Good News

Modern-day media loves to shower us with all the horrid stuff that is happening at home and abroad. They do also tell us something positive, but unfortunately I have often turned the page or the channel before they get round to it!

When I was growing up in the UK, the ITN News that was shown at 17.45 always ended just before six o’clock with the opening phrase “And finally ….” and that meant they were going to tell us a piece of good news. That is how I grew up. I am not sure if they still do it. One piece of news that sticks in my mind was on 1st April (April Fools Day), when the “And finally” news item was about spaghetti that grows on trees! I just googled it to find a clip and it turns out that the original April Fool’s joke was aired in 1957 on the BBC. It is hilarious! Click here to watch it.

So this week I thought I would share a few pieces of good news with you from around the world … enjoy the read!

  • Earlier this year, a mother in Sydney Australia gave birth to twins prematurely at 27 weeks. The daughter was healthy but the son was stillborn. When the doctors told the woman, she took her son and held him for 2 hours. She and her husband talked to him and stroked him as he lay on her chest. When the 2 hours had passed her son, Jamie, started breathing again. Read the full story here.
     
  • Even with ‘global warming’ new species of wildlife continue to be found. In Borneo, over 123 new species have been discovered over the past 3 years (click); this year new amphibians have been discovered in Columbia (click); a new carnivorous plant species found in the Philippines in 2010 has been named after the broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough (click).
     
  • Brazil is way ahead in achieving the targets of its Millennium Development Goals and has already lifted millions of Brazilians out of extreme poverty and hunger. Read more here. There is more than enough money in the world to balance out the inequalities that exist and eradicate destitution. Decision makers are starting to discuss the taxing of the billions of corrupt dollars that are sitting in offshore accounts. Read more here.
     
  • … and finally, And Finally has a website, so you can read good news whenever you feel like it (click).

This week’s food is inspired by a country that has been very good news for me for a long time, and particularly over the past year – Italy. We are having friends over for dinner tonight and I managed to get my shopping done this morning before the dense snowfall came down. Here is the menu:

ANTIPASTI …. Bruschetta con lardo di colonate 
PRIMO ……… Rigatoni Broccoli e Salsiccia
SEGUNDO …. Costolette di agnello al forno con patate

I am in charge of the Segundo. I shall let you know the details of the recipes and just how delicious it is tomorrow!

Click here for the recipes.

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Black Britain

A colleague recently lent me a copy of the renowned novel Small Island by Andrea Levy. I have yet to start reading it, but at the weekend I positioned it next to my bed so that I would. Those of you in the UK may have seen the TV adaptation that was broadcast on the BBC in April 2010. Click here to see a clip.  The story is about two families in post-war Britain – one Jamaican and one British addressing issues of class, race and sex (see the links below for a more detailed review). My interest in black Britain stems from my heritage – I was born in the UK to Jamaican parents who migrated to the UK during their teenage years. Although I have only visited Jamaica once, in 2007, it has a special place in my heart, mind and soul. My parents made sure that even though we grew up in a predominantly white area in England, we were exposed to our cultural heritage through frequent trips to London[1]and Gloucester to see and stay with family, through their strict parenting, through food, through music and most importantly through talking about what it means to be black in a white-dominated world.

There has been a black presence in the UK as far back as the 12th century. It wasn’t until after World War II, when their labour was needed to help rebuild Britain that larger communities started to be visible. In order to learn more about this history I asked my family for literature on black Britain for my last birthday. My dad and wicked step-mother gave me a wonderful book entitled Black Britain – A Photographic History by Paul Gilroy, which takes the reader on a journey through time and events in post-war black Britain. I am finding this a great way to learn history – it is particularly good if you are the type who gets bored with simply reading dry text.

The October 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine had a special feature entitled “Rethinking Race. Has multiculturalism had its day?”. The feature included several articles on different aspects of race and multiculturalism written by black and South Asian writers. One of the major issues for black Britain today that worries me a lot is the poor performance of black boys in schools. In this issue of Prospect, Tony Sewell, the director of the charity Generating Genius claims that in the past these boys ‘used to fail at school because of racism, but now they fail because they don’t pay attention’. Tony challenges researchers who claim that the boys are victims of institutional racism, by suggesting that the children’s failures are the result of poor parenting, peer-group pressure and an inability to take responsibility for their own behaviour. Furthermore, he believes that ‘we’ have given them the discourse of the victim. I think he has a point. Nvertheless, I think it somewhat naive to think that institutional racism has been eradicated. I believe that the boys suffer from a little bit of both. Tony tells us about an experiment he did in a classroom when he was invited to give an inspirational talk to a class at a London inner-city primary school because she was concerned about a group of black boys who she described to him as ‘very bright, but very naughty’. Click here to read the article and the results of his experiment – it is quite provocative.

Since living in Denmark, I have met so many people who are under the impression that racial problems do not exist or are limited in Britain; my response is simply that Britain is not London. As a black female, I enjoy my daily life and face less racial and gender prejudice in Denmark than the UK, or any of the other countries a have spent longer periods in (Germany, Spain and Australia), contrary to what many may think or believe. In Denmark the visible prejudice and negative stereotyping is strongly directed at those with Arab or Islamic culture and heritage. Many of the stories I read and hear from children of immigrants here in Copenhagen remind me of my childhood in Britain and the struggles that black families faced back then, and continue to face now.  It is true that black families need to support and encourage their children to do well, or rather enjoy school more, but this is a very challenging task if they themselves have no education and have spent their whole childhood and much of their adulthood being discriminated against at every corner they turned. But, it is not impossible. My parents succeeded – they did not go to university, but on the other hand they did have parents who stressed to them the importance of education and they passed that on to us … even more intensely. Education without a doubt gives everyone, regardless of colour or creed, more opportunities and freedom, and somehow this message needs to get through to the black boys of Britain. Projects like Tony’s Generating Genius are a step in the right direction.

I shall leave you now with some links that may be of interest to you and go and check on my food.

Last night I seasoned some beef that I shall cook tonight. Mmmmm, I can’t wait to eat this Caribbean dish!! It is Beef Stew with Pimento & Rum. Another birthday present from my sister a few years ago was this wonderful cookbook written by Virginia Burke, Eat Caribbean. Virginia grew up in Jamaica and traveled to many of the other Caribbean Islands cooking at all levels, from the street to banquet halls. Not only does she have great recipes, but the book is colourful and informative telling us about the different islands, the food culture of the Caribbean and the ingredients used in the cooking. It is a good read! This week I am following the recipe with only a few adjustments. Need to get ready for work now, so I shall write it up after I have eaten tonight!

Enjoy!


[1] According to the Office for National Statistics, in June 2007 approximately 4.3% of the population of Greater London are ‘black Caribbean’ and 1% ‘mixed white and black Caribbean’; the national percentages are 1.2% and 0.6% respectively http://www.neighbourhood.statistics.gov.uk/dissemination/LeadTableView.do?a=3&b=276743&c=london&d=13&e=13&g=325264&i=1001x1003x1004&o=280&m=0&r=1&s=1290439070357&enc=1&dsFamilyId=1812)

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Dignity in Development

“… despite a dire labor shortage coupled with a flat birth rate and rapidly graying population, humanoid robots are preferred over immigrants as caretakers of children and elderly persons to assist housewives, ostensibly freeing them to stay home and have more children (and future workers) instead of pursuing professional careers …"

Jennifer Robertson, Gendering Humanoid Robots: Robo-sexism in Japan

It is no secret that Japan is years ahead of most other countries with their common, everyday use of technology; the Tamagotchi, popular in Europe in the 90s was the last companion I had heard about until last week. The Asian Dynamics Initiative at Copenhagen University held a conference last week entitled Asian Diversity in a Global Context. I listened to several diverse lectures by scholars from US, India, Denmark, China and South Korea among others. Two presentations in particular made a strong impact on me. The first was by Jennifer Robertson, Professor of Anthropology and the History of Art at the University of Michigan, who gave an enlightening and somewhat disturbing presentation at the opening ceremony about the gendering of humanoid robots in Japan. While other countries have been adjusting their statutory leave arrangements and benefits relating to childbirth to include both men and women, and (supposedly) improving alternatives and provision of child care in their efforts to increase birth rates, part of Japan’s policy approach is, in short, as the above quotation suggests, simply to use ‘female’ robots to do stereotypically female work such as caring and cleaning … and then women are free to get pregnant and have more babies.

There were two aspects of Jennifer’s talk that I found particularly disturbing: 1) that there is no feminist or rather gender discussion in Japan about the way the robot technology is progressing and 2) that the Japanese decision-makers believe that providing families with robot domestic workers will be an incentive for Japanese women to produce more children. Just to add insult to injury, I was also told that the robo-technology is so advanced that in Japan a robotic uterus has also been developed. Who needs women?!

The other presentation by an Indian scholar, Preeti Mann, Assistant Professor at the Amedkar University in Dellhi, was a vivid account of the consequences of development for rural communities in India. In short, Preeti gave us an insight into the attitudes and feelings of a self sufficient community that only uses money to purchase salt, oil and clothes. Other than that the families have plots of land, as much as they need for survival, and they trade with one another. The idea of ownership of land is preposterous to them; they had survived well with this livelihood strategy. In the name of development, these families are being displaced or ‘resettled’. They are given a plot of land in a new location and an amount of cash money and then more or less told to get on with it. The people that Preeti spoke to were highly dissatisfied with their new situation as the money that they were given, and/or that which they could earn from their designated plot of land could never provide them with the food security that they had had before.

There are so many angles to consider. One of the main points was that well-being is highly subjective – it means something totally different in different geographical sites, and as the rural subsistence farmers proved prior to ‘development’, the monetary economy is not the answer to everything, nor is it the preferred way of trading for many, many people. Preeti’s account is one of many such stories of the effect of development on rural communities in Asia, and more than likely also in Africa as well.   

I leave you to ponder the advantages and dangers of the blind obsession with ‘development’. Personally, I do believe that we have the capability and possibility to progress without destroying people’s lives and exploiting others. I will expand on this at a later date. On an academic note, I am really fascinated by the research being done in the natural or life sciences and strongly believe that the social sciences need to pay more attention to what is happening in these fields. The times of studying and researching ‘pure’ subjects is long gone. Academia, like societies, is becoming more and more complex and diverse – fantastic!

Here are some links to related articles:

So, the food … as we visited India last time, I decided to go to Japan at the weekend. The fantastic thing about Japanese food is its simplicity, but I am a lover of hearty meals so I don’t go to Japan very often in the kitchen! I do have a Japanese cookbook at home but I have only ever flicked through it. The dish that I ended up with was inspired partly by a recipe in the book for Salmon with Soba Noodles. I really wanted to do that dish, but didn’t have time to search Copenhagen for soba noodles and couldn’t find any decent fresh salmon (admittedly I was a bit pressed for time). The other inspiration came from a recipe for Sesame Udon Noodles. My kitchen has a lot of stuff in it. If I find a recipe that requires ingredients that I know I will not use before the use-by date, I leave that ingredient out or find a substitute somehwere in my kitchen jungle. Anyway, I ended up creating my own dish: Teryaki Tuna with Spicy Udon Noodles and Red Peppers. The dish was quick and easy to make and the flavours were absolutely delightful! Enjoy …

Blog tip: post your comments about development-related issues here and about the food on the recipes page.

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Burma in Pieces

POPULATION: 53.4 million
LIFE EXPECTANCY: 64.52 years
ETHNIC GROUPS: Burman 68%, Shan 9%, Karen 7%, Rakhine 4%, Chinese 3%, Indian 2%, Mon 2%, other 5%
RELIGIONS: Buddhist 89%, Christian 4% (Baptist 3%, Roman Catholic 1%), Muslim 4%, animist 1%, other 2%
LANGUAGES: Burmese is the official language, but there are approximately 106 others spoken

On 7 November 2010, Burma held their first national elections for 20 years. International media were banned. The elections have been strongly criticized as the two military-backed parties stand virtually unopposed and the military has been guaranteed 25% of the seats in the new parliament. The prospects for the ordinary citizens of Burma are not good.

Last Thursday I watched a wonderful documentary called Burma in Pieces at the Nordic Institute for Asian Studies (NIAS) in Copenhagen. Click here to watch a clip. We were fortunate to have the British director, Arun Sharma, who is resident in Denmark present at the showing. Arun stated very clearly that he is a film-maker above all else and so the documentary was not made with political messages in mind; however, it is clearly impossible to shoot a film on Burma without it being political. As the title suggests, the footage was in pieces – snapshots from different daily scenes of the life of ordinary citizens in Burma jumbled with interviews and reflections by individuals who have suffered at the hands of the military dictatorship. When asked if he actually thought Burma was in pieces, Arun replied a resounding yes. Furthermore, he made it clear that from his experience, the Western version of democracy may not necessarily be what the people of Burma need or want.

We had some great discussion after the film about the military dictatorship, Burmese refugees, refugees and their treatment by the Danish authorities, the role of children in Burma and much more. Here are some links if you want to read more about Burma:

Burma and Arun’s Indian heritage were my inspiration for dinner for three on Friday night, which consisted of a mild tiger prawn curry, okra and potatoes and basmati rice. I was so engrossed in the cooking, the chatting and the eating that I only remembered to take a picture after we had emptied all the pans of food (I like bringing the food to the table and serving up), and I was half way through my second serving! My apologies – I’ll try to be a bit more blog-conscious next time.

You can go to the recipes page to read how I made this delicious meal, an adaptation of the following three recipes: Burmese Beef and Potato Curry, Burmese Shrimp Curry with Gravy, North Indian Okra with Potatoes. I should mention that I always adapt recipes slightly to suit my and my guests’ tastes.

Blog tip: post your comments about Burma-related issues here and about the food on the recipes page.

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Welcome to Global Food and Thought!

I have started this blog not to air my personal views about different global issues but rather to inspire thought and critical thinking, share information, articles, comments and … recipes! I could not stand the idea of an entirely academic, political blog and I have been wanting to do something with food for a long time, so I decided to combine the two! I shall endeavor to blog once a week. I hope you enjoy the concept. You can read more about me here.

… by the way, the photograph is of a delicious vegetarian lunch prepared for us (a group of researchers from Nordic universities) while visiting a small NGO in a village in Kanataka in the south of India.

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