food

Food and Identity in Taiwan: a podcast episode

I’ve just posted a new podcast episode on Dispatch 7, global trends on all seven continents. In this episode I talked with my former Honor’s student, Cassidy Pfau, about her field research on food and identity in Taiwan. In particular, Cassidy talked about night markets, Indigenous cuisine, and the history of Taiwan’s food culture. Cassidy’s Honor’s thesis on this topic has been downloaded from the PSU library nearly 3,000 times now, so I think that this is a topic that attracts a lot of interest. You can listen to this episode here.

Shawn Smallman

Coffee in Nepal- A podcast interview with Andrew Russo

The latest episode of my podcast, Dispatch 7, will be a must-listen for coffee fans. In this week’s episode I interviewed Portland State University graduate student Andrew Russo about his experience as a coffee broker. We talked about how he came to enter the business, wrote a coffee tasting guide, and even worked to help a coffee estate in Nepal that was damaged by the 2015 earthquake. We also talked about his interest in the area of disaster management, and how he traveled with a class to study how Japan responded to the 2011 earthquake.

Shawn Smallman

Pass the Olive Oil, Please

I want to thank Caitlyn Ark for this wonderful blog post, which she wrote based on her experience doing a study-abroad class this summer.

Pass the Olive Oil, Please
The Healthy Diet of a Social Mediterranean, Caitlyn Ark

As I was leaning off the side of our very large, but only slightly crowded, ferry, I watched the gentle crashing of the startlingly wine blue waters below me. Wine deep, wine rich, I thought to myself, which something that the Ancient Greeks, who sailed these same waters, originally coined, intertwining food with the natural landscapes from which they come from.[1] The day was warm, but the kind of warm that drifted down from the bright Mediterranean sun to eventually settle on my shoulders like a soft shawl. I found myself at the bow of our boat, searching for the small nip of the wind to kick up my hair and offer a slight reprieve from the warm air. The Mediterranean is an oligotrophic sea, meaning it is very low in nutrients, so I was surprised to note that I could see schools of small fish darting around socially near the top of the water, playing a marine version of follow-the-leader. …

Diet and Global Health

What is the single most important factor in shaping global health in the developed world? Interestingly, it does not appear to be access to the most technologically sophisticated medical technology. In the chapter on health in our textbook, I start by saying: “Chile, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Guadalupe, Hong Kong, Israel, Malta, Martinique, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates are a diverse set of nations and territories. Yet they all have one fact in common: their citizens live longer than those of the United States, as do the citizens of many developed countries (Smallman and Brown, 2015, p. 236). Lee Miller and Weilu have an article titled “These are the World’s healthiest nations” in Bloomberg (February 24, 2019) which looks at global health statistics. The methodology looked at a number of factors -not only life expectancy- to rank countries. The top five countries were Spain, Italy, Iceland, Japan and Switzerland. There are many such rankings, and each one has methodological questions or choices. But all such national rankings of health can leave you questioning what you think you know, particularly about the role of diet in health. …

Climate Change and the Middle East

Image of Yemen from the CIA World Factbook, Yemen.
Image of Yemen from the CIA World Factbook, Yemen.

I’ve blogged before regarding the argument that a disastrous drought helped to feed the conflict in Syria. It’s worth revisiting the topic, however, based on a report edited by Caitlin Werrel and Francesco Femia at the Center for Climate and Security.The report, “Climate Change and the Arab Spring,” was published in February 2013, and makes the argument that climate change was a key factor in the Arab Spring, although that is not to say that it caused the uprisings. The essays in the collection clarify the truly global factors that underpinned this event, from declining wheat production in China, which undermined food security in the Middle East, to the “transcendent challenges” created by climate change globally.

The link between drought and warfare is not new. This linkage, for example, may help explain the collapse of classical Mayan civilization in the 9th century in the Yucatan peninsula and Central America. The Mayan city-states faced both an epic drought, and -based on the archaeological record- widespread warfare perhaps beginning around 800 AD (Michael Coe, The Maya, 162-163, Jared Diamond, Collapse, 172-174). The historical connection between drought and conflict is a deep one. …

The Cultured Chef: an International Cookbook for Kids

"Close Up Asian Cuisine" by rakratchada torsap at freedigitalphotos.net
“Close Up Asian Cuisine” by rakratchada torsap at freedigitalphotos.net

Nicholas Beatty and Coleen McIntyre have created a beautiful, well-researched and fun cookbook, which uses food to introduce children to other cultures. While it may see strange to review a cookbook for kids on an International and Global Studies blog for adults, most cookbooks don’t begin with the heading “How to become a global citizen,” or a list of “5 ways to become more globally aware.” Every section is organized around a world region, with recipes and information from a few countries. For example, the section on Hawaii describes how to make Musubi riceballs (which entails a discussion of Hawaii’s multicultural history), contains a kids’ activity to make a Lei, and tells about a Polynesian myth.The section on Mexico describes Day of the Dead bread, and discusses the artwork of Frida Kahlo and Jose Guadelupe Posada. Because one of the key goals of the book is to introduce children to global cultures, the work has unexpected sections such as “Musical Instruments of the World.” I liked that indigenous peoples also were included in the work, from the Yup’ik Inuit to the Maori. …

Chocolate Tasting: A Class Activity

This quarter I am teaching the “Introduction to International Studies” class, and this week we were talking about food. I always find that students enjoy this week, in part because crops form part of clear commodity chains so that every student can see the connection between themselves and food producers globally. I’ve also adopted a classroom assignment developed by my friend, Kim Brown, which is quite popular- the chocolate tasting. Later in the class I lectured on bioterrorism and cacao in Brazil, which I’ve also covered in an earlier post here. I also showed Robert Beckford’s clever documentary video on rice, chocolate and gold production, which available for free online. The food unit follows a section on development theories. Beckford’s film was engaging for students, but he also tied events in Africa to IMF/World Bank policies, as well as the global trading system, which makes it a good fit for the class. But before I arrived at the core content of the class, I first did the chocolate tasting.

Picture by Suat Eman at freedigitalphotos.net

I went to my local New Seasons market, where I purchased raw cacao beans. After some taste testing, my daughters gave me the strong advice not to give this to students without some honey to sweeten it. The food court gave me some latex gloves to break up chocolate bars. And World Market had a wide selection of chocolate bars with different levels of cacao. I broke up the chocolate into small blocks on paper towels and called up the class up by rows. We started with the cacao beans. Students were a little hesitant to bite them because the outer shell looks so hard. I explained that these beans were from Ecuador or Peru, the original homeland of cacao, and were used as money in ancient MesoAmerica. After tasting the cacao beans (a few student genuinely liked them, but they weren’t very popular), students then moved to chocolate which had chiles. The ancient Aztecs drank a mix of chiles and chocolate, which was reserved for the elites. It must have been popular- traces of chocolate have been found on the inside of pottery containers found in the U.S. Southwest, where it doubtless was brought on foot. After that the students were able to sample chocolate with different levels of cacao (or cocoa- the term is spelled both ways). The 70% cacao level seemed most popular, while everyone thought the 90% was too bitter (although I favor that with single malt scotch). The class had fun, and nobody took too much chocolate. Many students would break even the small amount of chocolate that I had put out in half. There was a lot of laughter as people watched their friends’ faces as they ate the cacao beans.

I deliberately chose dark chocolate, so that students who were lactose intolerant could take part. But I also warned the students that almost all the chocolate bars said that they were processed in a facility that also handled “milk, nuts and wheat.” If you can have someone help you break up the chocolate (thank you to my amazing graduate assistant) it makes the preparation much easier. …

Witches’ Broom: The Mystery of Chocolate and Bioterrorism in Brazil

Geographic and Genetic Population Differentiation of the Amazonian Chocolate Tree, Juan C. Motamayor, Philippe Lachenaud, Jay Wallace da Silva e Mota, Rey Loor, David N. Kuhn, J. Steven Brown, Raymond J. Schnell; from Wikipedia commons
“Geographic and Genetic Population Differentiation of the Amazonian Chocolate Tree,” Juan C. Motamayor, Philippe Lachenaud, Jay Wallace da Silva e Mota, Rey Loor, David N. Kuhn, J. Steven Brown, Raymond J. Schnell; from Wikipedia commons

When people think of chocolate, they may know that it roots stretch back to Mexico, where Aztec emperors used to drink a frothy concoction of cacao and chile. They are less likely to know that cacao originally came from the Amazon, most likely somewhere in Ecuador, which still has the most genetically diverse cacao trees. How it traveled north, perhaps on trading ships along the Pacific Coast, or overland through Central America,  we will never know. But its origins are less of a mystery, than the disappearance of chocolate in Northeastern Brazil beginning in the late 1980s.

Chocolate was originally brought from the Amazon to Brazil’s north-east in 1746. This region was colonial Brazil’s heartland, where the legacy of slavery had created a society defined by both poverty and social inequality.  I spent two months in Recife, Brazil in 1990, where I saw the gold and jewels in the Baroque churches, and the poverty in the countryside. This poverty -and the power of traditional elites- may have motivated one of the greatest crimes in all history, if such a crime actually took place. …

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