stuffed and starved-raj patel

i’m making mash (lentils, tomatoes, celery) on a sunday morning. also, i’m about to write back to leeanne in durban. this is the passage that brings together the beauty-full day: 

“With the onset of apartheid, blacks and whites were prevented from eating together. Black caddies at Durban’s Greyville Golf Course were, for instance unable to use the same cutlery and washing facilities as the white golfers. Yet they needed to eat quickly and speedily, in order to spend as little time away from their jobs at the golf course as possible. This called for some invention. The solution meshed together two culinary traditions, both of which themselves had  been transplanted to Durban. The new apartheid-compatible food involved the ladling of curry (a food that came with indentured Indians, who’d been brought to South Africa’s Natal province by the British to work on the sugar plantations) into a hollowed-out loaf of white bread (a food enjoyed by the British themselves).  White bread, never brown. The enterprising Gujarati Hindus who first put the two ingredients together were of the Bunia caste. Thus was created Durban’s signature food: ‘bunny chow’. At its best, the curry is rich and warm. The pithed out bread can be dipped into the bunny itself, the corner of the loaf lending itself to scooping the larger pieces of potato or chicken in the stew. You eat it entirely with your hands, which soon develop a yellow stain from the turmeric in the curry. And it’s thoroughly delicious.

The key features of bunny chow were that it was hot, ready to eat, filling, appetizing and portable (though not too far, before the curry soaked into the bread, making a mess of both). It meant that caddies could, on the run, eat food that they enjoyed, that nourished them and that embodied and celebrated an identity, a meaning that fought against racial injustice. In mixing black and white foods along the boundaries established by the apartheid state, the bunny was both and obeisance to existing law and a gastronomic fuck you.” (268)





2 thoughts on “stuffed and starved-raj patel

  1. (cutting) class issues:

    “Within a decade, India has become home to the world’s largest concentration of diabetics: people-often children-whose bodies have fractured under the pressure of eating too much of the wrong kinds of food.” (3)

    “At the same time, rural America has become disproportionately poorer. In 1999, only one of the fifty poorest counties in the US was metropolitan, and while the drug-related homicide rate has fallen in urban areas over the past decade, it has tripled in rural areas. While the acute symptoms of rural distress may have been dulled, its chronic features continue to plague the world’s richest country.” (27)

    “Onto Malthus’ ideas Rhodes bolted a second series of predictions based on his observations about class. He suggested that the poor, rather than waiting to die of hunger in a population crash, would organize and go after the rich. Through this logic, the poor were reduced to three basic organs: growling stomachs, clenched fists and insatiable genitalia. There is no need to ask why the poor are many, or why birth rates might be higher. Rhodes’ argument for food-related imperialism becomes a /reductio/ that argues for the prevention of hunger not on its grounds, but because it will salt the earth for politically articulate discontent.” (85)

    “It was an agenda fully subscribed to by the US. Earl Butz, Secretary of State for Agriculture under Nixon and Ford, observed: ‘Hungry men listen only to those who have a piece of bread. Food is a tool. It is a weapon in the US negotiating kit.’ But it was not destined to be forever. Relationships between junkies and dealers never are.” (91)

    “The complicity of the United Fruit Company in Central American poverty has rarely been acknowledged in the US. It is a history that has been erased. Indeed, the shorthand phrase through which most people come to know of banana-exporting countries in Central America and the Caribbean reflects not a history of rapacity and violence but the comically inept regimes installed by the export corporations. Such countries are known not as victims of empire but as ‘Banana Republics’. It’s a taint which sullies the reputations of these countries’ citizens, rather than reflecting back on the cause of their impoverishment. It is, in short, a textbook case of blaming the victim.
    Today, the United Fruit Company has been rebranded as the warmer, fuzzier ‘Chiquita Brands’. As a result of the public relations exercises and ‘fair trade’ schemes, the company has worked hard to earn a slightly more favourable tastes in our mouths. Not that it deserves it. The company recently paid a US$25 million fine as part of a guilty plea in its funding of paramilitary death squads in Colombia. But beyond the tribulations of this particular corporation, the trajectory of the United Fruit Company presents, in microcosm, the story of today’s agribusiness conglomerates. It’s a story of colonialism, control over channels of production, distribution, marketing and finance, mobilization of national interest, and a racialized repainting of the Third World.” (101-2)

    “The technology presents itself as a feel-good solution for politicians who’d rather not face the more profound, persistent and difficult questions of politics and distribution. There’s more than enough vitamin A to go around. Half a carrot contains the recommended dose of vitamin A. The plain fact is that the majority of children in the Global South suffer and die not because there is insufficient food, or because beta-carotene rice is nationally lacking. They are malnourished and undernourished because all their parents can afford to feed them is rice.
    The best that crops such as Golden Rice can do is provide a supplement in diets where nutrients are unavailable. And when a balanced diet is unavailable, the cause has more to do with poverty than with anything that can be engineered into the crop. It is absurd to ask a crop to solve the problems of income and food distribution, of course. But since this is precisely the root cause of vitamin A deficiency, the danger of crops such as Golden Rice is not merely that they are ineffective publicity stunts. They actively prevent the serious discussion of ways to tackle systemic poverty. This is why, secondarily, pesticide companies have taken to arguing that their crops will help farmers shake free of the yoke of poverty. And yet, even here, there’s room for doubt.” (137-8)

  2. unspoken heard:

    “The companies behind the Knowledge Initiative, and in the forefront of the production of genetically modified seed, have a direct connection to the first Green Revolution. They’re chemicals companies. The seeds that they have developed have come not from any deep desire to improve the lot of the rural poor, but as an extension of their pesticide product line. It is for this reason that pesticide companies are now the world’s largest owners of seed companies.” (133-4)

    “Among these ingredients is one you might have wondered about before: lecithin (pronounced lessy-thin). It’s an emulsifier, an additive that makes fats and water mix. It means that milk chocolate can get very milky. Its main role, however, is industrial. Chocolate slurry containing lecithin is better suited to the rigours of mass production: as it’s poured through the different machines in the factory, it won’t separate back out into fat and water. Lecithin was first added to the industrial chocolate-making process in 1929; it has recently been abandoned by some of the world’s boutique makers as an unnecessary additive. Since most of us won’t be able to afford the chocolates that make do without lecithin, we’re stuck with it for the time being.
    Lecithin used to come from egg whites, but since the 1920s, it has increasingly come from another source-soybeans. Soy, it turns out, is not only a secret ingredient in chocolate. It is a component in nearly three-quarters of products on supermarket shelves, and in most products sold by the fast food industry. It’s also a key animal feed, responsible for a thick slab of the protein in meat. It’s the main ingredient in a number of vegetable oils and margarines, which in turn are used at some stage in most processed food. You’d have to be diligent to spend a day without coming into contact with it. Yet, with rare exception, it’s not an ingredient that advertises itself. It has come to occupy a key place in the world food system not because of its taste or flavour, but because of its utility to everyone /except/ the consumer. At best, this means surrendering control over something ingested every day. But the darker story, involving environmental destruction, murder and slavery, is this: through the modern food system, through its monoculture and industrial production methods, one of the finest plants on this Earth has come to be a tyranny to those who grow it, and a mystery to those who eat it.” (166)

    “Thus the Seventh Day Adventists became soy missionaries and the first white people in the United States to make tofu. Indeed, there has been a long religious history behind the soybean, always involving its suitability as a meat substitute.” (174)

    “Yet it remains not only that most people are clueless about slavery in soy plantations, but most of us don’t even know we’re eating soy at all.” (194)

    “But what of us, the majority,who live in the cities? The odds are against us finding that freedom, for in the city our human connection to those who grow our food, or make our goods, is very remote indeed. By the time we dip them in barbeque sauce in the controlled environment of a McDonald’s, we are as far removed from the fields as the McNuggets we crunch. Given that most of us won’t be moving to Brazil any time soon, what are the alternatives? Well, perhaps we could choose not to go into a McDonald’s. But we’d have to eat it at some point. We’d eat the soy in chocolate. If not chocolate, ice cream. If not that, any number of packaged or processed foods. If we were sufficiently obsessive, we might become label vigilantes, expunging from our diets anything containing lecithin or an unmarked ‘vegetable oil’ as well, of course, as all meat. And we’d certainly choose to cook our own food (and fewer and fewer of us do even that-only 38 per cent of meals made at home, in one recent study, were homemade, and increasing numbers of us can’t make a meal from basic ingredients). So, off we’d go to the supermarket, armed with a shopping list of acceptable goods in order to get off the corporate grid, only to find ourselves at the food system’s Ground Zero.” (213-4)

    “This is the moment of conception of the institution we now consider the home of consumer sovereignty. The irony is this shoppers’ freedom of choice was born in a cage. What we have come to believe in as ‘unfettered freedom to consume’ was always intended to be guided by chickenwire. And while we might have received some basic information from clerks at a store, the supermarket changed that. Through a studied manipulation of space, geography and employee communication rights, the only possible point of contact between the person eating the food and the person who grew it became the label on the tin. From this point onwards, the people selling the goods were expected to know precisely nothing about its origins. And, if they knew anything, were prohibited from saying it.” (222)

    “Of course, with prolonged periods at sea, the Navy needed to take its food with it. The Army fared worse, with food provisioning out-sourced to a range of ‘sutlers’ who trailed the army and whose business it was to obtain, and then resell, local food. This, incidentally, was a key means through which new tastes were spread, and soldiers brought new tastes home with them.” (257)

    and this brings me to a point that i’ve been meaning to discuss since i first heard it on a seattle public library podcast about the cuisines of nations that we’re at war with becoming popular at “home”. as ecstatic as i am that i can get such delicious vietnamese food, i hadn’t thought about the fact that it’s probably due to the residual effects of war. could that be an ‘upside’ to the certain (and unacknowledged) mental health issues that also come with being in a perpetual state of war?

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