This month the National Post had a feature on Bryson’s annual sea pie supper; the layered meat pie dish variously known as as cipaille, cipâtes, six-pâtes or sea pie; and its etymological and culinary origins. Having lived in the Pontiac for 13 years, I’ve certainly heard of the dish, but for the life of me I can’t remember ever having it. It doesn’t seem to be a thing in Shawville, which marches to its own drummer relative to the rest of the Pontiac, and in any case I don’t get out to community events as often as I should. But Bryson is just 13 km up the road. We’ve talked about relocating there, given the state of the Shawville housing market. In which case I’ll have even less of an excuse.
David Katz argues that fixating on a single food or ingredient, and whether it’s good or bad, misses the big picture; that we should pay attention to the whole diet instead. It’s one thing to be told not to eat eggs, but results very much depend on whether you’re replacing them with oatmeal or with donuts.
It does nothing but play into the designs of Big Food, which is delighted to reshuffle their very short list of favorite cheap ingredients into new versions of junk and profit from our preoccupation du jour. If we fixate on cutting fat, we can have low-fat cookies. If we fixate on carbs, we can have low-carb brownies. If we fixate on fructose, we are privileged to trade not up but sideways to equally sugary but now “high-fructose corn syrup free” versions of the same rubbish. If we focus on sugar, we have the opportunity to keep runnin’ on donuts, but now sweetened with aspartame. If we focus on aspartame, well, then it’s back to sugar.
If we fixate on gluten, we can have gluten-free junk. If grains are bad, there are innumerable ways to eat badly without them, just as there are with them. If meat is the enemy, there is a whole universe of variations on the theme of vegan junk food to explore.
This is not theoretical. We have been inventing new ways to eat badly for literal decades, with the profound ills of modern epidemiology to show for it.
Prices for quinoa are soaring, and while it’s become a lucrative cash crop for the Andean farmers who grow it, Joanna Blythman argues that as a result of high demand by vegetarian and gluten-intolerant consumers in the developed world, poor Bolivians and Peruvians can no longer afford to eat the nutritious staple.
But Blythman’s assertion has been challenged. The Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders says that quinoa was deliberately cultivated as an export crop in the 1980s, and high prices allow farmers to grow it instead of that other Andean export, cocaine; and University of Toronto food economist Pierre Desrochers tells CBC News that this is nothing new — that the same thing has happened every time a culture moves from subsistence farming to cash- and export-based agriculture. Both Saunders and Desrochers point out that lobster was once poverty food in Nova Scotia; no one complains now that lobster is now unaffordable by the very poor.
Some of the details of quinoa production (and Peruvian asparagus production) can be uncomfortable, but I don’t think that subsistence farming — with its grinding poverty, and famine and starvation when the crops fail — is anything to be nostalgic or romantic about.
In the course of story research, I spent some time looking into poisonous or otherwise deadly food items, which brought me back to our friend hákarl, the Icelandic decomposing poisonous shark that at one point made Gordon Ramsay pook his fookin’ goots out. Hákarl is one dish that makes up a þorramatur, a selection of traditional Icelandic food served during the reconstituted invented-tradition holiday of Þorrablót.
In a moment of pure dementedness I thought it might be fun to host a Þorrablót party in January, in lieu of our occasional Lunar New Year feasts. But even the more mundane ingredients — and only in the context of hákarl are ram’s testicles and blood sausage mundane — are surprisingly hard to find or make, according to the Ethnic Food Project, who tried their best. Even skyr, an Icelandic dairy product somewhere between yoghurt and cheese, requires a bit of skyr to make more skyr — sort of a dairy sourdough, I guess.
So, while it may be possible, it’s probably impractical. Friends who were dreading an invitation may now breathe easier.
Previously: I’m Thinking About Some Vínarterta.
A report from the Rodale Institute argues that organic farming is not only less toxic, less energy-intensive, and more profitable than conventional farming, it also generates comparable yields — which is one argument made in favour of conventional farming — and actually outperforms conventional farming during droughts. More from the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix.
The first time I heard about huitlacoche, a parasitic fungus that grows on corn, was on Steve, Don’t Eat It! — probably not the most positive way to learn about an exotic and unusual food. Known as corn smut in English, huitlacoche is seen as a delicacy in Mexico — it was eaten in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica — and is now growing in popularity. Now don’t be so squeamish: you don’t object to the idea of eating mushrooms or truffles, so why should this fungus be any different? Via Aaron Cohen. Photo credit: CIMMYT (CC licence).
In his 3,750-word review of Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa by Órla Ryan, David Ralph says quite a bit himself about how troublesome cocoa production in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire is, and how difficult it is to improve the situation. Here’s a hint: buying fair trade chocolate isn’t enough. Via The Dish.
A Winnipeg Free Press article that tries to define Winnipeg’s signature dish came up with the impossibly fusion pancit with kubasa and goldeye, which I think is entirely too earnest, but also mentioned that several readers suggested vínarterta.
Ah, vínarterta. It’s been five years since I was last in Manitoba, and examples of my homesickness continue to manifest themselves, one of which is a craving for vínarterta. If you’re from Manitoba, you probably know what this is; if you’re not, you probably haven’t, unless you’re of Icelandic extraction and can pronounce “Eyjafjallajökull” without batting an eye.