Mapping food and drink

I think we can all agree that it is better for all concerned – from farmers to consumers – for there to be lots of different types of beer. Problem is, some of these beers will be hard to find, and that means that they might not last in the market. Fear not: the Beer Mapping Project will show you where to go for your favourite amber nectar, at least if you live in the US. Here’s an article about the man behind the project, and the same author has also done a review of other food mapping sites here.

Rice diversity, basically a recipes site, has a really nice feature on rice, the different types, the different processing methods, and of course the different ways of cooking it.

Pharaonic laxatives

I blogged some time ago about a new project at the University of Manchester to document Pharaoh’s herbal medicines, but there was not much detail in the press release I quoted at the time. Now there’s a much fuller article on Discovery. It seems that the ancient Egyptians were martyrs to constipation.

Before Columbus

There’s quite a debate going on about what the Americas – and in particular the Amazon – looked like before Columbus arrived. This has been the subject of a bestseller entitled 1491, whose main arguments are summarized by the author, Charles Mann, here. It is always dangerous to simplify academic controversies as being between two diametrically opposing camps, but I’ll do it anyway. One side thinks that population levels were high in the Americas in pre-Columbian times, and that even the Amazon was essentially a gigantic, closely managed orchard, hence talk of the “pristine myth.” The other side thinks that the real myth is that of a large, widespread human population in the Amazon. This has important practical implications because, inevitably, some have seized on the debate to argue that the Amazon could be more heavily exploited today, because it was in the past.

Coincidentally, there are stories today which summarize papers coming down on opposing sides of this argument.

According to this piece, Dolores R. Piperno of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, “found evidence of widespread fire use for land-clearing by pre-Colombian populations in Latin America” when she reconstructed vegetation patterns and fire histories from pollen, phytolyth and charcoal records.

Noting the vast body of research indicates the existence of large, dense, sedentary populations in the Amazon, Piperno implies that conservationists should come to terms with the fact that tropical forests have been cleared in the past as they are being cleared today, and then move forward with effective strategies for preserving what remains.

A different view emerges in this discussion of the work of Mark Bush of the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne. He looked at charcoal and pollen records at two Amazonian lakes and found that

…rather than being widely dispersed, people living in the Amazon most likely clustered near the good places, and that overall population numbers were likely not as high as the top estimates of pre-Columbian people.

This will run and run.

Getting enough vitamin A in Kenya

There’s an interesting juxtaposition of material in today’s Nation. Unfortunately, none of it is online so you’ll just have to take my word for it, unless you live in Kenya that is. On the one hand there’s an advertising feature announcing the launch of fortified fats and oils. The four-page spread says that “a team representing government, the standards setting body, testing agencies and the private sector brought Vitamin A-fortified oil to the supermarket shelves in only 130 days.” It includes statements by the Ministers of Health and of Trade & Industry, the Director of Medical Services, the Director of the Bureau of Standards, the Director of the Kenya Medical Research Institute and the Africa Regional Director of the Micronutrient Initiative. The mid-term review of the effort is on the Micronutrient Initiative website here.

Interestingly, the Ministry of Agriculture seems not to have been involved, but in a different part of the paper there’s an article about the widespread and rapid adoption of new, vitamin A-rich sweet potato varieties by communities in western Kenya as part of a project funded by Farm-Africa under the Community Mobilisation Against Desertification (CMAD) programme, in which that ministry did take part. A women’s group in Homa Bay has set up a bakery that uses sweet potato flower mixed with wheat to make bread, cakes and other products for local schools and hospitals.

So, two contrasting ways of trying to achieve the same thing: and end to hidden hunger. I wonder which approach will end up proving better value for money? Do we need both?