Food for Thinkers: In Tibet, An Edible Rebellion

High Peaks Pure Earth explains how tsampa and sweet tea are used as a tool of national identity and political resistance by Tibetans.

With Chinese President Hu Jintao in town today, and the State Department dancing in circles so as not to offend a country that owns nearly half our national debt, it seems like a good time to put up this Food for Thinkers post from High Peaks Pure Earth, which is pretty much the only place on the internet where you can read what Tibetans and Chinese people within the People's Republic of China are saying about Tibet, in translation.

For High Peaks Pure Earth (which operates anonymously, for obvious reasons), food is a tool of national identity and political resistance:

Tibet may not exactly be renowned as a home for exotic cuisine but food makes an interesting lens through which to examine Tibetan identity, particularly after the protests of 2008 and the subsequent political and military crackdown.


High Peaks collects several examples of Tibetans referring to themselves as "tsampa-eaters," in reference to the roasted barley flour that is a staple food on the Himalayan plateau. Tsampa not only transcends "dialect, sect, gender, and regionalism" as a marker of unity, it also, according to at least one popular blogger, makes "a good hiding place for stashing away photos of the Dalai Lama when the military police carry out their raids."

Sweet tea provides a slightly different example, in that it is a less iconic beverage that has nonetheless become a political gesture in Tibet:

Even though Tibetans traditionally drink their tea with butter and salt, sweet tea has become a popular drink especially in Lhasa, representing an entire social phenomenon as well as a firm political statement. Sweet tea is an Indian style of drinking tea with plenty of milk and sugar and explicitly links Tibet with India.


India, of course, is the home of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. High Peaks goes on to note that Sweet Tea Houses in Lhasa and beyond have become synonymous with political debate and the formation of a specifically Tibetan culture, attracting a lively crowd of students, teachers, artists, and intellectuals.

The rest of the post, which you can read in full at High Peaks Pure Earth, is packed with more fascinating examples of the way food can be used as a small, daily act of resistance, gleaned from translated tweets, text messages, blog posts, and chat forum conversations that in themselves offer a unique insight into the way people who actually live in Tibet think about the issue. Given the evidence, I think it's a safe bet that tsampa won't be on the menu at the White House tonight.

Food for Thinkers is a week-long, distributed, online conversation looking at food writing from as wide and unusual a variety of perspectives as possible. Between January 18 and January 23, 2011, more than 40 food and non-food writers will respond to a question posed by GOOD's newly-launched Food hub: What does—or could, or even should—it mean to write about food today?

Follow the conversation all week here at GOOD, join in the comments, and use the Twitter hashtag #foodforthinkers to keep up to date.

Photo by Josh Couch on Unsplash

Christopher Columbus, Alexander Hamilton, William Shakespeare, and Sir Walter Scott are getting company. Statues of the famous men are scattered across Central Park in New York City, along with 19 others. But they'll finally be joined by a few women.

Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth are the subjects of a new statue that will be on display along The Mall, a walkway that runs through the park from 66th to 72nd street. It will be dedicated in August of next year, which is fittingly the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote.

Currently, just 3% of statues in New York City are dedicated to women. Out of 150 statues of historical figures across the city, only five statues are of historical women, including Joan of Arc, Golda Meir, Gertrude Stein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Harriet Tubman.

Keep Reading Show less

It's easy to become calloused to everyday headlines with messages like, "the world is ending" and "everything is going extinct." They're so prevalent, in fact, that the severity of these statements has completely diminished to the point that no one pays them any attention. This environmental negativity (coined "eco-phobia") has led us to believe that all hope is lost for wildlife. But luckily, that isn't the case.

Historically, we have waited until something is near the complete point of collapse, then fought and clawed to bring the species numbers back up. But oftentimes we wait so long that it's too late. Creatures vanish from the Earth altogether. They go extinct. And even though I don't think for a single second that we should downplay the severity of extinction, if we can flip this on its head and show that every once in a while a species we have given up on is actually still out there, hanging on by a thread against all odds, that is a story that deserves to be told. A tragic story of loss becomes one about an animal that deserves a shot at preservation and a message of hope the world deserves to hear.

As a wildlife biologist and tracker who has dedicated his life to the pursuit of animals I believe have been wrongfully deemed extinct, I spend most of my time in super remote corners of the Earth, hoping to find some shred of evidence that these incredible creatures are still out there. And to be frank, I'm pretty damn good at it!

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
NHM Vienna/Hans Reschreiter

Wealth inequality has been a hot topic of discussion as of late, but it's something that's occurred all throughout history. Class structure is a complicated issue, especially when you consider that haves and have nots have been in existence for over 4,000 years.

A study published in Science took a look at over 100 late Neolithic and early Bronze Age skeletons found in a burial site in southern Germany. The study "shed light on the complexity of social status, inheritance rules, and mobility during the Bronze Age." Partly by looking at their teeth and the artifacts they were buried with, researchers were able to discover that wealth inequality existed almost 4,000 years ago. "Our results reveal that individual households lasting several generations consisted of a high-status core family and unrelated low-status individuals, a social organization accompanied by patrilocality and female exogamy, and the stability of this system over 700 years," the study said.

Keep Reading Show less
via / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less