The Digest

The Hipster Banana & Other News

30th September 2017

Words: James Hansen

banana food

This week’s food writing round-up gets a taste of competitive guacamole, examines the history of garum and considers the future of food

Ally Schweitzer writes on the influence of locavorism for Wamu. The influenced party is the pawpaw, currently seasonal (just) in southeast USA. In the face of familiar agricultural challenges – rabid industrial development and a decidedly finicky soil requirement, Maryland farmers have persevered with a fruit that is now the subject of a festival, varied tasting notes (vanilla, bread flour, and banana pudding) and – natch – pawpaw beer. The latter has given rise to the “Hipster Banana” moniker, which will hopefully expire in time; meanwhile, other dedicated followers of fruit plant new trees, in the hope that pawpaw’s moment in the sun will go on long into the future.

Lisa Goldapple sits down with Dougie McMaster for Atlas of the Future. McMaster is the mind behind SILO (Brighton, UK), which blends the archaic and the futuristic to produce a unique food system. McMaster’s approach to sustainability is, in a word, holistic – “I could have a cow, some chickens, harvest rain water and serve 10 people a night and tell myself that this is the utopian food system. It would be zero waste, easy, self-righteous and picturesque! But it’s ignoring the problem of 9 billion people moving to the city and not having enough food”. Goldapple looks at the micro – “school table politics” and “calculations on napkins” – as much as the macro, the “proper Jedi cooking” that McMaster learned and the scaling of food systems that will define our future.

Rachel Khong reports from the frontline of guacamole for Taste. It’s the sixth Indian Summer Guac Off in San Francisco, and all the tropes of food competition are here: “punny names that would make even a prolifically joking dad groan”; “ungenerous thoughts”; “the sadness and the heartbreak”. Between guacs variously flavoured with chicharrones, fish sauce and pop rocks (obviously), Khong reflects on the many textures you can get out of an avocado – “in all its varied-but-mostly-green glory. Some guacs were smooth, some were chunky, and some were oddly – sometimes troublingly – fluffy, with the consistency of whipped egg white.” As the winners are announced, competition wins out over camaraderie – “I will recommend bringing a large group of your friends to vote for you in a guac-off,” Khong concludes.

Adrian E Miller looks back at soul food in the Vietnam War at Soul Food Scholar – restaurants opened by African American military veterans in south east Asia during the conflict. These veterans responded to their dislocation by cooking and serving the food they knew best – here Miller focuses on “chitlings, aka chitterlings, aka pig intestines”. Sourcing is tricky (the chitlins are selected based with a brand’s reputation for cleanliness in mind) but the mission is simple: as Andrew Mitchell, proprietor of The L&M Guesthouse, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) explained at the time: “‘A lot of the fellows over here get a little lonely … And when you’re down and out and thinking about home there ain’t nothing like some chitterlings, potato salad and greens to make you feel better.’”

Aaron Vansintjan examines the history of garum at Low Tech Magazine. Questioning the idea that the fermented condiment was the preserve of the rich, Vansintjan suggests an alternative model: “The extent of fish sauce urns in Pompeii’s restaurants, homes, and public places indicates that it was available to and enjoyed by most citizens, elite or slave. It was included in over 75% of recipes found in a cookbook from the first century AD, which included many dishes that were likely composed by slaves or servile cooks.” There’s also scale to consider – while fishmongers and cooks might use their waste to make a bit of garum on the side, it was also at the centre of a huge trading network: “The fermentation process was a useful compliment to, and byproduct of, their large fishing industry, which was necessary to feed the mobile masses of the Roman empire.”

Posted 30th September 2017

In The Digest


Words: James Hansen

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