Of Water and of Meat

Hi y’all, welcome to a new ‘what I’ve been reading!’ So much good information out on the internet these days… First up, National Geographic (my love) has an awesome article on The Evolution of Diet. It talks about scientists trying to analyze what the last hunter-gatherer societies on the planet are eating, in order to … Continue reading Of Water and of Meat

Mid-May Reads!

Heya! Thanks for being patient in tolerating the lack of posts, I promise it will pick up again once this academic marathon month is over. Thanks to coffee, de-stress baking and solo dance parties (the best), I’m still alive and nearly done with the thesis! I do have a couple of interesting reads for you today, … Continue reading Mid-May Reads!

New Evidence on Erosion of Crop Variety in Food Supply – What Consequences?

A new study conducted by the CGIAR in collaboration with a whole number of universities (its title is “Increasing homogeneity in global food supplies and the implications for food security” and was published in the PNAS journal) sheds some light on the realities of whether our diets are converging as much as we think they do. Spoiler alert – they do.

Through looking at FAO data on food supply over the last 50-ish years (1961 until 2009), and comparing the supply numbers of different countries, they find that a) national per capita food supplies increased both in the amount of calories, protein, fat and weight provided and the share of calories coming from energy-dense foods; and that b) “the number of measured crop commodities contributing to national food supplies increased, the relative contribution of these commodities within these supplies became more even, and the dominance of the most significant commodities decreased“.

Funnily enough, while these two facts should read as good news – people getting more food and a greater variety of it -, on a global perspective it means that our diets are becoming more and more homogenized. Think about it – if there are more and more products entering most national diets, and evening out over time to equal shares, the previously ubiquitous product (which was radically different between different diets) is being abandoned for Western staple goods. I know, it takes a while to wrap your head around, but here is some more data:

Wheat, rice, maize, and other ubiquitous crop commodities were among those with the greatest gains in both relative and absolute abundance in national per capita food supplies over the past 50 y. In addition, the degree of increase in spread was generally a good predictor of change in the abundance of the crop commodities in food supplies. For example, oil commodities such as soybean, sunflower, palm oil, and rape and mustard were among the crops showing the greatest average increase in relative abundance in national food supplies, whereas millets, rye, sorghum, yams, cassava, and sweet potatoes showed the largest declines. (p. 2)

So while everybody is enjoying the influx of Western-style processed and high-caloric food – based on wheat, corn, and oil – other previous staple crops such as yams and millets are being left behind. This can be explained to a certain extent by the increase in average income in many countries during this time; in addition, the article points towards globalization, urbanization, trade liberalization and the development of extensive commodity transport systems, multinational food industries, food quality and safety standardization, mass media, labor changes, smaller family sizes, supermarkets, fast food, processed foods, and human migration as causes for the homogenization of what we eat. Just think of the ubiquity of McDonald’s and other fast food chains around the world.

Map originally by Business Insider EU, found on indexmundi.com.

Continue reading “New Evidence on Erosion of Crop Variety in Food Supply – What Consequences?”

Review: “Cooked” by Michael Pollan

The Christmas vacations feels so long ago – despite it having only been three weeks since I came back to Sweden, I have had a hard time getting back into the rhythm of school and am under the impression I could use a break again – anybody else? Let’s pretend to be back in the awesomeness of pleasure reading and laying-at-the-beach by letting me review my holiday pleasure literature – “Cooked” by Michael Pollan!

Do you blame me for missing this?

You guys probably know that I am a huge Michael Pollan fan – in fact, it was his writing that first made me discover food politics as something I was interested in -, so I was pretty sure I was in for a treat. Yet, since that time I have become pretty knowledgeable about food, and I have always liked cooking, so I was a little hesitant at first to invest because how much more could he tell me about food? Well, let me tell you – a pretty huge lot.

That’s because of how Pollan writes, which is such a great cross-section of science, history, cultural tidbits and just great story-telling. That makes for really entertaining reading as well as just the right amount of information that doesn’t feel overwhelming but yet like you are reading a ‘smart’ book, if that makes sense.

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I’m Addicted To Oreos – No, Really.

I remember my childhood excitement when we would go to the United States for holidays – this was before globalization, before you could get any of your favorite big-brand foods anywhere in the world – because it meant that I could finally get my fingers onto those iconic cookies again. Oreos are one of the tastes that in my mind is intractably linked to America, to trick-or-treating dressed up as Pocahontas, later to long lazy afternoons spent reading Harry Potter on my bed – and even later, when studying abroad in Paris, they even served as the occasional lunchtime meal eaten on the metro while apartment hunting because they were the best thing the vending machines had on offer.

But you know how hard it is to stop after one cookie or two when the sleeve fits six? Turns out, there is new research showing that I am not alone in my self-control issues around Oreos – and that foods rich in fat, sugar and salt may just trigger the same regions in our brain that traditional ‘addictions’ (such as to alcohol, drugs or nicotine) do.

If food addiction is a thing, will that propel us toward a Wall-e-esque future?
Screenshot copyright of Walt Disney Video, found at http://www.chud.com

Continue reading “I’m Addicted To Oreos – No, Really.”