwyn

The way Baker told the story, he first came up with the idea of the chicken barbecue when he worked at Penn State and the governor came to visit. When he went to Cornell a short while later, he started putting on barbecues regularly, enlisting his family and the young men who worked with him at Cornell as basters and turners.

“My father was quite a promoter,” says Dale Baker, the eldest of Baker’s six children. “He would have me and others go out in high school and cook for groups.” Roy Curtiss, who worked with Baker as a Cornell undergraduate, remembers killing and butchering chickens in the basement of Rice Hall, on campus, freezing them, and using them all summer long to create barbecues for 50 to 100 people.

“We’d charge them a buck and half, for a roll, an ear of corn, and half a chicken,” Curtiss says. All summer, they set up for church groups and farm bureaus, toting collapsible grates in the back of a pickup truck, all around the Ithaca area. “It was very popular,” he says. “People would hear about this, and think it was a great alternative to hamburgers and hot dogs.”…

Perhaps the most ambitious use of the sauce, though, has been at Baker’s Chicken Coop, the barbecue stand Baker started in the 1950s at the New York State Fair. (His daughter still operates it today.) “We would cook, when I was younger, 22, 23,000 half-chickens in 10 or 11 days. It was a pretty big thing,” says Dale Baker. When he finished college, he and his dad estimated how many half-chickens they had cooked up until that point in time. It was more than a million…

The recipe (* today, many use less salt)

The true legacy of the Cornell professor who invented the chicken nugget: “Why All of Upstate New York Grew Up Eating the Same Barbecue Chicken.”

* Anthony Bourdain

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As we baste, we might recall that on this date in 1982 Saturday Night Live viewers decided the fate of Larry the Lobster. In an early example of interactive television, Eddie Murphy held Larry, a live lobster, aloft and declared that the show’s audience would determine whether he lived or died. He read two “900” phone numbers, one for those who wanted to spare Larry, and another for those who wanted to see him cooked. Calls cost $0.50 each.  (Murphy tended to read the number to save Larry very quickly, as opposed to his giving the number to cook Larry very slowly and clearly.)

Updates on the voting were given by other cast members over the course of the episode, and in the span of 30 minutes, viewers made nearly 500,000 calls, sending phone traffic soaring– indeed, the heavy phone use stood as a record or near-record for many years.

Larry was spared by about 12,000 votes; 239,096 callers voted to save him and 227,452 voted for him to be boiled. (Though on the following week’s show, a lobster– reputedly Larry– was eaten on-air.)

To this day the sketch is cited in discussions of classic comedy routines, cruelty to animals, and in rosters of famous animals.

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