Thursday, June 28, 2012

Food for thought from rainy days

This week has been rainy.  We are out on summer vacation and have had to resort to indoors activities, which means museums and libraries. Good thing we are at a location with an abundant offering in both of these two categories. The other day, we did the recently reopened maritime museum and the (best ever) local library. We took our time, its raining, we are on vacation, so what's the rush?

Anyway from both places I picked up some interesting new insights on food and we ended the rainy afternoon in the "ecological bistro" Palsternackan- loaded with information on organic food (although I asked myself how ecological the smoked salmon I chewed really was, or the cheese on the lamb-burger on hubby's plate...didn't ask the waitress, didn't want to ruin it all... but the owner is apparently half-Chilean, small world).

The maritime museum gave me food for thoughts on how international trade was organized less than one hundred years ago. I'll tell you, based on what I learned, there was not much space for inexpensive stuff being irrationally shipped from point A to point B to point C and then finally back to point A (check logistics of polished (!) apples or fish filets for further details on today's international food logistics). Sailing ships were expensive to build, dangerous to navigate and whatever transported on board had a looong delivery times. I guess the old pesticide free avocados or bananas would not make it to Europe in time for ripening... No, these ships were used to transport important stuff such as nitrates, cupper, and coffee and sugar. Which meant that the local communities up north had to rely on locally produced foods for survival (I do not count coffee, and most certainly not sugar, to survival foods, there might be those of you who have a different opinion).

Which leads me to the topic discovered at the libarary. You see, one of the books that I picked up at the library explained the local food culture in detail.  A book published in 1991 by the Martha Association on the Finnish Swedish  Food Culture across times and across regions (Finlandssvenska Matboken, Finlands Svenska Marthaförbund). The book had many interesting details on how people got food on their table in old times (going back to even 16th Centrury). The book also explains the difficulties in having enough food storage for the long winter, especially at times of war or when the weather conditions led to unsuccessful crops. Fatty foods were mixed with grain based boods. Long storage time was key for crops so that food would be available ... Food at that time was not healthy based on any standards - not the LCHF or the Low-cholesterol principles - it was high in fat, high in carbs and end of story.

I have been intrigued by foods from ancient times for a long time. I've been thinking of what is discussed in the paleo community on hunter gatherer eating habits and I've been thinking of just basic foods, preindustrial, preprocessed foods in the agrarian societies. This book gave me many answers and one of the most important one was that food some 100-300 years back was mostly just fuel. It was not about enjoying a nice meal - it was about survival, getting the most out whatever available so that you could carry on with your life. And life was a little bit different at that time. More muscle mass needed and never sure if there would be enough food throughout the winter, better fatten up, better store energy in the body, whenever available. Therefore: both creamy sauses and grain-based dishes highly desirable...

But did you know that there was an intense potatoe propaganda to get people to abandon their beloved "rova" (yellow typical Nordic root, used today mostly in soups) in Ostrobotnia in the 18th Century? Interesting. I'm just thinking of how people later on were convinced to replace butter with margarine - kind of same story there...

And did you know that our grain dominant countryside landscape is not a product of latitudes? Nope, it was the easiest way for the Swedish king to collect taxes... predictable and measurable harvest every fall... so now we know why our food culture is mostly grain-based and why we eat so much bread - blame it on the King!!! And ironically you could say some 400-500 years later, no wonder the state has no interest in restricting the use of all these grains (nowadays I guess the money flows in opposite direction though, from EU to the farmers) ... they have to be consumed in some way.

I've also read another book called "Stefans Lilla Gröna" (Stefan's Small Green), written by a Swedish musician on his attempts to become selfsufficient. This book was just a master piece, irony and severity mixed into one. I loved it! It also gave me inspiration to think what our countryside could look like if there wasn't powerful (potatoe) propaganda and state intervention (subsidies) on grain production.

Sweet dreams my friends, sweet dreams...

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