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We Are What We Ate

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A million or more years ago, in Africa, we started to become something very different from anything ever seen on the planet—and we did it by eating. We became creatures that had much bigger brains than any animal had ever needed. Also, our brains increased in size at a rate that far exceeded anything that evolution had been able to manage before. 
How we accomplished this is the source of some argument. That's because there are (at least) three separate ways of looking at this process—and while they all arrive at the same destination, they take different routes. The hypothetical causes of our sudden brainy development distinguish each explanation from the others.
Let’s begin with the trendiest (at least among non-scientists) one. In recent years, after thinking about our condition and how we got here—“here” meaning overweight and unhealthy—many people have adopted the Paleo Diet. They place on our modern, starchy diet. They assume that, before the advent of cereal  agriculture, our hunter-gather forebears had a diet that was high in meat protein (and, obviously, devoid of all sorts of chemicals found in food today). They reason that, if we could only go back to a so-called “caveman diet,” we could return to our former state of good health.
The Paleo argument goes something like this:
“Once our species got a taste for meat, it was provided with a dense, protein-rich source of energy. We no longer needed to invest internal resources on huge digestive tracts that were previously required to process vegetation and fruit, which are more difficult to digest. Freed from that task by meat, the new, energy-rich resources were then diverted inside our bodies and used to fuel our growing brains.
As a result, over the next two million years our crania grew, producing species of humans with increasingly large brains—until this carnivorous predilection produced Homo sapiens.” Source
If we choose to ignore the fact that we live a lot longer than our Stone-age ancestors (in itself, a fairly good argument against the Paleo Diet), one look at our teeth—and comparisons with the teeth of our ancient ancestral species—is enough to prove that we are meant to eat a varied diet, and reveals our evolution from ape-like vegetarians to all-consuming omnivores. Also, our smaller guts and bigger brains mark us as distinctly different from our hairier past. 

It’s true that added high-protein flesh and calorie-rich fats could explain the sudden growth-spurt in our crania. However, the development of social systems that permitted cooperative hunting techniques might also have led to our increased intellectual development. It’s not always so easy, separating cause and effect.
But is a carnocentric diet the only possible explanation for the sudden development of big brains, and simultaneous diminution of teeth and digestive tracts? Some scientists question the premises of the Paleo dieticians:
“...archaeological, anthropological, genetic, physiological and anatomical data [indicate] carbohydrate consumption, particularly in the form of starch, was critical for the accelerated expansion of the human brain over the last million years…” Source
This idea is especially appealing (considering the much later effect that cereal agriculture had on the development of civilizations—a distinguishing feature of our species, even over other social species), but it runs into another problem. If plant-based foods, even those with lots of caloric starch, were the reason for our larger crania, how do we explain the changes to our teeth and abdomens? No herbivores have demonstrated such radical changes to their mental equipment. That’s because raw plant material must be consumed in large quantities, and requires large expenditures of digestive energy to extract their nutrients. Exclusively plant-eating creatures tend to have large teeth and bellies.
Which brings us to the third explanation:
“[Richard] Wrangham’s book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human … makes the case that the ability to harness fire and cook food allowed the brain to grow and the digestive tract to shrink, giving rise to our ancestor Homo erectus some 1.8 million years ago.” Source
Cooking made hard-to-digest foods—like starchy roots and grains—more easily assimilated. In effect, fire acted as an external digestive system, allowing us to get much more energy from our food without having to expend our own energy to do so. Recently, archaeologists have found evidence of ancient fires—pushing the time-frame for cooking into the 1-2 million year range of the other two explanations:
 “…the remains of campfires from a million years ago—200,000 years older than any other firm evidence of human-controlled fire… fanned the flames of a decade-old debate over the influence of fire, particularly cooking, on the evolution of our species’s relatively capacious brains. “Source
Of course it also made that carefully-hunted meat taste even better. 
Perhaps the conflicts between these approaches should be abandoned in favor of a shared explanation.

Perhaps our exponential growth of gray matter is a result of the confluence of multiple adaptations. 

Perhaps we developed big brains by thinking about eating. Imagine a bunch of hominids, sitting around a campfire on the savannah, planning the next day’s hunt or foraging expedition, while sharing a roasted haunch of wildebeest, passing the boiled root-vegetables, and apishly grinning their satisfaction over a dessert of some ripe berries. 

Eating, and planning our meals, together made us human.

Food Sites for September 2015

Monday, August 17, 2015

It’s pickling season, and we’ve got fresh dill. If here’s any left over, it’ll make a great potato salad.


The dog days of August are about to end (and it can’t come too soon for us). Don’t get us wrong—we much prefer the heat to sloppy wet winter weather, but a few cooler evenings would be nice. You know what we’re saying?

We’re told that our latest book, Sausage: A Global History, is scheduled for publication on the fifteenth of September. If only we had learned—in time—that there was a lovely slang term for encased meats in Victorian England. We suspect, however, that the publisher (Reaktion) would never have approved Bags o’ Mystery as a title.

Regular subscribers to our updates newsletter receive these updates from our blog, Just Served,  directly—but there is much more at the blog that isn’t delivered automatically. You can—if this once-a-month newsletter is just not enough—follow us on Facebook,  and Twitter.  Still more of our online scribbles can be found at A Quiet Little Table in the Corner

In an attempt to make light of the summer’s heat, consider this month’s quotes (from On the Table’s culinary quote collection) as a low-brow set of variations on the salad theme:

All normal people love meat. If I went to a barbeque and there was no meat, I would say, “Yo Goober! Where’s the meat?” I’m trying to impress people here, Lisa. You don't win friends with salad. Homer Simpson 
My grandfather had a wonderful funeral... On the buffet table there was a replica of the deceased in potato salad. Woody Allen 
In Spain, attempting to obtain a chicken salad sandwich, you wind up with a dish whose name, when you look it up in your Spanish-English dictionary, turns out to mean: “Eel with big abscess.” Dave Barry


Gary
September 2015

PS: If you encounter broken links, changed URLs—or know of wonderful sites weve missed—please drop us a line. It helps to keep this resource as useful as possible for all of us. To those of you who have introduced us to sites like the ones in this newsletter (such as Cara De Silva and Fabio Parasecoli), thanks, and keep them coming!

PPS: If you wish to change the e-mail address at which you receive these newsletters, or otherwise modify the way you receive our postings or—if youve received this newsletter by mistake, and/or dont wish to receive future issues—you have our sincere apology and can have your e-mail address deleted from the list immediately. Were happy (and continuously amazed) that so few people have decided to leave the list but, should you choose to be one of them, let us know and well see that your in-box is never afflicted by these updates again. You’ll find links at the bottom of this page to fix everything to your liking.



---- the new sites ----

7 Dirty Truths About BBQ (that Nobody Wants to Talk About)
(Robb Walsh bares all)

Canon of Taste
(Jill Neimark explains: “why we should add food to the cultural canon,” like “those of literature, art, music, architecture, religion and science”)

Carry on Cooking: The Crazy Culinary World of 1970s and 80s Cookbooks
(Andrew Webb, in The Guardian, reminisces with a mixture of delight and disgust)

Fast Food Nation
(Aaron Their, in Lucky Peach, on what we can tell, about Roman eating habits, from Pompeii’s evidence)

How Brisket Conquered the BBQ World
(Jim Shahinon on a fundamentally-changed BBQ scene: “Do not confuse the sacred with the propane”)

How Does Seedless Fruit Reproduce
(the botanical facts-of-life, from Melissa’s Produce)

How Syrians Saved an Ancient Seedbank from Civil War
(Lizzie Wade, in Wired, on how Ahmed Amri and the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas preserved genebanks containing grain developed over thousands of years)

How Tupperware’s Inventor Left a Legacy That’s Anything but Airtight
(“I’ve got one word for you: plastics”—Mitchell Parker, on “…a revolution driven by women”)

Is There a Better Way to Talk About Wine?
(The New Yorker’s Bianca Bosker, on how the written evaluation of wine has grown “intrinsically bullshit-prone”)

Just Like Mom Used To Make
(Michael Snyder, in Lucky Peach, on why that favorite family recipe might not come out “just like mom used to make”)

Manuscript Cookbooks Survey
(searchable “…database of pre-1865 English-language manuscript cookbooks;”adapted recipes, glossary; also “what manuscript cookbooks can tell us that printed cookbooks do not”)

Oleogustus: Why We Might All be Getting a New Taste for Fat
(move over umami, seems there’s a sixth taste; article in The Guardian)

Parsleyed Ham and Kitchen Breezes: The Letters of M.F.K. Fisher and Julia Child
(Cynthia Bertelsen on the two women who taught America how to eat well)

Pleasures of the Literary Meal
(Bee Wilson’s New Yorker review of Christina Hardyment’s book, Pleasures of the Table: A Literary Anthology—an exercise in innocent gustatory voyeurism)

Renaissance Painting Reveals How Breeding Changed Watermelons, A
(using art to study the history of agriculture)

Researching Food History—Cooking and Dining
(conference and exhibit calendar, historic measurement conversions, recipes, glossaries, classes)

Rethinking the Word “Foodie”
(Mark Bittman’s op ed piece for The New York Times)

Rise of Egotarian Cuisine, The
(Alan Richman, in GQ, on chefs who serve food “…straddling the line between the creative and the self-indulgent”)

Sonic Seasoning
(a Gastropod report of the way the perception of food can be altered by he sounds heard while eating)

Study Suggests Carbs Fueled Human Evolution
(brief article, in Archaeology, on the impact of starches on our development as a species)

Sweet Reason
(Dwight Furrow, on why dessert wines seem to grow less sweet as they age)

Ten of the Greatest Books in Food Studies
(John M. Burdick’s list)

Theorizing Cuisine from Medieval to Modern Times: Cognitive Structures, the Biology of Taste, and Culinary Conventions
(Vanina Leschziner and Andrew Dakin, on how French cooking changed the way all Western diners conceive the meal)

UC Food Observer
(University of California’s Global Food Initiative selects important food news)

What are Kitchens, Sculleries, and Larders?
(article from Geri Walton’s blog, “History of the 18th and 19th Centuries”)

Why Everyone Should Stop Calling Immigrant Food “Ethnic”
(Lavanya Ramanathan gives her reason in The Washington Post)

Why Is the Federal Government Afraid of Fat?
(Dariush Mozaffarian and David S. Ludwig, in The New York Times)


---- inspirational (or otherwise useful) site for writers/bloggers ----

27 Food Stories Nobody Needs to Write Again

Book Designer, The

British Library Puts 1,000,000 Images into the Public Domain, Making Them Free to Reuse & Remix, The

Copyright Fair Use and How it Works for Online Images 

How to Lose Fans and Alienate Followers

Metropolitan Museum of Art Puts 400,000 High-Res Images Online & Makes Them Free to Use, The

Social Media in 15 Minutes a Day, by Guest Blogger Frances Caballo


---- other blogs ----

Camille Bégin

Fig and Quince

First We Feast

Fortune Cookie Chronicles, The

Four Pounds Flour

Godful Food [not about religion]

Hungary Dish, The

Rachel E. Black

Scenes of Eating

Sean Thackrey: Wine Maker

Taste of Savoie

Yummy Books


---- changed URL ----

Recipes Project, The


---- thats all for now ----

Except, of course, for the usual legalistic mumbo-jumbo and commercial flim-flam:

Your privacy is important to us. We will not give, sell or share your e-mail address with anyone, for any purpose—ever. Nonetheless, we will expose you to the following irredeemably brazen plugs: 

Want to support On the Table, without spending a dime of your own money on it? 

It’s easy. Whenever you want to shop on Amazon. Com, click on any of the book links below, then whatever you buy there will earn a commission for this newsletter (it doesn’t even have to be one of our books) .

The Resource Guide for Food Writers
(Paper)

The Herbalist in the Kitchen
(Hardcover)
(Kindle)

The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food And Drink Industries
(Hardcover)

Human Cuisine
(Paper)

Herbs: A Global History
(Hardcover)

Sausage: A Global History
(Hardcover)

Terms of Vegery
(Kindle)

How to Serve Man: On Cannibalism, Sex, Sacrifice, & the Nature of Eating
(Kindle)


Here endeth the sales pitch(es)...

...for the moment, anyway.

______________

The Resource Guide for Food Writers, Update #179 is protected by copyright, and is provided at no cost, for your personal use only. It may not be copied or retransmitted unless this notice remains affixed. Any other form of republication—unless with the authors prior written permission—is strictly prohibited.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Gary Allen.





Troubled Waters

Monday, July 20, 2015

Yesterday, as my eighteen-year-old niece frolicked with her boyfriend in the pool, her ten-year-old cousin looked on in dismay.

At first, I imagined her pre-pubescent concern was that boy-girl touching was “yucky,” but perhaps I was projecting my own self-conscious horror of public displays of affection—hell, any kind of public display.

But that’s just me.

She was so upset that she complained to her mother, at length, afterwards. It turns out that the source of her concern was something else altogether. 

A lot of her friends, at school, were dating (which was, in itself, quite a revelation—that ten-year-olds were dating).

When our son was only slightly older, there had been many short-lived romances among his friends—but they occurred mostly in the minds of the girls. The boys were mostly unaware that they were even in relationships or—if they even knew—had no clue what it meant, or what their roles and responsibilities in the relationships might entail. But that was around age twelve, and we only got to see the boys’ side of the drama. The girls’ side of the stories was, apparently, very different.

She went on to reveal—with increasing levels of emotion—that her friends and their “boyfriends” were constantly breaking up. This comes as no surprise to me (I was a former boy, myself). The break-ups caused endless anguish among all the girls, even those—like her—who were merely spectators of the primal struggles.

Oh so slowly, I deduced that she was not disgusted by the observed physicality of the romance, but dreading the inevitability of a painful break-up. Her concern reflected her, albeit limited, experience: that all romantic entanglements must, perforce, end in disaster. Her worries about her older cousin’s potential for suffering were touching—and strangely informative—because she had no personal knowledge of any part of romantic entanglement except of the unavoidable agony of separation.

That this tawdry sturm und drang is the stuff of literary tragedy—not to mention countless country/western songs—suggests that the chroniclers of misery might, themselves, be cases of arrested pre-adolescence.

Food Sites for August 2015

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Bitter Bolete, Tylopilus felleus, Poughkeepsie, NY


It’s been a hot, wet summer around here—and mushrooms are popping up everywhere. Alas, not all of them are chanterelles, black trumpets, or the more savory species of bolete. Fortunately, summer provides a host of tastier alternatives—and endless choices of seasonally- (and age-) appropriate libations.

Regular subscribers to our updates newsletter receive these updates from our blog, Just Served,  directly—but there is much more at the blog that isn’t delivered automatically. You can, if you wish, follow us on Facebook, and Twitter. Still more of our online scribbles can be found at A Quiet Little Table in the Corner

This month’s quotes (from On the Table’s culinary quote collection) continue our celebration of summer.

The egg creams of Avenue A in New York and the root beer float are among the high points of American gastronomic inventiveness. Mark Kurlansky 
Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish, and he will sit in the boat and drink beer all day. OldFox 
He is no true fisherman who is willing to fish only when fish are biting. Grover Cleveland 
In the Barbecue is any four footed animal—be it mouse or mastodon—whose dressed carcass is roasted whole... at its best it is a fat steer, and must be eaten within an hour of when it is cooked. For if ever the sun rises upon Barbecue, its flavor vanishes like Cinderella's silks, and it becomes cold baked beef—staler in the chill dawn than illicit love. William Allen White 
The story of barbecue is the story of America: Settlers arrive on great unspoiled continent, discover wondrous riches, set them on fire and eat them. Vince Staten 
For each glass, liberally large, the basic ingredients begin with ice cubes in a shaker and three or four drops of Angostura bitters on the ice cubes. Add several twisted lemon peels to the shaker, then a bottle-top of dry vermouth, a bottle-top of Scotch, and multiply the resultant liquid content by five with gin, preferably Bombay Sapphire. Add more gin if you think it is too bland... I have been told, but have no personal proof that it is true, that three of these taken in the course of an evening make it possible to fly from New York to Paris without an airplane. Isaac Stern
Gary
August, 2015

PS: If you encounter broken links, changed URLs—or know of wonderful sites we'‘ve missed—please drop us a line. It helps to keep this resource as useful as possible for all of us. To those of you who have introduced us to sites like the ones in this newsletter (such as Fabio Parasecoli), thanks, and keep them coming!

PPS: If you wish to change the e-mail address at which you receive these newsletters, or otherwise modify the way you receive our postings or—if you’ve received this newsletter by mistake, and/or don’t wish to receive future issues—you have our sincere apology and can have your e-mail address deleted from the list immediately. We’re happy (and continuously amazed) that so few people have decided to leave the list but, should you choose to be one of them, let us know and we’ll see that your in-box is never afflicted by these updates again. There’re You’ll find links at the bottom of this page to fix everything to your liking.



---- the new sites ----

Applying Concepts from Historical Archaeology to New England’s Nineteenth-Century Cookbooks
(Anne Yentsch’s article in Northeast Historical Archaeology; PDF)

Case for Eating Small Fish, The
(John Donohue’s article, in The New Yorker, on the ecological, nutritional, and economic advantages of eating bait)

Cooking Pot, The
(history of one-pot cooking; proceedings of the 1988 Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery)

Dark Side of the Truffle Trade, The
(Ryan Jacobs’ article, in The Atlantic, on the fungal underground)

Dining with Darius
(Rachel Laudan on power and provender in ancient Persia; in The Cairo Review of Global Affairs)

Fabled Flatbreads of Uzbekistan, The
(Eric Hansen’s article in Aramco World)

First Kitchen, The
(Laura Shapiro’s New Yorker article on the horrors of dining in FDR’s White House) 

Foods Americans Once Loved to Eat, The
(Li Zhou, on some forgotten dishes, in Smithsonian magazine)

foodseum
(“Chicago’s Food Museum,” a work in progress)

Gerard’s 1597 Herball
(digitized pages from a copy in the collection of the University of Oklahoma Libraries)

Illustrated Guide to Indian Vegetables, An
(Michael Snyder’s article at Lucky Peach)

Knockout Blow for American Fish Stocks, A
(Gib Brogan, in The New York Times, on environmental threats to New England’s fishery)

Little Library Café, The
(a collection of recipes, inspired by literature)

Magnificent Lie Behind Champagne, The
(no, it wasn’t Dom Perignon in the Abbey of Hautvillers)

Mid-century Menu
(RetroRuth said a mouthful: “It was a long, painful and sometimes disgusting road that lead to our current national gourmand status.”)

Naturally Cured Meats: Quality, Safety, and Chemistry
(Gary Anthony Sullivan’s doctoral dissertation; PDF)

Oxford Symposium Downloads
(searchable archive of papers presented at Oxford’s fabulous Food and Cookery conference)

True Place of Science in Gastronomy, The
(Len Fisher’s talk at 2015 Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery)

Vegetable Detective, The
(Todd Oppenheimer’s article, in Craftsmanship, on the occurrence of heavy metals in cruciferous vegetables, even organic kale )

What It’s Like To Go A Year Without Processed Food
(Kate Bratskeir’s Huffington Post interview with Megan Kimble, author of Unprocessed: My City-dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food)

When Taste Is a Trade Issue
(Jack Ewing’s New York Times article on the legal, economic, political, and cultural differences that influence our cheese choices)

White House Orders Review of Rules for Genetically Modified Crops
(Andrew Pollack, on the Obama administration’s attempts to deal with this contentious subject in The New York Times)


---- inspirational (or otherwise useful) site for writers/bloggers ----

5 Reasons Why Writers Should Blog

Agents & Editors: A Conversation With Four Literary Agents

Ask an Editor: How Do You Create A Stunning Visual Identity?

Get Started on Twitter in 7 Simple Steps

How to Publish on Wattpad


---- other blogs ----

aashpaz

DL Acken Photographer

five o’clock teaspoon


---- thats all for now ----

Except, of course, for the usual legalistic mumbo-jumbo and commercial flim-flam:

Your privacy is important to us. We will not give, sell or share your e-mail address with anyone, for any purpose—ever. Nonetheless, we will expose you to the following irredeemably brazen plugs: 

Want to support On the Table, without spending a dime of your own money on it? 

It’s easy. Whenever you want to shop on Amazon. Com, click on any of the book links below, then whatever you buy there (it doesn’t even have to be one of our books) will earn a commission for this newsletter.

The Resource Guide for Food Writers
(Paper)

The Herbalist in the Kitchen
(Hardcover)
(Kindle)

The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food And Drink Industries
(Hardcover)

Human Cuisine
(Paper)

Herbs: A Global History
(Hardcover)

Sausage: A Global History (for pre-order)
(Hardcover)

Terms of Vegery
(Kindle)

How to Serve Man: On Cannibalism, Sex, Sacrifice, & the Nature of Eating
(Kindle)

Here endeth the sales pitch(es)...

...for the moment, anyway.

______________

The Resource Guide for Food Writers, Update #178 is protected by copyright, and is provided at no cost, for your personal use only. It may not be copied or retransmitted unless this notice remains affixed. Any other form of republication—unless with the authors prior written permission—is strictly prohibited.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Gary Allen.





Perfectable Perdu

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

I’ve heard there are people who live only in the present, as either free spirits or enlightened Zen masters. I don’t personally know any of them, and can only think of them in the same way as Plato’s troglodytes could picture life outside. The picture is rather fuzzy—possibly warm and fuzzy, but fuzzy nonetheless.
I’m not one of them.
Certainly there are others who live only for the future. Whether they long for a Christian hereafter, or some form of paradise on earth, Utopia is where they want to live. Their goal is “a future so bright they’ve got to wear shades.”
I’m not one of them, either. 
The present is just too slippery, too evanescent, to hold onto, and the future—well who’s to say if there will even be a future? So what does that leave me? While there are philosophical and scientific arguments about the nature of time—and if it even exists—the only “time” I’m able to comprehend is the past. With increasing age, the ratio of the past to the future increases, so it’s only natural that I spend more time there.
Also, with advancing age, faith in the perfectibility of the future decreases (experience tends to make us less optimistic). The past, however, just gets better and better. Our rearview mirrors are often rose-tinted—and the further into the past we look, the rosier it appears. Its tense becomes increasingly pluperfect.
One of past’s best attributes is its malleability. We may not be able to change the facts of the past—as the events, themselves, are no longer available—but their interpretation is infinitely variable. It’s a cliché that “history is written by the victors,” but all memory is constantly re-written, by winners and losers alike. Needless to say, everyone comes out looking better in the memories of events in their pasts. The past is a lovely place to visit, and we’d all love to live there.

And we do.

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