What’s green, high tech & full of taquerias? San Francisco!

If you missed part one of Road Trip USA, catch up here.

Landing in San Francisco always makes me feel like I’m emerging from the Australian Stone Age as suddenly we are encompassed by a proliferation of high tech, and even more so as I wonder in slack-jawed awe at the hilly city’s incredible green consciousness.

This year’s arrival included a slightly negative carbon offset thanks to the sleek black limo my darling brother sent to pick us up. Nine-year-old Antigone, grinning madly next to me, exclaimed, “I never thought I’d be in one of these before I’m even famous!” A very luxurious ride to Noe Valley, although unusual, was welcome after 20 hours travel, especially facing the TSA (shoeless) at LAX alone with the brood.

Continue reading What’s green, high tech & full of taquerias? San Francisco!

National Sustainable Food Summit 2011

The National Sustainable Food Summit was put on in Melbourne 5/6 April by 3 Pillars Network – on their website they say they ‘will be the leading knowledge network for sustainable business in Australia.’

When I saw the event advertised, I knew immediately that I wanted to go. Unfortunately, my $1500 research funding allowance over the duration of candidature from my School at the University of Melbourne was exhausted last year, and I used up my one funding opportunity for an overseas conference and research on last year’s trip to Finland and Italy, so I had to come up with the registration fee myself, which was not insignificant at $655 (the student price) for two days. Given that no papers were printed (for sustainability reasons – not even the program), I honestly cannot imagine why it cost so much except that it must have been a tidy profit-making enterprise for 3 Pillars. The catering was mostly sustainable, ethical food – free range meats, organic milk and the like, but I still think the price was very high, and sadly meant a lot of people who would have had a lot to contribute (such as small, ethical producers?!) weren’t able to attend.

But on to the event! Because it was organised by a private organisation rather than government or higher education, I was unsure what to expect, and even more unsure what the outcomes would be. A Summit implies gathering the best minds to apply to a problem with a view to informing policy, regulation and community leadership. I’m not entirely clear how 3 Pillars intends to pursue the former two, but it’s obvious that they and many attendees are in fact community leaders, and that this event brought a diverse group together to talk about climate change, food security and a sustainable food future.

I’ll leave it to you to ask questions about the sponsors – I was just relieved neither of Australia’s grocery duopoly were on the list, and the diverse representation from across Australia’s food production, distribution, retail and consumption spectrum was important, in my view.

The key messages I took away were simple: we need good policy and regulation to support sustainable food production and recognise the important role farmers play as custodians of our natural resources, the free market has caused private interests to corrupt aspects of the food system for personal gain that is not in the public interest, and we need to dramatically increase the public’s knowledge and respect for food from paddock to plate.

I’ve quite simply typed up my notes as I took them throughout the Summit (I also tweeted a lot of this on the hashtag #SFS). They are not exhaustive, and I do hope I’ve recorded what I heard accurately. Any corrections would be welcome. The full presentations are up on the 3 Pillars Network Event Blog.

Professor Robin Batterham – ‘What does food security mean and why is it important to Australia?’

  • Population is projected to grow from 6 billion currently to 9 billion by 2050
  • A greater proportion of the world, due to increasing affluence, will (want to) consume more meat and dairy.
  • Increases in aquaculture.
  • Markets are fully globalised
  • France is subsidising farmers because they’re part of the environment and need preserving – a precious heritage and future?
  • Points from The Coming Famine by Julian Cribb
    • A price on emissions and rising energy costs will lead to more expensive fertilisers
    • Peak phosphorus is upon us (Cribb argues we passed it in 1989)
    • 70% of ‘blue water’ is already withdrawn from the system
    • More soil degradation and erosion
    • Productivity gains have lessened/plateaued
    • Food prices track fuel/energy prices
    • Food riots track grain prices
  • Australia produces enough food for 60 million people
  • Although Australia produces less than 3% of global wheat supply, we are the 4th largest wheat exporter
  • More droughts and floods (climate change)
  • Increasing price volatility due to global connectivity
  • Increased reliance on imports
  • The UK throws out 3 billion cartons of uneaten yoghurt per annum (use by dates are very bad policy/regulation)
  • Australian expertise in low input agriculture can help us:
    • develop a carbon neutral food sector
    • develop innovative resource management
  • Land planning focus must improve
    • should decrease taxes on peri-urban land still being used for food production

Dr Amanda Lee, Queensland Health

  • Adults eat:
    • 20% too much red meat (yet young women eat too little)
    • 40% too much starch
    • 30% too many refined grains
  • If 35% of the population is overweight or obese, has the free market failed us?

Robert Pekin, Food Connect

  • A reflection – while driving, you see manicured lawns and gardens. On the train, you see backyards, get a perspective of where and how much home food production is happening (not much in many areas?)
  • Fresh produce consumption increases when people sign up with a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box drop system
  • In a CSA, 55% of the retail dollar goes back to the farmer compared with normal average of 15%
  • We need to shift our focus from purely production to issues around distribution and consumption

Jock Laurie, National Farmers Federation

  • Don’t blame farmers for lack of access and over-processing of food – that’s bad policy and business
  • Bad policy and supermarket wars in the face of increasing costs of production are pinching farmers

Julian Cribb, author of The Coming Famine

  • Farmers must double production (by the 2060s) with:
    • half the water
    • less land
    • no fossil fuels (eventually)
    • scarce and costly fertilisers
    • less technology
    • more climate instability
  • Food stress leads to conflict, government failures, ‘refugee tsunamis’ and inflation
  • Solutions:
    • Develop a new eco-agriculture
    • Urgently develop renewable energy sources for agriculture
    • Increase research and development
    • Fair incomes for farmers
    • Recycle urban sewerage for fertilisers
    • Bio-cultures and algae farms
    • New diet: 23,000 edible plants
    • Rehydrate, revegetate, re-carbonise
    • Teach respect for food

Kirsten Larsen, Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab (VEIL)

‘Future Scenarios for Food? Victorian Food Supply Scenarios’

You really have to have a look at the full report to appreciate what an excellent bit of research this is from VEIL. I can’t do justice to the scenarios they propose here!

  • Adjustment scenario – net food availability decreases
  • Control scenario – food stability
  • DIY scenario – mixed results

Michael McCallum, Global Foresight Network

  • Transactional thinking and effort won’t get us there
  • People have short-term agendas
  • We need transformational thinking
    • Understand why (the shapers)
    • Deconstruct assumptions
    • Focus on where we need to go beyond now (transcendence – transformation is required)
    • Reconstruct meaning and new systems
    • Design integration pathways
    • Drive a change agenda at speed (urgent)
  • Fundamentals of the new curve:
    • resilience – adaptability – sustainability – future focused

Consumption break out session

‘Obesity and climate change are two huge market failures’ (UK)

  • In January 2007 (Australia) 78% of people were concerned about the environment
  • Now it’s 60%
  • Concern rarely translates into action
  • A higher tendency towards green consumption generally leads to decreased consumption
  • There is no consistent market segment that exhibits more sustainable behaviour – higher levels of knowledge correlates to less behaviour change?

Local food economies break out session

  • When the population rapidly increased and food availability decreased in Cuba, people moved to cities – so the government invested in rural areas to draw people back out.
  • Overly strict food safety is a barrier to local food production and distribution, including things like food swaps (pig days, etc)

Dr John Williams, Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists

  • Must increase production while decreasing impact on the environment.
  • Must make farming mimic natural ecosystems – they must generally be closed systems
  • Pricing food for sustainability:
    • Reward the provision of ecosystem services (by farmers)
    • Need investment in the economic valuation of ecosystem services
    • Reward farmers for sustaining the land as a matter of public good
    • Cost of food doesn’t include the cost of maintaining natural resource base
    • Need government to create/adjust policy that creates incentives for sustainable practice and costs to the environment being internalised
    • Need market and trade policies that remove perverse subsidies
    • Regulatory framework to ensure food production does not lead to damage to natural resources and environment
    • Need an Australian Standard for sustainable agriculture for local and imported goods

Dr Tim Flannery, Chief Commissioner of the Climate Commission

  • To address issues of an increasing population you need to address education and women’s rights in the developing world – alleviate poverty and you address population issues

Michael McCallum, Global Foresight Network

  • Beyond an economic lens
  • Pressures in current systems deliver poor returns
  • Opportunities:
    • producing with constraints
    • food cycles not waste
    • focus on optimising high nutrition
  • Reconnect people with food
  • Accelerate knowledge and dialogue to deliver a new system

Richard Hames, Asian Foresight Institute

  • We became ‘consumers’ in the 1920s – an audience member suggested we should be ‘food citizens’ rather than the more passive ‘consumers’
  • Australia21 is setting up a Sustainable Food Lab
  • Beyond today’s worldview:
    • Production – increase biodiversity, sustainable practices, conserve ecosystems, local and organic investment
    • Environment – resilient design, protecting diversity, valuing ecosystems, stewardship, adaptability
    • Consumption – not more, but healthier, national food reserve, greater equity, education and information

‘60% of the world’s investments at the moment go to weapons’

  • Our opportunities:
    • Move swiftly to a steady state, low carbon economy using existing technologies
    • focus new investment on climate change adaptation
    • Conserve biodiversity and increasing nutritional diversity
    • Build resilience into the supply-demand cycle
    • Increase investment in sustainable rural farmers
    • Less the power and profit motives of Food, Inc (entire supply chain of big agro-industry through to retailers)
    • Embed sustainable practices – biomimicry, permaculture
    • Move from profit motive as a social priority to other forms of value
    • Legislate unintended consequences out of the system

Waste break out session

  • Sustainability Victoria survey
    • 40% of household waste is food
    • Households report they throw out $2000 worth of food per annum
    • That’s 8L/week per household of food waste
    • 700,000 tonnes, or 7% of waste in Victoria
    • Identified four broad groups of people: Zealots, Planners, Triers and Wasters in order of minimal to maximum food waste. Education programs should target Triers.
  • Katy Barfield, Second Bite
    • 7.5 million tonnes of food wasted per annum in Australia
      • ‘leakages’ and surplus food
      • pre-harvest
      • harvested – inefficiency/quality rejection
      • post-harvest
      • retail
      • edible
    • 1.2 million people in Australia are regularly at risk of not having enough food
    • We need to value food waste
      • economic value – food donors save on landfill, possible tax savings; real $$ value to community programs
      • social value
      • environmental value
      • health value

Don’t just ask ‘how do we produce more?’ but also ‘how do we effectively redistribute food throughout the system?’

Michael Velders, ARUB

One person’s urine provides enough NPK to fertilise 400-500 square metres of agricultural land

Ideas

  • there should be a total ban on organic waste to landfill
  • hospitality must separate all waste – compost and re-saleable/useable
  • triple bottom line reporting
  • ‘humanure’ should be accepted – ban on any sewerage into the sea

Michael Raupach, PMSEIC Expert Working Group on Energy-Water-Carbon (EWC)

PMSEIC – 2010 – ‘Challenges at Energy-Water-Carbon Intersections’

  • Connectivity challenge – trade, media, education, information
  • Resilience (from Resilience Alliance)
    • can recover from disturbances and shocks
    • can adapt by learning
    • can undergo transformation when necessary
    • resilience is a product of evolution
  • Finite planet and connectivity challenges require new foci:
    • integrative thinking
    • holistic education (eg food knowledge)
    • holistic innovation
  • Recommendations from the PMSEIC Report
    • Consistent principles for the use of finite resources:
      • ensure markets transmit full, linked, long-term costs to society
      • require resource accounting to be comprehensive and consistent
      • make markets work with non-market strategies
    • Develop and implement smart network methods
    • Build EWC resilience in landscapes
      • joint food, fibre, water production
      • innovative new technology (eg algal systems)
      • viable farms and rural communities
      • increase resource efficiencies and yields
    • Build EWC resilience in cities and towns
      • increase energy and water efficiency
      • recycle water with energy cogeneration
      • improve microclimates
      • change behaviours to reduce demand
      • stop sprawl with good planning, incentives
      • increase urban food production
    • Develop integrative perspectives
      • enhance incentives for integrative research
      • implement a new core research effort
      • ensure stable and ongoing delivery of essential information
      • a new education paradigm (Earthcare?) – preschool to adulthood, food awareness

Brad, CSIRO

  • The public welcomes supply chain transparency, but then tackling environmental issues head on such as by pricing pollution, etc, is a very hard sell
  • Different forms of reporting available – not everything needs to be on the label
  • Perhaps on the label should include – carbon, water and land?

There’s a lot of information here, and many conversations to have about it all. I’ll pick up some of the threads in future posts. Thanks to 3 Pillars Network for putting on a very stimulating and informative Summit!

If you’re interested in Sustainable, Organic, Local, and Ethical (SOLE) food, you should check out Fight Back Fridays at Food Renegade. 🙂

mEatDrinkBlog Melbourne!

Michael over at My Aching Head has come up with a brilliant plan to bring the Melbourne food blogging community together on a regular basis to a) eat, b) drink, c) talk all things food blogging. You can read about the details, including our first venue & date, on his blog.

I’ll be the Mistress of Ceremonies, collating expressions of interest to give a presentation and facilitating discussion on the night(s). This will be a great opportunity to ask those tricky Word Press questions, discuss the ethical responsibilities of food reviewing, debate whether to monetise your blog, and argue the relative merits of good food photography. 🙂 Those interested in presenting (10 minutes followed by discussion, fairly informal) can email me at tammois@gmail.com

I look forward to seeing many of you on the 31st of March!

Food Traditions and Culinary Cultures Symposium

I was honoured and delighted to be invited to present a paper on the 12th of March 2011 at the Food Traditions and Culinary Cultures Symposium, followed by a ‘Conversation Dinner’ :-). The event has been convened by the Australasian Food Studies Network as part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Network, and is being hosted by the William Angliss Institute.

There’s a great line up of speakers on a variety of topics around food traditions and culinary cultures, followed up with a dinner to carry on the conversation. I’ll be talking about the increased opportunities a cosmopolitan society offers in the development of a more socially and environmentally sustainable world.

It promises to be a great day, and I really hope to see some of you there!

Camp cooking, cast iron style

Cast Iron Camping means a loaded car!

One of the major highlights of camping for me is the opportunity to cook and eat outside for days on end, coupled with the wonderful challenge of limited cold space and cooking with only two burners. When we accepted our lot as ‘car campers’ after having children, with whom we’ve been camping since the eldest was 5 months old (and #2’s first camp experience was at 11days old!), we discovered the joy of Cast Iron Camping and have embraced it in all its tasty results.

First, some basics. Although I would never suggest you *must* travel with these items to make good food (you need only look to Great Depression Cooking with Clara for proof), it certainly makes it more pleasurable for me. Therefore, I travel with two good knives (usually my Chinese cleaver and a 10” Dick – ahem, this isn’t a joke, it’s the brand), preferably my big chopping board, but a medium-sized one will do, a 10” le Creuset (any enamelled cast iron large pot will do – we scored ours on somebody’s nature strip in North Carlton) and a 10” cast iron frypan. The lid for the le Creuset comes in handy for camp pizza on the frypan too.

I bring along a smaller stainless steel pot as well for cooking the odd sauce or hot chocolate for the kids. Obviously, a spatula & wooden spoon, plus a mixing bowl is helpful. I also try to bring one or two more plates & bowls than we need for dining to hold ingredients as I chop. Arguably not essential but rather pleasant to have along is a stovetop espresso maker… you can indeed make coffee old-school in a pot, but we all know which is tastier.

I like to bring a tupperware of my favourite spices, and absolutely essential (for me) is a container of salt flakes and a pepper grinder, as I can’t bear iodised, granulated salt or powdery pepper. Oh, and this year I started taking my sourdough starter along to make a leavened damper, and let me tell you, it’s worth it! But I’ll get to that…

You never know what spice you might need...

We picked up a secondhand ‘Eva Kool’ esky a couple years ago after admiring our friends’ on repeated long, hot summer camping trips. This thing will keep brie in good form for 10 days, and in fact we’ve seen it keep ice for that long when kept in the shade and with wet towels over it in 40C weather. Between that and our vintage Coleman stove Stuart picked up at a garage sale, we are indeed happy campers. So what do we eat?

Sourdough Damper

As mentioned previously, this is now a staple for us when we’re camping. I’m very glad I only took half of Fran, my starter, as a wallaby ate her halfway through the trip. She made some brilliant bread before she went though. My total aversion to supermarket bread also means we have to make our own while camping, as no good bakery bread will keep well enough. We do, however, rely on tortillas & Sorj bread as our ‘long-life’ option.

The recipe is simple. Pour some starter, flour, salt, water & a bit of olive oil into the mixing bowl. Mix/knead for a minute or two. Put dough in the le Creuset (this is why I bring enamelled cast iron, btw) with some oil in the bottom, rubbing a bit more on top. Cover & let rise overnight. In the morning, it will take about half an hour to bake – you should flip it after about 20 minutes (conditions of your stove, the weather, your pot, etc will make this vary, of course). The result is a lovely, airy loaf with a crispy crust, thicker than foccacia but not as tall as a normal loaf usually, perfect to enjoy with eggs.

Breakfast

Brekky is important to me. (Stuart would say that’s an understatement.) Having grown up in America with a love of cooked brekkies, I’ve maintained my desire for nearly two decades in a land of muesli eaters. Don’t get me wrong, I like raw oats with nuts & Stuart’s stewed plums, but not as much as I like eggs and roast tomatoes. So here’s a sample of our camp brekkies:

  • ham/cheese/tomato scramble on turkish rolls – this was simpler than an omelette with the same ingredients as I would normally cook the fillings separately and re-introduce them to an omelette. While camping I was minimising extra washing up, because no matter how fun the cooking is, I’m less enthusiastic about washing up (especially with cold salt water…). I prefer mozzarella for this for the gooeyness.
  • poached egg on mushies with prosciutto & pecorino on fresh sourdough damper – I poached eggs in sea water with spectacular results.
  • breakfast burritos – egg, tomato, prosciutto, tasty cheese, optional yoghurt – Mexican, or American versions thereof, is standard on our menus, and brekky burritos make a nice change to the regular fry up, as well as being a simple option on a day without damper.
  • fried eggs, Boks bacon, fried tomato, fresh sourdough damper – we sought out local produce wherever possible along our Tasmanian adventure, and Boks bacon, though apparently only ‘bred free range’ instead of fully free range (and there is some controversy around all of this that I won’t go in to as I don’t know the story well enough), is really delicious bacon.
  • roast tomatoes & avocado with hand-whisked hollandaise (on very boring local ‘bakery’ bread) – I’m cheating here as we made this in a serviced apartment at Port Arthur, but I wanted to include it both to give Ev (who slept on our floor as we all escaped the endless rain) kudos for hand-whipping the hollandaise. It wasn’t as a thick an emulsification as if he’d had so much as a whisk to do the job (I gave him a fork…), but it was delicious nonetheless. You could definitely do this camping, and just fry the tomatoes.
  • french toast from leftover Zum bakery sourdough, zucchini flowers stuffed with chevre & egg, egged & fried in butter – I couldn’t pass up the zucchini flowers at the Hobart Farm Gate market, and we weren’t sorry.
  • fried tomato & Rare Food bacon on fried day-old sourdough – I know, we had bacon and we fried the bread. It was so bloody good we did it two days in a row. It’s an excellent solution to stale bread. The Rare Food bacon is from Matthew Evans of Gourmet Farmer fame’s pigs, which the Cygnet butcher then cures. It’s quality product, but the bacon is a little smoky for my palate.

    Zomigod, fried bread is *good*.

You admittedly couldn’t eat such rich breakfasts every day of your life, but hey, we were on holiday and couldn’t resist all the local free range eggs, amazing produce, free range bacon and stunning range of cheeses. Besides, it was important that I share the amazing variety of options one has when camping with you, dear readers. I did it all for you, and I liked it. 🙂

Lunches

Lunches are typically a deceptively simple affair when we camp as brekky and dinner are ostensibly the main acts. Their simplicity relies on picking up high quality local produce and making lovely rolls or a ploughman’s lunch with them.

  • Ploughman’s lunch – fresh baguettes, avocado, chicken liver pate, Bruny Island Cheese ‘Tom’, green olive tapenade, beetroot dip, tomato, cucumber, pickled walnuts – we sourced most of these ingredients at the lovely Pasini’s Cafe in Bicheno.
  • Wineglass Bay picnic – fresh rolls, salami, cheddar, avocado, tapenade, tomato
  • Hobart’s Botanical Gardens – oysters, BISH smoked trout, Bruny cheese ‘Tom’, tomatoes, cucumbers, Zum Bakery bread

    Happy picnics every day
  • camp pizza – quick pita/pizza dough, passata, salami, tomato, mushie, shallot, feta, pepper – make a pita dough from flour, baking soda, salt & water – you can add a little oil to keep it from sticking. Set aside and prepare your toppings, roll out your dough (I don’t carry a rolling pin as a bottle of wine does the job nicely) and cook it first on one side, then flip it, add the toppings & cover. It should be ready in less than 5 minutes.

Dinners

  • oysters, oysters, oysters – my new year’s resolution was to eat oysters every day we were in Tassie. Sadly, I failed to eat them on five out of 20 days, but I’m pretty sure I still ate my own weight in them. We reckon the best ones came from Get Shucked on Bruny Island.
    Another reason to carry a pepper grinder
    Prosecco goes rather well with oysters

  • beef stroganoff a la bourguignon – I often do some kind of beef stew when we camp, mostly because I’m happy to store beef for longer in the esky than most other meats, and it makes a very simple meal on around the fourth night. I improvise each time, and as I made this one, I chuckled to myself that I wasn’t sure whether I was really making stroganoff or bourguigon, nor could I remember exactly how I usually make either, hence I reckon this one was kind of both. I just cook up some onions, shallots & garlic, then add the beef and mushrooms. In the other pot, cook the pasta. Once the beef is just barely cooked, I push the bits aside, add a knob of butter (& a little reserved pork fat from that morning’s brekky), melt, then add flour and brown off before pouring in a bit of wine to thicken. Mix all the bits back through, strain the pasta and mix together in the big pot. You can add a bit of yoghurt or sour cream at this stage, as well as a healthy dose of freshly cracked pepper. Voilà – a two pot bastardised but tasty dish. 🙂

    Nothing fancy here, just noms. 🙂
  • Chipolata sausages with onion, capsicum & garlic on cheesy polenta – polenta is a genius camping starch, as is cous cous. I like to mix some mozzarella & pecorino through it to give it some creamy flavour.
  • Soft tacos/fajitas with spicy bolognese, onion & capsicum, fresh tomato, cheese, yoghurt, fried corn tortillas – I had some frozen bolognese, which served first as an ice pack in the esky, & later a very simple addition for a delicious dinner. I just added a bit of cumin and chili to change the flavour profile, fried up some onion & capsicum, & lightly fry the corn tortillas in oil to improve their store-bought texture. The kids go nuts for these.

    Soft taco
  • Sir Loin Breier Butcher’s eye fillet in shallots, served on fried potato/onion/garlic, topped with creamy mushies – this butcher in Bicheno (never mind the silly name) is turning out high quality grass-fed beef, as well as a range of sausages and apparently smoked mutton bird in season. This very simple dinner is another camping staple for us. Also, as we had one and a half two many steaks (they were big!), the next day we had more lovely fajitas with them. I do this with lamb usually, making kebabs with garlic sauce and doing my own pitas.
    Steak and potatoes

    Sir Loin Breier Butcher's eye fillet day 2 - fajitas!
  • scallops with onion, garlic, capsicum, fish sauce, sugar, lemon, Vietnamese black pepper, rice – once again, picking up the local produce pays off, and the scallops from the Freycinet marine farm were excellent cooked very quickly and served with rice.

    Bounty from Freycinet Marine Farm
  • pasta with mushie/garlic/shredded zucchini cooked in passata – I know I say everything is simple, but seriously, dried pasta for which one makes a sauce with passata and a couple of vegies, topped with the last of your pecorino (another great camping cheese as it lasts for ages) is easy enough for even the most reluctant cook, and an excellent choice after a week or so of camping when you’re meat free (assuming you were eating meat at all, of course) and need ingredients that keep.
  • quesadillas made with Bruny Island ODO – cheese, tomato, spring onion – we always travel with tortillas, and quesadillas are a Jonai staple whether at home or away. Very quick, lovely served with yoghurt, guacamole, jalapeños, and/or Tabasco. These were a guilty pleasure using Bruny Cheese’s excellent ODO (One Day Old).
  • vegie curry – last jar of my green tomato curry with zucchini, ginger, garlic, shallots, garam masala, coconut milk, served on cous cous, enjoyed with Bruny Island Pint Noir – I can’t imagine camping without at least one curry, and this one was particularly delicious. I credit the garam masala.
  • stir fry with zucchini & egg, bit of vinegar with shallot, garlic & ginger, cooked in pork fat – yep, you read it. There’s that pork fat again, making everything more delicious. It also means you’re saving and re-using fat instead of working out how to dispose of it responsibly in pristine wilderness. Another nice excuse, eh?

Dessert

Those who know me or regular readers here will know that I’m not really a dessert person. I have a relentlessly savoury palate, much to Stuart and the children’s chagrin. However, some local nectarines and goat’s cheese inspired me to make one dessert on the Tassie holiday.

  • nectarines cooked in butter, topped with chevre and local honey

I should mention that for a long camping trip without a re-supply, I would usually cook & freeze one or two lunch &/or dinner options the week before, such as lasagne, quiche or stroganoff. This means you’ve got extra ice in your esky for the first couple days, and have a substantial, delicious meal as fresh stuff starts to run out. For our Tassie trip, we were only camping 3-4 days at a time with a break to re-stock and do some washing in between, so I didn’t bother.

Another useful trick is to freeze water in ice cream or yoghurt containers for the esky so that when it melts, you have containers for leftovers. 🙂 And always pre-chill your esky the night before loading it up for the big trip!

May your produce be fresh, your cast iron strong, your knives sharp, your esky cold and your cooking fuel never run out. 🙂 Happy camping, all.

The banal pleasures of cooking

I was recently asked to peer review an article about gender and food preparation, and it brought me back to an old pet peeve when it posited ‘food prep’ as separate from ‘leisure time’. I’ve written about this before in a variety of ways, but the central point for me is that cooking is leisure sometimes, and when it’s arguably not, that is, even when you simply have to get dinner on the table after a long day, it can still be a very pleasurable activity if that’s how you frame it.

Banal activities are too often framed as ‘chores’, ‘exhausting’, ‘tedious’ or even ‘hard’. While I reckon not many people love vacuuming (though I know some who do), cooking has all the ingredients to be anything but boring or a chore. It’s a creative process, it’s nurturing, it can require dexterity and finger memory, linking one to family traditions and far flung places once visited. To reject cooking as leisure or pleasure is a life sentence of perceived drudgery. What a waste it is not to take pleasure from something most of us need to do every day of our lives.

This brings me to the summer holiday we’re on at the moment down at Stuart’s family’s beach house. We gathered here for Christmas with the family, and all up we have been eight grown ups and five children. Summers here are always full of good food and wine, with a heavy emphasis on seafood. This year I arrived with a clear desire to cook myself back into a homely space after a very busy year that saw me interstate constantly for work. And cook I have! I actually feel a bit guilty at my total dominance of the kitchen, and only hope I haven’t kept anyone else from cooking when they really wanted to (though they assure me they’ve been happy with the constant stream of dishes…). I’ve barely even sat down to read for a week, as my mind constantly ticks over what ingredients are in the fridge, formulating new combinations even as the last meal digests.

It started moments after we arrived, when I learned that a family friend who traditionally gives us loads of prawns, crayfish, mangos and cherries had in fact come through with the noms (though we got lychees instead of cherries as I understand this year’s harvest was destroyed by the floods – I wish all the farmers out there better luck next season, and hope the disaster wasn’t too debilitating for you). Immediately ‘shrimp and grits’, which I so enjoyed in Mississippi last year and have made a couple of times since, sprung to mind. I had polenta (grits being rather hard to come by in Oz), a selection of lovely cheeses (I used an aged cheddar and pecorino) for the ‘cheese grits’, and a beautiful eye of Fernleigh Farms free range bacon. A hint of cayenne pepper, plenty of garlic, the prawns and a garnish of spring onion finish the dish off.

Christmas Eve it was time to play with the crayfish. With a decadent half a cray each, obviously I needed to make aïoli. 🙂 Some small sourdough rolls made from leftover pizza dough (which were actually like little stones, oops!), lightly steamed asparagus and a fresh salad was the perfect dinner the day before the real feasting would begin. We concluded dinner with a fabulous round of D’Affinois provided by my generous father in law, who is renowned for his excellent choice of sensational cheeses. Lucky us!

A highlight of Christmas was receiving a KitchenAid mixer, leading to even more bread making than usual, and much dreaming of the sausage attachment. But let’s get onto Christmas dinner…

We had two small turkeys (only about 3kg each) – one free range from Birregurra and one conventional turkey, which was a lot plumper than the rather lean organic one. I did two different styles – one the way my American brother in law shared with me from Thanksgiving, and the other roughly following what I remember of Stephanie Alexander’s that I’ve been making for years. My version of the recipe from Gary involved cooking at a high temperature (220C) for about 45 minutes with no stuffing under an aluminium foil tent, then out of the foil at 200C. It produced hardly any juices and was a bit dry, but still tasty with the onion, garlic, olive oil, butter under the skin, salt and pepper.

The other turkey goes in at about 210C on its side with a stuffing I made from onion, garlic, free range bacon, bread crumbs, red wine, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper. After 15 minutes you flip it onto its other side for another 15 minutes, before popping it on its back at about 195C for the final hour. It was totally delicious, as was that stuffing. In fact, I reckon I’d be happy to just eat stuffing for Christmas dinner every year.

For sides I did green beans with toasted almonds and a balsamic reduction, roast beetroot with feta and pepper, smashed potatoes with rosemary, salt and pepper, and someone threw together a simple roast pumpkin. And of course there was a huge free range ham that we’re still enjoying in many forms.

Boxing Day lunch was a very simple affair of ham and fresh bread with a coleslaw made of cabbage, capsicum, spring onion & Stuart’s olives, dressed with more aïoli and the leftover balsamic reduction. Wayne brought out the D’Affinois again, as well as a lovely English Stilton and a Saint Agur – in the war of the French and English, I reckon the French win in the soft cheese department.

For dinner that night I was inspired by a recipe in one of Stefano Manfredi’s cookbooks, Seasonal Italian Favourites, to make a parsnip soup with the lovely turkey stock from the day before. Parsnip, leeks, garlic, Swiss brown mushrooms and a few potatoes made a glorious soup, topped off with a dollop of yoghurt and a few fried slivers of the ham, served with a fresh loaf of sourdough and luscious Lurpak butter.

My KitchenAid also inspired me to attempt croissants for the first time, which is rather hilarious as the mixer is only useful for the initial kneading, and after that, all the fiddly work is manual. Fiddly it was, but I was pleased with the results of my first attempt. Antigone helped me roll them and reckons next time we should roll them out thinner and then do a looser roll – and I think she is exactly right, the clever girl!

For breakfast the next day I did a simple omelette with the ham, tomato and mozzarella, served with another fresh loaf of sourdough, which I’m finally working out how to give a chewy crumb. I’ve been adding too much starter, I think, creating too acidic an environment to get strong gluten, so I’ve reduced the amount and kept to minimal kneading and long proving times (usually overnight). Thanks to Steve and Collette for your advice on the twitterz!

Lunch was inspired by a visit to the local fish shop, where we found Coffin Bay oysters and local mussels. Obviously this called for a simple Provençal style mussels as we had loads of gorgeous tomatoes asking to be eaten up. Onion, garlic, tomatoes, white wine and a hint of basil, served with sourdough sliced, coated with garlic and olive oil and toasted into crostini. Mollusc heaven!

My last effort was to finish off the kilos of prawns, so I made a tom yum goong last night. I had a quick look at the Gourmet Forager’s post on David Thompson’s recipe from Thai Street Food, and adapted it to what I had to work with. Inspired by Stuart’s desire to make a prawn stock with all the heads from our copious bounty, I fried off of the heads and skin briefly, then added water and coriander roots and brought it to the boil. After 15 minutes I strained it out and there was my base stock. I also grabbed the final leg of turkey and made a small stock with the bones & gristle, plus some celery in want of using. I only had it on for about an hour and a half, but it still contributed to deepening the flavour of the prawn stock, which would otherwise have been a bit insipid.

Into the stock went a bit of sugar, then bruised slices of galangal, lemongrass, lime skin (I didn’t have kaffir lime leaves) and chilies. Once I got the piquancy of the chilies, I added quartered mushrooms and tomatoes and cooked for about five minutes, before adding some of the delectable Phu Quoc fish sauce I hauled back from Vietnam and lime juice. A few little flavour adjustments to ensure I had the sweet, salty, spicy, sour combo right, and then I threw in the pre-cooked prawns just long enough to heat them through before serving topped with coriander leaves. I cannot explain how happy I was with the result of this soup!! Years of cooking and paying attention has finally paid off, and constant tasting throughout preparation has got me to a point where I can wing it like this and pull it off. Happy happy happy!

For those who’ve read this far, thank you for indulging me. 🙂 I love writing and thinking about cooking almost as much as I like doing it. Having developed such a profound love of this banal activity has been one of the most rewarding choices I have made in my life. Thank you to all the eaters who provide me with the opportunity to indulge my passion.

A Taste of Palermo, Sicily

Before arriving in Sicily, I’ll readily admit that all I really knew about the region’s food was to expect an emphasis on quality seafood and influences from north Africa and other cuisines around the Mediterranean. So I expected sardines, anchovies and octopus, cous cous and saffron, and of course arancini, calzone and cannoli, not to mention plenty of olives and legumes, and the ever present eggplant and tomatoes.

What I didn’t expect is the wonderful culture of street food (il cibo di la strada), and the variety of offal, nor the gusto with which all sorts of Siciliani approach it. I could almost be in Vietnam with the tasty diversity of rosticceria – the name comes from arrosti, or roasted, but from what I’ve seen in Palermo most seem to be fried? (in Palermo these foods include arancine, panelle, calzone, croquette, sfincioni…). You can eat these things in the little shops or next to the stalls selling them, or walk with your food, such as while strolling through the plentiful markets.

I was lucky to have Alessio, the brother of a Sicilian friend (Danilo) I made a few months ago in Brisbane to be my guide.

Alessio took me directly to a street stall selling panino con la milza (sandwich of beef spleen cooked in lard) for dinner my first night in Palermo. It was delicious – none of the coarse texture of kidney or badly cooked liver, this was tender and tasty goodness.

L’arancine are among Sicily’s most famous rosticceria – rice filled with meat, cheese and vegetables, breaded and fried or baked. A rosticceria I didn’t know is panelle – chick pea fritters, with a lovely texture almost like roti bread when you pull them apart. Potato croquettes are a simple and delicious snack at any time, and often sold alongside arancine and panelle.

Perhaps lesser known to those of us outside Italy is stigghiola – grilled goat’s intestines served with salt, pepper and lemon. They’re sort of the texture of lamb fat with chewy bits as well, and very more-ish. The stalls and little places selling these will often also sell spiedino – basically kebabs of meats, many with stuffing. We had spiedino with bacon, with panato (not sure what this was?), and one of pork. One had caciocavallo cheese and bay leaves in it as well, which gave a sharpness from the cheese and a lovely, burnt crunchiness from the leaves.

While I say ‘Siciliani‘, really I’m talking about Palermitani food, as Italy has not only distinctive dishes and traditions between its 20 regions, but even within regions. So while panelle are typical of Palermo, they apparently are not common in Siracusa on the east coast of Sicily, a mere 200km away.

Next, the pasta dishes. The ‘most typical’, I’m assured, is pasta con sarde, for which there are a lot of recipes I gather, but the one I had seems to be fairly typical on many menus. I had bucatini con sarde – a lovely thick, long, round noodle with sardines, fennel, saffron, sultanas, pine nuts and bread crumbs. The combination was heavenly, and I enjoyed it at Antica Focacceria di Santo Francesco, a Palermo institution that’s been open since 1834, amongst what appeared to be the glitterati of Palermitano society. One of the well coiffed women at the table next to me happily scoffed down a panino con la milza, such as I had enjoyed on the street the first night of my arrival. I know I shouldn’t have been surprised to see it on the menu and a well-groomed woman in white pants eating it, but I was. Silly, given I’m pretty sure Rockpool has a famous burger on its menu?

I’ve also enjoyed pasta alla norma – I chose penne, but I gather spaghetti and other pastas are also common. Pasta alla norma is rich with eggplant in a sugo that also includes salted ricotta (as distinct from sweet ricotta used in various desserts). It is a spectacular sauce and I look forward to making it at home!

Another pasta I had in Sferracavallo, a little town by the sea just out of Palermo, was spaghetti con ricci – a very spiny sea urchin that’s scooped out and made into a sugo. I found the flavour very intense – it starts with a strongly aromatic sweetness and finishes off with a slightly bitter flavour. I think a small dish of it would have been lovely, but the big plate was simply too much – Alessio and I swapped and I enjoyed the spaghetti con cozze (mussels) instead, which were small and deliciously tender and fresh.

A classic dish in Sicily is surely the insalata di frutti di mare – seafood salad. My favourite so far had mussels (though not enough of them), octopus, and seppia (cuttlefish), with carrot and I think radish, in the ubiquitous olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper. Zomigodyum.

And before @CarmR complains about a major oversight, I’ll mention the superb cannoli I enjoyed at Antica Focacceria, and the many granita di limone – lemon ice – I’ve slurped down in the heat of the Sicilian summer. I haven’t sampled other sweets because, close readers will have noticed, I have a relentlessly savoury palate and rarely eat sweets, but sweets are abundant everywhere!

I’ve only written about the things I’ve actually tasted, so of course there will be many I’ve missed. If anyone is keen to mention the other typical street foods I’ve neglected, or other typical dishes around Sicilia, please enlighten us! So little time, so much good cuisine! Buono apetito!

History is dead, Italy is alive!

Okay, folks, I’m going to say some controversial things now about history and culture. The historians and others with a keen interest in monuments of the past might take umbrage. A caveat – I’m a great admirer of antiquity and believe there are compelling reasons to study it and immerse oneself in ancient ruins. But I’m a cultural theorist, I focus on everyday life, and this trip is reminding me of some of the reasons why I chose to do this. Are you ready?

I’ve now been in three beautiful Italian cities, and in each I have felt completely enveloped by the past, but deeply engaged with the present. Of course, I’m here to research the present, but also the past, that is, what were the traditional dishes, mealtime habits, preparation methods when the biggest waves of Italian migrants were moving to Australia, and what are they now – how have things changed? To do this research, I have to talk to as many people as I can, sample as many dishes as possible, and wander as many markets as I can find. (NB Yes, I realise I have the best PhD ever and I’m ‘lucky’ and I will remind you all that luck is where preparation meets opportunity, and I seized mine when the idea arose. ;-))

While here, I sometimes feel like a tourist, and surely in some sense I am, though I am legitimised by having a scholarly mission. And of course I am sometimes surrounded by tourists, especially in Roma, which was awash with vast crowds of them. While in Bologna, where there are few tourists, I first thought about how the Bolognese conduct their modern, daily lives amongst such stately medieval grandeur with hardly a thought, it seems. While I would stop to gaze up at the frescos in the portici, they would stride purposefully by – their city’s history is just part of the landscape, a comfortable old blanket much beloved but hardly noticed as one sits down to read a book on a cold winter’s night.

After a few days, I realised I had not even considered entering any of the magnificent old churches, and I had a pang of guilt. But then I thought about how I would not learn about the daily rhythms of these people by wandering solo through their ancient religious houses, and I was here to learn those rhythms – entering the churches would in fact turn me into a tourist, and distract me from the task at hand. I carried on with my eating, talking and watching on the streets – the architecture a backdrop for the quotidian movements of the fair denizens of Bologna. I even made a note to myself that, ‘I want to feel the city’s pulse, not explore its cemeteries… I don’t need to enter its tombs, I need to find its living.

And then came the unexpected detour to Roma (it’s a long story that involves two busy parents who failed to lodge Oscar’s passport application before my departure, necessitating an emergency trip to the embassy in Roma so I could sign a form in front of a consulate officer – #adminfail #bureaucracyfail). I had no intention of spending time in Roma – was quite happy that my trip would be in smaller cities that would not be at the height of their tourist seasons. My view of the Italian capital was surely somewhat affected by a) the unforeseen bureaucratic debacle that led me to cancel flights, book a hotel and jump on a train; b) my desire to be in smaller cities; c) the fact that I despise crowds of tourists, even if I am but one more of their number.

So, Roma. At @orientalhotel’s advice, I went searching for the Campo dei Fiori for the market there. I was last in Roma 19 years ago, so I felt obliged to march past some of the monuments on the way – I went by the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, and the Trevi Fountain. They remain tributes to a long, rich history, and marvels of architecture and engineering. I took some of the mandatory photos. I shouldered through tour groups following guides with coloured ribbons hoisted on sticks with my teeth clenched.

The market at Campo dei Fiori was very grounding. I wandered through the stalls, gazing at the riotous life of the vegetables, bumping against locals doing their daily shopping. My forehead cleared, my shoulders lowered, and I found a little cafe just out of the way with no tourists and wood-fired pizzas. I spoke with the padrone – who was, of course, Sicilian (many seem to be?), and who graciously gave me some advice on where I must go for a certain wine, a certain dessert… interesting that his tips were immediately about food, even though I didn’t mention my research.

As I passed through the teeming hordes at the Trevi Fountain later, I actually had to fight tears at how much I was detesting the theme park feeling of everything. It felt impossible to have any sense at all of the rhythms of the Romans during this height of tourist season – instead even the diverse nationalities of the throngs were homogenised into a single category of Those Who Seek Monuments and Take Photos of Themselves in Front of Them. When they eat, it seems almost incidental, and I’m sure most aren’t even aware of how poor a representation of Italian food they are eating in the many clones of ristoranti proclaiming to have ‘Real Italian Food’ (Note to tourists: you’re in Italy, if they need a sign to say they have ‘real Italian food’, they probably don’t). The food at those ristoranti, by the way, reminded me a lot of the generic ‘Italian’ food sold at many restaurants on Lygon Street in Melbourne, though there is an increasing supply of quality, contemporary, regional Italian food on offer in our capital cities.

I don’t know what interactions the tourists might have with locals, but I suspect it’s only with service staff – which, admittedly is a problem for most travellers – how to penetrate the self-contained extant social groups of the locals? My thoughts on dining alone and Michael’s on why don’t we break down more social barriers when sharing a table in public explore some of those ideas.

This story ends in Palermo – I could not have chosen a starker contrast to Bologna’s understated elegance and formality than here. Palermo is steeped in its own rich cosmopolitan history and the crumbling, ornate palazzi are as visually rich as Bologna’s medieval austerity and Renaissance charm. The splendid chaos of its architectural mix – Byzantine, Arab, Norman, Renaissance and baroque – is matched by its multicultural population, and here passion is palpable. Beware the woman who catches a Siciliano’s eye – a warm grin, ‘ciao bella’ and intentful gaze are the consequence.

In Bologna the stranger is largely unnoticed and might have very few social encounters, leaving her to move silently from one church to another, and in Roma, the stranger is so common as to be perhaps disdained, and moves in herds between sites of antiquity that have very little feeling of connection to the city’s present culture – again, just a backdrop for a busy modern life. In Palermo, the stranger might attempt to move unmolested between monuments, but the narrow footpaths, frequent markets, and flashing eyes are unlikely to let you miss its pulse. Here, the walls are literally alive with vines and flapping laundry on its many little balconies – history is ingrained in the daily rhythms.

The markets in Palermo are a real joy – extensive stalls of colourful produce, masses of fish, loads of beautiful olives – the stallholders shouting across to each other and laughing in baritone. And in every little cafe or ristorante, chances are strong that a local will say hello to you, ask where you’re from, and then tell you how they’ve a) been to Australia b) would like to go or c) have relatives there.

I walked into the Cathedral, because it was there. I sat down in a pew and tried to reflect on my reticence to visit these beautiful monuments, hoping for divine inspiration. I watched the tourists flowing in and out, some quiet, many chatting, some on the phone, all taking photos. And then it happened, I got my sign… a man dashed in, head jerking about looking manically to see what he ‘needed’ to see. He stopped dead centre, took a quick photo of the altar, turned on his heel and dashed out, still manically trying to catch what little he could at speed. What has he learned? What has he gained or contributed by this spot of sightseeing? Not a lot, I will presume to say. I hope he then went and meandered slowly through the market, enjoying the excellent street food and chatting with the locals about their favourites, but I doubt it.

The 18th International Ethnological Food Research Conference

This week in Finland has been a stimulating blur of presentations and conversations about food, punctuated daily with doses of pickled herring. The 18th International Ethnological Food Research Conference was hailed by all as a great success, bringing together international scholars from a variety of disciplines to consider the historical, cultural, sociological, nutritional, political and ethical issues around the production, preparation and consumption of food. As well as many excellent papers, the conference had a thoughtful social program of dinners and outings, offering us all more opportunities for meeting and developing new friendships and possible collaborations.

Some highlights from the papers, in chronological order as I heard them:

  • Johanna Mäkelä of the National Consumer Research Centre in Finland gave a detailed overview of ‘The Making of Finnish Food Culture’, highlighting competing discourses of Finnish food culture, such as: ‘it’s rich and multidimensional’, ‘there is no food culture in Finland’, ‘healthiness’, and ‘food as a central part of culture’. Such discourses exist in all nations and indeed many regions or even cities, of course. Johanna’s comments that almost 20% of the Finnish people consider pizza to be one of Finland’s national dishes resonated with Australia’s cultural borrowings as I wrote about in New Matilda earlier this year.
  • Nancy Yan of Ohio State University spoke about questions around ‘authenticity’ in the Chinese American context, asserting that authenticity can either disempower or empower, that it is ‘pervasive but limiting’ and that rather than dismantle the concept, perhaps we need to reframe it. She argued a case for ‘multiple authenticities’, and raised the particularly interesting question – ‘why does location determine authenticity?’ That is, why can’t a dish such as chop suey, invented outside of China, stake a claim to being an authentic Chinese dish? I would probably answer that its stake is in Chinese American cuisine, but that arguably the most pressing question is why is it important to the producers and consumers of chop suey that it have any claim to authenticity in the first place?
  • Eldbjørg Fossgard of the University of Bergen in Norway offered a history of the ‘Cultural and Symbolic Aspects of Everyday Meals in 19th & 20th C Norway’, which sketched out the shift from practices of children eating alone in the kitchen to moving to the family table over time. The changing values around raising children and the importance of role modelling as the nuclear family became more important than extended family models led to discourses of teaching children manners, hygiene and healthy eating habits. This talk resonated with me as I had received an email from my 10 year old Oscar that morning responding to an email I’d sent lauding the virtues of pickled herring for breakfast, in which he wrote: ‘The brekky didn’t sound that good but when you said it was delicious I wanted some.’
  • Ken Albala of the University of the Pacific followed up with a discourse analysis of what food scholars are saying about the perceived decline in the family meal and its social impact. He ultimately concluded that very few in his survey seemed overtly concerned that the declining importance of the family meal signals social decay. Those most likely to be concerned about such changes were in countries where traditions are changing rapidly, whereas those in countries where agro-industry is a fait accompli were very unlikely to note concerns.
  • Christian Coff from the University College Sealand in Denmark gave an excellent presentation on ‘Food Ethics in Everyday Food Consumption’. Christian kindly gave me the copy he’d brought of his book ‘The Taste for Ethics: An Ethic of Food Consumption’, which I’ll write about here on the blog after I read it. Some of his most interesting points included:
    • Ethical traceability – the story of the food should be traceable (in the EU traceability is law, but stops at the retailer – there is no compulsion to pass the information on to the consumer).
    • There are many philosophical schools of thought on ethics, but some of the most compelling perhaps include Honnerth’s notion of ‘consciousness of injustice’ – thinking about ethics in terms of relationships. Food is a relationship, originating from nature and undergoing a transformation from the natural to the cultural.
    • ‘The vision of the good life with and for others in fair food production and consumption practices’ – that is, you cannot enjoy the good life ethically if in order for you to do so you must support or cause some injustice to others.
    • He suggested that the main areas in food ethics include: food security, food safety, nutritional values and production history, and posed the question ‘what about taste?’ – what is its role in considering food ethics?
    • As for food ethics in everyday life, we can consider them at common meals, while shopping and cooking, and via catering outlets (everything from restaurants to hospital canteens).
    • Christian offers a model via the semiotic perspective, where there is the food with its values and qualities as related to two different interpreters, in this case producers and consumers (or suppliers and receivers) – and in between them is the food sign, or the trace, in which case nothing may be signified. The point at which the food is signified or merely leaves a trace is of major significance – how can a consumer have an ethical relationship to his or her food if it is untraceable – the mode of production completely invisible? When the mode of production is invisible, we are left ‘eating secrets’. Agro-industry often has a strong investment in maintaining this opacity – it is not in the interest of a massive pig factory farm (as reported here on boing boing) to show the consumer the horror of the conditions these animals suffer, or they are likely to make different choices. Joel Salatin advocates for making farmers transparent and accountable, as I summarised after hearing him a few months ago.
  • Hanne Pico Larsen from Columbia Univeristy & Susanne Österlund-Pötzsch from Åbo Akademi University in Turku, where the conference was held, gave a very interesting presentation on Marcus Samuelsson, the chef until recently at New York’s Aquavit restaurant, who uses the notion of Ubunto, a word from Zulu loosely translatable as ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’ in his cooking. Samuelsson is ‘multi-ethnic’, being African Swedish now cooking and writing in the United States – and Hanne and Susanne refer to the notion of ‘American plus’ – where there are advantages of being American with a sort of ‘bonus’ non-white ethnicity. They extend the idea, suggesting that ethnic identity in Samuelsson’s work is playful, and that he draws on what they call ‘playful nostalgia’ to make old traditions appealing, also developing a creative hybridity, such as a ‘sushi’ made from pickled herring on a rolled bit of mashed potato. Ultimately, they argued, ubunto enables one to keep multiple and flexible ethnicities.
  • My paper followed directly after Hanne and Susanne, which was timely as I was talking about the importance of maintaining distinctive vernacular foodways in order to have cosmopolitan societies. That is, if one never encounters difference – if hybridity is the new homogeneity – then society stops being challenged by difference and seeking greater openness to and engagement with the Other. I talked about how ‘creative substitutions’ are an essential aspect of successful tactics by migrants at settling homely identities in new lands, but that distinctive traditions and dishes should be respected and to an extent preserved in order to maintain real difference. I also pointed out the inherent ‘dangers’ in insisting on ‘authenticity’ – particularly the dangers of essentialism – but also to the opportunities and affordances for the cosmopolitan project.
  • Déirdre D’Auria from University College Dublin offered a fascinating insight into the historical rise of Italian food as everyday food in Ireland. Interestingly, there is only a very small migrant population of Italians in Ireland, but the many Catholic crossings of the Irish to Rome from 1950 may have been a key factor in the rise of popularity of Italian food. It is a topic worth following further given what I’ve learned in Vietnam, which also has Italian as the fastest growing non-Vietnamese food sector in the country, without a concomitant migrant population to explain its popularity.
  • Håkan Jönsson of Lund University in Sweden gave a very interesting presentation on the ethical aspects of commercialising ethnological research. Pointing to the growing interest in food culture from both consumers and producers, and the nature of glocalisation giving places new values, Håkan believes there is a growing imperative and opportunity for trained ethnologists to provide expertise, in particular to the producers. He warns that as a researcher working for commercial aims, you may end up ‘being an alibi for a traditional line extension product’, and proposes that we should be preparing students for these challenges. Lund University now offers a Master of Applied Cultural Analysis that seeks to provide its students with precisely these research and commercial skills. In the discussion that ensued, Christian Coff pointed out that in fact researchers in this case may end up as ‘tools for the exercise of power’, and I expressed concern that such research training must include ethical training – that surely it is central to scholarship to ensure we are working for the global public good, and not ending up as ‘alibis’.
  • Maria Frostling-Henningsson from Stockholm University in Sweden gave a fascinating paper about her recently concluded research project into ‘Consumer Strategies for Coping with Dilemmas Concerning the Meal and Eating Habits’. The project was particularly interested in examining the gap between intentions and practice, and how people cope with significant gaps. They found that those with children and teenagers were most likely to have a significant gap, whereas empty nesters were much less likely. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most common strategy was a ‘justification of non-choices’ – a ‘passive’ strategy that lays responsibility more at the feet of society rather than taking individual responsibility. I was reminded strongly of my post on good cooking and finding time, and my own coping strategies when practice doesn’t measure up to intentions. Two of Maria’s methodologies interested me enormously, one called ZMET, where subjects are asked to choose pictorial representations of their attitudes about food, and another where they asked subjects to write poems about their attitudes. Both seemed very creative ways to engage subjects in multi-faceted ways rather than just straight interviews and observation. In the subsequent question period, Christian again brought a useful philosophical lens when he pointed out that in asking subjects about their intentions and practices, it depends on whether you are asking and answering as a citizen (global good) or as a consumer (individual desires and habits).

There were many other papers worthy of discussion, but I couldn’t go to all of them (we had three parallel sessions each time) and I have here highlighted those I went to that were of most relevance to my own project and interests. The days were incredibly fruitful, the participants wonderfully diverse in discipline, nationality and in fact, age (ranging from late 20s to 93 years old!), leading to many surprising and fascinating discussions. I really hope to be able to attend the 19th IEFRC in 2012 at Lund University, and then to convince them to let the conference move outside of Scandinavia to attract even more scholars from other regions.

Love on the plate

I am a creature of food and geography

(I)
I ran away from America
trading politics for a new palate
ate mushies on toast in the chill midsummer air
under the shadow of Big Ben.

Then, watching football at the hostel
my eyes strayed to your large, flop-topped form
as you swayed over a pot of top ramen,
and later wrapped me in your Dryzabone in the rain
before Pavarotti in Hyde Park.

In Paris, it was
tin after tin of red kidney beans
splashes of French dressing
our lives forever in
shared containers littered with utensils sharp and dull.

You followed me back to college,
San Diego’s meals were punctuated with your obsessions
one week, carrots, the next, raisins,
no matter how sweet or salty the dish,
we ate your fetishes.

Australia called you home,
so we endured years of frugal living
and expensive flights,
carting Ranch dressing and Vegemite,
until Tasmanian smoked salmon graced our wedding feast.

A year in an Oregon cabin feverish with love
we cranked the handle of our pasta machine
while cabernet flowed down throats
wide with innocence and naivety,
three tenors forced our arms aloft
and our breasts apace.

Returning to Oz via China,
we slurped over-the-bridge noodles in Kunming
lidded with chili paste, matching heat in our
loins and our bowels,
we stared wide-eyed at rows of suspended
roast dogs, and quickly learned
cài, cèsuǒ, and xièxie.

Having failed to share canine in Guangzhou,
we thought we’d try grasshoppers in Oaxaca,
deep fried, coated in chili,
only to watch them sweat in the plastic, uneaten.
We souvenired 7 kilos of Mexican chocolate instead.

Surrounded by exotic, erotic sculptures
in relief on high temples
there in small, significant
Khajuraho we ate alu palak with naan,
sweet curd in earthen bowls,
we discarded to shatter back to their source.

(II)
From the earth, Oscar grows
like a ginger flower inside me,
gifting me his palate, I gave up our favourites,
one after another, spinach, garlic, basil and cumin
a vegetarian could eat no vegetables.

Antigone’s term in my womb was more
about feast than famine
as I gobbled up sushi
and tacos, burritos and salsa,
we jointly asserted our love
of a Japanese dinner and Mexican lunch.

My final term as vessel for others’ tastes,
I remember nothing but burgers
slathered in hot English mustard
like Atticus, all solid and spice.
I chopped garlic in labour
And birthed him to the clatter of Chinese steel.

(III)
Our kitchens, taste genres of Socratic method,
rhythms of kneading dough, cranking pasta sheets,
and chop chop chopping endless globes of garlic,
the only warm spaces in unheated houses
where we share a taste for desire
desiring taste.