It was chaos in Istanbul's Taksim Square yesterday, but a handful of valiant doner kebab stand owners remained open amid the clashes to serve police, protesters, and journalists. Even the most hardcore activist has to eat, right?
In the comments section, give us your best caption for the photo above, courtesy of journalist Dimiter Kenarov, who was on the square on Tuesday.
Update: We have a winner!
1st place: "You want white sauce, hot sauce, or tear gas?” – Lonnie J. Brown, via Facebook
Runner up: “You said extra spicy, right?” - BruceMcL, via comments section.
Thanks for playing!
With the economic crisis in Spain (and Europe as a whole) showing few signs of abating, it shouldn't come as a surprise that robberies are on the rise in the country. This is especially true in Spain's agricultural eastern regions, where the large-scale theft of fruit, garlic, and farm equipment is growing more frequent.
In Valencia, whose orange industry has helped Spain become Europe's biggest producer of the fruit, rural thefts rose 20 percent in the first quarter compared to the previous year, according to AVA, the local agricultural association.
AVA forecasts that the robberies could cost the region's farmers, many of whom barely cover their costs from selling oranges, 20 million euros this year, up from 15 million euros in 2012 and 2011, because of lost produce and damage.
To counter the problem, Spain's police have sent in the cavalry, dispatching two squadrons of mounted Civil Guards to the region to help run down thieves.
Though they arrived in late May, as the orange picking season ended, police say the horseback patrols have at least led to a hiatus in crimes, and are effective in startling robbers unable to hear them coming through the fruit trees....
Valencia's Civil Guard - responsible for smaller towns outside the remit of national police - said they had already made 50 arrests related to orange thefts in April, when they began a crackdown. Those charged so far are all Spaniards.
Incidents like these have been common for a few years -- 2011 saw 5,000 more agriculture-related thefts than 2010 -- with criminals operating independently or in gangs to steal produce and equipment for their resale value. More recently, the phenomenon has turned violent, with the death in April of a watchman who was shot while attempting to stop a group of suspected thieves.
The reasons for the thefts range from the obvious to the arcane. It seems hardly worth pointing out that a country with 26.8 percent unemployment will experience a rash of property crime, especially if that unemployment is coupled with cuts to social services on which unemployed people would normally depend. In addition, agriculture is a sector in which defense against theft is difficult, owing to the vast amounts of land that must be policed at all hours -- a problem just as present in California as in Spain -- leaving farmers to fend for themselves with community patrols or hired hands.
On a more local level, Spanish law provides for little more than a slap on the wrist for those convicted of petty theft, which means that robbery could remain lucrative even if you're caught in the act.
The economic crisis and the difficulty of policing vast tracts of land are problems that won't disappear any time soon, and Spain's budget troubles make additional investment in policing or surveillance technologies unlikely. Strengthening the laws for theft could offer the country some relief. But, in the meantime, orange you glad you're not a Spanish farmer?
NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images
John Kerry may have met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the peace process on Thursday, but what's really gotten commentators worked up is the contents of the shwarma he consumed during an impromptu snack in Ramallah. Reputable sources such as the Guardian, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times have reported that the secretary of state's sandwich was stuffed with turkey. But for many with ties to or interest in the region (including myself), the news made absolutely no sense. It would be one thing if Kerry had gobbled down chicken or lamb. But whoever heard of turkey shwarma?
Saudi journalist Ahmed Al Omran expressed this very sentiment in his response to the bewilderment of FP's own David Kenner:
@davidkenner there is no such thing as turkey shawarma. Like the peace process, it is probably an illusion.— Ahmed Al Omran (@ahmed) May 24, 2013
Others were downright outraged at the very notion of turkey in shwarma:
The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg floated one theory about the confusion:
Meanwhile The Angry Arab implored the world to get to the bottom of the nagging mystery:
Turkey Shawarma? Is that true? Can somebody verify it was turkey and not lamb or beef or chicken? nblo.gs/LwEbX— The Angry Arab (@AngryArabNews) May 24, 2013
FP was happy to oblige. In the interest of putting the speculation to rest once and for all -- so that we can all move on to more pressing matters -- we called Samer restaurant, where Kerry ate his shwarma, to find out just what was in the secretary's sandwich.
"Chicken," said Samer, the proprietor, who seemed rather amused about the whole situation.
Excited to have stumbled upon this piece of intel, I pressed Samer to confirm that the shwarma was not in fact turkey. "Oh, yes. It was turkey," he amended. "Not chicken?" I asked. "No, turkey. We have lamb and we have turkey. He ate the turkey and really enjoyed it."
According to Samer, turkey shwarma is not uncommon in the West Bank -- though Palestinians often refer to it as chicken, which explains the confusion during our conversation. "There are people who use chicken and people who use turkey," he told me. "But people like turkey more."
John Kerry, it seems, agrees.
When it comes to U.S. foreign policy in the Arab world, Democrats and Republicans don't agree on much -- be it arming the Syrian rebels or brokering Israeli-Palestinian peace. But the shwarma -- shaved, spit-roasted meat wrapped in doughy pita and smothered in toppings -- has managed to win the hearts of American politicians from both sides of the aisle.
On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stopped into a West Bank restaurant to grab one of the tasty sandwiches as part of a trip to the Middle East. The AP reports:
Kerry chomped one of the meat sandwiches after meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.
Asked what toppings he wanted, Kerry said, quote, "I want everything. I'm all in."
After the first bite, Kerry declared, "Fantastic."
For those who closely follow the intersection of shwarma and politics, Kerry's ecstatic reaction may have brought to mind an earlier instance of shwarma consumption by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). On a 2012 trip to Libya, McCain rapturously tweeted:
Not convinced of the shwarma's unique power to straddle America's political divide? Just look to its more contentious cousin: falafel.
During his March trip to the Middle East, you may recall, President Obama whipped up a minor controversy when it was announced that he would be dining on the fried chickpea dish with Israeli President Shimon Peres. One Palestinian chef, angry that the dish was being presented as typical Israeli cuisine, told reporters, "We, a group of Palestinian chefs, are prepared to counter this flagrant Israeli attack on our culture by preparing the official dinner for presidents Obama and Abbas." He offered to make a dinner for the American and Palestinian leaders that would "reveal the fallacious claims of the occupation and its continuous attempts to rob our folklore, this time in the presence of the president of the biggest country in the world."
If only Obama had opted for shwarma.
On Thursday, China's Ministry of Public Security announced that the police had arrested 63 traders accused of buying rat, fox, and mink meat and then selling the meat as mutton. Apparently, the crime ring had been mixing the meat with gelatin, red dye, and nitrates before selling it in Shanghai and neighboring Jiangsu province. How appetizing.
It has been quite a year for food scandals, what with IKEA's horsemeat meatballs and China's floating dead pigs. To China's credit, the country appears to be tackling the food safety issue head on (state media report that Chinese law enforcement officials have arrested more than 900 people for selling fake or tainted meat in the last three months). But this latest revelation has shocked more than reassured, leaving many in China to wonder whether the "mutton" stewing on their stoves is really made of lamb after all.
But never fear! Foreign Policy reached out to North Carolina-based artist Laura Ginn, who, after organizing a rat-themed five-course dinner in New York last year, has become somewhat of a rat meat connoisseur. With her help, we hereby offer you five ways to know you're eating rat.
1. It smells like rat. Rats secrete an oil onto their skin that gives them their distinct "rodenty" odor. Some compare the smell to that of a warm tortilla, says Ginn, while others compare it to urine. Regardless, it's distinctive. While it's true that the odor lessens after the rat is skinned, and again after the rat is cooked, no amount of cooking can ever completely get rid of the smell.
2. It tastes like rat. The oil rats secrete gives them a distinctive taste as well. Ginn describes it as quite pungent and gamey -- most similar to raccoon or rabbit. Blended with other meats, rat becomes a lot less distinctive, so you'd have to be rather discerning to notice it.
3. It tastes delicious when brushed with a moonshine glaze and barbecued. Of all the ways Ginn has eaten rat, this is her favorite preparation. A close second is smoked rat jerky served on brioche French toast. So, if you happen to be savoring a moonshine-BBQ dish, or think there is something slightly "rodenty" about the gamey and delicious jerky you are consuming, you might want to check the ingredients.
4. It looks like lamb. When it's raw, pinkish/red rat looks very much like lamb. Unfortunately for the Chinese, when ground, rat can look a lot like any generic ground meat. When cooked, rat looks more like rabbit, Ginn thinks, just because of the shape of the cuts.
5. You're in Asia. According to Ginn, rats are most commonly eaten in Asia because of the rice crop. In areas where rats feed off rice paddies rather than garbage, the rodents are considered safer to eat. Of course, it isn't clear whether the rats marketed as mutton in China were healthy, rice-fed rats or sewer-dwelling, garbage-eating, Templeton-esque rats. The New York Times reports that the arrest announcement "did not explain how exactly the traders acquired the rats and other creatures." Rats are also disease carriers, so when Ginn organized her meal she ordered hers from a company that supplies specially raised, grain-fed rodents to zoos.
Restaurant magazine's 2013 list of the world's top 50 restaurants hasn't just made news this week for dropping Danish superstar Noma down a peg after its three-year reign at the top. It also features a restaurant from mainland China for the first time.
The Shanghai-based restaurant Mr & Mrs Bund placed 43rd in the ranking -- a jump from last year when it became the first mainland Chinese restaurant to crack the magazine's less-prestigious top 100, at number 95. This year's top 50 also includes two restaurants from Hong Kong for a grand total of three Chinese restaurants -- the most since 2003, which is as far back as past lists on the magazine's website go (the 51-100 list includes three more restaurants from Hong Kong and another from Shanghai). Is this China's culinary scene finally catching up with the country's newfound great power status?
Well, maybe. But there's something to note about the three Chinese restaurants in the top 50: none of them actually serves Chinese food.
Mr & Mrs Bund's cuisine is described as "High-end contemporary French bistro cooking." As for the Hong Kong-based 8 1/2 Otto E Mezzo Bombana, which ranked 39th on the list? "Classic and contemporary Italian." The restaurant that comes closest to serving Chinese cuisine is Hong Kong's Amber (number 36), which serves "classical French with subtle Hong Kong influences." (Only subtle, though!)
With some exceptions, almost every other country with a restaurant in the top 50 has at least one restaurant specializing in local cuisine, though sometimes with a handful of adjectives tossed in (my favorite description: Mugaritz, in Spain, serves "techno-emotional Spanish."). Exceptions include Switzerland and Belgium, which have large French-speaking populations and restaurants serving French cuisine, along with tiny Singapore (where Restaurant Andre serves French food) and the Netherlands (where Oud Sluis serves "modern seafood with international influences").
What gives? China is a big country with a variety of well-developed regional cuisines that are generally considered delicious. And while we know there are many things China doesn't do well, soft power-wise, the one area where it could be said to have some soft power at its disposal is food. Chinese restaurants can more or less be found anywhere Chinese people can be found, which is many, many places.
My hypothesis: While there have long been many great restaurants in China serving excellent local food, it's only recently that these kinds of establishments have started paying attention to ambiance, service, and the other more subtle niceties that have to be in place before a restaurant can be a candidate for Restaurant magazine's top 50 list. As Chinese restaurateur Zhang Lan, who has sought to take her upscale Sichuan restaurant chain South Beauty international, told China Daily in 2008, "Chinese cuisine offers everything from nutrition to taste. But what it lacks is the packaging. Most people in China didn't know how to present their food."
There are some up-and-comers that could break into the top 50 in the years to come: On Restaurant's list of the 50 best restaurants in Asia, the first Chinese establishment to serve Chinese food is Hong Kong's Lung King Heen, which offers diners Cantonese food. The first mainland restaurant to serve Chinese food is 28 HuBin Road in Hangzhou, which focuses on Hangzhou regional cuisine.
Thoughts on why no Chinese Chinese restaurants made this year's top 50? Leave them in the comments.
Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images
It looks like rare earth elements aren't the only commodity China has been allegedly keeping to itself. According to a recent study published in the journal Fish and Fisheries, the Chinese have been drastically underreporting the number of fish that Chinese ships catch in other countries' waters every year.
While China tells the UNFAO, the U.N. agency that tracks global fishing data, that Chinese distant-water fishing vessels take in roughly 368,000 tons of fish a year, the Fish and Fisheries report estimates that the actual weight of the collective catch is more than 12 times that number -- around 4.6 million tons a year. At the same time, China exaggerates its domestic catch.
The report claims that the majority of the haul (64 percent) comes from off the coast of West Africa, where Chinese fishing practices could have a serious impact on the local population. "The study shows the extent of the looting of Africa, where so many people depend on seafood for basic protein," Daniel Pauly, a professor at the University of British Columbia and one of the authors of the study, told the Guardian. "We need to know how many fish have been taken from the ocean in order to figure out what we can catch in the future. Countries need to realize the importance of accurately recording and reporting their catches and step up to the plate, or there will be no fish left for our children."
It's important to note that just because the fishing goes unreported doesn't mean it's illegal. The Chinese government may have negotiated special (and usually secret) agreements with certain African coastal states allowing Chinese vessels to fish in the waters.
It's also true that the Chinese are not alone in exploiting West Africa's abundant fishing grounds. But, if these estimates are correct, Chinese fishermen are doing it on a much larger scale than anyone else, catching as much as 22 West African coastal countries and the other 38 countries fishing in the region combined. The long-term consequences for food security could be quite severe.
Dirk Zeller et al / Journal of Fish and Fisheries
In her article for FP today, Laurie Garrett wonders whether thousands of dead pigs washing up in Shanghai's rivers and two Chinese citizens dying of a new flu strain are early symptoms of the next big pandemic. What's more, she writes, the potentially contaminated pork has already entered the Chinese food supply. "On March 25," Garrett notes, "Chinese authorities seized manufactured pork buns that were found to be made from Zhejiang pigs that had died of the mysterious ailment."
The prevalence of dicey food products -- including dead, diseased, or otherwise dodgy pork -- has long been an issue in China. But the recent tide of dead hogs sweeping through Shanghai -- said to partially stem from a crackdown by authorities on the dead-pig trade -- has produced some fascinating reporting that gives us a more detailed look at the economics driving China's market for illegal pig meat.
It's pretty straightforward: farmers who can't send a pig to be butchered once it has died don't want to totally write off their investments -- not when there's a chance to still make some of the money back. But according to recent reports, Chinese authorities have some policies in place that aren't exactly making the problem better.
According to this report, from the Oriental Morning Post, a 100-kilogram (roughly 220-pound) pig sells for about 600 yuan ($100) -- still a hefty sum in rural China. Feed costs total at least 150 yuan ($25).
Since July 2011, the central government has had a policy in place to pay some farms -- those that raise more than 50 pigs a year -- compensation of 80 yuan ($13) for every dead pig, according to the South China Morning Post. But 89 percent of the pigs raised in the city of Jiaxing -- thought to be the main source of the hogs that wound up in Shanghai's Huangpu river -- come from small farms, according to the report, and don't qualify. Even those that do often don't see the money.
To make matters worse, this thorough Shanghai Daily primer on the illegal pig trade says farmers in Zhejiang province were supposed to pay 50 yuan ($8) per carcass to so-called "dead pig collectors" hired by the local government who would then dispose of the carcass. Not surprisingly, most farmers opted not to pay this fee when illegal pig traders were around who were happy to pay 1 yuan per 500 grams of pig flesh. The result? Jiaxing pig collector Lu Gensong told Shanghai Daily he didn't collect a single carcass between 2009 and 2012. ("You Shanghai residents just don't realize how many dead pigs you have eaten before," one restaurant owner told Xinhua.)
And those illegal pork butchers? They seem to be doing pretty well for themselves -- perhaps well enough to pay even more than they're already shelling out for dead pig flesh if necessary. A CCTV investigation into the dead pig trade found that three butchers -- sentenced to life in prison last November -- had processed 77,000 carcasses, making almost 9 million yuan ($1.5 million) in profit.
If you're wondering why you'd pay to have your pig carcasses disposed of when you can be paid for them instead, well --it seems some farmers in Zhejiang province have been wondering the same thing.
Iran may have just scored a massive, albeit largely symbolic, victory in its cold war with the United States. And it is a very cold war -- because the battle being waged is over ice cream.
On Monday, the Iranian ice cream company Choopan appeared to unseat Baskin-Robbins as the reigning Guinness World Record holder for the largest tub of ice cream. In celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, Choopan made a five-ton batch of chocolate ice cream in a carton more than six feet wide and five feet tall. Representatives from the Guinness Book of World Records were on hand to observe the occasion but have yet to announce whether the Iranian company officially beat Baskin-Robbins's 2005 record of four tons of vanilla.
The Iranian state news outlet PressTV was on hand to record the achievement. "I'm here with my family to see the biggest ice cream in the world in Iran, and Iran is making it, and I think everyone is having fun," one woman told a reporter. "First, I came to this event because it gives me national pride for our achievement, and of course I love ice cream," said another.
When reached for comment, Baskin-Robbins issued a statement to FP saying, "While we understand another company is vying to break this record, we remain focused on serving our guests around the world our delicious variety of ice cream flavors, custom ice cream cakes and frozen treats, and wouldn't rule out trying to break another record in the future."
This is just the latest battle in the long-churning U.S.-Iranian ice cream war, and it was previously fought on the proxy battlefield of Baghdad. In December 2010, as the United States wound down its commitments there while still trying to maintain its influence, Liz Sly reported in the Washington Post that an Iranian ice cream franchise was investing where American companies wouldn't.
[Ice cream parlor co-owner Ali Hazem] Haideri says he did not deliberately site the outlet near the embassy, and indeed seems somewhat anxious about the store's proximity to rockets aimed at Americans.... Yet there's something brazen about the Green Zone location of a franchise whose Web site declares that its goal is "to exalt the name of Iran and reinforce Iranian identity."
With no immediate plans from American companies to try and retake the record, the ice cream war could melt away before it has a chance to morph into a large-scale culinary conflict like the great Lebanese-Israeli hummus war.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
It's tough to stomach, but Ikea is the latest big-name food maker to be felled by the no-it-isn't-beef-it's-horse-meat-scandal that is quickly spreading across Europe. Czech authorities alerted the discount furniture maker that they had found horsemeat in a sample of meatballs, and Ikea subsequently pulled the product from stores in 14 countries.
Ikea is of course outraged and put out a strongly worded statement promising that the company would get to the bottom of how the tainted Swedish staple turned up in stores. "We do not tolerate any other ingredients than the ones stipulated in our recipes or specifications, secured through set standards, certifications and product analysis by accredited laboratories," the company said.
The untold story in all of this is that Swedes love horse meat. Marketed under the name hamburgerkött -- that's right, "hamburger meat" -- Swedes put the stuff on toast, sandwiches, and the like. Consider, for example, Pärsons' (slogan: "Sandwich joy for the whole family!") version of hamburgerkött. They lead with the euphemistic name on the package, but a quick peek at the ingredients tells the real story -- hästkött, or horse meat.
Curious where the horses are sourced from? South America.
JESSICA GOW/AFP/Getty Images
As climate talks continue to grind along in Doha, food security would seem to be a major concern (especially as the U.N. issues warnings about the increasingly desperate food situation in Syria). However, the question of how farmers will feed the world's booming population while adjusting to changing weather patterns appears to have been sidelined even as this year's crippling drought in the U.S. sent grain prices to record highs.
That doesn't mean, however, that the race for food security hasn't already begun. As the authors of the recently released book The Global Farms Race argue, cash-rich but resource-poor governments have been quietly making controversial bids for the arable fields of foreign lands to shore up their own food security. Since the 2008 global food crisis, these "land grabs" -- considered an economic lifeline by supporters and neocolonialism by critics -- have been booming. The editors of the book note a 2011 Oxfam study that claimed nearly 230 million hectares of land have been sold or leased since 2001, mostly after 2008 (that's about the size of Western Europe). In one of the most publicized deals, the South Korean company Daewoo Logistics leased 3.2 million acres in Madagascar in 2008 to grow corn and palm oil so that the company could "ensure our food security." The deal, which was eventually canceled, was so unpopular domestically that it contributed to an uprising that helped to oust Madagascar's President Marc Ravalomanana.
While that deal fell apart, countless others have gone through, sparking debates over the economic, environmental, and political implications of exporting crops from food-insecure countries. As Michael Kugelman, co-editor of the book with Susan L. Levenstein, said at a book launch event at the Wilson Center on Tuesday, this development marks "a new phase of the global food crisis" -- one that may help countries importing food, but has grave implications for the countries hosting the crops. One of the disaster scenarios of these large-scale investments is that they will recreate scenes straight out of the Irish Potato Famine, during which crops were shipped out of the starving nation to feed wealthy foreigners. But equally urgent are the day-to-day economic, environmental, and political ramifications of the deals, from the effects of clearing forest to make way for new farmland to the implications of replacing food crops with biofuels.
Defenders of this type of direct foreign investment often tout the willingness of investors to share technology -- such as seeds for drought-resistant plants and satellite monitoring for crops -- with the host nation. However, corrupt governments willing to offer deals that don't benefit their own populations compromise these promises of development. (Unlike the land-grabs of yore, host governments solicit many of these deals. According to Kugelman, Pakistan offered a 100,000-strong security detail to protect the property of foreign investors and other countries have offered "fire sales" on land in the form of tax write-offs).
As the book acknowledges, these deals are most likely here to stay, so the focus is on minimizing the potential conflict over the contentious real estate. Many of the policy recommendations provided by the book lean toward community supported agriculture programs: Wealthy nations contracting directly with small-scale farmers to meet food needs while also providing them with the technology and capital to improve their yields. While that's all well and good, the willingness and ability of foreign investors to abide by these recommendations seems doubtful, especially given the difficulty of enforcing even well-established international economic rules.
The inability of the current multilateral climate talks to make meaningful headway on even a single key issue highlights the inherent problem with these arrangements. "You can have all the rules and regulations for land rights," contributor Derek Byerlee, the World Bank's former Rural Strategy advisor, said on Tuesday, "But you have to be able to implement them."
When selecting the 2011 best covers of the year, the Food Issue's "Corn Rocket" was a staff favorite. Turns out, we aren't the only ones enamored by our cosmo-cob. The print version of the cover has been nominated for a "Cover of the Year" award on Amazon.com. Readers can vote until April 21, when voting will enter a second round. FP Creative Director Dennis Brack designed the cover, while Deputy Art Director Erin Chrisinger Aulov directed a shoot with photographer Renée Comet and food stylist Lisa Cherkasky. We think their collaboration became one of our most inspired images -- if you agree, vote for us!
Bolivian authorities say at least 30 people have been injured in a fight between two communities over land for growing quinoa, the Andean "supergrain" whose popularity with worldwide foodies has caused its price to soar.
Oruro state police chief Ramon Sepulveda says combatants used rocks and dynamite against each other Wednesday and Thursday. A government commission was dispatched to the two high plains communities south of La Paz.
Farmland in the region is owned not by individuals but communities.
Authorities say the dispute is related to climate change because quinoa can now be cultivated in areas previously subject to frequents frosts. Bolivia produces 46 percent of the world's quinoa, which has nearly tripled in price in the past five years.
For the "How Food Explains the World" package for the last May/June issue, I looked at how quinoa's international popularity has effected eating habits in Bolivia. Prices have skyrocketed thanks to export demand and domestic consumption of the nutritious grain has fallen by more than a third, prompting fears of an obesity epidemic as Bolivians switch to rice and white bread. President Evo Morales' government subsidizes quinoa as a "strategic foodstuff."
ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images
An unexpected source of sweetness has been injected into U.S.-Pakistani relations. Late last month the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that the first shipment of mangoes imported from Pakistan had arrived in the United States. Previously, Pakistani mangoes had been banned in the U.S. because of concerns they might bring pests into the country.
In celebration of this first shipment, the Pakistani consulate in Chicago hosted a "mango party" at which a large assortment of mango-based delicacies and desserts were served. Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani attended the event and has also sent boxes of renowned "Chaunsa" mangoes to U.S. leaders including the president and various senators. Ambassador Haqqani heralded the event as the culmination of "two years of strategic dialogue with the Americans," in an effort that reached to officials at the highest levels of the U.S. foreign policy establishment including Secretary of State Clinton and the late Af-Pak envoy Richard Holbrooke. Ambassador Haqqani declared, "this is something we are very happy about...at a time when U.S. Pakistan relations are being reported as tense, this is finally some sweet news."
With nearly $250 million in mangoes coming in each year, the United States is currently the world's largest mango importer. Pakistan is the world's sixth largest mango producer. Many hope that these mangoes will promote more trade between the U.S. and Pakistan, and mark a transition for Pakistan from aid recipient to equal economic partner.
Across the Pacific, China too has begun to use fruit to further its political and diplomatic aims. The Chinese government has been purchasing large quantities of Taiwanese fruit in an effort to influence the votes of southern Taiwanese farmers. Taiwan has a major fruit overproduction problem. Chinese officials hope that by buying the excess fruit and helping the farmers economically, they may be able to sway them politically and take votes away from the nationalist Democratic People's Party in the 2012 presidential election.
In May 2005, China announced a "zero-tariff" policy on 15 Taiwanese fruits, a move the Taiwanese government considered "an all-out united front campaign to manipulate Taiwan's farmers" and one that is aimed "to temper Taiwan's negative reaction to the passage of the ‘anti-separation law'" (which outlines China's willingness to violently respond to a Taiwanese declaration of independence). Then in 2008, when Taiwan was overproducing oranges, a Chinese company purchased 1,200 tons of oranges. Between 2009 and 2010, fruit exports from Taiwan to China grew nearly 130 percent. This summer, as Taiwanese banana growers have struggled with overproduction, the Chinese government has once again expressed a willingness to help out. The governor of Shandong province alone has pledged to purchase 5,000 tons of bananas.
Of course, when fruit goes bad it can complicate diplomacy. Last month, nearly 100 Americans contracted salmonella from imported Mexican papayas. Currently, officials on both sides of the border are working hard to make sure that relations between the two countries do not sour as a result of the diseased fruit.
SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
Guenter Nooke told the daily Frankfurter Rundschau it was clear that "this catastrophe is also man-made".
"In the case of Ethiopia there is a suspicion that the large-scale land purchases by foreign companies, or states such as China which want to carry out industrial agriculture there, are very attractive for a small (African) elite," he said.
"It would be of more use to the broader population if the government focused its efforts on building up its own farming system."
He said that the Chinese investments were focused on farming for export which he said can lead to "major social conflicts in Africa when small farmers have their land und thus their livelihoods taken away."
Today, a written statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry vehemently denied the allegations. "China has never had plans to buy land overseas, and China has never purchased land in Africa," the statement said, adding that Nooke's claims stemmed from "ulterior motives." The Foreign Ministry also announced today that it would provide $14 million in emergency food assistance to the Horn of Africa.
Beijing's protestations aside, Chinese investment in African farmland has ratcheted up significantly in recent years, as the government seeks to quell concerns about long-term food security. One estimate puts the number of Chinese farm workers in Africa at 1 million. Meanwhile, the Atlantic quotes a June 2009 report in the Chinese weekly Economic Observer that describes how Beijing "was planning to rent and buy land abroad" to deal with "increasing pressure on food security."
That said, it's worth noting that China is far from the only foreign investor with major land holdings in Africa today. Private and public investors from India, the United States, and the petrostates of the Middle East, to name a few, have taken their piece of the African land grab, which brought 15 to 20 million hectares of the continent under foreign investment between 2006 and mid-2009. By way of comparison, that's equal to the size of all the farmland in France. If Nooke is right about the connection between foreign investment and famine, seems like there's plenty of blame to go around.
Oli Scarff/Getty Images
The death of 50 percent of Somalia's camels poses a grave question: If camels can't survive, what can? Eastern Africa's drought is proving to be a death sentence for an animal that can normally survive weeks without water. In some areas, over 80 percent of livestock have perished, forcing families to abandon their homes and relocate in overcrowded refugee camps. Ahmed Mohammad, a Somali camel herdsman, told BBC:
"It is a terrible sign when camels start dying because when they start to die, then what chance have sheep, goats and cattle?"
Around two-thirds of Somalia's population depend on their livestock for survival, especially in drought-stricken northern Kenya, Somalia and southern Ethiopia where the majority of people are pastoralists. Without camels, families not only lose milk and meat, but also purchasing power. Oxfam reports that the value of Somali camels has been slashed in half -- many nomadic herders are watching as their livelihood dies off, one by one.
Government buy-back programs have been deemed ineffective by many locals and critics. One program in nothern Kenya only offered compensation for goats and sheep, disregarding the herds of cattle that provide the majority of income for families. Save the Children's Kenya county director, Prasant Naik, noted the significance of the dying camels, saying:
"Pastoralists are used to coping with occasional droughts and dry seasons, but these successive droughts have pushed their resiliency to the limit."
As drought continues to ravage Eastern Africa, livestock have begun to migrate in search of water -- and with mass migration comes widespread crop and pasture destruction. For the first time in nearly twenty years, aid agencies are expected to make a formal declaration of famine. But for now, the Somali government is advising starving families to eat leaves in order to stay alive.
TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images
Yesterday, the Food and Agriculture Organization announced that global food prices hit a record high last month, surpassing levels seen during the 2007-2008 food crisis. Prices of the commodities in the FAO's price index jumped 4.2 percent between November and December. But the Financial Times sounded a hopeful note:
On Monday, the U.S. Senate, followed by the House on Tuesday, passed a groundbreaking shark conservation bill banning the practice of shark finning in the Pacific. The bill closes a loophole in earlier legislation that had banned shark finning off the coast of the Atlantic and in the Gulf of Mexico. The bill also empowers federal authorities to identify and list which fishing vessels come from countries with different shark conservation rules than the United States.
Shark finning is a brutal practice where sharks are captured, their dorsal fins are sliced off, and they are thrown back into the water to bleed to death. According to some estimates, shark finning alone is responsible for the deaths of up to 73 million sharks annually, resulting in shark populations that have been depleted by as much as 90 percent in the past few decades. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service reports that 1.2 million pounds of sharks were caught in 2009 in the Pacific, although it doesn't specify what portion were fins. Many species of sharks are highly endangered -- there are only about 3,500 great white sharks left in the world.
Shark fins are used in shark fin soup, a (not particularly tasty, in this blogger's opinion) delicacy across much of East Asia, used by upper classes to demonstrate wealth, taste, and prestige at wedding banquets and corporate feasts. With China's growing middle and upper classes eating more and more of this soup each year, activists and scientists worry that shark populations are being depleted beyond sustainable levels.
"Shark finning has fueled massive population declines and irreversible disruption of our oceans," Sen. John Kerry, the bill's author, said in a statement. "Finally we've come through with a tough approach to tackle this serious threat to our marine life."
While any effort to regulate this $1 billion a year industry is laudable, the trade in shark fins is extremely difficult to monitor and much of it happens outside U.S. waters. For example, the World Wildlife Fund estimates that 50 to 80 percent of the global market for shark fins is centered in Hong Kong. While many Americans are aware of the environmental implications of shark finning, that same consciousness has yet to hit the market that really matters -- China. Last year, for example, a Chinese wedding industry group survey found that only about 5 percent of couples choose shark-free menus at their weddings.
ANDREW ROSS/AFP/Getty Images
If you've ever considered paring a fresh garden salad with a hearty serving of mealworm quiche, you may be in luck. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is reviewing a policy paper, written by a Dutch entomologist Arnold van Huis, which argues for consuming more insects. His rationale is entirely logical: Bugs are cheaper to feed; high in protein and calcium; and much less of an environmental burden than livestock like cows, pigs, and chickens. Insects are also biologically different from humans, thus less susceptible to contagious diseases. And - there are about 1,400 edible bugs in the world.
In the first phase of the program, van Huis proposes feeding more insects to farmed animals and then gradually introducing bugs to Western diets: "We're looking at ways of grinding the meat into some sort of patty, which would be more recognizable to western palates," he said. Van Huis is also partial to cricket pies, fried grasshoppers, and mealworm quiche. "Sauced crickets in a warm chocolate dip make a great snack," he said in an interview.
U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization has already started a pilot program in Laos. About 80% of the world already eats insects - now it's just a matter of convincing those who don't. While this may be entirely sensible, good luck to the unfortunate public relations person at the U.N. who's in charge of making this idea appealing.
ED OUDENAARDEN/AFP/Getty Images
If you're someone who's kept up at night by apocalyptic fears, there are certain obvious questions you might worry over as you toss and turn: for example, will Armageddon be the work of malevolent extraterrestrials (think Independence Day) or of an equally nasty monster, global warming (a la Day After Tomorrow)? But of the many things that might trouble a doomsday worry-wart, what to eat at the end of the world probably wouldn't make the list. But as it turns out, planning for the apocalypse menu is already well underway-- and this isn't just another gourmet gimmick.
In 2008, world leaders gathered together to herald the opening of the so-called, "doomsday vault," a vast cache of seed samples built inside a remote Arctic mountain. The vault -- complete with four sets of locked doors, a 410 ft tunnel, and armed guards (see above) -- was designed with the ambitious goal of eventually housing a seed sample from every species of edible crop in the world. Seeds have been steadily accumulating ever since: already more than half of million of the estimated 4.5 million total have been tucked away in the Arctic Archipelago of Svalbard.
The latest addition to the treasure chest arrived this week in the hands of improbable deliverymen: U.S. senators. Led by Benjamin Cardin, Democrat Senator from Maryland, the seven American delegates deposited an assortment of potent North American chili seeds inside the icy vault. The seeds -- which one expert admiringly praised for their "colorful names and histories" -- have long been protected as part of Native American tradition, but many fear that they may become the next victims in the worrisome trend of declining global crop diversity. Among the now-safe species are Wenk's Yellow Hots (a chameleon-like breed that changes color and flavor) and the San Juan Tsile (known for keeping diners on their toes: different peppers can be mild, medium, or hot -- and it's impossible to tell which is which).
So when the flood waters start rising and that nacho craving sets in, just head north.
Hakon Mosvold Larsen/AFP/Getty Images
What would happen if the primary source of calories for a third of sub-Saharan Africa's population suddenly disappeared? That's the question raised by recent reports, including on in the New York Times yesterday, that the crop is threated by a new blight -- one to which no strains of the seed are yet resistant. The answer? A big mess.
You probably figured as much out already from reading initial reports. But here's the scarier part: Right now, the blight is in East Africa. If it makes it to the West, we're looking at a famine. Why? Because there, the signs of terrible food scarcity there are already brewing; Niger is all but guaranteed to suffer dire straights this year. So take away cassava -- the thing that you eat when there's really nothing else -- and there's actually nothing.
In other words, what's scary about this is the context. I am no farming expert, but for most subsistence farms in West Africa where I have spent time, casssava isn't the main crop. It's just always there, growing, as the back-up plan -- the food that you can count on when the rice runs out or when war breaks out. (During the conflict that spanned Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, entire generations survived eating nothing but cassava for months at a time.) Now, imagine you're a farming family and your main crop fails (or just runs out), and the back-up plan is gone too. There's no cash to buy more and no product to trade. You're out of options and out of luck.
Scary as the blight itself is, the solution is also pretty eerie. Right now, all one can do is burn the stuff. But in dire straights, good luck getting people to burn their food. So not to be an alarmist, but this is one to watch. The return of famine like Ethiopia knew in the 1980s may be much closer than we might like to think.
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images
I don't think even PETA would make this argument:
Bolivia's opposition and homosexual groups criticized comments made by Morales at the first "people's conference" on climate change the previous day, in which he said that chicken producers inject birds with female hormones and "when men eat those chickens, they experience deviances in being men."
The Bolivian president also suggested that the European diet made men go bald.
AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images
What does China do when pork prices fall too law? Bolster the frozen pork reserve of course!
The porcine price plummet has forced the government to add to its much vaunted frozen pork reserve, a series of icy warehouses around the country it set up a few years ago to stabilize pork prices.
I'm imagining a Goldfinger-type plot in which a mad pig farmer from Hunan province attempts to wipe out the pork reserve...
In any case, the piece from the Wall Street Journal's China Realtime Report blog has a lot of intresting info, including the fact that there are over 446 million pigs in China. That's one for every three people and more than the next 43 pork producing countires combined!
A Greek man has taken umbrage over the use of his face on Swedish containers of Turkish yoghurt. The offended party is not interested in reconciliation, either: he has sued Lindahls, the dairy company that puts out the item, for almost $7 million.
The man only found out his moustachioed face featured on the containers of Turkisk Yoghurt made by Lindahls when a friend living in Stockholm told him.
Athanasios Varzanakos told Swedish Radio his friend "was annoyed and asked how it was possible" when informed.
Lindahls claims to have bought the image legitimately from a photo agency. Hopefully, this won't have too much impact on the ongoing rapprochement between Greek and Turkish Cyprus.
OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images
Canada's Conservative government says it will fight the EU ban, which was imposed last July on the grounds that the annual seal hunt off the east coast was cruel and inhumane.
A dish of double-smoked bacon-wrapped seal loin in a port reduction will be on the menu on Wednesday, the office of Senator Celine Hervieux-Payette said on Monday.
"All political parties will have the opportunity to demonstrate to the international community the solidarity of the Canadian Parliament behind those who earn a living from the seal hunt," she said in a statement.
Ottawa says the hunt -- which takes place in March and April -- provides valuable income for Atlantic fishing communities. The seals are either shot or hit over the head with a spiked club called a hakapik.
As provocations go, this kind of puts "freedom fries" to shame. Canada's Governor General Michaelle Jean raised some eyebrows by dining on raw seal heart at a visit to an Inuit community last year and seal meat is becoming an increasingly popular delicacy in Montreal.
The newest Wired magazine has a great, terrifying article on Ug99, a fungus that is imperiling wheat crops, auguring possible famines and rising food prices. The story focuses on the damage Ug99 has already caused from southern Africa north to Iran, the USDA's race to genetically engineer resistant plants, and the fungus' possible implications for the United States, where wheat is the third-biggest cash crop.
But I wondered about Ug99's possible implications for Afghanistan -- on the fungus' frontline, and where wheat is the chief legal cash crop. On one hand, this is clearly terrible news. About 80 percent of Afghans are involved in farming; millions of livelihoods depend on wheat, particularly in the north and west. Plus, big wheat hauls recently started cutting into poppy production. On the other hand, by virtue of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, the country receives considerable food and seed assistance. The USDA already has an infrastructure in place to help Afghan farmers use higher-yield seeds; NATO and USAID already have an extensive food-aid infrastructure -- that might help mitigate Ug99's effects, if the fungus makes it into Afghanistan this growing season. But here's to hoping it doesn't.
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
For those of you who don't subscribe to the bimonthly print edition of Foreign Policy, you're missing a great feature: the FP Quiz. It has eight intriguing questions about how the world works.
(Meanwhile, prepare for the Olympics' opening ceremony by taking Slate's national-anthem quiz.)
The question I'd like to highlight this week is:
By how much did opium poppy cultivation change in Afghanistan from 2008 to 2009?
a) up 22 percent b) remained stable c) down 22 percent
Answer after the jump …
JOHN D MCHUGH/AFP/Getty Images
To summarize, David and I are discussing whether debt relief for Haiti is A) a good thing and B) should be a priority -- we agree on A (yes) and disagree somewhat on B. David argues that debt payments aren't going to be an issue in the foreseeable future, and that countries like Venezuela shouldn't get points for relieving relatively small sums of debt -- particularly if they aren't also providing significant aid, which is more important in the near and medium term. I say there's a short window in which to ask for countries to throw in the kitchen sink, so why not, particularly given debt's historical choke-hold on Haiti and given that three or ten years from now, Haiti will still be poor and in debt. Lots of others have good commentary on the subject, including Daniel Altman and Alex Tabarrok.
Ultimately, I still believe there's room and reason to ask for debt forgiveness -- if not now, then when? But it made me wonder about aid effectiveness -- if you're giving x dollars of aid, what provides the maximum benefit: debt forgiveness, direct governmental grants, funding specific programs, ending agricultural subsidies?
Development economists, of course, research this question, well, exhaustively. And the answer? It's now always clear -- or, there's no general rule. Academically, a dollar of debt relief is worth more than a dollar of granted aid. In reality, the level of indebtedness, degree of governmental corruption, relevant economic fundamentals, and the entities doing the lending all matter considerably.
But there's consensus on what other countries can be doing, should be doing, and are doing now. Haiti needs material support (water, batteries, medical supplies, etc.) and cash aid. But the United States, especially, should also think about remittances and immigration. Here, Michael Clemens and Amanda Taub argue for giving Haitians temporary protected status in the States. In the longer term, the United States might consider taking a close look not just at debt, but also at rice.
We've reached a very strange point in human history when it is assumed that people who don't have access to food will have working cell phones:
In a test project targeting 1,000 Iraqi refugee families, the United Nations agency will send a 22-dollar (15-euro) voucher every two months by SMS to each family, who will be provided with a special SIM card.
The beneficiary can then exchange the electronic voucher for rice, wheat flour, lentils, chickpeas, oil, canned fish, cheese and eggs at selected shops.
Addressing concerns about mobile phone ownership among the refugee population, WFP spokeswoman Emilia Casella said all the 130,000 Iraqi refugees currently receiving food aid from the agency in Syria have mobile phones.
Update: UN Dispatch's Matthew Cordell has more.
The Lebanese sure showed Israel this weekend. For years, the two held the same thing sacred, while only one could hold the title. That title, of course, is who could make the largest batch of hummus.
Israel used to hold the record for making the largest plate of the dip, but no longer after Lebanese chefs served up over two tons of chickpea-y goodness on Saturday. The entire affair is comical in the sense that too often it seems like neither side is actually talking about hummus.
The slogan for the event was, "Come and fight for your bite, you know you're right," illustrating the growing frustration. Several Lebanese businessmen also used the belligerent rhetoric.
"Lebanon is trying to win a battle against Israel," Fady Jreissati, the events promoter said. "Hummus is a Lebanese product and part of our traditions."
This isn't the first time the two counties have clashed over the dish, last year the Association of Lebanese Industrialists sued Israel in an effort to stop them from marketing hummus as Israeli. Saturday, the head of that group said, "If we don't tell Israel that enough is enough, and we don't remind the world that it's not true that hummus is an Israeli traditional dish, they will keep on marketing it as their own."
However the food wars don't end with hummus. Yesterday the Lebanese also made the world's largest batch of tabbouleh, a salad which Lebanon claims the Zionists are trying to take as their own.
RAMZI HAIDAR/AFP/Getty Images
This blog does not have any specific about information tied to it.