Feast and Phrase

Gastronomy in the world of words.

Category: Gastronomy and Society


Guinness Advertising and John Gilroy

Visiting Dublin last week, I made the compulsory pilgrimage to the Guinness Storehouse, which last year was won ‘Europe’s Leading Tourist Attraction’ at the World Travel Awards, beating the likes of the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, and Buckingham Palace! Stylishly set out and easy to get around, it does full justice to an iconic Irish brand and is well worth a visit.

As much as I loved everything from its Willy-Wonka-esque tasting room to its panoramic ‘Gravity Bar’, my favourite section had to be the floor dedicated to the world-renowned Guinness advertising campaigns, most prominently, those created by artist John Gilroy from the 1930s to the 1960s.

John GilroyJohn Gilroy’s self-portrait. From the Heaton History Group website.

Hailing from Whitley Bay in the northeast of England, Gilroy graduated from London’s Royal College of Art after serving with an artillery unit in World War One. In 1925, he joined the Benson’s advertising agency, initially working on campaigns for brands like Bovril and Colman’s Mustard. Three years later, he started working on campaigns for Guinness with copywriters like Robert Bevan and Ronald Barton, creating funny and endearing artwork that gave the brand an iconic status.

The very first newspaper advert for Guinness, published on 06 February 1929, does not actually feature Gilroy’s work – he made his first poster in 1930. While this first advert doesn’t exactly catch the eye, it does include the now immortal slogan, ‘Guinness is Good for You’. The people at Benson’s apparently came up with this after consumers responded to market research by saying that drinking Guinness made them feel good.

first-ever-adThe very first newspaper advert for Guinness. Taken from the official Guinness website.

The first campaign Gilroy is most famously associated with is ‘Guinness for Strength’, showing people gaining super-strength from drinking a pint or two. Compare this to the much later energy-drink slogan, ‘Red Bull gives you wings’!

Guinness for StrengthA copy of the ‘Guinness for Strength’ poster, as displayed at the Guinness Storehouse.

‘My Goodness, My Guinness’ is the second campaign, which features a colourful host of zoo animals stealing the drink from their stressed-out zookeeper, who is a caricature of Gilroy. He supposedly thought up this concept after seeing a sea lion performing at a circus, which led him to imagine that it might do a good job balancing a Guinness glass on its nose.

My Goodness, My GuinnessOne of the many different ‘My Goodness, My Guinness’ posters displayed at the Guinness Storehouse.

Most loved of all of Gilroy’s animals was the Guinness Toucan. It was the novelist Dorothy L. Sayers who, working as a copywriter at Benson’s, came up with the following well-known rhyme:

toucan_advertFrom the History House website.

During the Second World War, Gilroy added to his advertising work by helping to put together posters for the British Government, promoting things like the reduction of food waste. Although Gilroy left Benson’s in the 1940s to pursue a freelance career, he still made artwork for Guinness. In 1953, he brought his animals together to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II:

QE2 CoronationTaken from the Brookston Beer Bulletin.

Gilroy’s animals also made their way into early Guinness television commercials, though that is, of course, no longer the case. From the 1970s onwards, the Guinness campaigns were taken up by a succession of different agencies, resulting in a range of equally distinguished adverts. Gilroy passed away in 1985, having had successful careers in advertising and portrait painting. He had worked on Guinness publicity for 35 years, producing over 100 newspaper adverts and some 50 poster designs, creating an internationally recognised circus of animals who all loved a good pint.

Cardamom Roll

Sweden – A Food Journey

This time last week, I was flying back home after an incredible visit to Sweden: two nights in Stockholm followed by a four-night package with The Aurora Zone at Brändön Lodge, Luleå. Exploring city comforts and the silent wilderness, I also got my first taste of Swedish food culture! Here are some of the highlights…

StockholmStockholm in the winter sunshine. All images are mine unless otherwise stated. Feel free to use any, but please credit ‘Feast and Phrase’ with a link to this article.

Stockholm – Day One

The buzzing street of Drottninggatan has all kinds of shops and eateries. I came across the stylish and almost subterranean Il Caffè. Trendy orange or white tables and smart wall graffiti dotted a series of reconverted basement rooms – these seemed to extend endlessly, as if following the ceiling pipes deep into the building.

Il Caffe 2The entrance of Il Caffè.

I wasted no time in getting introduced to the Swedish practice of fika. For the uninitiated outsider, it is a simple ‘coffee break’. For the Swedish people, it is a social gathering with coffee and sweet treats that is as much a national institution as ‘afternoon tea’ once was for the British. However, fika is not limited to the afternoon. Any time can be fika time.

Il CaffeOrange table and robot graffiti. 

Actually, as a non-coffee drinker, I only got partly introduced to fika and probably committed some form of sacrilege by going straight for the assortment of buns and pastries on offer by the till. I chose a kardemummabulle (‘cardamom roll’), enjoying every aromatic mouthful. The classic kanelbulle (‘cinnamon bun’) was also on offer – a delicacy which is so revered that it even has its own national day – visit Sweden on the fourth of October and you can celebrate kanelbullens dag, or ‘Cinnamon Bun Day’.

Cardamom RollA kardemummabulle (‘cardamom roll’), with a kanelbulle (‘cinnamon bun’) in the bottom right.

I instead picked up one of the nöttoppar (‘hazelnut macaroons’) for later. This was so good that I actually returned to buy more on the morning of my flight to Luleå!

Hazelnut macaroonOne of the nöttoppar (‘hazelnut macaroons’).

Stockolm – Day Two

Today brought history and food together, starting off at the Vasa Museum. The almost completely intact Vasa is one of a kind – the only seventeenth-century warship in the world to be preserved in such a state. Built too narrow and tall, it was blown over and sank on its maiden voyage in 1628, only to be found 333 years later.

VasaThe mighty Vasa warship.

The ship had enough space for six weeks of provisions, which included bread, meat, peas, fish, and of course, beer. Söfring Hansson, captain of the Vasa, also worked as a merchant and was apparently responsible for providing the navy yard with hops. In terms of overall provisions per man, the monthly ration for members of Sweden’s fleet was as follows:

Ship’s ale: 1/2 barrel = 63 litres
Bread: 1/2 barrel
Meat and dried fish: 1 ‘lispund’ = 8.5 kg
Dried peas: 1/2 ‘fjärding’ = 16.2 litres

From the provisioning plans for soldiers of the fleet, 1628. Part of the museum exhibition.

At a time when water was not safe to drink, beer was essential. Hot ale was a remedy for ague or fever, while scurvy – the bane of all sailors during this age – was cured with lemons. (Scurvy is most famously associated with pirates, but has affected everyone from Ancient Egyptians to Portuguese explorers. For an overview of the disease and historical accounts, check out this scurvy history.)

I left the Vasa for Historiska, the ‘Swedish History Museum’. This bright and modern museum has plenty of interesting things to see, including extensive exhibitions on the Vikings and the development of Swedish culture. The on-site café was excellent value for money – so I felt, given that Sweden is definitely on the costly side. There were filling lunch options from 75 – 90 SEK, including a salad bar and tea and coffee, which are often extra in other places. On top of that, the museum was free!

HistoriskaThe excellent Historiska Museum café. 

I finished the day with the Nobel Museum, which has a small section on the Nobel Banquet. The shop had recipe books drawing on the lavish menus that have been enjoyed by prize-winners over the years. You can see the menus for each year on the official website.

Nobel BanquetSome of the Nobel Banquet books on sale.

Brändön Lodge

Imagine a grand pine cabin nestled in the snow with 15 smaller cabins by its side, all looking out over a stretch of frozen sea – the ice around a metre thick, making it perfect for snowmobiles and other vehicles to drive over. This is Brändön Lodge, standing next to the Bay of Bothnia: all part of the Luleå Archipelago, which contains some 1,300 islands.

Brändön Lodge Brändön Lodge on the left, with a ‘lavvu’ or traditional tent on the right.

The unbelievable silence of the location and its Narniaesque beauty, combined with wonderful hosting by owner Göran Widén and his helpful staff, made for an outstanding experience. Added to that was a set of mouth-watering buffet meals where I became further acquainted with Swedish gastronomy.

Frozen SeaLooking out over the frozen sea.

I’m not much of a jam person, but the presence of two very unconventional varieties at breakfast (and the possibility of combining them with pancakes or waffles) meant some exceptions were made! The first was a golden jam made out of cloudberries, which look a bit like orangey-yellow raspberries; eaten throughout Sweden, they often grow in areas of boggy land.

CloudberriesUnfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures of the jams, so photos of the berries from online will have to do. Image from Flickr user Staffan Wingren.

A member of staff told me that each person has their own hidden cloudberry-picking spot, adding with a Bond-like smile that ‘if I told you, I would have to kill you’. A matter of national security! The second jam, which was pleasantly tangy in taste, was made out of sea buckthorn berries, which are bright orange in colour.

Sea BuckthornThe sea buckthorn plant. Image from Flickr user S. Rae.

A third berry which would have been impossible not to encounter during my trip was the lingonberry – a rich red berry which can be found in a host of Swedish dishes, accompanying everything from reindeer meat to desserts. I was also served lingonberry juice on several occasions. A cupful of hot lingonberry juice after adventuring over the snow is like a warming shot of sugary energy.

LingonberriesThe lingonberry plant. Image from Flickr user andreashallgren.

Featured in my itinerary was a hovercraft ride over the sea ice. My guide Andreas pointed out sea eagles feeding on the surface and drove us to the edge of the ice road which keeps islands connected in the winter. Returning to Brändön, we sat by the fire in a traditional tent or lavvu next to the lodge and indulged in coffee and a kanelbulle (or in my case, just the kanelbulle!).

HovercraftThe ‘Flying Condor’ hovercraft.

Another activity was a session of winter skills, where a group of us snowshoed into a nearby forest, following animal tracks and looking for wild dens. Stopping off, we were taught how to start a small fire with knives and flint. We then boiled up fresh pine-leaf tea using snow and a few cuttings from the surrounding trees. It seems that the younger plants have the best flavour, but my concoction tasted largely like boiled water, so I probably didn’t add enough. I suppose that’s what happens when you get a ‘tea-totaller’ to make tea…

FirePine-leaf tea boiling away!

Our guide Thomas pulled out a wooden cup which looked like a little hemisphere with a handle. This, he informed us, was a kåsa: a traditional drinking vessel made by Sweden’s indigenous Sami people, shaped out of a burl, or unusual tree growth. It was then I realised that we had been drinking out of black plastic versions of the same thing.

After our training in the forest, we made our way to the lavvu, where a large metal pan known as a muurikka had been moved over the central fire. Sitting back, we watched as Thomas rustled up vegetables in a creamy sauce. The majority of the group had these with suovas, (‘salty, smoked reindeer meat’), while I ate them with what I believe were cheese-filled rårakor – typical Swedish potato cakes. Embracing my newly developed taste-buds, I made sure to put a good dollop of lingonberry jam on the side!

Thomas CookingThomas gets to work cooking on the muurikka.

One particular delicacy which I didn’t have the chance to try on this holiday was kaffeost, or ‘coffee-cheese’. Baked from unpasteurized milk, the cheese has a consistency a bit like mozzarella and is added to coffee in little cubes. It has a famously squeaky texture between the teeth, and can also be eaten in slices with cloudberry jam. A shame to miss out, but a welcome addition to the long list of reasons for heading back in the future. Who knows? I might even be drinking coffee by then…


B for Bee Trouble

This article is part of ‘A Food Education Alphabet’: an ongoing A to Z look at food and words to help spread the word about food issues like sustainability and healthy eating.

Bees are in trouble. And bee trouble means food trouble.

What kind of trouble?

Bee populations have been rapidly dropping throughout the world. In the United States, for example, there has been a fall in the number of managed colonies from an estimated 5 million in the 1940s to around 2.5 million today.

honey-bee-643878_1920Checking on a beehive. Image from Pixabay.

How are bees connected to gastronomy?

Whether you’re enjoying breakfast at home, snacking on street food, or sitting down to a fancy meal in the evening, there’s a high chance that bees played some part in getting you your grub.

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, 71 out of 100 of the world’s major food crops rely on bee pollination. Around one third of the food we eat is pollinated by bees, with honey bees being one of the most important pollen-spreading species. Examples of dependent crops include apple, cucumber, almond, pumpkin, buckwheat, and cashew, as well as alfalfa, which is fed to livestock.

Love Braeburns, cashew butter, or steak? Thank the bees!

Honeybee Apple BlossomA honey bee on an apple blossom. Uploaded by Flickr user Orangeaurochs.

Why have bee populations been falling?

The invasion of pests in the 1980s was partly responsible for this, such as the spread of mites like the aptly-named Varroa destructor. Feeding on ‘haemolymph’ – the bee equivalent of blood – and passing on viruses which cause wing deformities, these dot-sized organisms can bring down entire colonies.

From 2006 onwards, beekeepers in Europe and America began reporting widespread cases of ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ (CCD), where adult bees would abandon the queen and her developing young. There are a number of suggested causes: pesky varroa mites and other parasites are one; global warming and loss of habitats are another.

Pesticides are especially harmful to bees, with neonicotinoids being particularly deadly – these attack the nervous systems of the insects.

1024px-Varroa_destructor_on_honeybee_hostA micrograph of Varroa destructor on a honey bee. Located via Wikimedia Commons.

How can bees be helped?

There are ongoing calls to minimize the use of pesticides, or to ban them completely. The use of three neonicotinoids has been restricted by the European Union since 2013, though this was opposed by the United Kingdom.

‘Integrated Pest Management’ (IPM) is an alternative, which calls for non-toxic methods like using other organisms to eat the mites, or employing ‘drone combs’.

Playing a role in maintaining natural habitats is essential. Planting bee-friendly plants is an excellent place to start – think sunflowers, poppies, mint, honeysuckle, and many more!

sunflower-943961_1280Sunflowers are one example of bee-friendly plants. Image from Pixabay.

As the National Geographic showed earlier this year, genetics could provide an answer, either with scientists creating a better-adapted bee, or with a better-adapted bee developing naturally over time.


A for Aquaponics

This is the first piece in ‘A Food Education Alphabet’: an A to Z look at food and words to help spread the word about food issues like sustainability and healthy eating.

What is aquaponics?

Aquaponics combines ‘aquaculture’ (breeding aquatic creatures, mostly fish) with ‘hydroponics’ (growing plants without soil using a nutrient-rich solution).

Brought up in tanks, fish produce waste. The water containing this is fed past plants, which are grown in floating containers or gravel beds. They take up organic fertilizer compounds from the waste through their roots, cleaning the water in the process. This is then returned to the fish tanks.

Ammonia contained in the waste is converted to nitrates by worms and nitrifying microorganisms. Larger pieces can be removed using filters.

Aquaponics DiagramA simplified diagram of how aquaponics works. Feel free to use – please credit Feast and Phrase and provide a link to this piece. The featured image for this article is from Flickr user IMCBerea College and shows Finnley Hayes at work in the Aquaponics Facility.

What are the benefits of aquaponics?

Two products are gained from one efficient, self-cleaning system, with much higher yields.

Aquaponics calls for significantly less land – about a tenth of what would be needed for conventional agriculture. Aquaponics can therefore be easily adapted for urban locations.

Because aquaponics works in a cycle, it only requires around 5 to 10 percent of the water that would be used in soil-based farming. This makes it ideal for growing produce in areas with limited water, like deserts.

Aquaponics 3A triple-tiered aquaponics system with fish, watercress, and running water. From Flickr user Justin Leonard.

In hydroponics and aquaculture, water must be regularly replaced to avoid the respective build-up of fertilizers and fish waste. This is not the case with aquaponics: in addition to the water taken up by plants, small amounts are lost in transpiration.

Hydroponics uses artificial fertilizers, which can be costly. Those used in aquaponics are organic and produced in the same location.

The lack of soil means no weeds or soil-based insects. As the water is naturally filtered, fish are also provided with a healthier environment and are less prone to disease, reducing the need for antibiotics.

Aquaponics 2This photo nicely illustrates the different levels involved in aquaponics. From Flickr user charlie vinz.

What are the disadvantages of aquaponics?

People may be put off by the cost of setting up the system or by the thought of having to take care of the fish, though these are not difficult to arrange!

There will be electricity costs for the water pumps, and those living in colder areas will need to provide a greenhouse to ensure more stable growing climates – again, not particularly pressing issues.

Is aquaponics ethical?

This may be argued both ways. Those who avoid eating fish may well object to rearing them for food and using them to grow plants. Others may say that providing the fish with a clean, filtered system is perfectly ethical.

Aquaponics 1Another photo of an aquaponics system from Flickr user Justin Leonard.

How long has aquaponics been around?

While the discipline as we know it today began developing in the 1970s, early precursors to aquaponics include the chinampas or cultivation islands of the Aztecs, and Southeast Asian paddy fields.

What kind of aquatic life can you breed?

Varieties of fish which are bred in aquaponics include trout, tilapia, perch, and koi, to name a few. Shrimp and prawns can also be used, as can crayfish.


A Food Education Alphabet 1

A Food Education Alphabet

Feast and Phrase has only been around for a few months and is still a baby in the blogging world. That said, writing and tweeting during this early time has made me quickly realise the urgent need for widening awareness about food-related issues like sustainability and healthy eating – both worldwide awareness, and my own!

From the work of organisations like Food Tank to Jamie Oliver’s call for ‘Food Revolution’, there is much going on to spread the word, and I’d like to be a part of it. Having already started to look at food, words, and society in my ‘Gastronomy and Society’ articles, I think it’s time to go further.

Today marks the start of what will be an ongoing series: ‘A Food Education Alphabet’. ‘The term ‘food education’ usually has people thinking of building food skills for children and young people – getting them cooking at home and improving their knowledge about nutrition. The alphabet will touch on this and more: heading from A to Z, each piece will focus on a word or phrase linked to the likes of food production and consumption, distribution and policy, diet and health.

Some subjects may be well-known, others less so – whatever I share with everyone, I’ll be sure to learn plenty along the way myself. Ultimately, it’s an alphabetical look at food and words to help spread the word about food issues.


Citrus Fruit

A Scurvy History

Shiver me timbers! I seem to have completely missed out on ‘International Talk Like a Pirate Day’, which took place last weekend: that intriguing observance celebrated every 19 September since 2002, which started out as a joke among some American friends and has gone on to pick up followers worldwide.

(Correction: ‘gone on to pick up crew’. Incidentally, today is Google’s 17th Birthday, but I digress…)

Pirate GuysThe founders of International Talk Like a Pirate Day:  Mark “Cap’n Slappy” Summers (left) and John “Ol’ Chumbucket” Baur (right). Photo by Karl Maasdam, Karl Maasdam Photography; taken from the official website. The fruity featured image for this article is taken from Flickr user Peter Batty.

This got me thinking about scurvy – ‘Avast, scurvy curs!’ having first popped into my head, of course. Individuals deficient in Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) are unable to produce the protein collagen, which makes up bodily tissues like skin, bone, cartilage, and blood vessels. These begin to break down, resulting in fatigue, pain in muscles and joints, red dotting of skin, and most recognisably, swollen, bleeding gums.

Now notorious as a scourge of seafarers – who would run out of Vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables while travelling – scurvy has in fact been recognised for thousands of years. A description of what is believed to be the disease occurs in the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus, dated to 1550 BCE; onion consumption is apparently given as the cure. The Indian surgeon Sushruta of the 6th century BCE wrote of a condition known as sitada, where ‘the gums of the teeth suddenly bleed and become putrefied, black, slimy and emit a fetid smell. They become soft and gradually slough off’. Similar symptoms were touched on by the Greek physician Hippocrates a century or two later:

‘[…] the patient smells foully from the mouth, the gums separate from his teeth, and blood flows from his nostrils. Sometimes also ulcers break out on his legs – and while some heal, others develop – his colour is dark, and his skin is thin; the patient is eager to walk about and to exert himself.’

Hippocrates, Internal Affections, translated by Paul Potter.

Sushruta-SamhitaSections of the Sushruta-Samhita. This is a 12th or 13th century Nepalese copy written on palm leaves; the watercolour imagery was added in the 18th or 19th century. From LACMA Collections Online.

Following Hippocrates and several other ancient writers, the next mention of what can be identified as scurvy occurred during the Crusades. The majority of nautical references came with the Age of Discovery, when explorers from the 15th century found the disease to be a serious and widespread cause of injury and death on their ships. This period saw the use of the term ‘scorbie’ and ‘scurvie’ as a name for the illness; the word was earlier used as an adjective for someone covered in ‘scurf’: scaly or scabby skin.

The journal of Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama’s first voyage to India describes how his men ‘fell ill […], their feet and hands swelling, and their gums growing over their teeth, so that they could not eat’. The same work gives a record of a fruity remedy called for when the crew dropped anchor off the coast of Malindi (now in Kenya):

‘The captain-major sent a man on shore with these messengers with instructions to bring off a supply of oranges, which were much desired by our sick. These he brought on the following day, as also other kinds of fruit; but our sick did not much profit by this, for the climate affected them in such a way that many of them died here.’

A Journal of the First Voyage of Vasco da Gama, 1497-1499, translated by E. G. Ravenstein (1898).

Vasco_da_Gama_(Livro_de_Lisuarte_de_Abreu)A portrait of Vasco da Gama from Livro de Lisuarte de Abreu (c. 1565). Located via Wikimedia Commons.

Two-thirds of da Gama’s men were lost to scurvy on this voyage. Even so, eating citrus fruits was generally known by sailors to help with recovery from the disease. In 1747, this was clearly demonstrated by Scottish naval surgeon James Lind, who tested different remedies on afflicted sailors, with citrus fruits producing exceptional results. He went on to publish A Treatise of the Scurvy in 1753: a time when more of Britain’s sailors were killed by scurvy than by fighting.

Lind pushed for the Royal Navy to give citrus fruit and juice to its crews, which became standard practice from 1795 onwards. As a result, the disease effectively stopped affecting members of the force. It is also because of this practice that British sailors came to be known as ‘lime-juicers’ or ‘limeys’.

V0003579 James Lind. Stipple engraving by J. Wright after Sir G. ChalA stipple engraving of James Lind by J. Wright, after Sir G. Chalmers (1783). From Wellcome Images.

It was not until Vitamin C was isolated in 1928 that scientists got on their way to definitively establishing it to be the cure – ascorbic’ essentially means ‘not pertaining to scurvy’. Raw fruits and vegetables are now known to be among the top sources of Vitamin C; cooking them leads to a drop in concentration. Oranges, lemons, chillies, broccoli, and many more – take your pick and keep scurvy well away!

Oh, and if you’ve ever wondered why ‘oranges’ are called ‘oranges’…


Broccoli Phobia and Inside Out

Pixar does what it does best with its new masterpiece, Inside Out, which shows us the world of eleven-year-old Riley through her personified emotions: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger. Its exploration of how someone emotionally responds to the changes around them – and how that process can at times be a struggle – is hilarious, clever, and utterly heart-warming.

Audiences see the development of everything from Riley’s most cherished memories, like family time and playing hockey, to her most intense dislikes, chief among which is broccoli. Pixar animators were so keen to emphasize this aversion that they based the design of the character Disgust, voiced by Mindy Kaling, on the verdant vegetable. Initially, it seems that Riley’s encounters with the offending greens lead only to revulsion – when being fed as a baby, or when offered broccoli pizza. Later, when Joy and Sadness descend into her subconscious and face a forest of the florets, broccoli is revealed to be one of her deepest fears.

Mindy Kaling Disgust Inside OutMindy Kaling and her Inside Out character, Disgust. From Mindy Kaling’s Instagram page.

There doesn’t appear to be any official term for ‘a fear of broccoli’, though one might informally describe Riley as having ‘broccoli phobia’. Of course, it is worth remembering that the word ‘phobia’ has varying definitions. Medically speaking, a phobia is more than just a simple fear; it is an overpowering fear which can incapacitate the sufferer, forcing them to avoid the cause. There can be noticeable physical symptoms, from nausea to trembling. ‘Simple phobias’, often forming in early years, focus on certain objects or activities – the fear of spiders, or of climbing to a height, for instance. ‘Complex phobias’ usually come about in adulthood, with more profound concerns. ‘Agoraphobia’ is a prime example: more than just ‘a fear of open spaces’, it greatly depends on the situation in which the sufferer finds themselves.

Broccoli 2Broccoli, photographed by Flickr user Mike Licht.

Understandably, Riley’s fear of broccoli does not fit this definition. It is more in line with the wider use of ‘phobia’ to suggest ‘strong dislike, or aversion’. In the absence of a ‘proper’ term, the closest substitute would be ‘lachanophobia’‘a fear of vegetables’ – of which there are various real-life examples. Consider student Vicki Larrieux, who claims to have panic attacks at the sight of most vegetables and largely subsists on meat, grains, and potatoes, as well as the odd apple. A similar case is that of London resident Dee Vyas, whose fear confines her to dietary staples and snacks. Lachanophobia has also made it into animation. The Australian children’s series Figaro Pho features a segment where its titular character, who is affected by every possible phobia, engages in trench warfare with peas and pumpkins.

peanut-butter-‘Arachibutyrophobia’ – ‘The fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth’ – was invented by Charles M. Schulz for his comic strip Peanuts. Photo by deborahmiller56 at Pixabay.

It is easy to find lists of ‘weird food phobias’ online. Some of these were originally jokes, but have since been confused as real. ‘Arachibutyrophobia’, or ‘the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth’, falls into this category – it was actually thought up by Charles M. Schulz for his comic strip Peanuts. Fabricated phobias can be found listed next to medical conditions, blurring the lines between fake and real, dislike and disorder. This can also make it difficult to take particular phobias seriously.

For example, ‘cibophobia’ or ‘sitophobia’ is ‘a fear of eating’, which might be regarded as ridiculous or even impossible. ‘How can someone live if they’re afraid of eating?’ is a dismissive question that might come to mind. That ignores the genuine issues faced by those who may fear eating because of the resulting symptoms, such digestive pain caused by a pre-existing illness. This was the case with Faye Campbell, a British carer who had gastroesophageal reflux, which causes painful indigestion. She developed a phobia of food which remained even after the condition was cured. Unable to stomach fruits and vegetables, she grew accustomed to a diet largely composed of processed foods.

Green PeppersGreen peppers – not so popular with children in Japan. Photo by Flickr user liz west.

Food phobias may have a wide variety of origins – anything from childhood trauma to religious custom might be responsible. They may also differ by community. This is something the Pixar team acknowledged when adapting Inside Out for viewers in Japan. Rather than show Riley refuse broccoli, held to be very popular in the country, they used green peppers, which is especially disliked by Japanese children. This change, small enough to miss, seems to jump audiences from the mind of a girl into the mind of a nation, demonstrating that phobias – here in the ‘dislike’ rather than ‘disorder’ sense – are not just specific to individual people, but also to cultures on a whole.


Nixtamalization: Aztecs and Ash

Maize brought life to Mesoamerica. Olmec, Maya, Toltec, Aztec – civilisations grew and declined in the region. Cultivated throughout, consumed by rulers and subjects, deified and revered, maize sustained them all. According to the Popol Vuh, the Mayan creation narrative, humankind was fashioned from the crop:

‘After that they began to talk about the creation and the making of our first mother and father; of yellow corn and of white corn they made their flesh; of corn-meal dough they made the arms and the legs of man. Only dough of corn meal went into the flesh of our first fathers, the four men, who were created.’

Popul Vuh: The Book of the People, translated into English by Delia Goetz and Sylvanus Griswold Morley from Adrián Recino’s translation from Quiché into Spanish.

Mayan Ruler in Maize God GuiseA Mayan image of a seated ruler in the guise of the Maize God, dated between 300 – 600 CE. From LACMA Collections Online.

In Book Eleven of the Aztec Florentine Codex, one line refers to the plant as ‘precious, our flesh, our bones’. It was to the goddess Chicomecóatl and her male partner Centéotl that the Aztecs paid tribute in festivals and artwork, honouring both as controllers of nature’s abundance.

Chicomecoatl Musée du Quai_BranlyA sculpture of Chicomecóatl from the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris. Located using Wikimedia Commons.

For all the divine rituals to bring about bountiful harvests, there was a more everyday practice which ensured that the various peoples of Mexico could benefit from their crop. With the goodness of its kernels locked away inside a tough casing, or ‘pericarp’, corn was as demanding as its deities, and needed work. How to sort out a tough and unyielding pile of maize? Water, ash, and a good soak – or nixtamalization, if you prefer.

Mesoamericans would leave corn in water with the addition of wood ash. This loosened up the pericarp, allowing the drained product to be readily ground for culinary use such as making dough, known in Spanish as masa. Quite why someone decided it would be a good idea to add ash to their maize and when they first did so has not been determined. The earliest evidence for this incredibly successful and much-adopted procedure, as Sophie D. Coe writes in America’s First Cuisines, comes in the form of equipment discovered in southern Guatemala, dating from between 1500 to 1200 BCE.

Codex_Borbonicus_(p._23) MaizeA depiction of maize in the Aztec Codex Borbonicus, now held in France. Located using Wikimedia Commons.

Communities may have followed different steps according to custom and tradition; with the process in wide use today, instructions can vary. A common suggestion is to cook the grains for some time in the liquid and then leave them to soak, using lime instead of ash – both sources of calcium oxide, which becomes calcium hydroxide on addition to water. This makes the soaking solution alkaline and breaks up the kernel skin.

Easy grinding aside, this has more significant results. In untreated maize, niacin (Vitamin B3) is held as niacinogen and niacytin, which cannot be used by the human body. Nixtamalization unbinds them, increasing the available niacin for the consumer. Deficiency of this nutrient can lead to pellagra, a disease with three debilitating consequences: dermatitis, diarrhoea, and dementia.

When Europeans took corn from Mexico back home they did not adopt nixtamalization, applying their wheat-milling technology to the grain. As a result, communities in Europe and colonised parts of Africa which came to extensively consume maize and were less economically capable of balancing their diets were afflicted by pellagra, a problem which continues to this day.

The Polenta, Pietro LonghiThe Polenta (circa 1740), by Italian painter Pietro Longhi: a testament to the European popularity of this corn-based porridge. Located using Wikimedia Commons.

Maize is also naturally low in tryptophan (used to make niacin) and lysine, two amino acids which cannot be produced by the body and must be acquired through the diet. Nixtamalization’s ability to improve the protein quality of corn is debatable; in any case, other foods can supply the missing amino acids. Beans performed this role for Mexican civilizations and were consumed with most meals. Treating the grain may also reduce mould toxins – this too, is subject to debate.

More immediately appreciable is the refined flavour of the maize, which New York-based restauranteur and food writer Zarela Martinez has described as ‘a taste and aroma like no other food on Earth — a delicately nutty quality combined with something almost chalky and mineral-like’. If that doesn’t inspire a craving for fresh tortillas…

Guatemalan TortillasThese will have to do for now. Guatemalan tortillas, taken by Flickr user Krista.

As for the word, it entered English from the Mexican Spanish nixtamal, describing the treated corn. That was taken from the Nahuatl nextamalli, a combination of the words nextli (‘ashes’ or ’cinders’) and tamal-li (‘bread made of steamed corn meal’). Tamal-li gives the name of the modern dish tamales.

Now spoken by around 1,500,000 people in the Central Mexican region, Nahuatl was the main language of the Aztec Empire in the 1400s, originally expressed with pictographs. Following the Spanish Conquest these were replaced with Latin characters, and a sizeable body of Nahuatl works was written down during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Codex_Mendoza_folio_52rA page from the Codex Mendoza, written in the 16th century to give Spanish Emperor Charles V an impression of Aztec life. This image shows some of the tribute items sent to Monteczuma II, last of the Aztec Emperors. Most of the writing is in Spanish; Nahuatl words can be seen under the pictures on the left. Located using Wikimedia Commons.

While English pronunciation renders ‘nixtamalization’ as ‘niks-tamalization’, the letter ‘x’ was used to represent a ‘sh’ sound in NahuatlNextli is therefore pronounced as ‘neshtli’, much in the same way that Méxica – a collective name which the Aztecs gave themselves – was pronounced not as ‘Meks-ee-ka’, but ‘Mé-shee-ka’By that logic, ‘Mexico’ should really be ‘Mé-shee-ko’.

(Both terms supposedly derive from Metzliapán (‘Moon Lake’), a name for Lake Texcoco; ‘Aztec’ from Aztecatl, meaning ‘Hailing from Aztlán’, the legendary ‘White Land’ from which they held themselves to have come. In 17th century Spanish, the letters ‘x’, ‘j’, and ‘g’ were used to denote ‘sh’ sounds, which eventually developed into the aspirated sound now largely represented by ‘j’ in Modern Spanish. The 18th century saw the letter ‘x’ increasingly used for ‘iks’. This past association of ‘x’ and ‘j’ explains the existence of modern alternatives like México and Méjico.)

Mexico City Plaza Large
Mexico City Plaza, or Zócalo. The city stands on what was once Lake Texcoco. Taken by Flickr user Eneas de Troya.

Modern research has produced varieties of corn with higher concentrations of lysine and tryptophan. The opposition to genetically modified foods considered, it is interesting to note the view put forward by Tom Standage, who argues in An Edible History of Humanity that maize is hardly a ‘natural’ plant due to intensive selective breeding which developed its wild ancestor teosinte into the crops known today.

Some new maize mutants are known to have smaller yields and be more susceptible to grain damage when mechanically harvested. That said, their nutritional benefits likely make nixtamalization less necessary. Whether or not the process falls in use, the word itself stands as a reminder of the rich cultural history behind the practice.

Remembering Food Slogans on VE Day

8 May, 1945 saw Victory in Europe Day festivities across the continent and overseas. While the Second World War would only end with the defeat of Japan in September, and though a steep climb to recovery faced the countries involved, the desperately-awaited occasion was marked with wild festivities.

VE Day celebrations, Trafalgar Square, LondonVE Day celebrations in Trafalgar Square, London. Note the pair of shoes I mistook for a head, because one man is upside-down. Photograph from Lieutenant Arthur L. Cole, Library and Archives Canada.

Dancing, parades, and street parties took place throughout Britain, with makeshift community feasts pulled together from rationed goods and home-grown produce. The people had become experts at making the most of little thanks to practices put in place by the government from the very outbreak of war.

Added to this was a range of posters, films, and leaflets which helped to cultivate thrifty attitudes crucial to the nation’s wartime success. Seventy years on, I thought it would be worth taking a look back at some of the slogans and artwork created to help get Britain frugal with food.

Dig for Victory and Dig for Plenty

INF3-95_Food_Production_Dig_for_Victory_Artist_Mary_Tunbridge 508pxDesigned by Mary Tunbridge. Taken from a joint public domain collection by The National Archives and Wikimedia Commons.

Before the war, Britain’s food imports numbered 22 million tonnes. If it helps with visualisation, that’s 122,222 blue whales’ worth of food (taking the weight of a large blue whale to be around 180 tonnes). N.B. Do not go around informing your friends that food imports in 1930s Britain consisted of 122,222 blue whales.

Enemy threats to trading routes at sea and occupation of partner countries, as well as British prioritisation of ships for military use, began to put Fall a strain on supplies. Nationwide rationing of imported goods came into effect from January 1940 with initial limits on sugar, butter, and bacon (not surprisingly, that last decision was considerably unpopular).

INF3-96_Food_Production_Dig_for_Victory_Artist_Peter_Fraser 527pxDesigned by Peter Fraser. The National Archives / Wikimedia Commons.

Following the failed Grow More Food campaign of October 1939 was Dig for Victory. Fronted by Minister of Food, Lord Woolton, it was guided and organised by John Raeburn, Head of Agricultural Plans. The slogan was apparently a coinage of Evening Standard journalist Michael Foot, later leader of the Labour Party in 1980.

Appearing on some 10 million leaflets sent out during the period (take a look at this example from the British Library), it was most famously seen with iStopMotion the well-known ‘boot-on-spade’ photograph, which went on to become a symbol of the campaign and featured in miniature on other posters.

Dig for VictoryThe famous ‘boot-on-spade’ image, courtesy of the World Carrot Museum.

It also found its way into a stirring motivational song:

Dig! Dig! Dig!
And your muscles will grow big
Keep on pushing the spade
Don’t mind the worms
Just ignore their squirms
And when your back aches laugh for glee
Just keep on digging
Till we give our foes a wigging
Dig! Dig Dig! for Victory!

The ultimate result was a staggering display of individual and collective drive. More and more people took to producing their own fruits and vegetables, with the number of allotments soaring from 815,000 to 1,400,000Many open areas were New transformed into plots, including the Tower of London moat. According to the calculations of writer Daniel Smith in The Spade as Mighty as the Sword, this meant that the annual production of vegetables by 1943 was above one million tonnes (or 5,556 blue whales’ worth, according to mine).

With the end of war becoming a likely possibility by 1944, it grew clear that this drive could not be allowed to come to a halt. From victory onwards, that realisation was confirmed: Britain faced the challenge of providing food aid to recovering European nations and had no time to rest. In a newspaper column of 24 May, 1945, writer and BBC gardening broadcaster C. H. Middleton wrote:

‘We shall have to find a new slogan, and call it digging for peace and security, or “digging for dinner”; but whatever we call it, we must not slack our efforts: the need for intense food production is more urgent than cheap jerseys from China ever.’

That new slogan was Dig for Plenty, which had already been circulating in 1944.

INF3-98_Food_Production_Dig_for_Plenty_Artist_Le_Bon 510px-Artist unknown, possibly ‘Le Bon’. The National Archives / Wikimedia Commons.

Gloriously bright colours and images of plenty were signs of a fruitful future that lay in the public’s hardworking hands.

INF3-97_Food_Production_Dig_for_Plenty_Artist_BAN 544pxArtist unknown, possibly ‘Ban’. Note the ‘boot-on-spade’ symbol both on this poster and the one before. The National Archives / Wikimedia Commons.

This Dig for Plenty leaflet from 1947 depicts government gardening advice in a pleasant and down-to-earth manner, with a cartoon version of the ‘boot-on-spade’ symbol:

Leigh on Sea Horticultural Soc Flyer Nov 1947 001
Image and text from the Local Studies collection, The Forum, Southend-on-Sea. With thanks to Carole Shorney and the South East Essex Organic Gardeners.

Lend a Hand on the Land

Similar to Dig for Victory was Lend a Hand on the Land, which specifically targeted city dwellers to help with farm-based food production efforts during their holidays.

INF3-104_Food_Production_Lend_a_hand_on_the_land_Whatever_your_front_line_job_Artist_Showell 619 pxArtist unknown, possibly ‘Showell’. The National Archives / Wikimedia Commons.

While the slogan wholesale MLB jerseys is very much an instruction to the public, ‘lend’ gives the poster something of an appealing, voluntary feel. Woven into this is an emphasis on wartime duty through focus on one’s job; an effect echoed by the clenched fist imagery of the artwork below:

696px-INF3-105_Food_Production_Lend_a_hand_on_the_land_at_a_Volunteer_Agricultural_Camp_Artist_NunneyArtist unknown, possibly ‘Nunney’. The National Archives / Wikimedia Commons.

Highlighting the personal benefits of farm work was another tactic. In this Ministry of Information short film from 1944 – 1945, lending a hand is shown to make for a productive holiday away from the stress of office work, all while keeping an individual in shape. Note also the sneaky use of alcohol to advertise happiness (from 00:43 9?????????????????????????? onwards). Shown being handed a drink, the man recalls, ‘Yes, life was very satisfying.’ Lending a Hand = Holiday + Free Beer? Winning.

INF3-101_Food_Production_Lend_a_hand_with_the_potato_harvest_(workers_in_basket) 511pxDesigned by Eileen Evans. The National Archives / Wikimedia Commons.

As with Dig for Victory, the Lend a Hand campaign continued after the war, as in this entertaining wholesale NFL jerseys potato digging film from 1946, played on rewind. Potato production in particular soared from 208,447 hectares in 1940 to 329,540 hectares in 1950. Going by FIFA’s current dimensions, that’s a rise from 252,663 to 399,442 full-sized international football pitches, one being 0.825 hectares. Overall, there was a 50% increase in the area of British arable farmland during the World War Two period.

All those vegetables had to be put to good use, which gave rise to Orange. two noteworthy characters…

Potato Pete and Doctor Carrot

Potato Pete and Doctor CarrotImage courtesy of Flickr user jocki84

These were created as part of the Dig for Victory campaign. Potato Pete came first, complete with recipe books – those devilled potatoes on page ten caught my stomach’s attention! Of course, there were also songs. Have a listen to this toe-tapper by Betty Driver (starting at 01:52). With more wheat being put aside for the armed forces, potatoes provided a high-energy alternative which was also a source of Vitamin C.

Doctor Carrot followed in November 1941, encouraging the public to eat more of the orange vegetables. Disney also appears to have helped Lord Woolton achieve this task, with cartoonist Hank Porter creating a carrot family that featured on published material. By 1942, Britain had a surplus.

Disney Carrot FamilyThe Disney Carrot Family. ‘Dr. Carrot’ was later changed to ‘Pops Carrot’ to avoid clashing with the British Doctor Carrot. Image courtesy of the World Carrot Museum.

Carrots were recognized as excellent sources of Vitamin A, derived from their colour-giving compound beta-carotene. (Appropriately, ‘carotene’ comes from carota, the Latin for ‘carrot’.)

Contributing towards general eye health, they were also believed to give consumers powers of night vision. According to the World Carrot Museum, such a belief was spread by the British Government telling the public that RAF pilots succeeded in night-time battles due to their heightened vision from carrot consumption. This inspired people to eat surplus produce and also provided cover for the real source of night vision: a secretly developed radar system built into fighter planes.

Carrots were slipped into meals throughout the day and sometimes took the place of sweets, which were on ration. They were also combined with potatoes and other vegetables to make the meat-free Savoy Hotel invention Woolton Pie, which was named after the Ministry of Food chief. The World Carrot Museum has a full list of recipes, including one for an intriguing Carrot Fudge.

Avoiding Waste

Food waste was punishable by law from as early as 1940 onwards and every effort was made to recycle as much as possible. One notable use of kitchen waste was feeding pigs, which were reared in the hundreds of ‘pig clubs’ set up by people around the country, wholesale MLB jerseys as well as on farms.

INF3-224_Salvage_We_want_your_kitchen_waste_(pig_with_dustbin)_Artist_Gilroy 516pxDesigned by John Gilroy. The National Archives / Wikimedia Commons.

Leftover bones were especially useful, providing grease Promotion for planes and a source of glue.

INF3-201_Salvage_Bones_help_to_make_planes_Artist_Fougasse 544px-Designed by Cyril Kenneth Bird (also known as Fougasse). The National Archives / Wikimedia Commons.

Second World War recycling know-how could certainly be applied today. 7.2 million tonnes of food and drink is wasted per year in the United Kingdom, according to a 2013 report. I see 40,000 blue whales, all shaking their heads at us in disappointment.

Wartime diets were also healthier than those of today due to a reduction of fatty and sugary foods. Having come across a variety of interesting Second World War recipes, I will definitely be trying them out in the kitchen! Please excuse me while I get some devilled potatoes…

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