Quotulatiousness

June 22, 2017

The EU regulators want to get rid of a Belgian food tradition

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Europe, Health — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Carol Off reports for CBC Radio’s As It Happens:

Belgian Fries, traditionally served with mayonnaise
(photo by vokimberly at Flickr)

Belgium’s government says a new proposal by the European Union could spell disaster for the country’s world-famous fries.

“We adore our fries the way we make them, so just let us do so for the next 100 years, because the last hundred years it wasn’t a problem, so why should it be a problem now?” Flemish Tourism Minister Ben Weyts told Carol Off, host of CBC Radio’s As It Happens.

Traditionally, Belgian fries, are twice fried in fat. First, they go in raw to generate a soft, fluffy interior. Then they are refried at a higher temperature to create a crispy, golden exterior.

This process sets Belgian fries apart from soft and chunky British chips, or the sleek and thin fries preferred by the French.

But the European Commission is proposing that all potatoes be blanched — briefly cooked in boiling water — before they hit the fat.

It’s part of an EU effort to curb exposure to acrylamide, a chemical that can form in foods cooked at high temperatures, and has been linked to cancer in animal tests.

[…]

On the heels of the Belgian backlash, the European Commission has insisted the proposal is a suggestion, not a ban.

“The commission has no intention whatsoever to ban Belgian frites — or any other frites, for that matter,” spokesperson Margaritis Schinas said on Tuesday.

“Instead, the commission is preparing a new regulatory measure to oblige food business operators to apply a code of practice to reduce acrylamide in food, as it is carcinogenic.

“We are all very attached to the rich culinary heritage we find in our member states.”

For more information on Belgian Fries, see The One and Only Original Belgian Fries Website (which hadn’t been updated with this latest existential threat when I checked it).

H/T to Chris Myrick for the link.

June 14, 2017

“How Do They Do It” – Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

Filed under: Europe, Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 25 Nov 2014

It was a pleasure to host the crew of “How do they do it” at the Villa of our membership Davide!!
More info: http://www.balsamico.it

June 13, 2017

Vegetable impostors on your table

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The vegetable pushers are clever: they can disguise vegetables in such a way that you don’t realize where they came from. A prime set of examples are all variations of a common Mediterranean weed called Brassica oleracea:

Click to see full-size image

Brassica is also known as the wild mustard plant.

“The wild plant is a weedy little herb that prefers to grow on limestone outcroppings all around the coastal Mediterranean region,” Jeanne Osnas, a researcher at Purdue University who blogs as “The Botanist in the Kitchen,” writes of Brassica oleracea.

“It is a biennial plant that uses food reserves stored over the winter in its rosette of leaves to produce a spike of a few yellow flowers at the end of its second summer before dying. Those nutritious leaves make its domesticated derivatives important food crops in much of the world now.”

This one plant was selectively bred over hundreds of years to create dozens of wildly different vegetables.

By selecting and breeding plants with bigger leaves, or larger buds, the various cultivars were created.

[…]

The amazing evolution of Brassica oleracea goes to show that humans have been tinkering with the genetics of our food – creating what are now known as genetically modified foods, or GMOs – for a very long time.

New lab techniques just let us do that in a more precise and directed way.

June 4, 2017

QotD: The Empire of the Cow

Filed under: Economics, History, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Whatever you might say against European imperialism and colonialism, it was good for the dairy industry. Ditto the railways which, beginning with the Great Western, made a fortune delivering rural milk supplies to the Great Wen of London, using methods soon copied by entrepreneurs in Paris, New York, Bombay. We forget, don’t we, that before 1860 or so, almost all dairy farming for urban consumption was done within the cities; to say nothing of other animal feedlot operations, including poultry and eggs; market gardening, horticulture and so forth. I’m with the hipsters for bringing it all back.

I cast no aspersions on the milkers of buffalo, goats, sheep, camels, donkeys, horses, reindeer, yaks, when I recognize that the Holstein/Frisian cow was the great cause and inspiration for the rise of what Max Weber murkily called the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, emanating from the north-west of Europe. Instead, as will be seen, I champion them.

Neil Cameron interviewed the learned Professor Gerhard Fleischkopf, in a cover piece for the Idler magazine, more than a quarter-century ago, to publicize a thesis that still hasn’t been taken seriously enough by the historians. Contra Weber, Fleischkopf showed that it wasn’t the Germans, Dutchmen, Normans, English who launched this cultural revolution. Rather it was their cows, who forced them to rise very early every morning, lest they be kicked upon finally approaching the engorged teats with their milk-stools and pails; forced them otherwise to adopt patterns of behaviour entirely in the interest of the cows. Their philosophical and theological outlook — a dramatic break from the mediaeval scholastic synthesis — was not in any sense original to them, but instead an artefact of their cultural and intellectual manipulation, by cows. And so, too, their adaptive pushiness towards those of other lands — those lesser breeds without modern dairying techniques — whom they subjugated in turn, as agents of the cow.

David Warren, “A new model for society”, Essays in Idleness, 2015-07-20.

May 30, 2017

The Disgusting Contents of Worcestershire Sauce (and Why It s Called That)

Filed under: Britain, Business, History, India — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 27 Mar 2017

In this video:

Worcestershire sauce, sometimes known as “Worcester sauce” is a savoury sauce that is often added to meat and fish dishes or, if you like your alcoholic beverages, the Bloody Mary cocktail. It may (or may not depending on how much you research your sauce choices) surprise you to learn that it’s literally made from fermented fish and spices.

Want the text version?: http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2013/10/worcestershire-sauce-called/

May 15, 2017

Comparing Royal Marine field ration packs

Filed under: Britain, Humour, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

A fascinating insight into the way the Royal Marines take care of the troops in the field, showing both enlisted mens’ and officers’ ration packs:

May 13, 2017

University life – it’s even worse than you think it is

Filed under: Education, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

As we have learned over the last few years, university campuses are worse than active war zones for women at risk of sexual assault with one in five four three suffering an assault during their time there every year. However, it now appears that American campuses are also dystopian hotbeds of hunger:

Over the last generation or so, major progress has been made in reducing hunger and malnourishment worldwide. Working together, governments, NGOs, and the private sector have almost halved the proportion of hungry people around the world—from 23 percent in 1990 to under 13 percent in 2014. And yet, if some recent studies are to be believed, one group appears to be suffering disproportionately: American college students. According to an October 2016 survey, “Hunger on Campus,” 48 percent of respondents “reported food insecurity in the previous 30 days,” which means that college students suffer this way in the same proportion as the population of countries like Ethiopia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Congo. “There’s a Hunger Problem on America’s College Campuses,” CNN’s website reported late last year. Who knew that American universities were famine zones?

Well, not so fast. One problem with this discussion is the fuzzy definition of “food insecurity,” which many general readers might confuse with the more empirically rigorous, medically defined category of malnutrition. By contrast, food insecurity is a self-reported, broadly defined indicator, heavily influenced by how questions are asked in surveys (and how different cultures and populations respond to those inquiries). The USDA estimates that 12.7 percent of Americans are food-insecure, or what it defines as lacking “ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods“ acquired in “socially acceptable ways (that is, without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing or other coping strategies).”

Of course, 12.7 percent is a far cry from 48 percent. The disconnect between the on- and off-campus numbers grows partially out of the fact that almost all the research behind the high collegiate numbers has been collected by partisan advocacy groups with a vested interest in portraying a campus hunger crisis. “Hunger on Campus,” for example, was put together by the College and University Food Bank Alliance, the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness, the Student Government Resource Center, and the Student Public Interest Research Groups. These groups use much vaguer measures of food insecurity than the USDA does. “Hunger on Campus,” for instance, is based on self-reported responses to prompts such as “I worried whether my food would run out before I got money to buy more”; “The food that I bought just didn’t last, and I didn’t have money to get more”; and “I couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals.” Respondents were asked to indicate whether these statements were “sometimes true” or “often true” over the previous 30 days.

The imprecision of the questions is compounded by problems with statistical methodology. An appendix [PDF] to “Hunger on Campus” explains that the findings are based on convenience surveys, “collected through face-to-face outreach by staff and volunteers affiliated with the organizations that coordinated the research,” and that, as a result, the findings were “not directly generalizable to the U.S. student population at large” (emphasis mine). In social science, convenience sampling — sometimes known as “grab sampling” or “opportunity sampling” — is at best considered a preliminary, rough-cut approach, generally plagued by sampling bias and always lacking in statistical rigor. If careful probability sampling is the gold standard, convenience sampling is its distant, poorer cousin.

May 6, 2017

QotD: Cooking for one

Filed under: Quotations, Randomness, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

You thought about cooking. You had frozen fish filets in the freezer and a rather nice-looking head of broccoli sitting right there in the produce drawer. But then, somehow, it was 8:10, and it all seemed like too much trouble, so instead you grabbed a bowl of Tostitos, a jar of salsa, and three slices of pepper jack, and you ate it in front of “Chopped.”

Or at least, that’s the explanation that an NPD analyst gave Marketwatch for America’s snacking habits.

    “It’s hard to shop and cook for one.” That’s one reason why people are buying more snack foods, she says. “They are individually packaged and often have a very long shelf life. That, and an awful lot of people do not have cooking skills.”

Those whitefish filets were probably going to be overcooked anyway. Tostitos, on the other hand, are always done to a turn.

I have some sympathy. When the Official Blog Spouse travels, sometimes I make things he doesn’t like, such as tofu stir-fry. And sometimes, I surrender to the siren call of Trader Joe’s Mac and Cheese Balls, which require no effort and are every bit as good to eat as they are bad for my waistline.

There are any number of articles and books that promise to tell you how to solve this problem. The best are merely adequate; the worst emit the quiet despair of an unmarked grave. I’ll concede that cooking for small numbers simply isn’t as much fun as cooking for a bigger group. Part of the joy of cooking is sharing the results. The labor-to-output ratio is lower for one or two, and you have to spend a lot of time fiddling with small amounts. Some things simply can’t be done efficiently for one or two people, which is why I save the rib roast for dinner parties. Other things shouldn’t be done for one or two people, which is why I am trying not to give in to the urge to make a layer cake this weekend.

Megan McArdle, “Friday Food Post: 10 Tips on Cooking for One”, Bloomberg View, 2015-08-21.

April 29, 2017

“Don’t count fat; don’t fret over what kind of fat you’re getting, per se. Just go for walks and eat real food”

Filed under: Health, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Earlier this week, Colby Cosh rounded up some recent re-evaluations of “settled food science”:

Their first target was the Sydney Diet Heart Study (1966-73), in which 458 middle-aged coronary patients were split into a control group and an experimental group. The latter group was fed loads of “healthy” safflower oil and safflower margarine in place of saturated fats. Even at the time it was noticed that the margarine-eaters died sooner, although their total cholesterol levels went down: the investigators sort of shrugged and wrote that heart patients “are not a good choice for testing the lipid hypothesis.” Their data, looked at now, shows that the increased mortality in the margarine group was attributable specifically to heart problems.

The team’s reanalysis of the Minnesota Coronary Experiment (1968-73) is more hair-raising. This study involved nearly 10,000 Minnesotans at old-age homes and mental hospitals. The investigators had near-complete control of the subjects’ diets, and were able to autopsy the ones who died. But much of their data, including the autopsy results, ended up misplaced or ignored. Some of it disappeared into a master’s thesis by a young statistician, now a retired older chap, who helped with the 2016 paper and is named at its head as one of the authors.

In the Minnesota study, replacement of saturated fats with corn oil led, again, to reductions in total cholesterol. This finding was touted at major conferences, and it became one of the key moments in the creation of the classic diet-heart myth. This time nobody but the guy who wrote the thesis even noticed that the patients in the corn oil group were, overall, dying a little faster. The 2016 re-analysis uncovered a dose-response relationship: the more the patients’ total cholesterol decreased, the faster they died.

The Sydney and Minnesota studies themselves may have caused a few premature deaths, which is a possibility we accept as the price of science. But the limitations and omissions of the researchers, and the premature commitment of doctors to a total-cholesterol model, helped create a suspicion of saturated fats. This flooded into frontline medical advice and the wider culture, and it put margarine on millions of tables, pushed consumers toward deadly trans fats, and put millions of people with innately high cholesterol levels through useless diet austerity. The scale of the error is numbing, unfathomable.

If Walls Could Talk The History of the Home Episode 4: The Kitchen

Filed under: Britain, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 2 Feb 2017

April 25, 2017

Shopping for capers

Filed under: Humour — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

An old post at a seemingly abandoned Tumblr site called F*k You, Broccoli is called “Capers, Satan’s little BBs” (NSFW tag is for language, so it’s below the fold):

(more…)

QotD: Coca-Cola seen as harmful

Filed under: Health, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I hate sweet drinks — Coca-Cola et al. — so passionately that I grow angry whenever I see someone buy or drink one. I hate their taste, I hate the horrible plastic bottles in which they come; to see people carry them around with them as if they were dolls or comfort blankets infuriates me. It appalls me worse that anyone actually likes them. The drinks don’t relieve thirst, they merely create it and make their drinkers wish for more: a perfect recipe, from a certain unscrupulous commercial point of view.

I was therefore secretly pleased to read in a paper published recently in the British Medical Journal that those who drink these disgusting concoctions are more likely than others to develop type 2 diabetes — the type that is increasing throughout the world at an alarming pace, and in some countries even threatening to reverse the increase in life expectancy to which of late decades we have grown accustomed as part of the natural order of things and now think of almost as a human right. Such diabetes is not only the wages of sin — gluttony — but of something that affects our everyday lives even worse, namely mass bad taste.

Of course, the paper in the BMJ can be criticized. A statistical association is not by itself proof of causation, though I should be surprised in this instance if the relationship were not causative. Again, in my heart of hearts I hope that it is. It would restore my faith that the universe is just.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Gluttons for Punishment”, Taki’s Magazine, 2015-07-25.

April 22, 2017

QotD: Vanilla isn’t

Filed under: Health, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

One last, minor thing: Vanilla is a deeply rich flavor that has unfairly become shorthand for boring, basic, and sexually unadventurous. Merriam-Webster’s second definition includes the sad phrase “lacking distinction” to explain the term “vanilla.” I’m not arguing that we drop this secondary use of the word — we’re too far gone for that — but I do want to remind people that vanilla is actually an extraordinarily complex flavor. Chocolate is far more vanilla than vanilla.

Caitlin PenzeyMoog, “Salt grinders are bullshit, and other lessons from growing up in the spice trade”, The A.V. Club, 2017-04-06.

April 20, 2017

Without our sacred supply management, it’d be “Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!”

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Economics, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Colby Cosh saddles up old Rocinante and has a tilt at the ludicrous supply management regime in milk:

You remember how Chobani, a hipster yogurt business based in New York state, got a temporary permit to sell the product in Ontario and won over customers. You know how it tried to meet our supply-managed dairy system halfway by making plans for a factory in Kingston. You know how milk processors waged berserker war in court to prevent the permit from being renewed, and closed ranks to deny the company a supply of Canadian milk.

And, most of all, you know how the product disappeared from our shelves, how Canadians still seek it out on cross-border trips, and how slow and confused the dairy cartel was about meeting the new demand for extra-heavy yogurt. None of this is going to be too easy to explain to a four-year-old.

I hasten to add that I am not seriously playing the “Won’t someone think of the children” card so beloved of politicians, newspaper columnists, and other shameless scum. The four-year-old will get over it. She’ll grow up in a free-trade Canada in which she does not have to accept a world of consumer second-bests, simulacra, and make-dos, except possibly in the dairy section. She can have no personal memory of Seventies Canada — never know what it is like to switch from Eaton’s to The Bay just to buy slightly different versions of the same low-quality, unfashionable crap. The question I grew up with was “Why does Canada have seemingly permanent poorer living standards than the U.S.?”; now it is just “Why are the cheese sections in our grocery stores so pathetic?”

So, Mad Max to the rescue? Not if champion protectionist Steven Blaney can stop him:

… supply management froze the world of Canadian dairying at a perfect moment for Quebec, and so the system has become a sacred cow made of other, literal cows. Because economists and intellectuals know that supply management is a transfer of wealth from consumers of all classes to a few thousand affluent farmers, the beneficiaries reinvest a great deal of the profit in hapless, defensive public-relations efforts that only tend to make us loathe them more.

They have even found a political champion in Steven Blaney, the cadaverous oddball from the Eastern Townships who is in the Conservative leadership race to play milk spoiler to fellow Quebecer Maxime Bernier. Bernier wants to retire supply management by buying farmers out of their quotas with a national tax on dairy, lasting for a fixed period.

This is a generous approach to free trade in dairy: it is a buyout of unearned entitlements. Producers who want to leave the industry would do so with an enormous grubstake — the kind of which workers laid off from regular jobs can only dream. Those who hang in there would get to keep something like the present value of their annulled production quotas as they face new careers in an honest-to-God marketplace (which is what some of them very much wish to do).

April 16, 2017

The tale of unsalted butter in French cuisine

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, France, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

At his new blog, Splendid Isolation, Kim du Toit explains the historical roots of a French culinary oddity:

One of the quirks of French cuisine is that most often the butter is unsalted, and at a French dinner table you will usually find a tiny cruet of salt with a microscopic spoon inside, so that you can salt your butter (or not) according to taste. To someone like myself, accustomed only to salted butter, this seemed like an affectation, but it wasn’t that at all: it was the result of taxation, and this is one of the things changed forever by Napoleon’s administrative reforms.

One of the best parts of our U.S. Constitution is the “interstate commerce” clause, which forbids states from levying taxes on goods and services passing from one state to another, and through another in transit. This was not the case in pre-Napoleonic France. Goods manufactured in, say, Gascony or Provence would pass through a series of customs posts en route to Paris, and at each point the various localities would levy excise taxes on the goods, driving up the final price at its eventual destination.

Which brings us to salt. French salt, you see, was produced mainly on the Atlantic coastline, and was a major “export” of Brittany to the rest of France. Butter, of course, was produced universally — in and outside Paris and ditto for every major city — but the salt for the butter came almost exclusively from Brittany, and having been taxed multiple times by the time it reached points east like Paris or Lyons, it was expensive. So the cuisine and eating habits in those parts developed without the use of salt — or, if salt was requested, at an added cost. It’s why, to this day, many French recipes use unsalted butter as an ingredient. (In contrast, butter for local consumption in western France was [and still is] almost always salted, because salt was dirt cheap there.)

Napoleon’s reforms did away with all that; he saw to it that the douane locale checkpoints and toll booths along the main roads were abolished (causing salt prices in eastern France to plummet and become a mainstay of French cuisine at last). And when the towns and villages protested about the loss of tax revenue, Napoleon made up the shortfall with “federal” funds out of the national treasury.

Of course, the French treasury had in the meantime been emptied out by, amongst other things, the statist welfare policies of the Revolutionary government (stop me if this is starting to sound familiar). Which is why, to raise money, Napoleon invaded wealthy northern Italy and western Germany (as it is now), pillaged their rich cities’ treasuries and garnered revenue from the wealthy aristocracy, who paid bribes to avoid having their palaces sacked and their wealth confiscated.

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