Sunday, 23 April 2017

How to feed the world!

Apparently Weetabix is owned by a Chinese company, Bright Foods. Oh, no! My mistake; Bright Foods has recently sold Weetabix to a US company, Post Holdings. Bright Foods thought that they could sell lots of Weetabix in China but the Chinese have been unimpressed.

The Australians add Vegemite (Antipodean Marmite) to Weetabix, which sounds like a disgusting thing to do, but it seems that they invented Weetabix about a century ago, so I suppose they are entitled to do such things with it. However the UK buys 71% of all the Weetbix there is.

Weetabix was the go-to breakfast of my childhood, served with hot milk on cold winter mornings, allowed to go soggy and porridgy in that case, but eaten while still crisp if served with cold milk. And I know a fair few children who were practically weaned on Weetabix.

Today's post looks as though it is going to be about food. Not at all inappropriate as I was baking a birthday cake at nine o'clock this morning and went on to feed the family and celebrate our daughter's birthday. In fact the birthday is tomorrow but today was a good day to get everyone together.

As I chopped and stirred and did other culinary stuff in the kitchen, I listened to The Food Programme on Radio Four. Today they were concentrating on the humble potato, which is in reality more complicated and far less humble than we ever imagined. I learned all sorts of strange facts:
  •  The people of Peru used to dry potatoes and store them to see them through lean times. The Spaniards, the Conquistadores, were not impressed and only tried eating them because they had nothing else to eat. 
  •  When the potato was introduced to Europe the Church preached against it. There is no mention of the potato in the Bible and therefore it must be an abomination, not one of God's creations at all, and therefore should not be eaten. (I am sure the people who rail against the consumption of carbohydrates would agree with that. I was not aware that there was a list of acceptable food in the Bible. The fatted calf was killed when the Prodigal Son came home. Wine gets a mention, as do loaves and fishes. But are carrots and cabbage referred to positively? What about sweetcorn? I doubt very much whether coffee is written about in the Bible. 
  •  There are lots of varieties of potatoes. In the Andes they grew all of these varieties but only a very limited number were introduced to Europe. And so when the potato blight came along in the mid nineteenth century it was able to wipe out the crop as there was insufficient variety to provide resistance. At that time the population of Ireland stood at around 8 million. Masses of the rural poor relied on the potato for their staple diet. An acre of fertilized potato field could yield up to 12 tons of potatoes, enough to feed a family of six for a year with leftovers going to the family's animals. And so when the potatoes failed, masses of people died of starvation and masses emigrated. The population of Ireland, around 5 million now, I think, has never recovered. Amazing! 
  •  Getting back to that filed that could produce up to 12 tons of potatoes, potato enthusiasts tell us that if we switched our attention to potatoes instead of grain crops, we could solve the problem of how to feed the world's growing population. 
  •  There is even an International Potato Centre. Based in Lima, Peru (appropriately enough) it is a research facility that "seeks to reduce poverty and achieve food security on a sustained basis in developing countries through scientific research and related activities on potato, sweet potato, other root and tuber crops, and on the improved management of natural resources in the Andes and other mountain areas. It was established in 1971 by decree of the Peruvian government." 
  •  As well as giving me all this fascinating insight into the potato, a "vegetable which is rich in protein, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins such as riboflavin, niacin and Vitamin C", the programme suggested new and amazing ways of cooking it! Potatoes and lemon! How does that grab you? 

It's astounding what you can learn from the radio!

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