Scientists are again urging people in the developed world to eat less meat for environmental reasons. Here’s a quote from a piece on the Guardian website today, which outlined some of the environmental consequences of our addiction to cheap meat:
The answer, [Prof Mark Sutton, lead author of a UN Environment Programme (Unep) study published on Monday] said, was more vegetables on the plate, and less animal protein. “Eat meat, but less often – make it special,” he urged. “Portion size is key. Many portions are too big, more than you want to eat. Think about a change of culture that says, ‘I like the taste, but I don’t need so much of it.’” Continue reading…
I’m just back from a week in Turin for my first Slow Food Salone Del Gusto and Terra Madre. The Salone Del Gusto centres on a vast ‘Slow Food’ trade fair: two enormous halls filled with vendors of Italian delicacies, and (more interesting), a slightly smaller international hall where you can find extraordinary and wonderful foodstuffs, including ancient varieties of almonds from Uzbekistan, Yak’s milk cheese from the Tibetan Plateau, and dried mulberries and mulberry halva from the Pamir mountains. The simultaneous and adjacent Terra Madre is a gathering of some six thousand delegates from 161 countries, all of whom are in some way involved in sustainable local food production.
Funnily enough, I was a member of the Chinese delegation. Continue reading…
Posted by Fuchsia
on August 17, 2010
According to this piece in the Los Angeles Times, Greenpeace China estimates that 100 acres of trees need to be felled every 24 hours to keep up with Chinese demand for disposable chopsticks. The article says the Chinese government is so concerned at the waste that it’s trying to clamp down on their use – although with little effect so far. As anyone who has lived in China will know, many Chinese people are becoming obsessed with hygiene – it’s one of the reasons that middle-class parents prefer buying their children packaged snacks in Walmart to old-fashioned street snacks sold by itinerant vendors. Now that everyone expects restaurants to supply either disposable chopsticks (made of wood or bamboo) or those that have been properly sterilised, it’s hard to go back to the old days when many small eateries would simply have a potful of reusable wooden chopsticks on each table.
Perhaps the solution is to revive the old Manchu and Mongolian habit of carrying around a personal set of chopsticks and other implements. The one pictured on left and right, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, is a rather fine ornament that can be attached to a belt, and it contains not only a pair of bone chopsticks, a knife and a file for sharpening, but also (not pictured) a tiny bone toothpick and an ear scoop! Of course the set pictured is rather elaborate and unnecessarily heavy, but imagine a funky, well-designed set of chopsticks in a little holder you could slip into your handbag… (Actually, I remember on my very first trip to China, and indeed to Asia at all, I carried round my own pair of plastic chopsticks because I was paranoid about hygiene, and just rinsed them after use.) Continue reading…
A fascinating piece in the Guardian today about an FAO policy paper on the eating of insects. Apparently, senior figures in the UN and elsewhere are looking for ways to boost consumption of creepy-crawlies as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Rearing livestock such as cows, pigs and sheep guzzles agricultural land and spews out 20% of global greenhouse gases, and so we all need to start eating less meat. Insects, it seems, are a promising alternative, since they are rich in protein, vitamins and minerals, and breeding them produces far less pollution than breeding conventional meat animals. The only problem, according to the experts cited in the article, is the Western taboo on eating insects.
If you are interested in this subject, I heartily recommend this extraordinary book by the Victorian Englishman Vincent Holt, which deploys powerful, rational arguments in favour of eating insects – and offers some recipes that sounds rather interesting. It’s a delightful, amusing and provocative little book. You might also like to read my thoughts on the subject in a piece for the FT a few years ago, which is on this website. The photographs that accompany this post are of some of the ingredients (raw and cooked) on the menu of Zou Haikuan’s restaurant, which is mentioned in my article.
When cooking Chinese food, I have been in the habit of using groundnut oil, which is neutral in flavour, stable at high temperatures and relatively easily available. I’d rather, however, use the traditional Chinese cooking oils, which vary by region, but tend to be rapeseed oil in Sichuan, and camellia oil in some other southern areas, like Hunan – which is why I have been so excited to discover what seems to be a resurgence in the production of artisanal rapeseed oils at home in England. Yesterday, I spent a day experimenting with a Sichuanese chef friend in London, and we used Cotswold Gold extra virgin cold-pressed rapeseed oil to make some homestyle Sichuanese dishes. My friend, Barshu chef Zhang Xiaozhong, confirmed that it was very like the oils traditionally used in Sichuan, and we were both very satisfied by its performance as a cooking oil. So I’ll be using more and more of it, anyway!
Incidentally, I bought the oil at the Wild Beef stall at Broadway Market run by Richard and Lizzie Vines, producers of fantastic grass-fed beef. I’ve been using their meat for a while in Chinese dishes, and I highly recommend it. Their cattle are grass-fed and traditionally reared, and the meat is delicious. Yesterday Zhang Xiaozhong and I used some of their beef shin in a Sichuanese cold meat dish – magnificent. They do mail order as well as market stalls, in case anyone’s interested…
There’s an interesting piece in the China Daily today that brings together three contrasting views on China’s decision to allow the cultivation of genetically-modified rice. Continue reading…
Posted by Fuchsia
on March 12, 2010
, Shark's Fin
…who have been eating bits of endangered shark (as I think I mentioned once before). According to this piece in the Daily Telegraph, around 20,000 tonnes of spiny dogfish, a.k.a. rock salmon, is eaten in the EU, despite the fact that the species is classified as ‘vulnerable’, and ‘endangered’ in some regions. In Britain, the article says, the meat tends to go into fish and chips.
Fortunately, efforts are underfoot at at CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) to restrict trade in the fish.
Last night I went to a press screening of Food Inc, Robert Kenner’s film about the corporate takeover of the American (and global) agricultural and food industries. For anyone who has read Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, or Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, many of the issues, and even the characters, will be familiar – Pollan and Schlosser both appear in the film – but that doesn’t make it any less chilling. Most shocking was its account of the bullying tactics used by big agro-food corporations to silence their critics, and of the cosy relationship they have with those in power. Continue reading…
You can hear me talking about eating shark’s fin (or not) on the BBC today (or read the piece here).
While I was writing it, I came across a page I tore out of the South China Morning Post in October last year. It includes a letter from Dr Choo-hoo Giam, a member of the animals committee of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. What is particularly interesting about the letter is that Dr Giam points out the extent to which it is not only the Chinese and their notorious shark’s fin soup that are to blame for the devastation of worldwide shark stocks. The main points Dr Giam makes are as follows: Continue reading…
Posted by Fuchsia
on December 28, 2009
, Unusual delicacies
Slow-cooked bear paw with duck wings - image from an old Chinese cookery book
The Chinese penchant for eating endangered species is in the news again. Today the BBC ran a report by Moscow correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes about the poaching of Asiatic black bears in northeastern Russia. The culprits? Suppliers of bear’s paws and gall bladders to China, where the paws are an ancient delicacy, and the gall is prized for its medicinal properties. And last week, the official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that a man in Yunnan Province had been jailed for 12 years for killing, and then eating, a rare and endangered Indochinese tiger (in this case, the man at least claimed that it had been shot accidentally, after dark.)
Bear’s paw is one rare Chinese delicacy that I have never been offered, thank goodness. If in the future I do see one on a dinner table, rest assured that I will restrain my curiosity and refuse it. And yet I can’t help wondering if eating such things, gross and unconscionable though it may be, is any worse than driving a car, travelling by plane, using consumer goods whose manufacture and disposal causes catastrophic pollution, or eating a lot of factory-farmed meat. It’s much easier to make a moral point by refusing bear’s paw (particularly if it’s not part of your own culture) than it is to address seriously the impact of our consumerist lifestyles on the planet and its biodiversity, isn’t it?