A Taste Of The Place

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llustration by Rebecca Mock

Adam Davidson recounts the best sandwich he ever ate—a local specialty of the ancient city of Aleppo, Syria—and Dan Pashman sets out to re-create it.

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Uptown Funk

In the last couple of months, Amie and I have focused on how to more effectively evoke the taste of a place. We have specifically been thinking about the future of a family dairy farm in Costa Rica. Click the image above to hear, in just under one hour, a story told by a few people we admire about how important taste can be to our experience of a place.

In addition to dairy, which is a shorter term initiative, we have been working with coffee for some years. All those years have been beta, which has worked well as a complement to our hospitality projects. Now we are preparing to go from beta to live. And that description of a sandwich in Aleppo, and the obsessional hunt to ensure that its very particular culinary heritage is not lost, is a motivational tipping point to get that coffee to your kitchen sooner.

We have tasted coffee from one of the regions of Costa Rica that gets less attention than others. And we have tasted the “natural” form of this coffee, which has very little in common with the monsooning accidental innovation in India but gives us a new way to enjoy coffee. And we have tried chilling it. Wow. We’re calling it Uptown Funk. Hopefully you can try it soon.

Valorizing Places And Things We Love

One decade ago I made the journey to Rapa Nui while on an extended project in southern Chile. It was another bit of fortune that came with the occupation I accidentally found myself in. The video above, excerpted by the Atlantic from Max Lowe’s film, hints at the value tourism can infuse, as well as the perils it can represent, with regard to cultural heritage. We have long used the archaic word “valorization” to explain what we do as a company and the Celine Cousteau Film Fellowship seems to believe the same, in supporting Max’s film:

Tourism to a Dying Ancient Culture

“The modern world has come for our little island,” says Heu Rapu Haoa in Max Lowe’s short documentary, Amo. Heu is one of the 800 remaining speakers of his native tongue. His home, Rapa Nui, known widely as Easter Island, is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. Continue reading

What Will The Small Family Dairy Of The Future Look Like?

Milk.jpgOur current work, better described as the pleasure of learning, is thinking through how an old fashioned dairy farm retains relevance in Costa Rica in the future. When we saw a book like this one to the left, authored by someone we have linked to plenty, we had to dive in. We listened to the author first and then found this item we had missed in the salt a couple months ago:

NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro sat down with author Mark Kurlansky to discuss his new book, Milk!A 10,000-Year Food Fracas, and unpack some of the controversies surrounding what he calls “the most over-argued food in history.”

Humans, it turns out, are unique in their preference for the dairy drink. “In nature, we aren’t meant to have milk past weaning,” Kurlansky says.

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A man pours milk into a can in India’s Mayong village in 2015. India is the world’s largest producer and consumer of milk.
Anupam Nath/AP

But because of a genetic aberration, many humans can process the sugars found in milk and dairy products well into adulthood.

And while that makes some of us unique among mammals, it doesn’t mean that all humans have those genes. “It’s still only something like 40 percent of the human population that can drink milk past the age of two,” Kurlansky told NPR.

The genetic change is primarily found in white, northern European populations and their descendants. And although it may be Eurocentric to say that all humans can enjoy dairy in the same way, it hasn’t stopped milk from becoming a global industry. Continue reading

Agroecology, A Guiding Principle For Food Entrepreneurship

Ryan Donnell for The New York Times

Our attention has been on food entrepreneurship recently, and here we continue the thread. With agroecology, a new word and robust concept, we have new food for thought. And for that we thank one of our favorite food writers, who we have relied since the first year of this platform. Many of the food stories we have linked to over the years have been authored by him. A year ago we linked to this story, which marked the first time we noted him as an activist. We expect, after reading Bringing Farming Back to Nature, which he co-authored with Daniel Moss, that he has found his new calling:

Workers in a paddy field in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India. Credit Noah Seelam/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Farming the land as if nature doesn’t matter has been the model for much of the Western world’s food production system for at least the past 75 years. The results haven’t been pretty: depleted soil, chemically fouled waters, true family farms all but eliminated, a worsening of public health and more. But an approach that combines innovation and tradition has emerged, one that could transform the way we grow food. It’s called agroecology, and it places ecological science at the center of agriculture. It’s a scrappy movement that’s taking off globally. Continue reading

More Ideas For A Dairy

HippieFoodWhen we took up residence at this dairy, and started paying attention to stories involving dairies, most involved how to add value by making something more than liquid for bulk sale. No matter how good that milk is, what else might be done here to ensure that the farm is worth more than its real estate value? Maybe more liquid is the answer? Or maybe solid foods that are discussed in this book, as reviewed by Michael Pollan:

For a revolution that supposedly failed, the counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s scored a string of enduring victories. Environmentalism, feminism, civil and gay rights, as well as styles of music, fashion, politics, therapy and intoxication: In more ways than many of us realize, we live in a world created by the ’60s. (Though, as our politics regularly attest, some of us are rather less pleased to be living in that world than others.) Jonathan Kauffman’s briskly entertaining history, “Hippie Food,” makes a convincing case for adding yet another legacy to that list: the way we eat. Continue reading

Progress Envisioned, Clabbered Cottage Cheese Looks Promising

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Clabbered cottage cheese at Cowgirl Creamery’s Sidekick Cafe at the Ferry Building in San Francisco. Credit Jason Henry for The New York Times

Apricots, Comfort & Inspiration

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Apricots were often featured in the intricate dessert displays of 18th-century France. Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

Two seemingly opposed ideas can, sometimes be compatible. For example, even though this post made me think about traveling to taste the place, I can also relate to Yotam Ottolenghi’s opening paragraph, entirely:

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A tart made with poached apricots, marzipan, pistachios and pastry cream was inspired by the elaborate pastry-making at Versailles. Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

People tend to belong to one of two opposite camps: those who like their food to impress and surprise and those who want it to comfort and delight. These days, I find myself steadily drifting from the contrived faction to the comfort camp. This, I suspect, has to do with age and a certain wish to reconnect with my childhood.

But my interest in that other extreme was recently piqued by the exhibition “Visitors to Versailles,” which is on view through July 29 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I am hosting an evening there this month to celebrate the exhibition, and I asked a group of world-class pastry chefs to create highly elaborate cakes inspired by the court of Versailles. Continue reading

Food Items Not On Our Radar Until Now

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The razorbill Wellington at Koks, a Michelin-starred restaurant in the Faroe Islands. Chefs wrap the seabird in a pancake and serve it with a sauce made from beet, elderberry, and rose hip.
Photograph by Anne Golaz for The New Yorker

The dish above is not one we would likely think to offer in our hospitality operations, which may explain why we have not (yet) developed any entrepreneurial conservation initiatives in the Faroe Islands. Nonetheless, this is the type of reading that makes a Monday morning full of thoughts of where to travel next:

Koks, the World’s Most Remote Foodie Destination

People are flocking to a Nordic archipelago to sample cuisine—like fermented lamb tallow—that challenges even the most adventurous palate.

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The Faroe Islands, a mountainous archipelago two hundred miles north of Scotland, has a landmass of only five hundred and forty square miles, and is sparsely populated with fifty thousand people and seventy thousand sheep.Photograph by Anne Golaz for The New Yorker

The Faroe Islands, an austere, mountainous archipelago marooned in the North Atlantic two hundred miles north of Scotland, has a landmass of only five hundred and forty square miles, and is sparsely populated with fifty thousand people and seventy thousand sheep. But, looked at another way, the country, an autonomous outpost of the Kingdom of Denmark, is much larger: its territorial waters extend for more than a hundred thousand square miles around nearly seven hundred miles of coastline. Only one village, Vatnsoyrar, isn’t on the coast, and wherever you are on any of the Faroes’ eighteen islands you’re never more than three miles from the crashing, frigid ocean. Like the human body, the Faroes are mostly water.

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Fermented lamb, a Faroese specialty. “Fermented food is maybe the most important cultural heritage we’ve got,” Johannes Jensen, the entrepreneur behind Koks, said. Photograph by Anne Golaz for The New Yorker

The inhabitants of the islands, which were settled by Vikings in the ninth and tenth centuries, have always depended on sustenance from the ocean. But the local diet is surprisingly selective. The waters of the Faroes teem with edible creatures that the Faroese do not eat. They don’t gorge on the mahogany clams, buried in underwater sand, that can live for centuries. They ignore the abundant mussels that cling to coastal rocks, and consider langoustines and sea urchins to be revolting. It’s a favorite game among Faroese children to pick up sea urchins and hurl them at one another, because they make a satisfying splat on impact.

The Faroese do eat cod and haddock—masses of it, typically prepared in one of two ways. When eaten fresh, the fish is subjected to prolonged boiling (or “killed twice,” as some locals put it). Continue reading

Resilience, Greece & Reasonable Questions

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Tourism is Greece’s biggest foreign currency earner. Photograph: Costas Baltas/Reuters

Nearly forty years ago I was in Greece for the second time. I accompanied my mother on a visit to the village where she was born and had lived until her teens. We had spent an extended period in that village ten years earlier, and into my child’s mind it had imprinted vivid memories that, by 1979, were as fresh as the smell of bread baking in the stone oven of that village home. And now, that re-visit with my mother is as vivid as can be, and even has a sound track. That album had just been released and someone in the village had a cassette tape of it, and it played from the sound system of a Volkswagen Beetle, doors open, as we had a meal overlooking the mountains.

I have had one opportunity to bring to Greece the sustainable tourism development tools I have been working with since the mid-1990s. This recent story in the Guardian, too short to truly appreciate the scale of the questions raised, is a welcome reminder to me of the work to be done in a place I care deeply about.

Greece tourism at record high amid alarm over environmental cost

With 32 million visitors expected this year, fears grow that the country cannot cope

Greece is braced for another bumper year. The tourists will not stop coming. For every one of its citizens, three foreign visitors – 32 million in total – will arrive this year, more than at any other time since records began.

It’s an extraordinary feat for a country that has battled with bankruptcy, at times has been better known for its protests and riots and, only three years ago, narrowly escaped euro ejection. Tourism is the heavy industry that has helped keep catastrophe at bay.

But is Greece almost too successful for its own good? Tourist numbers have increased by an additional two million every year for the past three years. Arrivals from China alone have doubled since 2017. But with forecasts predicting record numbers over the next decade, a growing number are asking: can Greece really cope? Continue reading

The Spoon, The Fork & The Hand

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Photograph by Francis Amiand / Spoon /Pointed Leaf Press

Hannah Goldfield, in this short piece about the spoon, reminds me that Bee Wilson’s book about the fork came to my attention about three years into our Kerala, India experience. I tend to favor stories about the history of something taken for granted. When it is involves foodways, I’m in. Five years ago, when that book came out, I was firmly entrenched in a new way of eating, namely with my right hand and no utensils. Today, reading about the spoon, I can relate to the author’s preference because, given the choice between spoon and fork I will choose the former. Given the choice between a meal that favors one or the other, I will choose the spoon-forward meal. But if I am somewhere eating something that hands-on is okay, keep the spoon and fork off the table.

In Praise of Eating Almost Anything with a Spoon

The introduction to the most recent version of Emily Post’s Table Setting Guides includes the following mandate: “Only set the table with utensils you will use. No soup; no soup spoon.” Sounds pretty reasonable, as far as Emily Post rules go, but I beg to differ. Who says that soup spoons are only for soup, or should even be called soup spoons at all? I have long admired the way utensils are used in parts of Southeast Asia, including Thailand: the spoon is the most important instrument, held in the dominant hand and used to bring food—soupy or otherwise—to the mouth; the fork plays a supporting role, used only to push morsels onto the spoon, and chopsticks are generally reserved for noodles. I’ve been eating Thai food this way ever since I learned about the custom, dipping spoonfuls of rice into coconut curries, herding green-papaya salad, spangled with peanuts, chili, and tiny dried shrimp, into the curvature of a spoon. It feels elegant, efficient, economical—nary a drop or a morsel is wasted. Continue reading

The Foods Immigrants Offer

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Tacos at a restaurant in Nashville. Credit Christopher Berkey for The New York Times

Margaret Renkl, Contributing Opinion Writer for the New York Times, shares an opinion that I am, as a son of an immigrant, inclined to agree with. Even if I was not so closely related to the theme, it would still make sense to me:

Eating Without Borders in Nashville

NASHVILLE — Not quite two weeks ago, I was driving down Nolensville Road, Nashville’s “international corridor,” looking for a restaurant called Tennessee Halal Fried Chicken. In the passenger seat was John T. Edge, the director of the Southern Foodways Alliance and author of “The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South.” He was telling me that this particular approach to dining out, in one way of looking at it, could be considered a form of exploitation: “To patronize a restaurant of people who are different from you can be a kind of booty call,” he said.

This is an idea Mr. Edge has been considering for some time. The historically complicated nature of cross-cultural dining goes back to black-owned barbecue joints in the age of Jim Crow: “White Southerners patronized those restaurants,” he said. “They got in, they got what they wanted, and they got out.” Continue reading

Monday Morning, Time For Free Will

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Credit: AP Photo / Sebastian Scheiner

This is the second time in a year that the biology of free will is the story. Monday morning in mid-May 2018 nothing else seems more important. Thanks to Marc Sollinger and colleagues at WGBH and PRX (click the button to the left for the story):

Humanity is simultaneously incredibly kind and incredibly violent. We commit indescribable atrocities, but also acts of incomprehensible compassion. There is both horror and beauty in our history. Which leads to the question… how do we reconcile this inherent contradiction? It all goes back to our biology, according to Robert Sapolsky, a neurobiologist at Stanford and author of the book Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst. In fact, all questions about human behavior are, at their core, about biology.  Continue reading

The Food Explorer, Explored

GastroTaking a cue from yesterday’s post, another recent Gastropod can be combined with a review in the New York Times of a book that fits well in our pages:

You’ve probably never heard of David Fairchild. But if you’ve savored kale, mango, peaches, dates, grapes, a Meyer lemon, or a glass of craft beer lately, you’ve tasted the fruits of his globe-trotting travels in search of the world’s best crops—and his struggles to get them back home to the United States.

This episode, we talk to Daniel Stone, author of The Food Explorer, a new book all about Fairchild’s adventures. Listen in now for tales of pirates and biopiracy, eccentric patrons and painful betrayals, as well as the successes and failures that shaped not only the way we eat, but America’s place in the world.

9781101990582Daniel Stone, an author I had not known of 24 hours ago, fits well within our pages as part of a mix of historical sleuthing and present-day food activism that have been central themes here since we started.  Thanks to his book being the subject of that podcast, as well as its review last month, allow us to recommend that if you have an hour for the both, combine the listen with the read:

In a photograph dated Christmas 1896, featured in “The Food Explorer,” Daniel Stone’s biography of the botanist and explorer David Fairchild, his subject is sitting with his patron and friend Barbour Lathrop, in what looks like an empty saloon or a lounge on a steamship. The caption informs us that they’re off the coast of Sumatra; both are dressed in white and have mustaches that border on the extravagant.

Continue reading

Meatless Monday Economics Info Session

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It is Monday, a good time to revisit the “meatless” movement, the one where you take one small step at a time to a better diet. Thanks to Bibi van der Zee and colleagues at the Guardian for arranging this guide to all the good reasons to reduce or eliminate meat from the diet:

What is the true cost of eating meat?

As concerns over the huge impact on the environment, human health and animal welfare grow, what future is there for the meat industry

What are the economics of meat?

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Cattle in the Brazilian Amazon. Photograph: Rodrigo Baleia

Food and farming is one of the biggest economic sectors in the world. We are no longer in the 14th century, when as much as 76% of the population worked in agriculture – but farming still employs more than 26% of all workers globally. And that does not include the people who work along the meat supply chain: the slaughterers, packagers, retailers and chefs.

In 2016, the world’s meat production was estimated at 317m metric tons, and that is expected to continue to grow. Figures for the value of the global meat industry vary wildly from $90bn to as much as $741bn. Continue reading

Drink The Wonk

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Soft fruit, such as oranges, root vegetables and salad are particularly prone to waste. Photograph: Eric Farrelly/Alamy

Rebecca Smithers, consumer affairs correspondent for the Guardian, has reported on a simple idea to not waste fruit just because its appearance is not standard. Wonky, as they say on the island where the English language comes from. Don’t fear the wonk, this article and this brand are saying. Was this not already happening with juice, as with other waste-reducing beverages? Can a brand be built on such an idea? Thumbs up to that:

‘Wonky’ fruit and vegetables that would have been thrown away are now being used to make a new range of juices, in one of a number of assaults on food waste.

One of the UK’s largest fresh produce growers has teamed up with a Spanish fruit supplier to create a new product, Waste Not, which will stop edible but visually ‘imperfect’ ingredients such as fresh celery, beetroot and oranges from being dug back into the soil, or used for animal feed. The new juices will go on sale in branches of Tesco.

The move is one of a growing number of innovations to reduce food waste throughout the supply chain, following criticism of supermarkets and suppliers that perfectly good food is being thrown out while UK consumers are relying increasingly on food banks. Continue reading

Entrepreneurial Conservation & Armenian Foodways

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Motal cheese is a fresh goat’s milk cheese made primarily in remote mountain areas in Armenia. Cross of Armenian Unity/Ruslan Torosyan

We are on the lookout for stories that combine our interest in topics such as conservation, and entrepreneurship, and traditional foodways, and innovation (among other things) and this story touches on several of our favorite themes. Thanks to the salt team at National Public Radio (USA):

Armenia’s Ancient Motal Cheese Makes Its Way Into The Modern Age

In the mountains of eastern Armenia, about 75 miles north of the capital Yerevan, motal means change.

Motal cheese is like a business card for our region,” says Arpine Gyuluman, who owns Getik Bed and Breakfast in Gegharkunik. “[Because of it], we’re seeing more and more visitors annually.”

Motal is a white goat cheese flavored with wild herbs that is similar to homestyle country cheeses in Iran and Azerbaijan. Motal is prepared in locally made terra cotta pots sealed with beeswax ― a method that dates back at least 5,000 years. A little more than a decade ago, it was in danger of disappearing. That is, until a local university student named Ruslan Torosyan embarked on a personal crusade to save motal. Continue reading

Poisson d’Avril Redux Two

It’s a rare occasion that we republish one of our posts on this site – but April 1st is a special day, is it not? And as the weather warms, a little bit of lighthearted Spring frolicking won’t go amiss.

It was unlike me to have missed acknowledging the Vernal Equinox last week but please note that it wasn’t forgotten. In much of the northern hemisphere spring began sprouting all over the place, sometimes unseasonably early, and the first day of spring was observed in all its glory in Crist’s Holi series.

So I’m being careful not to miss April 1st and in the spirit of that celebration am sharing some of artist Ken Brown‘s collection of turn of the century (the 19th to the 20th that is!) French fantasy postcards that celebrate “Poisson d’Avril”, the French equivalent of April 1st or April Fools’ Day. Continue reading

Coffee, Journeys & Yemen

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CreditPatricia Wall/The New York Times

This review, thanks to Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, has my attention on The Coffee-Flavored American Dream of a young man with about as improbable a mission as I can imagine.  Returning to the coffee fields of Costa Rica’s Tarrazu region in a few days, I also plan to cross the Central Valley to see the latest mission accomplished of another coffee dreamer, the choice of Dave Eggers for his latest book topic is much appreciated.

A few years ago I traveled with a group of friends from the southern Yemeni port city of Aden to the capital of Sanaa in the north, taking the long coastal road that twists and curves around the bulge of Yemen’s southernmost tip. After passing the Bab el Mandeb strait, the road stretches along the seashore. Under a clear bright sky, the waters of the Red Sea shimmered and the sand glowed a warm ocher, the monotony interrupted only by an occasional fisherman’s shack, a small nomadic settlement or a bleached one-room mosque. Flat-topped trees looming in the distance suggested an African landscape.

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CreditLorenzo Gritti

Ahead of us lay the port of Mokha, or Al-Mukha in Arabic, where from the 15th century onward ships set sail with precious Yemeni coffee bound for Istanbul, London, Amsterdam and eventually New York — so much coffee that the word “mocha” became synonymous with it. Continue reading

Yesterday’s Curry

Fish curry inflected with coconut is a staple dish in the coastal Indian state of Goa. It’s usually eaten accompanied by unpolished rice, fried fish and a dab of pickle. Once all the fish has been eaten up, the leftover curry is reheated over a low flame until it condenses and thickens. At that point, it is reborn as Kalchi koddi, which literally translates to “yesterday’s curry.” Joanna Lobo

Local food-ways have long been an interest on this platform, especially when spice is involved. Thanks, once again, to the Salt and Joanna Lobo for sharing this story.

Podcast Proliferation

VoxPodNearly one month ago, Vox launched a new way for us to source stories. We have sourced from their website when the story fits our mission. For us to scan the news daily and link to at least one article or book review or other media that seems consistent with our mission, we increasingly bump up against the fact that producers of and channels for accessing relevant information seem to be increasing faster than we can possibly keep up.

Today we sampled from their sonic venture, a story about changes way up north, wrought by climate change, geopolitical ambitions, head in the sand-ism and other intrigue. Finding an episode like this one stretches our horizons in a healthy, productive manner:

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There’s a new Cold War being fought in the North Pole between the United States and Russia (but also China, Finland, Norway, Canada, Greenland and more). Fueling the battle is the melting Arctic, which just had its warmest winter in recorded history. Vox’s Brian Resnick gives us the science before Yochi Dreazen takes us to the war.

It must also be mentioned that having outlets we trust recommend other outlets is a must. And here is an example of one we appreciate:

“Today, Explained”: An Edgy New Vox Podcast to Compete with “The Daily”

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Hosted by Sean Rameswaram, the Vox podcast “Today, Explained” feels funny, knowing, and energetic—which, in this news climate, isn’t easy. Photograph by James Bareham / Vox Media

Podcast-wise, 2017 was arguably the year of “The Daily,” the beautifully produced, gently voiced narrative-news offering from the Times, hosted by Michael Barbaro, which started last January and quickly became indispensable. The show, which parses a different news story in each episode, through a conversation with a reporter or other guest, then delivers a brief news roundup, has sufficient perspective and empathy that it produces in its listeners an intoxicating, if temporary, feeling of sanity; by now, its theme song alone cues in me a Pavlovian calm. The show garners 4.5 million unique listeners each month; in April, it will expand to public-radio syndication. Continue reading