The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'food'
The Independent has a piece on the cultural differences between England and France, specifically pertaining to the question of lunch, which, in France, is an epicurean ritual taking several hours, whilst in England, is a takeaway sandwich, often efficiently consumed at one's desk (time is money, after all):
The French have the guillotine to thank for that. French food culture really took off when the princes of the Ancien Régime – who had spent most of the 1770s and 1780s gorging themselves – took off into exile. Along with their châteaux, they left their armies of chefs behind, who, sensing the way the wind was blowing, set up restaurants to feed the rising men of the middle class.
Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, published in 1861 for England's housewives, did not contain a chapter on "The Foundations of Pleasure", as Brillat-Savarin's had done. Sensuous pleasure in lunching and dining was for someone else – probably for venal foreigners or, as English writer Hannah Glasse said, those men who, full of "blind folly", employed a French chef and "their tricks". "They would," she harrumphed in her book Everlasting Syllabub and the Art of Carving, "rather be imposed on by a French Booby than give encouragement to a good English cook."There was a time when Continental influences started making inroads into Britain—the two or three decades from the end of post-WW2 austerity —but Thatcherism and the cult of yuppie power-efficiency all but put paid to such profligacy and very un-British decadence, and restored the traditional English order—utilitarian, empirical, with undertones of a very Protestant puritanism—to the lunch hour, bolstered by the ascendant imperative of Anglocapitalism:
By the Eighties, simple pleasures became uneconomical. The Prime Minister gave up sleeping and lunch was for wimps. Well-upholstered City gents, who had previously led the vanguard of British lunching in the restaurants of St James's, were to be found, prawn sandwich in hand, in front of a trading screen in a glass box in Canary Wharf. "We were back to where we started: lunch as fuel to power us into the afternoon," Vogler says.Meanwhile, where Anglocapitalist modes of gastronomy—i.e., le junk food—infiltranted France, even where they succeeded, they became coopted by French cultural norms on how one relates to food:
Recent headlines proclaiming France to be the second-most profitable market for Ronald and Co (after the US) are true but that's because, as The New York Times points out, the French go to the fast-food chain less often but spend much more, ordering "more than one course" as they would in any other restaurant.
Q: What do (US) Chicken McNuggets™ and Silly Putty have in common? A: dimethylpolysiloxane, an "anti-foaming agent".
American McNuggets (190 calories, 12 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat for 4 pieces) contain the chemical preservative tBHQ, tertiary butylhydroquinone, a petroleum-based product. They also contain dimethylpolysiloxane, “an anti-foaming agent” also used in Silly Putty.
Christopher Kimball, the founder and publisher of Cook’s Illustrated magazine and host of the syndicated cooking show America’s Test Kitchen, says he suspects these chemicals are required for the nuggets to hold their shape and texture after being extruded into nugget-shaped molds.These chemicals don't show up in McNuggets in Britain, apparently due to the EU's stricter food laws.
(via Boing Boing)
An unusual study has examined paintings of the Biblical scene of the Last Supper made over the past 1,000 years, and noticed that serving sizes in the paintings have increased over the millennium; with each painting, thanks to gradual improvements in agriculture, the artist (and their audience) were used to larger meals than previously, which coloured the artist's creative decisions:
There is scant evidence that the body mass index of people in developed societies soared into unhealthy ranges for most of the 1,000 years studied, Young said. But there is little doubt, she added, that that changed in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s -- coincidentally, when portion sizes began a dramatic run-up.
The Wansinks, however, suggest that portion growth may have a provenance far older than industrial farming and the economics of takeout food.Instead, they suggest, it's a natural consequence of "dramatic socio-historic increases in the production, availability, safety, abundance and affordability of food" over the millennium that started in the year 1000 A.D.
Scientists in the Netherlands have come one step closer to creating vat-grown meat. The team at Eindhoven University have grown muscle tissue from cells extracted from a pig. They still need to find a way of exercising the tissue to turn it into something resembling meat; at present, it is described as "a soggy form of pork", though they say that this development could lead to sausages in as little as five years.
It is hoped that, when it arrives, vat-grown meat will be vastly more environmentally efficient, requiring fewer resources to grow, not to mention being free of animal suffering. The current process is not vegetarian, though, using animal blood products in the growth medium.
On a tangent: earlier this year, scientists mapped the cow genome, and discovered that the genes involved in making cattle docile are in regions which, in humans, are involved in mental retardation.
British supermarket chain Sainsbury's has unilaterally renamed the fish known as pollack to "colin", in an attempt to rid it of connotations of poor quality and/or avoid potential offense to Britain's Polish community. In a further attempt to sell more of the fish, Sainsbury's hired the designer Wayne Hemingway (of fashion label Red Or Dead) to come up with Jackson Pollock-inspired packaging for the newly rebranded fish.
This is not the first time Britain's supermarkets have renamed products to avoid (actual or imagined) embarrassment; in 2001, Tesco considered renaming spotted dick to "spotted Richard".
(via Boing Boing Gadgets)
The secretive totalitarian state of North Korea, the last place on Earth ruled by a God-Emperor, has made a technological breakthrough, developing a noodle which delays feelings of hunger:
"When you consume ordinary noodles (made from wheat or corn), you may soon feel your stomach empty. But this soybean noodle delays such a feeling of hunger," it said on its website.This is not North Korea's first invention in the field of nutritional technology (some five years earlier, they invented the computer drink), though does suggest a heightened desperation to feed a starving people (or at least a hungry soldiery required to keep those people from rising up). Though presumably once that's taken care of, the North Koreans can look forward to export income from Westerners concerned about their weight.
The Japanese government is planning a system for certifying the authenticity and Japaneseness of Japanese restaurants around the world:
The origins of the wasabi horse-radish (preferably from the Izu peninsula), miso paste (preferably from the Nagano mountains) and pickled ginger (preferably from Tochigi) will all be scrutinised. Rice is expected to be the most frequent area of failure: a true sushi master will insist on Japanese koshihikari rice grown in Japan.
The same variety grown in California might, just, be acceptable. Faux pas may include serving Chinese soy sauce, or miso soup in a porcelain cup.Meanwhile, bluefin tuna used in sushi has been found to contain terrifying amounts of mercury, at least in the US.
In March, the British Library is hosting hosting a futurist banquet, based on Futurist Manifesto author Filippo Marinetti's 1932 La Cucina Futurista:
The starter makes it clear that this will be no ordinary meal. Expect to be served an olive, a quartered fennel bulb and a kumquat, while the fingers of your free hand stroke morsels of velvet, silk and sandpaper. At the same time the scent of carnations will be sprayed into the room and your ears will be assailed by “wild jazz”, Wagner and aeroplane noise.
Typical Futurist dishes included meat broth sprinkled with champagne and liquor and decorated with rose petals, or the deliberately obscene-looking porco eccittato, a whole cooked salami upended on a plate with coffee sauce mixed with eau de cologne.
Benito Fiore, chairman of the Italian Academy of Cuisine in London, is hosting the event to support the British Library exhibition Breaking The Rules: The Printed Face of the European Avant Garde 1900-1937. He said: “Marinetti was a really fantastic person but his food was awful to eat. We are trying to make it edible.”Entry to the banquet is £75; dress code is "classic or 1930s with a Futurist twist".
Scientists in the Netherlands are working on growing artificial meat in the laboratory without the need of growing an entire animal to go with it.
Under the process, researchers first isolate muscle stem cells, which have the ability to grow and multiply into muscle cells. Then they stimulate the cells to develop, give them nutrients and exercise them with electric current to build bulk.
After perfecting that process, scientists will then need to figure out how to layer tissues to add more bulk, since meat grown in petri dishes lacks the blood vessels needed to deliver nutrients through thick muscle fibers.
And then there is the question of fat, to add flavor.Growing something vaguely like processed meat, consisting of a mass of undifferentiated muscle cells, is one thing; giving something with the structure of real muscle tissue is another. And while the process is both more efficient than keeping animals (in terms of energy input, farming livestock for meat is orders of magnitude more expensive per calorie than growing crops) and doesn't involve killing animals, the idea of eating meat not from a slaughtered animal still fills people with visceral disgust (in a way that killing animals for meat, for the most part, doesn't; presumably because our ancestors have been doing it, one way or another, for millions of years), and so cultured meat may be slow to find acceptance.
Blog of the day: Suicide Food ("animals that want to be eaten") looks at the profusion of anthropomorphic animal mascots used to advertised food made from such animals, gleefully rejoicing in the eating of such food, and rating each one on how disturbing or perverse it is when you actually think about it:
It's not what it seems. The chicken, while being strangled harshly enough to pop out feathers, isn't pleading for help. That is not the international "I'm choking!" gesture. No. It's a wave. The chicken is waving to us. And with his left wing, he is welcoming us to the ranch. ("Ta-daaa!") Whether this is perverted or pathological, it's unwholesome. This playful pair, interrupted during a murder-suicide pact--or, is it merely prelude to the most revolting sex ever?--doesn't even have the decency to be embarrassed. The pig's ten gallon hat is pulled down tight enough to shut out the world, and the bug-eyed chicken just wants to get on with it and get it on.
The Wagon Wheel gives us a new twist on a standard theme. Pinky (as the website identifies him) is not simply preparing to dive onto the grill. No, he has contrived to be sent from present-day Stilwell, Kansas, back in time to the Papal Inquisition, there to subject himself to horrors unending and the torments of the soul. Thus, the act we see the pig performing in a state of near-ecstasy. "The Devil's Bicycle," as it is known in the alternate universe under discussion, involves the penitent pedaling a burning wagon wheel, all the while dodging the Holy Spit.Update: Just after I posted about it, Suicide Food outdid itself with this beauty:
One could write an essay on the cultural differences between France and America based on this entry and the others on this site.
(via Boing Boing)
A list of bizarre and delicacies which one is unlikely to see in any restaurant, even one that serves (almost) illegal delicacies:
Ortolan: Famous for being the last meal of Francoise Mitterand, ortolan is a tiny songbird that is said to "embody the soul of France." To prepare, one must capture the birds alive, blindfold them (or place them in a lightless box) and gorge them on millet, grapes and figs. To cook, pop the little guys in the oven for a couple of minutes. The trick is in the eating. You must place the whole bird in your mouth, leaving the head dangling out and place a cloth over your head. Supposedly the most delicious taste on the planet, the dish is illegal in its native France and, of course, here.
Mellified Man: Mellified Man was a manmade dish popular in ancient Arabia. According to Mary Roach, author of Stiff, men 70-80 years old, on death's doorstep anyway, would cease to eat food, instead partaking solely of honey. Pretty soon, they would be mellified, that is, "he excretes honey (the urine and feces are entirely honey)." Soon he dies and is placed in a honey-filled coffin which is then sealed for 100 years. At the end of the 100 years, the goop is eaten up.Also illegal in the US (where the article was written, and the barely-legal restaurant it refers to serves things like foie gras and absinthe) are unpasteurised French cheeses (though there is a thriving underground of bootlegging "fromaguerillas" importing the stuff under the nose of the Feds) and fugu, or the Japanese puffer fish.
But yes, don't expect your favourite trendy restaurant to start serving mellified man any time soon; for one, the logistics would be problematic (would you order in advance?)
(via Boing Boing)
Vat-grown meat, cultured in vats of nutrients from a single stem cell, could be on the market by 2009:
A single cell could theoretically produce enough meat to feed the world's population for a year. But the challenge lies in figuring out how to grow it on a large scale. Jason Matheny, a University of Maryland doctoral student and a director of New Harvest, a nonprofit organization that funds research on in vitro meat, believes the easiest way to create edible tissue is to grow "meat sheets," which are layers of animal muscle and fat cells stretched out over large flat sheets made of either edible or removable material. The meat can then be ground up or stacked or rolled to get a thicker cut.
"To produce the meat we eat now, 75 (percent) to 95 percent of what we feed an animal is lost because of metabolism and inedible structures like skeleton or neurological tissue," says Matheny. "With cultured meat, there's no body to support; you're only building the meat that eventually gets eaten."Other than increased efficiency and the warm, fuzzy feeling of knowing that no beautiful creature must die for that flesh you so fancifully fry, there are other advantages, such as the possibility of tailoring the makeup of the meat to be healthier, or indeed to taste unlike any natural meat. Of course, making synthetic mincemeat is one thing, and making a steak is another:
Taste is another unknown variable. Real meat is more than just cells; it has blood vessels, connective tissue, fat, etc. To get a similar arrangement of cells, lab-grown meat will have to be exercised and stretched the way a real live animal's flesh would.And then there is the question of whether the public would accept cultured meat; and indeed whether it would be acceptable for a vegetarian to eat something grown from a cell. And if it is, I wonder how long until fetishists start growing meat from their own cells for purposes of autocannibalism.
They're now working on carbonating things other than soft drinks; like, for example, milk and fruit and such:
"When you put the product on your tongue you get a woosh of gas that comes off the product and onto your mouth," said John Brisson, a mechanical engineering professor and co-developer of the carbonated ice cream. "With soda you don't get this woosh kind of thing."
A company called Fizzy Fruit plans to introduce carbonated, cut fruit to sell at schools and other venues.
(via bOING bOING)
Researchers in the US have made advances in the production of cultured meat, i.e., meat grown in nutrients from cell colonies, but barriers, both technical and cultural, remain:
They envisage muscle cells growing on huge sheets that would be regularly stretched to exercise the cells as they grow. Once enough cells had grown, they would be scraped off and shaped into processed meat products such as chicken nuggets.
The idea of doing away with traditional livestock and growing steaks from scratch dates back at least 70 years. In a horizon-scanning essay from 1932, Winston Churchill said: "Fifty years hence we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium."
"Right now, it would be possible to produce something like spam at an incredibly high cost, but the know-how to grow something that has structure, such as a steak, is a long way off," said Mr Matheny.
"It won't appeal to someone who gave up meat because they think it's morally wrong to eat flesh or someone who doesn't want to eat anything unnatural," Ms Bennett [of the Vegetarian Society] added.Of course, once it is possible to grow meat from donor cells without killing a living thing, a lot of things become possible. How long, I wonder, until some transgressive technogoth type decides to grow steaks from their own muscle cells and holds a cannibal dinner party? Despite the fact that no-one gets hurt, a lot of people would find this beyond the pale, and given how disgust often translates into legislation, chances are the practice will become outlawed in a great many countries. Which, of course, would only drive it underground and give it prestige and cachet.
"Princess Dreams" oven-ready turkey nuggets. Which means that someone decided that the best way to sell mechanically reconstituted meat was to brand it with a sub-Barbie/Disney "Princess" motif, complete with oddly mannish-looking "princess" character.
The next casualty in the list of disappearing ad-free surfaces: potato crisps. (via bOING bOING)
How much does global trade, and the economic reality of centralising production of types of food, contribute to global warming? (via jwz)
Sustain, a U.K.-based food and farming alliance, has shown that iceberg lettuce flown from Los Angeles to London requires 127 calories of fuel for every food calorie. Sustain also reports that countries often end up swapping food instead of importing critical items that cannot be produced locally. The U.K., for example, imported 126 million liters of milk and exported 270 million liters in 1997.
Researchers at Iowa State University have found that fruits and vegetables travel an average of 1,500 miles within the U.S., a 22 percent increase since 1981.
The very essence of trade -- transporting goods from producers to consumers -- takes a toll on the environment. Free trade may appear to be the solution to many economic problems when social and environmental "externalities" are ignored. Global warming is only one such externality, but its sheer scale and complexity make it a litmus test for whether the emerging global economy can be sustained in the long run.
The latest eating disorder: orthorexia, or an excessive dedication to following increasingly strict diets:
Amid a cacophony of competing menus, Bratman quickly forged his own dietary regime, eating only vegetables just plucked from the ground and chewing each mouthful 50 times. "After a year or so of this self-imposed regime, I felt light, clear headed, energetic, strong and self-righteous," Bratman wrote in an account of his experience. "I regarded the wretched, debauched souls around me downing their chocolate chip cookies and fries as mere animals reduced to satisfying gustatory lusts."
(via bOING bOING)