Food Ways: An Introduction

Plane wing at dawn

Dawn in the air

So I am stuck on a plane, eating rather tasteless penne and cheese while reading Rob MacFarlane’s “The Old Ways”. While Rob writes about walking in a way that resonates, he rarely eats. My memory of walking seems to be centered around food whether it be the Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut squares that Dad and I ate to keep us going, the corned beef and ketchup sandwiches that Dad loved, our discovery when visiting the Lake District for the first time of Kendal Mint Cake or the afternoon teas at the end, food was very much part of my venturing into the British countryside. In fact, I missed that most when I started hiking in the US as there was no pub lunch and no afternoon tea.

The second chapter in “The Old Ways” is an anthology of writers who have written about walking. So many books to read. I realized that I want to write about food the way Rob writes about wildness. I think food might be harder to do; food is civilized and urbane; cuisine has defined what we consider to be a meal, snack, beverage, fruit and vegetable. Culture has defined food down to when we should eat what; including the meals on planes. Why are we provided food on planes? What is the history behind air travel and food. After all food isn’t bought to you on a train or a bus. Stage coaches had to stop at inns so passengers could get food. On boats I guess food was provided or were steerage passengers expected to bring their own food with them?

What is the history of food on the move?

I read somewhere that our taste is affected by the pressure/altitude/air circulation on planes. Unfortunately these food providers aren’t aware of that fact. The overcooked broccoli was the only thing with any kind of flavor, even though its texture had been destroyed. The penne in white sauce was flavorless – the texture was redeemed by some minor crunchy bits where it had been overcooked. I have never liked cooked carrots, so I can’t judge what their flavor. No wonder my seatmate bought her own sandwiches.

I tried to search food for journeys on Google. The problem is that there are lots of journeys centered around food; mostly exploring the food of a new-to-you culture. I tried portable food and discovered that Lewis and Clark took portable soup with them on their journey. It wasn’t very popular apparently! GLEW by name, gluey in nature. The Smithsonian has a good summary of food in space. Of course we have popularity of Tang® and freeze-dried food thanks to NASA.

I checked through my library of food books. In “Pickled, Potted, and Canned” Sue Shephard has a chapter on “Great Journeys” that discusses some of the history of food on the move. Wealthy travelers on familiar routes were able to use monastery guest houses, hospices, and inns. Poorer people typically carried food with them, as did all people travelling less well known roads. A list of portable foods throughout the world includes a lot of dried or cured food, such as dried fruit, fish, meat, hardtack, jerky, pemmican and Johnny or journey cakes. Later in the chapter, Sue discusses polar explorers who weren’t so great at nutrition. I remember being told by one of my nutrition professors that Scott (of the Antarctic) partly failed because he didn’t believe that fruit was necessary to prevent scurvy. Sue agrees that Scott failed because of malnutrition and exhaustion.

As a food scientist, I am interested in the descriptions of what happens to food during travel. The shelf-life of dried meats and fruit dramatically decreased when ships reached the tropics. This is probably caused by a mixture of the high humidity and heat. At the other end of the climate spectrum, explorers in the Arctic and Antarctic found that the extreme cold changed their food. It must have been a shock to see that molasses had mostly solidified and that dried fruit was frozen tight in their wooden barrels. “Sugar formed a funny compound” is one description. Now I want to find out what that meant; what happens to sugar at 32 oC.

References

Dismukes K and Petty J I (2002)Food for Spaceflight, NASA, https://spaceflight.nasa.gov/shuttle/reference/factsheets/food.html

MacFarlane, R. (2012) The Old Ways. Penguin, London.

Rupp R (2014) The Luke-Warm, Gluey, History of Portable Soup. National Geographic, http://theplate.nationalgeographic.com/2014/09/25/the-luke-warm-gluey-history-of-portable-soup/

Shephard, S (2000)  Pickled, Potted, and Canned. Simon and Schuster, New York. Chapter 13 “Great Journeys”.

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (nd) Food in Space. https://airandspace.si.edu/exhibitions/apollo-to-the-moon/online/astronaut-life/food-in-space.cfm

Walker H (editor) (1996) Food on the Move: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, 1996. Prospect Books, Devon.

 

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Equity and the American Idea

As an naturalized American, I have always struggled with the idea of American exceptionalism especially considering the injustice I see daily through poverty and food insecurity. Could understanding equity help me appreciate the American idea? Two articles allowed me to start thinking about this question.

The first article “Is the American Idea Over?”[i] looks at the original ideology that lead to the founding of the Atlantic Monthly in 1857. The original mission statement, if there had been mission statements in the nineteenth century, was for the magazine to be an exponent of what they believed to be the American idea as expounded by Theodore Parker in 1850. He stated that the American idea was comprised of three statements:

  • That all people are created equal;
  • That all people possess unalienable rights;
  • That all people should have the opportunity to develop and enjoy those rights.

This article concludes that the American idea is essentially that “prosperity and justice do not exist in tension, but flow from each other” and that’s what we should be currently defending. While I think I agree, I am concerned that there are too many ways to interpret both prosperity and justice[ii].

As someone moving into the food justice nonprofit world, I’ve read a lot of mission statements and vision statements and objectives that promise equity without necessarily defining what equity means to them. I took equity for granted until I read the second article, “Can We Agree on this Simple Definition of Equity?”[iii]  in which equity is defined as it applies to nonprofits and philanthropic foundations:

“Equity is about ensuring the communities most affected by injustice get the most money to lead in the fight to address that injustice, and if that means we break the rules to make that happen, then that’s what we do.”

Now I can see a way to make a connection between the American idea and equity. Considering this definition and looking at “What the heck does equity mean?”[iv] and “Stop Calling Everything Equity”[v], I think equity is the last statement of the American idea. Thus, we should make sure the American idea continues by giving the most resources, as money, to those communities who have suffered the most injustice so they can have the opportunity to develop and enjoy their rights.

Footnotes
[i] Appelbaum, Y. Is the American Idea Over? The Atlantic Magazine, November 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/11/is-the-american-idea-over/540651/
[ii] Jen Rovetti, Defining Justice, FoodCorps Blog, June 26 2017, https://foodcorps.org/justice/
[iii] Vu Le, Can we agree on this simple definition of equity? NonProfitAF, Oct 16 2017 http://nonprofitaf.com/2017/10/can-we-agree-on-this-simple-definition-of-equity/
[iv] Putnam-Walkerly, K. and Russell, E. What the heck does equity mean? Stanford Social Innovations Review, Sept 15 2016, https://ssir.org/articles/entry/what_the_heck_does_equity_mean
[v] Okuno, E. Stop Calling Everything Equity, Fakequity, June 9 2017 https://fakequity.com/2017/06/09/stop-calling-everything-equity/

Food and Race Dialogue

food and race menu

Menu from the Eat Café from the Food and Race Dialogue

Yesterday I went to the Eat Café to participate in the Urban Consulate‘s discussion about Food and Race. What could be better, an opportunity to visit the Eat Café and find out what that was like, while hearing about the issues of food and race. The panelists were Dwayne Wharton from the Food Trust, Kirtrina Baxter from Soil Generation, and Noelle Warford of the Urban Tree Connection. I met lots of other people and at introductions realized that there were more interesting people in the room who would be fascinating to meet. I did get to chat to the founder of the Eat Café, Mariana Chilton.

food and race entre

Curried Vegetable Cakes with Sautéed Chard

One of the questions at the end of the dialogue asked what one thing would you lobby on. The panelists answered that they wanted land and resources for African Americans, and proper regulations about shelf life labeling, amongst other things. I woke up this morning realizing that I would ask for education. Properly funded and fully supported public education especially in the poorer neighborhoods. Education at all levels from pre-K to elderly, formal and informal. Make the inner city public schools something that the suburbanites desire and are jealous of. Also do the same for the rural school districts. Give all children access to the same resources and opportunities; science camps, art camps, drama camps. Additionally, while we are on the topic of food and race, make sure that food science, agriculture, cooking, nutrition, food culture, and food history is taught properly at all levels to all. Give them the opportunity to say “no, I’ve tried that and I don’t want to do it.” Let’s move away from the fact that only 10% of Americans like cooking, perhaps if more of us knew how to cook well, more of us would cook!