The flower of a brazil nut tree can only be pollinated by an insect strong enough to lift the coiled hood and with tongues long enough to negotiate the complex coiled flower. In practice, this means the female long-tongued orchid bee. Bees only exist where they can mate. So, the smaller male bees are also required. But they are only attracted by a certain type of orchid. So, the tree needs to be in the presence of that orchid. The tree’s fruit is actually the size of a coconut and the brazil nuts are seeds rather than nuts (8-24 within a single fruit). So, the fruit needs to be cracked open and this requires a large rodent (i.e. an agouti). So propagation of brazil nuts requires agoutis, orchids and strong, long-tongued bees. (posted November 29 2017)
See a science experiment on soil erosion, which demonstrates the relationship between precipitation, soil erosion, protection of watercourses and vegetation. (posted November 29 2017)
Are you eating genetically modified food?: Choice has published a straightforward summary of the genetically modified products currently available, or in development, in Australia. (posted December 7 2016)
International food days: I got two emails this week about international food days, one about the lack of local events celebrating International Coffee Day (1st October) and the other about an upcoming event celebrating World Vegan Day (23rd October). That got me thinking: what other ‘official food days’ are there?
I soon discovered National Chocolate Day (7th July), where I sadly missed all the events that happened in the CBD. I then discovered that, although World Vegan Day is on 23rd October this year in Melbourne, it is usually on the last Sunday of October and, in the rest of the world (including Adelaide), it is on 1st November (apparently to coincide with the Day of the Dead).
In any event (sic), to make sure that you can plan your celebratory events for next year, here are some of the ‘official food days’ that have at least some profile in Australia:
Note we have all just missed International Talk like a Pirate Day (19th September). Apparently, on that day one can choose ‘pirate’ as the language in a Google search! And it is a holiday for members of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (aka the Pastafarians) who, inter alia, assert that a decline in the number of pirates over the years is the cause of global warming. (posted October 5 2016)
Our Italian correspondent reports: the Slow Food movement was founded in Italy 30 years ago by Carlo Petrini in response to the arrival of McDonalds in Rome. It now manifests throughout Italy. ‘Terra Madre Mercati’ (Mother Earth Markets), of which there are now 55, mostly in Italy, are part of the movement. One of them takes place every Saturday morning in Umbertide. It is confined to growers and producers from within forty kilometres of the town. As well as fruit and vegetables, cheese, bread, cakes, jams, honey, olive oil and pottery are also available. Many of the participants are committed to totally organic produce, although this is not mandatory. One participant is a baker making bread with milled hemp seeds. Another is a fruit and veggie stall with connections to ‘Fondazione Amica Campagna’ (Foundation for the Countryside), a foundation that cooperates with participants from all branches of the food industry that support ideals such as seasonality, low food mileage, and a culture of conscious spending. (posted August 17 2016)
In Umbertide, there is a flour mill which dates back around 800 years. Its design is based on mills used in Greece and Turkey and was introduced to Italy in the Middle Ages when laws forbidding slavery were introduced and water-powered mills replaced those operated by slaves. The mill is still powered by water diverted from the local river and produces exclusively organic wholemeal flour from locally-grown heritage wheat varieties. Inter alia, they are milling heritage red romanino corn, whose flour is apparently the best for making polenta. (posted August 24 2016)
Which brands do the big food and beverage companies own? This graphic shows which brands the big food and beverage companies own. The graphic is from a 2013 Oxfam briefing paper entitled Behind the brands: food justice and the ‘big 10’ food and beverage companies. In support of this paper, Oxfam has also set up a behind the brands website which, inter alia, allows you to select a brand and see how it rates against a variety of criteria. (posted July 27 2016)
Our Canadian correspondent reports: I just wanted to tell you all about the fantastic waste management system here. It is the law that everyone sorts their garbage and places it in the correct bins. Random inspections are made and people are fined for incorrect sorting. Interestingly, every household is provided with a bench bin for food scraps and a larger outside bin to empty this in to. When collected, the food scraps are turned into compost and residents can pick this up free. There is also a recycle bin (with clear instructions of what materials can be recycled) and another bin for non recyclable/non compostable garbage. There does not seem to be a bin for garden waste. (posted July 20 2016)
The origin of crops: have a look at this interactive map of the origin of crops. Or have a look at the non-interactive graphic on the right. The original version did not include the all-important macadamia nut(!), but thankfully this has been included in the interactive version. (posted June 22 2016)
Is this a good rule?: “Vegetables that grow underground – start off in cold water; vegetables that grow over ground – place in boiling water.”
It comes from the Farmers’ Almanac Facebook. Here is their rationale:
- Cooking corn, peas, etc. simply entails softening their cell walls to make them more palatable and easier to digest. Because most green vegetables are small and/or thin, this does not take long. So you add those to boiling water.
- Root vegetables contain a great deal of starch, which needs to be dissolved before they can be eaten. It takes a while for the heat to penetrate the vegetables. Starting root vegetables out in cold water, and heating the outside layers, gradually allows the cell walls get reinforced and become more resistant to the effects of overcooking. This works especially well on starchy root veggies, like potatoes, since the gradual temperature change keeps the outer edges from overcooking and turning mealy.
I tried Googling to see whether others agreed with the rule. I found a number of sites in support (e.g. Cooking manager). I also found some that said one should always steam rather than boil (to lessen vitamin leaching), and a few that advocated adding things to the water (e.g. fat and citrus, as well as salt). (posted April 27 2016)
Recipes, definite and indefinite articles: something that has been bugging me for ages – why do recipes rarely contain the words “the” or “a” (at least until I get my hands on them)? Is it some sort of rule? Who decided? (posted April 27 2016)
‘Free range’ egg producers that you should avoid: as many of you will know, the state, territory and federal consumer affairs ministers met on 31st March and decided that ‘free-range’ can mean eggs produced by hens stocked at up to 10,000 birds per hectare, not the maximum 1,500 per hectare that the CSIRO Model Code recommends. Choice, who have been running a campaign on this issue, have put together a list of egg producers who you should avoid because, although they call themselves ‘free range’, their stocking densities are 10,000 birds per hectare:
The taxonomy of stonefruit – a few random points:
- Stonefruit refers to the fruit of the prunus genus.
- Unlike citrus, stonefruit species are normal species and don’t naturally hybridise much.
- 7 prunus are commonly eaten: almond, apricot, cherry (2 species), peach and plum (2 species).
- Whilst Sweet Cherries are eaten raw, it is usually a different species – Sour Cherries – that are used in cooking.
- Surprisingly, the European and Japanese plums are different species (with the former being a polyploid and the latter a diploid).
- Nectarines are ‘just’ varieties of peach, where the skin is smooth.
- A plumcot is a plum crossed with an apricot. Pluots are 25% apricot and 75% plum. Apriums are 75% apricot and 25% plum.
But the really interesting species is the almond. The wild almond is both bitter and poisonous (it contains cyanide). So, how come prehistoric humans decided to domesticate it? How did they know that if they spent years breeding the cyanide out of it then it would taste yummy? How many people died before the modern day almond came into being? Was there a series of Cleopatra equivalents who tested poisonous almonds on slaves and some survived and reported back that almonds were potentially edible if only the bitterness were removed? (posted November 11 2015)
- The 3 progenitors of most of the other citrus species are citron, mandarin and pomelo.
- The standard lemon is (probably) a cross between a citron and a pomelo.
- The sweet orange is (probably) a cross between a mandarin and a pomelo.
- The Meyer lemon is (probably) a cross between a sweet orange and a standard lemon.
- So, the Meyer lemon is a different species than the standard lemon.
- There are at least 14 different species which are called limes, 8+ species which are called lemons and 8+ species which are called oranges.
- I presume that, in general terms, citrus are called lemons when they have yellow fruit, limes when they have greenish fruit and oranges when they have orange fruit (but why, then, tangerines etc?), but I haven’t actually seen anything which says this.
- All 8 of the Australian limes are original species, not crosses.
- The benchmark citrus fruit for marmalade production is the bitter orange, not the sweet orange.
- In tropical regions, with no winter, all citrus fruits remain green thru to maturity. (posted November 4 2015)
Another useful table and short article (pdf) on the same subject. (posted October 28 2015)
The long term costs of organic compared to intensive farming: an in-depth article which uses life cycle analysis on organically farmed tomatoes and pears, and intensively farmed wheat, apples and lettuce to show the overall impact of agricultural methods. Click here to read the full article or click here to read a one page introduction. (posted July 1 2015)
Genuine free range: Whereas some parts of the world (e.g. the European Union) regulate marketing standards for egg farming, and thus what can be described as ‘free range’, Australia does not. Rather, the theory in Australia is apparently “The producer is bound by consumer expectations and perceptions of what constitutes free range. Producers are generally thought to be bound to Model Codes of Practice of Animal Welfare: Domestic Poultry published by the CSIRO.” (see Wikipedia).
The (hardly unexpected!) problem is that, in practice, many producers do not feel themselves bound by the CSIRO code and the public is none the wiser. This is clear from the graphic (click it for a full size version): whereas the CSIRO code specifies an upper limit of 1,500 chickens per hectare, many of the major ‘free range’ egg producers have up to 10,000 chickens per hectare. To find out more about this issue, read CHOICE’s recent report or their
associated Facebook post. Thanks to Wendy Moore for pointing out these links to me.
It may well be that proper regulation will be introduced in the new year (e.g. see recent news reported by the ABC). But in the meantime what can you do about the situation? The obvious solution is to buy your eggs from a producer who is actually certified against some actual, defined standards. There are two such standards: Free Range Farmers Association in Victoria (maximum 750 chickens per hectare) and Humane Choice (maximum 1,500 chickens per hectare). There are a total of 11 egg producers in Victoria who have one of these two certifications. And one of these – Top Hundred Acres from Yan Yean – is local to us and has several local outlets, including Eltham Farmers’ Market. The eggs of one other (Family Homestead Genuine Free Range Eggs) are apparently available from Coles. (posted June 17 2015)
Not food, but interesting: I usually keep the material in this newsletter strictly to matters food. But this graphic by The Land Art Generator Initiative of the total surface area required to fuel the world with solar power is just too interesting to omit. The article in which the graphic was first shown is equally interesting. It is so refreshing to read analysis rather than polemic. (posted May 20 2015)
Appetite for Change– Impact of climate change on Australia’s food: this report, prepared by climate scientists David Karoly and Richard Eckard at the University of Melbourne, reveals the impact that shifting rainfall patterns, extreme weather, warming oceans, and climate-related diseases will have on the production, quality and cost of Australia’s food in the future. Read about it here or download it from here. (posted March 18 2015)
Where Australia’s imported food comes from: an interesting, interactive graphic. (posted March 4 2015)
UN Farming report: Published in December 2013, the UN Farming report called ‘Wake up before it is too late’ advocates for organic, local and small-scale farming. The benefits are not just for the health of the consumer but will assist climate change as well. (posted September 25 2014)
Disappearing bees: This is a well told story, 15 min TED talk. (posted May 1 2014)
Grow your own report: The Australia Institute’s Grow Your Own is a research paper on ‘the potential value and impacts of residential and community food gardening’. Read more here. (posted April 10 2014)
Urban food production in Melbourne: A study has been done showing that home food production is thriving. Even though we know it, it is good to have some evidence! (posted February 20 2014)
Fast food chains: According to a BIS Shrapnel report, fast food has been booming in Australia since 2008 and mid- to high-income earning women have been the most likely, making up 56% of the market!! Hamburgers and hot chips have been the leading fast foods. However a slow down is predicted (thank goodness). Read more here. (posted October 17 2013)
Reducing food loss and waste: A working paper, from The World Resources Institute (WRI) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), shows that more than half of the food lost and wasted in Europe, the United States, Canada, and Australia occurs close to the fork, at the consumption stage. By contrast, in developing countries, about two-thirds of the food lost and wasted occurs close to the farm, after harvest and storage. (posted June 13 2013)