Category: Food and Drink

Cat food markets in everything

Fancy Feast is expanding into feline-inspired human cuisine, with a New York City Italian restaurant designed to celebrate the company’s new line.

Gatto Bianco, which means “white cat,” is described by Fancy Feast as an “Italian-style trattoria,” and will be open for dinner reservations on August 11-12 only, according to a news release from Purina, which produces Fancy Feast.

The human-friendly dishes were inspired by Fancy Feast’s new “Medleys” cat food line, which feature options like “Beef Ragú Recipe With Tomatoes & Pasta in a Savory Sauce” for the cat with discerning taste.

Here is the full story, via Balding.

Get the Lead Out of Turmeric!

Exposure to lead especially in childhood can have a lifetime of negative consequences:

According to the WHO, there is no known safe level of lead exposure. Relatively low levels of lead exposure that were previously considered ‘safe’ have been shown to damage children’s health and impair their cognitive development. Lead is a potent neurotoxin that, with even low-level exposure, is associated with a reduction in IQ scores, shortened attention spans and potentially violent and even criminal behaviour later in life. Children under the age of 5 years are at the greatest risk of suffering lifelong neurological, cognitive and physical damage and even death from lead poisoning.

In recent decades, some countries have begun to address the problem by removing lead from gasoline, paint, and pipes. Lead poisoning, however, remains a serious problem in South Asian countries such as Bangladesh. But where is the lead coming from?

Looks nice but what gives turmeric that pleasing yellow-orange look? Maybe, lead.

Incredibly, one small study that examined the blood of pregnant women in Bangladesh for lead isotopes concluded that a major source of lead exposure is from turmeric consumption. Turmeric is a spice used in India and Bangladesh and other South East Asian both in cooking and for health. Lead from the soil could enter turmeric but the major cause seems to be lead pigments that are illegally added to turmeric to give it a pleasing looking yellow color. Lead in spices can exceed national limits by hundreds of times.

Our results indicate that turmeric Pb concentrations were as high as 1151 μg/g (Table 2). Eight of 28 market turmeric samples contained Pb above the 2.5 μg/g Government of Bangladesh limit for Pb in turmeric (Table S6). Using the simplified bioaccessibility extraction test, prior studies reported that the bioaccessible fraction of Pb in turmeric varied from 42.9 to 70% of total Pb. (12,39) Given that turmeric is used in dishes containing tamarind and other acidic ingredients, cooking could further increase the bioaccessibility of the Pb. (40) Other researchers hypothesized that PbCrO4 is added to turmeric to enhance its color or weight, but they did not test any turmeric processing powders to assess molar Pb/Cr ratios or Pb speciation. (12) We found that the yellow pigment powders used in turmeric processing contained 6–10% Pb by weight (61 870–101 300 μg/g Pb). Both pigment and turmeric samples also contained elevated chromium (Cr) concentrations, with average Pb/Cr molar ratios of 1.3 ± 0.06 (2 SD) and 1.1 ± 0.8 (2 SD), respectively. X-ray diffraction analyses indicated that all three pigment samples contained lead chromate (PbCrO4, 10–15%), that two of the pigments also contained lead carbonate (PbCO3, 2–3%), and that one also contained lead sulfate (PbSO4, 3%). Because PbCO3 and PbSO4 have a greater bioaccessibility than PbCrO4, our results support the parallel findings of high turmeric bioaccessibility reported in other studies. (12,39,41)

Respondents described turmeric, primarily purchased as a loose powder, as one of three essential spices consumed daily, alongside chili powder and cumin. Women reported adding turmeric in heaping spoonfuls to curries and other dishes for at least one meal per day.

I’d also worry about lead adulteration of safron, another yellow spice. The problem is not limited to Bangladesh, significant amounts of lead have been found in spices sold in in New York.

Addendum: Givewell has a good rundown on Pure Earth a charity working to address this problem.

Hat tip: Alexander Berger.

Photo Credit: MaxPixel.

How good is the food in Cali?

The guidebooks say that Cali has worse food than Bogotá or Medellin.  Two people I know, both from Cali, wrote to tell me that Cali has worse food.  It is true that Cali does not have the fine dining culture of the two larger cities.  And yet…  When I visited the food market in Bogotá, about half of the stalls were serving Mexican food.  The rest seemed decent but uninspired.  The two meals I had in the food stalls in the Alameda market in Cali were perhaps the two best (and cheapest) meals of the whole trip, and original too, at least to me.

n = 2 does not suffice for inference.  And yet…

Food in Bogota

The best approach is to hunt down particular foodstuffs and consume them, rather than thinking in terms of restaurants.  That includes fruits (start with blueberries and blackberries and then move on to the stuff you have never heard of), cheeses, arepas, empanadas, other baked goods, all forms of corn (“choclo”), and whatever they happen to throw your way.

“Have I had this yet?” should be your starting question, and try to get to a full slate of yes’s!

Don’t obsess over finding the best restaurants.  You will end up with some excellent meals, but it is not the same as learning the local cuisine.  That said, the dining scene is much improved since my last visit eight years ago.  I didn’t have complete control over my time and meals, but can recommend Casa del Rey and Sauvage as both very good, without being convinced that they were the very best.

My Conversation with Barkha Dutt

Here is the link, and here is part of the CWT summary:

Barkha joined Tyler to discuss how Westerners can gain a more complete picture of India, the misogyny still embedded in Indian society, why family law should be agnostic of religious belief, the causes of declining fertility in India, why relations between Hindus and Muslims seem to be worsening, how caste has persisted so strongly in India, the success of India’s subsidized institutes of higher education, the best city for Indian food, the power of Amar Chitra Katha’s comics, the influence of her English liberal arts education, the future of Anglo-American liberalism in India, the best ways to use Twitter, and more.

And from the conversation:

COWEN: Many outsiders have the impression that relations between Hindus and Muslims and the aggregate in India have become worse over the last 10 to 15 years. If you put aside particular actions of particular political personalities, and you try to think of a structural reason why that might be true — because normally the intuition is, people grow richer, they’re more tolerant, there’s more commercial interaction, there’s more intermingling — what would be your structural account of why, in some ways, that problem has become worse?

DUTT: You just spoke of intermingling, Tyler. I think that one of the biggest reasons for the worsening relations, or the othering, as it were, of communities that are not your own is the ghettoization of how people live. For example, if there were neighborhoods where people live cheek by jowl — that still happens, of course, in many cities, but it also happens less than it used to, and that is true. We are seeing a Muslim quarter, to give an example, or a Christian quarter in a way that we wouldn’t have before our cities were so ghettoized.

I think that kind of intermingling, of living in the same housing societies or neighborhoods, participating in each other’s festivals as opposed to just tolerating them — those are the structural changes or shifts that we are witnessing. It’s also true that it is tougher for a person from a religious minority — in particular, an Indian Muslim — to get a house as easily as a non-Muslim. I think I would be lying if I did not acknowledge that. Also, the last point is interfaith marriages or interfaith love. This is a deeply politicized issue as well.

While I’m talking to you, in the last 24 hours in the Southern city of Hyderabad, one of our big technology hubs, we’ve had reports of a Muslim family that attacked a Hindu man for marrying a Muslim woman. In reverse, we see Muslim women also targeted all the time if they choose to marry Hindus. This is not helped by the fact that you’ve had several states now talking about what they call love jihad. That’s the phrase they use for marriages that are across religious communities, in particular between Hindus and Muslims.

The percentage of Indians marrying not just outside their religion but also outside their caste — which in Hinduism is a hierarchical system of traditional occupation that you’re born into — is woefully low. I don’t know if I remember my data correctly, but I think less than 5 percent of Indians actually marry outside of their own communities. I would need to go back to that number and check it, but that’s what I remember off the top of my head.

Those are the structural reasons: the fact that people don’t love or have relationships outside of their community, don’t live enough with people of diverse faiths, and don’t participate in each other’s lives.

We used to have this politically correct phrase called tolerance, which I actually just hate, and I keep nudging people towards the Indian military. The Indian military actually has a system of the commanding officer taking on the faith of his troops during religious prayers. The military has multireligious places of worship. It even has something called an MMG, which is not just a medium machine gun but a Mandir Masjid Gurdwara, which is all the different faiths praying together at the same place. We don’t see a lot of that kind of thing happening outside of the military.

Another survey done by Pew reinforced this when it spoke of Indians today being more like a thali than khichri. Let me just explain that. A thali is a silver tray where you get little balls of different food items. Pew found that Hindus and Muslims — when surveyed, both spoke of the need for religious diversity as being a cornerstone of India. They like the idea of India as a thali, where there were different little food items, but separate food items. The khichri is rice and lentils all mixed up and eaten with pickle. The khichri is that intermingling, the untidy overlapping.

We are just seeing less and less of that overlapping. In my opinion, that is tragic. Where there is social interdependence, where there is economic interdependence, where there is personal interdependence is when relationships thrive and flourish and get better. But when they remain ghettos, separations just tolerating each other — that, I think, remains in the realm of othering.

Recommended, interesting throughout.

Cork notes

It is a lovely town to walk in, seems to have better weather than Dublin, and Honan Chapel is to my mind Ireland’s single greatest sight.  Most of the time, you can look around in any direction — not just the best direction — and see pleasing sights.  So I can heartily recommend a visit.

But I am puzzled by the near-complete absence of restaurant food, at least in the city centre.  You can walk for half an hour and maybe see only one or two places you would even consider eating in.  Especially at lunch time.  So many places open at five.  Other places close at three.  I’ve not been looking for “a standard mid-level pizzeria,” but at times I would have settled for one but I never saw one.  Not once.  There are a reasonable number of coffee places that serve some sandwiches.  Only a small number of pubs serve much food.  I saw two Chinese restaurants, neither of which seemed appealing.  I walked for at least ten minutes from the main cinema down a main street — nothing, not one place to eat.  Many neighborhoods, whether residential or commercial, seem to have zero restaurants whatsoever.  No fish and chips takeaways either.

I looked for Indian food, and was pleased to walk by Eastern Tandoori across from the opera house.  The wooden sign out on the street says they open at 5 p.m.  But they don’t, and if you dig deep enough on the web you will find they are closed until July 1.  I didn’t find any other (actually open) Indian restaurant to eat at.  I ate at Ignite (Pakistani, and quite excellent).  Their Facebook page says they open at noon, but alas no they open at 5 p.m.  Many other restaurants exist on paper but seem to never open, and this is in a prosperous and bustling town.  It is easier to find a barbershop here, or a book store.

The English Market, the main place to buy raw ingredients in town, is excellent.  It has one OK cafe upstairs, and that closes well before dinner time.  It is fine for a chowder and some smoked trout spread, but not too much more.

Nor is the city inundated with American fast food.  Nor does Dublin have this problem.

Within an hour of Cork city centre, there are numerous excellent restaurants, including with Michelin stars.  Cork is set in the heart of Irish food country, believe it or not.  Breads and cheeses are excellent.

So what gives?  Why are the corporate entities here so reluctant to sell me cooked food?

The Russian economy is not falling apart

…the economic decline is not as precipitous as some experts had expected it would be after the Feb. 24 invasion. Inflation is still high, around 17 percent on an annual basis, but it has come down from a 20-year peak in April. A closely watched measure of factory activity, the S&P Global Purchasing Managers’ Index, showed that Russian manufacturing expanded in May for the first time since the war began.

Behind the positive news is a combination of factors playing to Mr. Putin’s advantage. Chief among them: high energy prices, which are allowing the Kremlin to keep funding the war while raising pensions and wages to placate ordinary Russians. The country’s oil revenues are up 50 percent this year.

Here is more from the NYT.  Most of the story focuses on how a Russian-owned version of McDonald’s has reopened, serving what is broadly the same food.  But they don’t serve Big Macs because…the sauce is proprietary.  Presumably they already were making the sauce on their own?  It is funny which parts of international law a country will or will not break.

And here WaPo reports that Russia is winning the war.

Shopping in Russia

Finally, I offer a comment on the shuttered street level shops and mall tenants that have been gleefully reported by Western journalists:   yes, major Western branded stores have closed down, not all, but a great many.  Their loss is felt on the most prestigious shopping streets and malls, where they bought market share for their products by lavish spending on promotion, including prestige premises.  However, outside these limited addresses, one does not see gaps in the street level stores in Petersburg.  I see more empty store fronts in shopping streets in Brussels than here.

And more specifically:

This store chain [Azbuka Vkusa] puts the previous tenant to shame. The sheer variety and luxury of the present offering in fresh produce, cheeses, meats, fish, tinned conserves of all varieties is stunning. The fresh fish section offers swordfish from Sri Lanka, wild salmon from the Faroe Islands (presumably Russian caught), some unidentified white sea fish from Egypt, and dorade from Turkey. In a tank, there is a two kilogram live Kamchatka King Crab waiting for a buyer at 200 euros.  Live oysters in another tank are brought from both Crimea (large) and from the Far East (very large).  Farmed mussels are brought in from Crimea.

Here is the full story from Gilbert Doctorow, via Anecdotal.

Facts about chickens

Although previous studies have made claims for an early origin of chickens, our results suggest that unambiguous chickens were not present until ∼1650 to 1250 BCE in central Thailand. A correlation between early chickens and the first appearance of rice and millet cultivation suggests that the production and storage of these cereals may have acted as a magnet, thus initiating the chicken domestication process.

Here is the full paper, via Anecdotal.

Has the world passed “peak agricultural land”?

Expanding agriculture has been the biggest driver of the destruction of the world’s wilderness.

This expansion of agricultural land has now come to an end. After millennia, we have passed the peak, and in recent years global agricultural land use has declined…

Here I have brought together the three leading analyses on the change in global land use – these are shown in the visualization. Each uses a different methodology, as explained in the chart. The UN FAO produces the bedrock data for each of these analyses from 1961 onwards; however, the researchers apply their own methodologies on top, and extend this series further back in time.

As you can see, they disagree on how much land is used for agriculture, and the time at which land use peaked. But they do all agree that we have passed the peak.

Here is more from Hannah Ritchie at Our World in Data.  Of course food production continues to rise.

I Hate Paper Straws!

I am interviewed by James Pethokoukis at his substack Faster, Please! Here’s one Q&A:

JP: American political debates are generally more interested in redistribution than long-term investment for future innovation. What are the incentives creating that problem and can they be fixed?

A big part of the incentive problem is that future people don’t have the vote. Future residents don’t have the vote, so we prevent building which placates the fears of current homeowners but prevents future residents from moving in. Future patients don’t have the vote, so we regulate drug prices at the expense of future new drug innovations and so forth. This has always been true, of course, but culture can be a solution to otherwise tough-to-solve incentive problems. America’s forward looking, pro-innovation, pro-science culture meant that in the past we were more likely to protect the future.

We could solve many more of our problem if both sides stowed some of their cultural agendas to focus on areas of agreement. I think, for example, that we could solve the climate change problem with a combination of a revenue neutral carbon tax and American ingenuity. Nuclear, geo-thermal, hydrogen–these aren’t just clean fuels they are better fuels! Unfortunately, instead of focusing on innovation we get a lot of nonsense about paper straws and low-flow showers. I hate paper straws and low-flow showers! There is a wing of the environmental movement that wants to punish consumerism, individualism, and America more than they want to solve environmental problems so they see an innovation agenda as a kind of cheating. Retribution is the goal of their practice.

In contrast, what I want is for all of us to use more water, more energy and yes more plastic straws and also have a better environment. That’s the American way.

Subscribe to Faster, Please! for more.

How to improve conferences

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one bit:

The next time you are attending a formal presentation at a conference, ask yourself these questions: Is this better than all of those Zoom calls I am turning down? Is this better than the next best YouTube clip I might be watching? For most people, the answers are obvious. Conference organizers need to be willing to pull the trigger and usher the presentation into a gentle retirement.

Charismatic presentations still can be important to motivate a sales force or to build the unity of a crowd. But informational presentations are obsolete.

Earlier in my career, I went to presentations not to listen, but rather to meet the other people interested in the topic. That made sense at the time, but these days information technology provides superior alternatives. For instance, I have been to conferences that have “speed dating” sessions (without the date part, to be clear, and with vaccine and testing requirements) where you meet many people for say two minutes and then move on to the next meeting. This should become a more regular practice. Conference organizers also can create “speed dating pools” where everyone interested in a particular topic area has a chance to meet.

Another marvelous practice prompted by the pandemic that should be continued and indeed extended at all conferences: outside sessions, especially with group discussions.

Recommended, there is more at the link.  What other ideas do you have?