in Extra Matter

Eat This Newsletter 076 Black is best

  1. Not fraud, just a lack of information. That’s how the head of the association of Ibérico ham producers regards ham that isn’t from a black Iberian pig, doesn’t roam freely and has never eaten an acorn. This year, there’s a labelling scheme to inform buyers, a coloured ring around every ham’s ankle. Black (naturally; this is pata negra ham after all, Iberian pigs having black hooves) is from acorn-fed, free-range, pure Iberian animals. White, the lowest grade, indicates feedlot pigs of dubious origin. The problem, according to The Economist, is that over half the ham sold in Spain now comes ready sliced in supermarket packs rather than on the (black) hoof, and the packs are not, yet, colour coded. Buyer beware.
  2. Pooh-pooing ancient meat pigeons. Archaeological sites in the Negev desert show that around 1500 years ago it was not a desert but a pretty productive agricultural area. One mystery is that the loess soils of the area are not very fertile. So how did they support all that productivity? Pigeon poop, maybe. A site called Shivta contains a remarkable collection of pigeon bones, remarkable mostly because bird bones are fragile and do not often survive intact. The Shivta haul contained enough birds to compare with specimens of modern pigeons, including some studied by Charles Darwin in his treatise on The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication. The comparison showed that the Shivta birds were not domesticated. They were essentially no different from wild birds and had not been selected to be meatier. The conclusion, according a news article and the original research report is that the birds were kept for their guano, which fertilised fruit trees and vines, while wine from the vines offered a product that could be stored and traded for staples in a bad year.
  3. Sie essen Pferde, nicht wahr? Unlike the French, and indeed the Italians, the Germans by-and-large have seldom knowingly eaten horsemeat. And the reason seems to be that Pope Gregory III banned the practice in 732. Volker Bach considers the reasons and the consequences in his blog post Having Friends for Dinner and fascinating stuff it is. The one topic it doesn’t address is why Germany, but not Italy nor France. The thrust seems to be that early German Christians might be tempted to backslide by pagan burial rites involving horses. I guess mother church had no such fears for the people of France or Italy.
  4. Unmitigated pseudoscientific tosh. On the whole I try not to share stuff that really makes me mad, but I’m making a special exception for Wealthy Americans know less than they think they do about food and nutrition, an article in The Conversation puffing some “research” from Michigan State University. They asked a bunch of people a bunch of questions about food and also how much they earned. They then decide, looking down from high up in an ivory tower, that ordinary people – wealthy and otherwise – are foolish for “demonising” chemicals because chemicals are “fundamental to the ways we see, hear, smell and interpret the world”. And, just for the record, what is the correct answer to this gem?
  5. Please tell me whether you think the following statement is true or false: Genetically modified foods have genes and non-genetically modified foods do not.


  6. Alas, there is a next. People waste nearly a pound of food a day, where people means Americans and a pound means 422 grams. I should explain that nobody actually measured the food people waste; they inferred it from other sources. There’s more. “Fruits and vegetables and mixed fruit and vegetable dishes accounted for 39% of food waste.” So the healthier your diet, the more you waste. I suppose that could be correct, for Americans and the food system that supplies them with “healthy” items, but I wonder how generally applicable the conclusion is.
  7. The truth about mother’s milk. A fascinating article on the differences between infant formula and mother’s milk sets out all the extra things (human milk oligosaccharides) that make the real thing better for baby, and especially for baby’s gut microbiome. This surely adds to the argument that formula should be avoided, especially when it might be over-diluted or prepared with less-than-wholsesome water. But can it really be true that “There doesn’t seem to be any strong evidence from long-term studies suggesting that breast-fed babies grow up to be better or smarter adults than formula-fed babies.” Maybe it depends on how you define better? The article makes a strong case that fewer infants fed formula actually survive to become adults. That sound pretty much like “better” to me.