April 10, 2014

Chiles, peppers, and world trade before globalization

Filed under: Americas, Economics, History, India — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:53

ESR linked to an interesting discussion of the spread of chile peppers and other exotic spices from the Roman empire onwards:

Can you imagine a world without salsa? Or Tabasco sauce, harissa, sriracha, paprika or chili powder?

I asked myself that question after I found a 700-year-old recipe for one of my favorite foods, merguez — North Africa’s beloved lamb sausage that is positively crimson with chiles. The medieval version was softly seasoned with such warm spices as black pepper, coriander and cinnamon instead of the brash heat of capsicum chile peppers — the signature flavor of the dish today.

The cuisines of China, Indonesia, India, Bhutan, Korea, Hungary and much of Africa and the Middle East would be radically different from what they are today if chiles hadn’t returned across the ocean with Columbus. Barely 50 years after the discovery of the New World, chiles were warming much of the Old World. How did they spread so far, so fast? The answers may surprise you — they did me!

I learned that Mamluk and Ottoman Muslims were nearly as responsible for the discovery of New World peppers as Columbus — but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The global pepper saga begins in the first millennium bce with the combustible career of another pepper — black pepper (Piper nigrum) and its cousins, Indian long pepper and Javanese cubeb. Although Piper nigrum was first grown on the Malabar Coast in India, the taste for it enflamed the ancient world: No matter what the cost — and it was very high — people were mad for pepper. The Romans, for example, first tasted it in Egypt, and the demand for it drove them to sail to India to buy it. In the first century, Pliny complained about the cost: “There is no year in which India does not drain the Roman Empire of fifty million sesterces.”

In one sense, the whole global system of trade — the sea and land routes throughout the known world that spread culture and cuisine through commerce — was engaged with the appetite for pepper, in its growth, distribution and consumption.

Dried chiles shipped well worldwide. From top-left: New World Capsicum annuum varieties include guajillo, ancho and New Mexico; a smaller Capsicum frutescens variety called “birdseye” chiles spread wild in Africa after birds spread their seeds from early gardens, and they are now common also in Southeast Asia; “Indian” chiles are among the most common varieties in India, which today grows and exports more chiles than any other nation. Bottom-left: Three popular capsicum peppers that took root in the Middle East—Maraş, Urfa and Aleppo, shown below in their flaked form—are used in dishes throughout the region. Bottom-right: Fresh serrano, poblano and ripe jalapeño peppers.

Dried chiles shipped well worldwide. From top-left: New World Capsicum annuum varieties include guajillo, ancho and New Mexico; a smaller Capsicum frutescens variety called “birdseye” chiles spread wild in Africa after birds spread their seeds from early gardens, and they are now common also in Southeast Asia; “Indian” chiles are among the most common varieties in India, which today grows and exports more chiles than any other nation. Bottom-left: Three popular capsicum peppers that took root in the Middle East — Maraş, Urfa and Aleppo, shown below in their flaked form — are used in dishes throughout the region. Bottom-right: Fresh serrano, poblano and ripe jalapeño peppers.

ESR said in his brief G+ posting:

More about the early and very rapid spread of capsicum peppers in the Old World than I’ve ever seen in one place before.

I also didn’t know they were such a nutritional boon. It appears one reason they became so entrenched is they’re a good source of Vitamin C in peasant cuisines centered around a starch like rice. My thought is that moderns may tend to miss this point because we have so much better access to citrus fruits and other very high-quality C sources.

The bit about paprika having been introduced to Hungary by the Ottomans was also particularly interesting to me. This was less than 30 years after they had reached the Old World.

February 12, 2014

India’s unhappy relationship with the free press

Filed under: India, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:55

A recent report from Reporters Without Borders has India at the 140th rank (of 180 countries surveyed) for freedom of the press:

The world’s largest democracy remains one of the most restrictive places for the press.

In a report published Wednesday, Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based nonprofit, ranked India 140th out of 180 countries surveyed for the free speech it affords the media. This was a one-point jump from the country’s 2013 ranking, when it recorded its steepest fall on the annual-list since 2002.

On Monday, acting on an agreement chalked out by a Delhi court, one of India’s largest publishing houses withdrew a 2009 book that reinterprets Hinduism, the latest instance of a book being removed from circulation in the country.

The authors of Wednesday’s report singled out the insurgency in the disputed territory of Kashmir, where channels of communications, including telephone lines, satellite televisions and the Internet, are routinely suspended in response to unrest, as well as the killings of eight journalists in 2013, for India’s lowly press freedom ranking. The killings included those of Jitendra Singh, a freelancer in the eastern state of Jharkhand, who documented Maoist activists in the state, and that of Rakesh Sharma, a Hindi newspaper reporter who was shot dead in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, in August.

December 24, 2013

Indian gold bugs go home

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, India, Middle East — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:19

The Indian government has been attempting to restrict the domestic gold market, but there’s a big loophole in the rules that many travellers are taking advantage of while they can:

Faced with curbs on gold imports and crash in international prices leaving it cheaper in other countries, gold houses and smugglers are turning to NRIs to bring in the yellow metal legally after paying duty. Any NRI, who has stayed abroad for more than six months, is allowed to bring in 1kg gold.

It was evident last week when almost every passenger on a flight from Dubai to Calicut was found carrying 1kg of gold, totalling up to 80kg (worth about Rs 24 crore). At Chennai airport, 13 passengers brought the legally permitted quantity of gold in the past one week.

“It’s not illegal. But the 80kg gold that landed in Calicut surprised us. We soon got information that two smugglers in Dubai and their links in Calicut were behind this operation, offering free tickets to several passengers,” said an official. The passengers were mostly Indian labourers in Dubai, used as carriers by people who were otherwise looking at illegal means, he said. “We have started tracing the origin and route of gold after intelligence pointed to the role of smugglers,” he said.

Reports from Kerala said passengers from Dubai have brought more than 1,000kg of gold in the last three weeks. People who pay a duty of Rs 2.7 lakh per kg in Dubai still stand to gain at least Rs 75,000 per kg, owing to the price difference in the two countries. Gold dealers in Kerala say most of this gold goes to jewellery makers in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

December 8, 2013

Mandela’s struggle was not the same as Gandhi’s

Filed under: Africa, History, India, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:09

Salil Tripathi met Nelson Mandela and finds the frequent comparisons between Gandhi and Mandela to do less than justice to both men:

The South African freedom struggle was different from India’s, and the paths Mandela and Gandhi took were also different. That did not prevent many from comparing him with Gandhi. But the two were different; both made political choices appropriate to their time and the context in which they lived.

Gandhi’s life and struggle were political, but securing political freedom was the means to another end, spiritual salvation and moral advancement of India. Mandela was guided by a strong ethical core, and he was deeply committed to political change. At India’s independence, Gandhi wanted the Congress Party to be dissolved, and its members to dedicate themselves to serve the poor. But the Congress had other ideas. Mandela would not have wanted to dissolve his organization; he wanted to bring about the transformation South Africa needed, but he also wanted to heal his beloved country.

This is not to suggest that Gandhi wasn’t political. He was shrewd and he devised strategies to seek the moral high ground against his opponents — and among the British he found a colonial power susceptible to such pressures, because Britain had a domestic constituency which found colonialism repugnant, contrary to its values.

Mandela’s point was that he didn’t have the luxury of fighting the British — he was dealing with the National Party, with its Afrikaans base, which believed in a fight to finish, seeking inspiration from the teachings of the Dutch Reformed Church which established a hierarchy of different races, which led to the establishment of apartheid. “One kaffir one bullet,” said the Boer (the Afrikaans word for farmer, which many Afrikaans-speaking South Africans were); “One settler one bullet,” replied Umkhonto weSizwe, the militant arm of the ANC.

And yet Mandela’s lasting gift was his power of forgiveness and lack of bitterness. He showed exceptional humanity and magnanimity when he left his bitterness behind, on the hard, white limestone rocks of Robben Island that he was forced to break for years, the harsh reflected glare of those rocks causing permanent damage to his eyes. And yet, he came out, his fist raised, smiling, and he wrote in his memoir, Long Walk To Freedom, that unless he left his bitterness and hatred behind, “I would still be in prison.”

By refusing to seek revenge, by accepting the white South African as his brother, by agreeing to build a nation with people who wanted to see him dead, Mandela rose to a stature that is almost unparalleled.


Calling Mandela the Gandhi of our times does no favour to either. Gandhi probably anticipated the compromises he would have to make, which is why he shunned political office. Mandela estimated, correctly, that following the Gandhian path of non-violent resistance against the apartheid regime was going to be futile, since the apartheid regime did not play by any rules, except those it kept creating to deepen the divide between people.

H/T to Shikha Dalmia for the link.

November 3, 2013

The problem of fake gurus

Filed under: India, Religion — Tags: — Nicholas Russon @ 10:39

Shikha Dalmia on Hinduism’s thus-far unresolvable problem with fake gurus:

Hinduism, unlike Christianity, is not an organized faith with settled dogmas, an established church and a priestly hierarchy handing down truths worked out top-down as in Catholicism. Nor does it prescribe a strict and elaborate code of law as Judaism’s torah and Islam’s sharia.

Rather, it is an open-ended faith that has a core goal — experiencing the God within and releasing oneself from the cycle of birth and rebirth — but no set prescription for achieving it. It simply calls upon believers to overcome their inner demons and find their own unique path to enlightenment. But a good guru, who has overcome the vices of ordinary mortals and reached a higher state of consciousness, can greatly accelerate the journey.

The effect of such radical openness, on the one had, is that Hinduism has produced an “absolutely staggering” body of “scientific, faith-based and experience-based knowledge,” notes Josh Schrei, a religion writer. Diametrically opposed paths for achieving inner bliss have been explored: asceticism and materialism; intoxication and sobriety; sensuality and celibacy; solitude and communion.

On the other hand, Hinduism’s spiritual laissez faire means that it lacks the inner resources of other religions for quality control. Unlike monotheistic faiths, Hinduism is not preoccupied with policing superstition, idolatry, and heresy. Literally anyone with a formula for enlightenment—and the charisma to sell it — can hang a shingle saying “guru inside” and wait for the flock to arrive. (This was perfectly captured by the recent documentary Kumare in which an Indian American born and raised in New York, moves to Arizona feigns a guru accent, invents some mumbo jumbo, and quickly acquires a devoted following.)

Statue envy

Filed under: China, India, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:15

Tunku Varadarajan on India’s big statue and what it means:

Narendra Modi is the chief minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat, and he believes that his beloved India is a land of political pygmies. India’s current prime minister, whose job Modi covets to distraction, is an effete old technocrat who takes his orders from the bossy Italian widow of a former prime minister (who was himself the son of a prime minister, and the grandson of another). The old technocrat’s days in office are numbered, and his replacement as prime ministerial candidate for the ruling Congress party is Rahul Gandhi, the son of the Italian widow (she who must be obeyed), a clumsy “crown prince” of threadbare intellect who would inspire little confidence as the manager of a New Delhi pasta joint, let alone as prime minister of India.

India is a land of political midgets, damn it, and Narendra Modi is going to do something about it. To compensate for the meager stature of those with whom he must rub shoulders, he is going to give his country a giant statue — the tallest the world has ever seen. At 597 feet, this “Statue of Unity” will dwarf a 502-feet tall Buddha built in China in 2002, giving India — which suffers from a desperate form of penis-envy of China — something bigger at last than its massive northern neighbor. The statue, to be situated in Gujarat and made of bronze, iron and cement, will cost a scarcely trivial $340 million, much of which will come, in spite of Modi’s free-market protestations, directly from taxpayers who earn no more than $1,400 per annum. Do the moral math. (The official boast is that it will take only 42 months to build, although you’ve got to believe that the Chinese could complete the task in half the time.) When fully erect, it will be twice the height of the Statue of Liberty and four times that of Christ the Redeemer in Rio. “The world will be forced to look at India when this statue stands tall,” Modi has said. Indeed: But with what kind of gaze?

September 28, 2013

This is what democracy looks like – Indian voters can now vote “None of the above”

Filed under: Government, India — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:40

Alex Tabarrok links to a Wall Street Journal article (paywalled, unfortunately) about the Indian court decision that will allow Indian voters to cast their ballots against all the candidates on offer:

Excellent news. Bear in mind:

    Nearly a third of the members of the lower house of Parliament are facing criminal charges, according to the Association for Democratic Reforms, a New Delhi-based advocacy group for transparency in governance.

Even if that were not the case, however, one of the problems of democracy is that there is too little feedback and information transmission, due both to rational ignorance and the bundle nature of politics. Allowing for “none of the above” provides, not a panacea, but a little bit more feedback. Many people vote but have to hold their noses to do so. Many others don’t vote but do they not vote because they are satisfied or dissatisfied? None of the above gives the dissatisfied a chance to reveal their views and in so doing it may encourage more and better candidates.

At present, voting none of the above is just informational, i.e. none of the above is never “elected” even if it gets a majority, although the option to vote NOTA may change the outcome of the election. In the future a NOTA majority might signal a new election.

There have been a few elections here in Ontario I’d love to have had the option of voting “None of the above”.

September 3, 2013

QotD: Some things never change, military division

Filed under: Britain, History, India, Military, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Then for the first time since I had left the Kotwali I had a moment to run over in my mind the actions I had taken during the last half-hour. The soldier always knows that everything he does on such an occasions will be scrutinized by two classes of critics — by the Government which employs him and by the enemies of that Government. As far as the Government is concerned, he is a little Admiral Jellicoe and this his tiny Battle of Jutland. He has to make a vital decision on incomplete information in a matter of seconds, and afterwards the experts can sit down at leisure, with all the facts before them, and argue about what he might, could, or should have done. Lucky the soldier if, as in Jellicoe’s case, the tactical experts decide after twenty years’ profound consideration that what he did in three minutes was right. As for the enemies of the Government, it does not much matter what he has done. They will twist, misinterpret, falsify, or invent any facts as evidence that he is an inhuman monster wallowing in innocent blood.

Field Marshal William Slim, “Aid to the Civil”, Unoficial History, 1959.

September 1, 2013

India moves government email away from US-based email services

Filed under: Government, India, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:13

Vinay Mandalia discusses the quite rational response of the Indian government to the recent discovery that the US intelligence services have had full access to all email communications hosted on US email services:

The Government of India is planning to ban the use of US based email services like Gmail for official communications and is soon going to send out a formal notification to its half a million officials across the country asking them to use official email addresses and services provided by National Informatics Centre.

The move is intended to increase the security of confidential government data and information after it was revealed earlier that NSA may be involved in widespread spying and surveillance activities across the globe.

In a statement to reporters here J. Satyanarayana, secretary in the department of electronics and information technology, said that data of Indian citizens using US based email services like Gmail is residing on servers which are located outside India and for now the government is concerned about the large amount of official and critical data that may be resident on those servers.

Expect a lot of other US “allies” to suddenly discover that their internal communications have been an open book to their “friends” for the last 10-20 years and decide to take similar measures.

H/T to Techdirt for the link.

August 17, 2013

Delays in India’s submarine program

Filed under: India, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:21

In the Times of India, Rajat Pandit reviews the state of the Indian Navy’s submarine fleet:

Is India’s aging fleet of conventional submarines threatening to go the MiG-21 way? The Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA), already 30 years in the making, was slated to replace the obsolete MiG-21 in the 1990s but is still at least two years away from becoming fully-operational.

Similarly, the Navy too was to induct 12 new diesel-electric submarines by last year, with another dozen to follow in the 2012-2030 timeframe. This was the 30-year submarine building plan approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) way back in July, 1999. But the Navy has not inducted even one of the 24 planned submarines till now, and is forced to soldier on with just 14 aging conventional vessels.

“The Navy is steadily modernizing in the surface warship and aircraft arenas. But our aging and depleting underwater combat arm is a big worry. But it also must be kept in mind that INS Sindhurakshak‘s accident is the first such incident we have had in over four decades of operating submarines,” said a senior officer.

Sources said INS Sindhurakshak, after Wednesday’s accident, is “a clear write-off”. Of the 13 submarines left now, as many as 11 are over 20 years old. The setback comes when China and Pakistan are systematically bolstering their underwater combat capabilities, with the former being armed with over 55 submarines.

Update: MarineLink reports on the investigation into the INS Sindhurakshak explosion.

The Indian Navy diving teams have been working nonstop to reach into the compartments of the submarine since rescue operations commenced early noon of August 14. The boiling waters inside the submarine prevented any entry until noon that day. Access to the inner compartments of the submarine was made almost impossible due to jammed doors and hatches, distorted ladders, oily and muddy waters inside the submerged submarine resulting in total darkness and nil visibility within the submarine even with high power underwater lamps. Distorted and twisted metal within very restricted space due extensive internal damage caused by the explosion further worsened conditions for the divers. This resulted in very slow and labored progress. Only one diver could work at a time to clear the path to gain access. After 36 hours of continuous diving effort in these conditions, Navy divers have finally reached the second compartment behind the conning tower in the early hours of August 16.

Three bodies have been located and extricated from the submarine from this compartment. The bodies are severely disfigured and not identifiable due to severe burns. The bodies have been sent to INHS Asvini, the naval hospital, for possible DNA identification which is likely to take some more time.

The state of these two bodies and conditions within the submarine leads to firm conclusion that finding any surviving personnel within the submarine is unlikely.

August 14, 2013

Fatal explosion on Indian submarine

Filed under: India, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:21

A report from FirstPost.India on the worst naval disaster in Indian history:

The Indian Navy suffered a huge blow Wednesday when a frontline submarine exploded and sank here at dawn with 18 sailors after two explosions turned it into a deadly ball of fire.

The deep sea attack vessel INS Sindhurakshak, recently refurbished in Russia, suffered an unexplained explosion just after Tuesday midnight and an immediate deafening blast heard almost in the whole of south Mumbai.

Naval officials said the rapid spread of the blaze and the intensity of the explosions left the trapped 18 sailors, including three officers, with apparently no chance of escaping.

“We cannot rule out sabotage,” navy chief Admiral D.K. Joshi told the media after Defence Minister A.K. Antony visited the disaster site at the Mumbai naval dock.

“But indications at this point do not support the (sabotage) theory,” he said. “At this point of time we are unable to put a finger on what exactly could have gone wrong.”

An inquiry set up to probe the disaster will submit its report within four weeks.

The Indian Navy submarine INS Sindhurakshak (S 63) at anchorage off the port city of Mumbai, India

The Indian Navy submarine INS Sindhurakshak (S 63) at anchorage off the port city of Mumbai, India

The most recent update to the Wikipedia page says:

On 14 August 2013, the Sindhurakshak sank after explosions caused by a fire took place onboard when the submarine was docked at Mumbai. The fire, followed by a series of ordnance blasts on the armed submarine, occurred shortly after midnight. The fire was put out within two hours. It is unclear exactly what caused the fire. Due to damage from the explosions, the submarine sank at its berth with only a portion visible above the water surface.[10][14][15] Sailors on board reportedly jumped off to safety. Navy divers were also brought in as there was a possibility that 18 personnel were trapped inside. India’s defence minister confirmed that there were fatalities.[6]

Due to the explosion, the front section of the submarine was twisted, bent and crumpled, and water had entered the forward compartment. Another submarine, INS Sindhuratna, also sustained minor damage when the fire on Sindhurakshak caused its torpedoes to explode.[14][16] Defence minister A. K. Antony briefed the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the submarine incident, and would leave for Mumbai to visit the accident site.[17][18]

Official sources said it was “highly unlikely” the submarine could be returned to service.[19]

June 20, 2013

Addressing India’s rape problem

Filed under: India, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

In Reason, Shikha Dalmia looks at the reality of life in India for far too many women:

… the Indian government has been following the feminist script for nearly half a century with little effect. It would serve the cause of gender equity far better if it simply did its job and provided safe streets, timely justice, and other basic public goods for everyone. The absence of such amenities that are taken for granted in the West is arguably the strongest pillar of patriarchy in India.

India’s official rape statistics — which registered 1.8 rapes per 100,000 people in 2010, compared with the United States’ 27.3 — might suggest that India has no rape problem. But everyone knows that rape is vastly underreported in traditional cultures where women fear stigmatizing themselves and dishonoring their families, especially since the chances of justice are remote. Whatever the correct statistics, they can’t capture a crucial qualitative difference in the rape problem between India and in, say, America.

Setting aside incest and sexual assault by friends and relatives that unfortunately happens in all cultures, in America, a lot of rape is “date rape” that occurs when women exercise their social and sexual freedom. The police rarely have an opportunity to intervene in such situations and the only way of combating this problem is by addressing male attitudes. By contrast, in India far more rapes originate in public settings — parks, streets, and buses — as women go about their daily business. This is eminently preventable, which is why, unlike in America, every new episode triggers fresh protests in India.

The very lack of public safety that allows rape also strengthens patriarchy. For starters, it limits women’s employment options. It is too dangerous for them to take jobs that require evening shifts or long commutes. Some companies offer rides home to women who work late, but this makes women more expensive to hire. Single rural women rarely move to cities, where the bulk of job growth is occurring, as men can. All of this undermines women’s ability to maximize their earning potential and gain financial independence.

Above all, it forces women to rely on their patriarchal families for protection, opening them up to all kinds of restrictions. A woman who has to wait for her father or brother to pick her up from college or work — rather than taking a cab or a bus — can’t just meet whomever she wants, wherever she wants, whenever she wants. Everything she does becomes subject to time, place, and manner restrictions by her family and its moral code.

[. . .]

Feminism will never get rid of patriarchy without first getting rid of the need for it. Patriarchy’s staying power stems not just from backward belief systems but a gritty ground reality. The lack of basic law-and-order means that women have to rely on male physical strength for security making men socially more valuable and more dangerous. This makes men, as feminists point out, both protectors and rapists. Electing female politicians and demanding more gender equality won’t cut this Gordian knot—only good governance that promotes public safety for all will.

April 22, 2013

India’s submarine program hits (even more) delays

Filed under: Bureaucracy, India, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:17

Strategy Page reports on the latest set of delays to hit the Indian navy’s submarine building program:

India’s effort to build six submarines (French Scorpenes), under license, has been delayed once again. The problem is mainly poor management. An example of this occurred quite recently with the departure of ten Spanish technical advisors for the Scorpenes. Their contract expired at the end of March and, despite the expiration date being well known Indian bureaucrats were unable to get a new contract in place on time. Similar avoidable delays have occurred several times already and the price has gone up with each delay. Last year it was announced that the first Scorpene sub would not be ready until 2015. The new delays push that to 2017.

Building the subs in India will leave India with thousands of workers and specialists experienced in building modern submarines. All that will be wasted because the defense procurement bureaucrats seem to have learned nothing. These officials already caused numerous delays and cost overruns during negotiations to build these diesel-electric submarines. The bureaucrats mismanaged this deal to the extent that it is now five years behind schedule. But it is even more behind schedule if you count the several years the Indian bureaucrats delayed it even getting started. The delays and mismanagement have so far increased the cost of the $4 billion project by 25 percent (to $834 million per sub).

[. . .]

All this ineffective urgency is in play because India’s submarine fleet is dying of old age and new boats are not going to arrive in time. It’s not like this was a surprise, but the Indian defense procurement bureaucracy has long been noted as slow, sloppy, and stubborn, especially in the face of demands that it speed up. The twisted tale of the tardy submarines is particularly painful.

The plan was to have a dozen new subs in service by the end of the decade. At present, there will be (with a bit of luck) three or four of them in service by then. The procurement bureaucracy is still seeking a supplier for the second batch of six diesel-electric subs. This second six probably won’t even begin arriving by the end of the decade. It’s hard to say, although the defense procurement nabobs speak of “fast tracking” this project, but long-time observers not expecting speed.

There’s some urgency to all this because this year five of India’s 16 diesel-electric subs (10 Kilo and two Foxtrot class Russian built boats and four German Type 209s) were to be retired (some are already semi-retired because of age and infirmity). Because of the Scorpene delays, the Type 209s are being kept in service (but not allowed out to sea much) for several more years. That leaves India with 14 subs. But in the next year or so several of the older Kilos will reach retirement age. Thus, by the time the first Scorpene arrives in 2017, India will only have five or six working subs. India believes it needs at least 18 non-nuclear subs in service to deal with Pakistan and China.

February 18, 2013

Opening the food testing can of worms: “We don’t test for hedgehog either”

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Health, India, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:20

Tim Worstall on some of the issues with demands that all British beef for human consumption be tested for horsemeat:

Now let’s turn to that meat problem. We’re going to test something to make sure that it is indeed what it says. Most of the time, usually, we’d go looking for beef DNA and on finding it say, yup, that’s beef.

But now we’re talking about trace amounts of other species. Some of this horse contamination is someone deliberately substituting, yes. But a lot of it, those trace amounts, is someone not cleaning the pipes between species being processed. Or the knives even. Which leads us to something of a problem.

How many species do we test for? Some minced beef… or pink slime perhaps. Do we test for beef and horse? For beef, horse, mutton, pork, chicken, duck, goose? What about rat and mouse? For I’ll guarantee you that however much people try there will often be the odd molecule of either one of those in there. Sparrow? That’s more of a problem with grain processing but still.

For example, one lovely story about vegetarianism. Those (umm, OK, some) who have moved from the sub-continent to the UK. They carry on eating the (possibly Hindu caste based) vegetarian diet they are used to. And they start falling prey to all sorts of dietary deficiencies. Anaemia, there have even been reports of kwashikor (a protein deficiency). The grains and the pulses of the sub-continent have rather more insect and other residue in them than our more modern processing and storage systems provide.

People don’t test for hedgehog DNA in meat supplies, no. But how many species should they test for?

February 5, 2013

I was getting hungry after reading the first two paragraphs…

Filed under: Asia, History, India — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

What is curry and where did it come from?

What is curry? Today, the word describes a bewildering number of spicy vegetable and meat stews from places as far-flung as the Indian subcontinent, the South Pacific, and the Caribbean Islands. There is little agreement about what actually constitutes a curry. And, until recently, how and when curry first appeared was a culinary mystery as well.

The term likely derives from kari, the word for sauce in Tamil, a South-Indian language. Perplexed by that region’s wide variety of savory dishes, 17th-century British traders lumped them all under the term curry. A curry, as the Brits defined it, might be a mélange of onion, ginger, turmeric, garlic, pepper, chilies, coriander, cumin, and other spices cooked with shellfish, meat, or vegetables.

Those curries, like the curries we know today, were the byproduct of more than a millennium of trade between the Indian subcontinent and other parts of Asia, which provided new ingredients to spice up traditional Indian stews. After the year 1000, Muslims brought their own cooking traditions from the west, including heavy use of meat, while Indian traders carried home new and exotic spices like cloves from Southeast Asia. And when the Portuguese built up their trading centers on the west coast of India in the 16th century, they threw chilies from the New World into the pot. (Your spicy vindaloo may sound like Hindi, but actually the word derives from the Portuguese terms for its original central ingredients: wine and garlic.)

But the original curry predates Europeans’ presence in India by about 4,000 years. Villagers living at the height of the Indus civilization used three key curry ingredients — ginger, garlic, and turmeric — in their cooking. This proto-curry, in fact, was eaten long before Arab, Chinese, Indian, and European traders plied the oceans in the past thousand years.

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