Diggings Aug 26 2017




I couldn’t resist posting this very clever combo of food and politics – a touch of humour in what is a pretty heavy edition of Diggins.

The Forgotten History of Black Chefs

An excerpt from The Cooking Gene by Michel Twitty

‘James, “at great cost” to Jefferson, is tutored in French and goes to work in some of the best kitchens Paris and Versailles have to offer. He suffers through being yelled at in a language he gradually gains fluency in and acquires skills that are being snuffed out as America is handed the complete reins of racial chattel slavery — he is multilingual, he is traveled, he can read, and he can write. Jefferson gives him a salary and extra money. He looks every bit the part of a talented chef. He is a cook worthy not only of a plantation kitchen, but of French royalty itself. Many of the foods that Jefferson is credited with introducing to the American diet are in fact learned and translated under James’s hand. They worked in concert with each other to develop the kitchen that Jefferson wanted, the reward upon training his brother Peter being James’s emancipation. On February 5, 1796, a black man received his freedom and became an American professional chef.’

A definite upcoming read for me.


The White Lies of Craft Culture

‘As Clay Risen reported for the New York Times last year, contrary to the predominant narrative that views whiskey as an ever “lily-white affair,” black men were the minds and hands behind American whiskey production. “In the same way that white cookbook authors often appropriated recipes from their black cooks, white distillery owners took credit for the whiskey,” he writes. Described as “the best whiskey maker that I know of” by his master, Dan Call, Green taught young Jack Daniel how to run a whiskey still. When Daniel later opened his own distillery, he hired two of Green’s sons.’

I am finding this surge in US food writing confronting the expunging of black history some of the most exciting food writing of the past year. It raises how little I know of the place of Indigenous peoples in the development of Australian footways, and I don’t mean just native foods, but Indigenous individuals who worked as domestic, station, café/restaurant cooks, who work cattle, who…and their I reach the limit of where I might even begin to look.


Look to the food world to understand America’s white supremacy problem

‘Let food forever be the metaphor, and food stories the allegory. Because food alone, by its unsentimental self — before celebrity, before vanity, before its appearances in television and print — was fuel. Let it be fuel again to bring our most objectionable selves to heel, to further better ideas. Maybe this is how the expression “food for thought” was cooked. Fuel.


An angry provocative article written in the wake of Charlottesville.


Restaurants and White Supremacy

‘In addition, they have become a kind of bell whether, chefs frequently looked to as those who should (and do) deliver food that is both delicious, and moral, and nutritious. This is putting a huge load on an institution designed for quite different purposes. The fact remains that they are a pricey way to deliver food, thus drawing a particular clientele. They still market a wide range of dishes, rather than concentrating on one dish done well. To deliver their product, they still run the kitchens in ways worked out in the nineteenth century.

Given this context, it’s hard for me to imagine fine dining restaurants in the vanguard of social change, however well-intentioned their owners. Quite the reverse.’

I think Laudan is putting Wey’s point badly here and so becomes dismissive of it. Wey is not arguing that ‘fine dining restaurants [should be] in the vanguard of social change] from my reading, but that food in the US, like other cultural products, is inevitably racialized, the point made also in the articles above.


This Buttercream Kills Fascists

‘The cake happened on television, and television is magic, so now it’s happening in real life. Not, I hope, to the letter of Fey’s recommendation, which would involve otherwise justice-minded people staying home and silent, patting themselves on the back for eating dessert. Instead, cake is really happening where cakes happen: at bakeries, where bakers suddenly have an instantly recognizable symbol for their outrage. Houston’s Three Brothers Bakery is selling cakes decked with American flags and the word “Sheetcaking” for $60, with half the proceeds going to the Holocaust Museum Houston. Boston’s Blackbird Donuts gave away free #shortcake on August 19, the day of a white supremacist rally in the city, and donated the day’s sales to the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Oakland restaurant Hella Vegan Eats was making “Resist Fascism” galaxy-frosted layer cakes before the Charlottesville protests catapulted the issue to national attention; their newest creation, a “Kill Nazis” layer cake complete with molded-fondant brass knuckles, is currently the toast of Instagram.’

This response, on the other hand, seems to me to hit the mark, to take the issue head on and use the cultural capital of an everyday food to what us old rads call conscientisation, making conscious the power workings of the world and finding ways to subvert them.


Supermarket Removes All Foreign Food From Shelves To Make A Point About Racism, And Here’s The Result

‘When customers walked into Edeka supermarket in Hamburg recently, they were surprised to find that the shelves were almost empty, and the small handful of products that remained were all made in Germany. It seemed like the supermarket had simply forgotten to restock their produce until customers saw the mysterious signs left around the shop. “So empty is a shelf without foreigners,” read one sign at the cheese counter. “This shelf is quite boring without variety,” read another.’

Another clever example of conscientisation.


Being exploited and breaching your visa: the limited choices of the food delivery worker

‘While the prospect of being able to work additional hours might be a positive, higher work hours doesn’t necessarily mean better pay. This is because they are paid on a delivery rather than hourly basis. Also these workers don’t get paid when waiting for their next gig, although they are required to be online, and the length of their stints are recorded. They are also responsible for their own tax obligations (which many don’t understand and others ignore) and if they get injured on the job they are on their own, or the taxpayer foots the bill.

Times like these I feel like shouting ‘It’s neoliberalism stoopid!!!’


Organic Food: How Good Is It, Really?

‘The important thing is to consume fruits and vegetables regardless of the source. When most of us simply aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables, it is perhaps pointless to quibble over organic status.’

This should set the cat among the organic kale.


Tamil Feasts: Revolution is a Dinner Party

‘Food is our most common denominator – everyone loves to eat. At TF we are all – customer, chef, volunteer – honoring that we are all working to create equality for people seeking asylum. We are also honoring the traditional food of Tamil people – the heritage and culture that they have lost in their displacement.’

I am looking forward to hosting a panel of these kinds of projects and in working with some in Sydney to cater one of the meals at the next Symposium of Gastronomy being held in Sydney. No firm dates for the event yet, but I’ll be posting regularly as the program develops.


Modern life is making Americans constipated: Western diets and desk jobs are slowing down everyone’s bowel movements

‘The Western diet, which is full of processed high-fat foods, has contributed significantly to the epidemic. ‘Most constipation is caused when people are eating a lot of processed foods and not enough fibers,’ Dr Dunkin said.
Okay, I won’t make any jokes about other possible causes of constipation in USer’s. But the images of what a Silicon Valley workplace solution to this could be does rather tickle.


Cal Poly Graduate Students Can Now Study Food Waste

‘The first step towards fighting food waste is educating people on the problem. Now, six Cal Poly students will have the chance to take their education on food waste to new heights. The San Luis Obispo-based state university has announced a new graduate fellowship program specifically focused on the global reduction of food waste.’

Okay and no jokes from me here about US education and waste either. But I do have cautions that it is funded by ‘U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Needs and Postgraduate Fellowship Grants Program intended “to focus on the conversion of agricultural and food waste challenges into opportunities”. Hopefully they won’t exclude the study of the extent to which waste occurs at the farm level itself.


The Guardian view on grocery wars: Lidl Britain

‘In the early 1990s, German discount stores Lidl and Aldi arrived in Britain, catering mostly for those who couldn’t afford to go anywhere else. Now they respectively make up 5.2% and 7% of the market, and are stuffed with middle-class shoppers, who shun Sainsbury’s Pimm’s for “Jeeves”, Lidl’s own brand version. On Tuesday Lidl overtook Waitrose to become Britain’s seventh largest grocer. It now has plans to open 60 new UK shops a year.’

Alison Vincent who sent this Digging comments: This piece doesn’t have immediate relevance to the situation here in Aus but how Amazon might affect the supermarket situation here will be interesting to follow. My own brief experience with on line shopping was less than satisfactory – often not getting quite what I had ordered and being continually bombarded with samples of products I didn’t want. Shopping at Aldi, something I do under duress, always reminds me of the days when I struggled around Franklins at Markettown with barely enough room to get down the aisles for the boxes stacked everywhere. Not that any supermarket shopping rates as a pleasurable experience. Coles and Woolworths just look a little more hygienic. At least the local IGA doesn’t take an hour to negotiate, caters for most of our needs, is within walking distance and is manned by cheerful staff. Cramped yes, good value – yes and no, but certainly in terms of time and general stress and when ice cream is on special it is very good value indeed.



Piccolo Bar

‘At one point in Piccolo Tales, Vittorio came out resplendent in a red kimono and mimed to Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. It was his dream to be in opera, and as he pithily puts it, “If you don’t have dreams you might as well die.”

A lovely story with a triff ending but no spoilers from me on that.


What the Hell Is Blue Wine?

Co-founder Arit

z López explains that neither he nor his partners had prior winemaking experience, but that they “wanted to create something really innovative.” The team collectively felt that Spain’s wine industry was “missing a little revolution.” He continues, “We were raised in a country with a strong wine culture, but wine has always been a beverage put on a pedestal. So we thought about how it would be to have real people making wine for real people, not a wine made by experts to pseudo-connoisseurs….According to him, blue also represents “movement, innovation, fluidity, change, and infinity.”

A tad pot and kettle me thinks.


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