Food for Thinkers: Traces of the Future

From dried fish bones in Qatar and early descriptions of the tomato in English cookbooks to the difficulty of reconstructing historical kitchens.

I admit it. I'm completely overwhelmed by the incredibly quality and quantity of posts written by so many of my favorite writers for Food for Thinkers week.

So, as I count down the last hours of the week (at least here in Los Angeles), here are a handful more tasty treats for your delectation.

We'll start in the past, with Colleen Morgan at Middle Savagery, a professional archaeologist who "encounters food at its least appetizing—as the discarded remains of past peoples." Her post, "Digging Up and Eating Fish in Qatar," describes the painstaking work of picking up every last "tiny, translucent fish bone" scattered in the sandy remains of the clay-lined fire pits.

Incredibly, in order to assemble a reference collection of Gulf fish bones, one of Morgan's team members is "eating her way through the selection available at the local fish market."

She selects the fish, photographs it, carefully guts and prepares the fish for cooking, cleans, collects and dries every tiny bone, then curates them in boxes labelled with their taxonomic name. Shark, bream, hamoor, and dozens more had been carefully selected, cleaned, and served up to hungry archaeologists, who made note of their relative tastiness and ease of cooking.


Counter-intuitively, the diets that Morgan's team are documenting are probably closer to the kinds of things we might be eating in the future than to our contemporary diet:

People in the past ate an incredible array of foods, prepared in interesting and sometimes unlikely ways. If we can draw out this past knowledge, we have more resources to confront modern problems relating to disease, sustainability, and poverty.

Meanwhile, Tom Nealon of the antiquarian food blog, Cruditas, and the used and rare bookstore, Pazzo Books, traces the way the explanations given about a food's origins in historic cookbooks—whether true or not, and, more often than not, they are the latter—invariably tell a deeper story about a culture's beliefs, prejudices, and assumptions. Nealon exposes the culinary imperialism underlying European descriptions of the "accidental discovery" of mole poblano ("How could the natives have possibly come up with something this delicious? It must have been luck!"), as well as the warring instincts to both appropriate and avoid the foreign that are revealed in John Gerard's 1597 description of a tomato.

"'I rather wish Englishmen to content themselves with the meate and sauce of our owne country then with fruite and sauce eaten with such perill,'" Gerard complains—before going on to "claim that the tomato is descended from the golden apples of the Hesperides, i.e., it had supposedly been a European ingredient all along."

Nealon's post, "De Condimentis (8): Food History," published at Hilobrow, is an enjoyable reminder that the stories we tell about food often say much more about ourselves than the ingredient or dish in question.

Moving onwards to consider food's past as reconstructed in the present, Kitty Sutcliffe, the erroneously named Boring History Girl, bemoans the lifeless offerings of kitchens at most cultural heritage sites:

Often when I visit cultural heritage locations, be they royal palaces in the UK, imperial complexes in China or the ruins of Roman cities in Italy, I am drawn, as a food person, to the kitchens. […] Often I am left cold. Freshly cleaned floors, so different to mine with skins of onions mixed in with little piles of spilt sugar and pebbles of cat food. If I'm lucky there might be a wax cast of something that might be a kipper. Or is it supposed to be cake?


Why not, she asks, pipe in cooking smells, at the very least? Better yet: "Make the most of it—make it edible." You can read Sutcliffe's suggestions for serving Roman takeout and Tudor mincemeat at the appropriate locations in her charming post, "The Way to a Good Tourist's Heart is Through Their Stomach."

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.

Image: Photo by Alexis Pantos, via Middle Savagery.

via The Howard Stern Show / YouTube

Former Secretary of State, first lady, and winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, sat own for an epic, two-and-a--half hour interview with Howard Stern on his SiriusXM show Wednesday.

She was there to promote "The Book of Gutsy Women," a book about heroic women co-written with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

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Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger


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Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

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Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

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Low-flow shower head


Low-flow water fixtures can cut down your water consumption, which saves you money while also saving one of the Earth's resources. This shower head was designed with a lighter flow in mind, which means you'll be able to cut down on water usage without feeling like you're cutting down on your shower.

Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor


Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

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