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.