Taste the world

Last time I told you a lot about animal welfare and climate change… When originally this was all supposed to be about food while we’re travelling. So let’s get into it once more!

The same way food plays such an import role in my life, it does in everybody else’s, and it does in a culture. When you think of Italy, doesn't it make you think about pizza, pasta and ice cream? Germany and beer and bread? France and croissants, crepes, snails and frogs? China and chopsticks? You get the picture. The “food” section is always the first one I read in a travel guide. What are the normal eating times in a country? In Thailand, for example, people will have breakfast and dinner whenever, but they are very strict on their twelve-o-clock lunch. What are typical dishes? What are the local vegetables and fruits? What is the typical drink?

And then I will let people tell me more. And set out to find all and try these things. When I leave Estonia, I always take some dark rye bread with me. After coming back from Myanmar I started adding way more garlic to my food than the average German. I keep wondering how I could become sixteen before having my first brownie – but I had it in the US (just like my first donut and pancakes with maple syrup). I now cook “momos”, a Nepalese street food with my mom a couple of times a year. And in Thailand, I became an ice tea addict.

How do the people eat? In many Asian countries, “noisy” eating with smacking and burping are a sign that you like it, while in Europe this is quite impolite. Not asking for more food after you have finished your plate also is a sign that you didn’t like it in countries like Nepal, while in others, clearing your plate completely might mean that it wasn’t enough. I also enjoy eating with the local tools: the Nepalese and Indian techniques to eat with your fingers are not the same! My mother taught me how to eat with chopsticks as a child, so I could properly eat the Chinese food she had “brought” back from China. In Thailand, chopsticks are only used for the noodles in a soup, everything else is eaten with a spoon and the fork is mainly used to push the food on the spoon, like we do it with fork and knife in Germany. Italians will never use a spoon for their spaghetti.
For more information on food traditions around the world, you might find some more information here: https://theculturetrip.com/

One more issue I want to mention: Palm oil. While pretty much all of the products that we find in the supermarket contain it, Asia is actually the continent that uses is the most – for cooking, for example. Because it is cheap.
Ten percent of global cropland is oil palms, and this space has to come from somewhere – 85% of the global palm oil supply comes from Malaysia and Indonesia, where rain forests have to make space. The oil palm plantations destroy the habitat for many animals, and the very real threat of extinction of the Sumatran tiger, the Sumatran rhino and the orangutan can be directly linked to growing oil palms.
Producing the palm oil also contributes to global warming.
Palm oil is not only found in most Asian processed foods, in Europe and the US as well, 70 percent of personal care items contain one or more palm oil derivates – and the problem is spotting them: there are about 200 ingredients in common products like soap and lotion that contain palm oil, but in only 10 percent of the cases the term “palm oil” can be found on the ingredients list.

In an average supermarket, you will find 47 000 products. Apart from palm oil, two more ingredients can be found in almost all of them: corn and soy. Basically no processed food like ice cream, pizza, ketchup, chips, candy, peanut butter and so on can go without one or both of those. Again, it’s not easy to spot them on the ingredients list, as they are disguised in names like sorbic acid, maltodextrin, lecithin and many more. Soy can even be found in things like cigarettes, lotion, and drugs. And it’s also used in biofuel, because, like corn, it’s cheap.

So what is my problem with soy?
Now I’m not talking about tofu here. About 2 percent of the global soy production is for human consumption as tofu, tempeh, and the like. The other 98 percent go into processed foods and, mainly, into animal feed. This is not how these animals would normally eat – more on animal welfare here. Growing soy needs land. Valuable land. As tofu contains lots of water, from 1 kilogram of soy, you can make 2kg of tofu – but he same amount will give you only 300g of pork. Soy monocultures are mostly built up in areas that used to be rain forest, our biggest storage of CO2. When we cut down that forest, we set the CO2 free, fueling the climate change. So does the transport: 90 million tons of soy are being exported from Brazil only every year, for example.

rainforest turning into soy monocultures (photo: robinwood.de)

Interpreting their study, British scientists found that vegans produce half the amount of greenhouse gases of meat eaters, even when they consume tofu from Brazilian soy beans.
Three quarters of soy from Brazil is genetically modified as so called “Roundup ready” soy, globally, it’s 90 percent. Corn also has a “Roundup Ready” version. Roundup is the infamous pesticide glyphosate by the company Bayer-Monsanto. It kills pretty much everything: unwanted plants, vermin, and technically also the soy, if it weren’t for the genetic modification. Thus, it can be assumed that it isn’t too healthy for us humans either. Monsanto doesn’t only have the patent on the pesticide, but also on the GMO soy and corn. Patents on life. It means, farmers are not allowed to keep the seeds for the next season, but have to buy them from Monsanto again each year.
In areas where a lot of soy and corn is being grown, and thus lots of glyphosate (and other pesticides) are being used, an increasing number of cancer cases, heart diseases and thyroid illnesses could be found. Birth defects and the normally very rare amyotrophic lateral sclerosis appear more frequently in these soy producing regions. As glyphosate is usually sprayed from the air, people breath it in, but as it drains into the ground, it also gets into the ground water.

When I moved into my temporary home here in Thailand, the previous inhabitant had left a pack of instant noodles. I knew when it had been put there, but I feared that the next person would not, and eventually somebody would throw it away because they didn’t know how long this had been here, if it was still good and why it was left in the first place. A year ago, I could have been this person.
Now, I looked at this and thought: So bad. A big plastic bag holding twenty tiny plastic wraps. And the food inside is made out of flour, palm oil, and sugar (and 5% other ingredients, like corn starch, slat and stabilizers..). It was something I just wouldn’t buy.
And then I ate the instant noodles so that they wouldn’t be thrown away.
Because worse than eating palm oil or animal products, or food that is packaged in plastic or has been transported a long distance – is to throw it away.
In the US alone, 12.7 billion kilos of food are being tossed every year, food that was still good. More on that here.

By the way: the links that bring you to Amazon (books and movies) are so called affiliate links. It means that if you buy something following that link, I will earn a few cents, but for you it isn’t more expensive than normally. So if you’ve been thinking about getting that book, I’d be happy if you support this blog (writing it needs lots of green tea ;-)

Find great vegetarian/vegan food wherever you are: happycow.net

Recommended for deliciousness and more:


The Guardian long read: How the world got hooked on palm oil (https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/feb/19/palm-oil-ingredient-biscuits-shampoo-environmental)

tagesschau.de vom 27.7.18


Food Inc.

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