Bookmarks–December 23, 2023

A much delayed edition of Bookmarks, owing to a bout of Covid followed by a tumble on black ice that cracked a bone in my elbow. The list below is something of a hodgepodge of articles I’ve collected over the past several weeks. Topics include: sugar, food fraud, rethinking how or whether we should eat chicken, and why food expiry dates (mostly) don’t matter.

Sweet and sour: how slavery, fake science and the love of profit got Britain hooked on sugar

A brief history outlining how sugar moved from occasional treat to staple ingredient. I was surprised by the parallels between product promotion in the days of yore and now. Of course, it’s ultimately all about money. 

As for babies, Dr William Buchan noted in his groundbreaking 1769 book, Domestic Medicine: ‘It entices them to take more than they ought to do, which makes them grow fat and bloated. It is pretty certain, if the food of children were quite plain, that they would never take more than enough’…But, ‘taking more than enough’ was a necessary prerequisite for the economic health of the sugar barons and the refineries on British soil. Trade trumped health, just as it did – and does – in the alcohol and tobacco sectors, whose sugary alcopops and sweet, fruit-flavoured vapes inevitably make customers out of children as well as young adults.” (The Guardian)

Is that really ginger in your gingerbread? Food fraud is flourishing — and experts worry Canada isn’t doing enough to stop it

I heard about adulterated honey a few years ago but did not realize how common food fraud has become and how many types of food it affects. This article provides an overview of the problem and some examples of how government, law enforcement and private businesses are fighting it. 

“Since 2011, police agencies Interpol and Europol have been conducting annual operations around the world to break up food fraud rings, as part of Operation Opson. One report this fall said Operation Opson had uncovered a scheme that was ‘trafficking ham’ with a manipulated expiry date..Last year, Europol confiscated 750,000 euros worth of ‘molecularly modified’ gardenia extract that was allegedly destined to be sold as saffron. Then in November, police in Italy and Spain raided an allegedly illegal olive oil outfit, arresting 11 people and seizing 260,000 litres of olive oil that had been allegedly diluted with lampante oil, a low grade of olive oil with a ‘distinctly unpleasant odour’ that was historically used as fuel in oil lamps.” (The Toronto Star)

In a corner of Italy, upholding ancient tradition of making Parmesan cheese takes a modern turn

Another take on food fraud and efforts to combat it: QR codes made of milk protein and micro-transponders embedded in wheels of Parmesan to show it is the real deal and not a “low-quality ripoff.”

“Parmesan has Protected Designation of Origin or PDO — European Union status for foods that are ‘produced, processed and prepared in a given geographical area using recognized know-how’…The PDO rules dictate it can only be made in the small area of northern Italy near the towns of Parma, Modena, Reggio Emilia, Mantova and Bologna and that the cheese must be aged for at least 12 months and tested two years after production…The production techniques date back to the Middle Ages, perfected by Benedictine and Cistercian monks as a way to preserve the cheese for trade throughout Europe. Today, production supports some 50,000 people in the region…” (CBC)

Olive oil is getting more expensive — and these Italian farmers can tell you why

I find stories like these utterly heartbreaking. Wonderful old-growth trees are being lost to bacterial infection because of government inaction, while climate change brings other challenges to olive growers. 

“In the meantime…growers in Puglia want more money invested in research to try to find a solution to Xylella, as well as initiatives to restore the land, introduce more disease-resistant olive trees and other kinds of agriculture — which would move the region away from a monocrop system to a more diversified economy, with pomegranate, figs and Xylella-resistant varieties of almond and cherry trees.” (CBC)

If not vegan, or vegetarian, how about chickentarian?

I really like this article because it offers a balanced approach to the discussion of what constitutes a climate-friendly diet. The author notes that absolutist attitudes about cutting all animal products from our diets have not worked. At the same time, animal protein is still preferred by most people, necessitating a compromise that lands somewhere between vegan and omnivore. Enter chicken, but in a different way than what we’ve become accustomed to. 

“One popular argument for reducing consumption rests on the power of humane farming practices to push us toward a more climate-conscious way of eating. Giving animals a higher quality of life costs more, which drives up the price of meat, which could result in people buying less of it. By all means, buy humanely raised poultry where and if you can. But these operations constitute a tiny minority of chicken farms; humanely raised meat is many years from being widely accessible…In the meantime, the best way to show respect for animals that have died to feed us is to make the very most of their meat.”  (The Atlantic, Gifted link)

A vegan morality tale? Chicken Run sequel puts factory farming in spotlight

The evils of factory farming are mentioned in the “chickentarian” article, above. Continuing on that theme, we have the latest Aardman film, Chicken Run 2: Dawn of the Nugget, discussed here in terms of its potential to move viewers toward veganism or vegetarianism. Given what the “chickentarian” article said about flat growth in numbers of people going meatless, I’m not sure how many will make the switch after seeing this film, but it will likely inspire some conversations between children and parents–and maybe cause a drop in chicken nugget consumption. (For the record, I watched the film this week and really enjoyed it. It’s clear the entire time where the story is going but the creators still manage to keep it entertaining and exciting. As ever, the animation is amazing; that nugget factory is something to behold. Such inventive minds behind this film!) 

“In Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget, in cinemas on Friday, thousands of hens must be rescued from a nugget factory where they are kept in a state of stupefied joy by remote control lobotomising collars. This, a scientist explains, is because when a bird is frightened, “its muscles tense and the connective tissue forms knots”, resulting in “tough, dry and flavourless meat”. Reprogramming a chicken’s response to the horror of being “processed” should radically improve flavour and sales.” (The Guardian)  

Expiration dates are meaningless

Food waste is a serious problem and one I’ve talked about at length on this site. Expiry dates play a big role in the creation of food waste because of the long-held but erroneous belief that  food gone past these arbitrary dates is unsafe when, in most cases, it is perfectly fine to eat. 

“Expiration dates, part of a sprawling family of labels that includes the easily confused siblings ‘best before,’ ‘sell by,’ and ‘best if used by,’ have long muddled our conception of what is edible. They do so by insinuating that food has a definitive point of no return, past which it is dead, kaput, expired—and you might be, too, if you dare eat it. If only food were as simple as that.” (This is an older article reposted by The Atlantic. Gifted link.)

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