Archive | November, 2013

Does a pig have the right to play?

28 Nov

Last Friday we took the second half of our B.Sc. students (Course: Nutrition Ecology) on an excursion to a local commercial pig farm with about 2.000 swine. The course is built around a value chain approach to the food system and thus includes a ‘chapter’ on food production where we look at typical and alternative production forms. The piggies we saw had an outside stall area in addition to the inside stall. The outside stall had  playthings: a chain with a piece of wood on which the piggies can chew, which they like to do.project-buta-tot-zo-ver_001-540x405_klein

That pigs like to play is not new. Thus you can find many shops with hog toys such as this one. As a matter of fact there is a Dutch research project on this: Playing with Pigs. The project is an outcome of research on “Ethical room for manoeuvre in livestock farming”, a collaboration between the Utrecht School of the Arts, Wageningen University and Wageningen UR Livestock Research. Within the project, a game which allows interaction between pigs and people was developed; see it in a clip on vimeo here. The researchers say one of the things they’ve discovered is how much pigs like to play with light.

playingwithpigs_kleinNot just pigs like to play. Many animals have been observed, photographed and filmed at play – within their own and across species borders. I still have an old National Geographic edition with the title story Animals at Play.

23594676[1]One of the animals-at-play featured was a crow that was photographed lying on its back and sliding down a snow-covered incline, only to get up and repeat the process. This has been filmed and featured again and again, and many other stories too, such as here as well as this whole entry on tail-pulling by mischievous crows on Jenn(ifer Campbell-Smith)’s lovely Corvid blog here.



Does a sheep have the right to be old?

27 Nov

This is Phyllis. She is a 13-year-old Southdown Sheep. Average life expectancy of sheep: 10-12 years.

Perhaps we don’t give much thought to the possible age livestock could reach because we are used to it being functional and not living long. Take sheep, for example: Humans keep sheep for wool, dairy and meat. Sheep meat is mostly lamb, i.e. the sheep does not reach an age of one year (mutton is from sheep older than one year). There are life spans reported of up to 20 years, depending on the breed. Either way Phyllis here is a granny sheep. If you want to know more about sheep there are two info-rich sites here and here.


This is Violet. She is a pot-bellied pig of 12 years. Average lifespan: 12-15 years.

We might give thought to the age our pets can reach, and we might experience an elderly animal if we have them at home. But we seem to apply the same youth-cult to domestic animals as we do to ourselves. The internetworld is full of kittens and puppies. However, in 2008 there was an advertising campaign created for Florette, a salad company, that featured ancient animals, content that you had forgotten all about the meat, as the claim went. You can see the visuals and read up on the credits here.


This is an Embden Goose, aged 28 years. Reported life expectancy: 20-25 years, maybe 30.

These photos are part of a series called Elderly Animals by photographer Isa Leshko. You can see the full set of photos over at her site here and watch a short film on how she went about getting the portraits here. This must be a November-entry… black-and-white, old age and death.

Does a cow have the right to be happy?

25 Nov

oj98DYP_kleinAnthropomorphising or not, I say the cow in this photo is happy. What do you think?

We offer an advanced organic food and agriculture course to our Sustainability Masters students. Part of it deals with the issue of animal welfare, or better:  animal wellbeing. The organic way has always had as one criteria ethical / humane husbandry. Indeed, there is a fair body of research into species-appropriate treatment of livestock. It fascinates me to imagine some people in lab coats pondering the questions of what makes a pig’s life a happy one, how does a chicken lead a natural life, and, what constitutes quality of life for a cow?

Meal packaging: Sage Jubako

23 Nov

No, no, it’s not finished yet, the topic of food carriers, of mobile food, of lunchboxes, stacked and single-story. Today’s presentation is high art.


I was working on the bento entry and came across real tiered or stacked Japanese food carriers, a bento being a “ground floor only” carrier (translate: lunchbox). The stacked food carriers are known as Sage Jubako (or just Jubako), which, I gather, translates to “nesting boxes”.


Growing up in a European culture we learned about the (European) Renaissance, specifically Italy, as a period of particular cultural blossoming and flowering. So now I discovered that these Jubako are a product of the Japanese Renaissance in the Edo Period.


Edo is the old name for Tokyo. During the Edo Period, which was around about 1603/1615-1868, depending on your source, the Japanese voluntarily isolated themselves under the shogun(s) starting with Tokugawa Ieyasu. There’s a lovely little interactive tour site here and much contextual information on the period here.


It seems, from various internet sources, not least a myriad of art galleries, museum exhibitions, antique dealers and auction houses, that the Japanese used increasing wealth and leisure time for picnic pursuits and these lovely jubako were crafted.


The portable picnic sets almost always consisted of a few small food plates, some sake bottles and stacked boxes for the food, all in a large carrier.


The Victoria & Albert Museum in London has a teachers’ resource page for Art & Design with suggestions to Design and Make a Japanese-style Container. The Metropolitan Museum has an Edo Art page here.


Looking at the art from the Edo Period, you can discover picnics – and sometimes the food carriers too! – featured fairly prominently. See works in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts here, in the Brooklyn Museum here and in the Harvard Art Museums here, also in the Japanese Art Open Database here, and in the Marquand Library of Art and Archeology here.


There’s a more modern photo set of a picnic with jubako here on Naz Sahin’s site. I’ve got the same edition of Mediaeval Cuisine of the Islamic World featured amongst the wonderful panoply of great books on her site, just recently when in Granada at the Alhambra!


And here, dear Peeps, is my most astounding gem found on the intertubes while ‘curating’ for this post: An essay on Japan’s Sustainable Society in the Edo Period !! The author is Eisuke Ishikawa, a lecturer at Musashino Art University.



Meal Packaging: Bento

22 Nov

Culinary art in a lunchbox – that’s how one site describes bento, the Japanese tradition of packed, mobile meals. Whole sites are devoted to this tradition and the web abounds in obento. Lets start with some kawaii (cute) bento.





As you can imagine, a lot of that goes to school in packed lunches. There are all manner of helpful accessories such as cutters, picks, cups, separating sheets and things you haven’t dreamed of. Indeed, there’s even an app to help you find bento recipes. Moreover, there are loads of how-tos such as at this flickr site.


But the bento tradition is not just for children’s meals, it’s also the term for packed lunches at work, such as in the scene below, …


… or really at any time. And it goes back a long way. Take the Shokado Bento: a square – often lacquered – box separated into four (or more) compartments. Apparently this dates back to the early 17th century, says Fukui Craft.


You can make bento yourself at home, and, if you’re ambitious you can enter the International Bento Contest (see the 2013 winners here). Or you can buy it at many stores and even from vending machines. The future may even hold a computer filling bento boxes, as at the International Robot Exhibition 2013 in Tokyo here.

bentorm-seibu3-counter_kleinfull bento ordered from d vending machine_klein

Travelling? There’s a special name for railway bentos: Ekiben (from ‘eki’ = train + ‘ben’ short for bento). The following pic is the display poster of ekibens on offer at the Tokyo’s Ekiben Matsuri (train bento festival store).

IMG_4976_kleinTo me the lacquered lunch box versions are particularly beautiful. There’s a huge variety for sale out there, with one, two or more tiers, square, oblong, round or flower-shaped, traditional, modern or cute, with or without carrying bags, bands, handles and chopstick holders. Take a squizz at casabento, for example.

Winter’s coming: Granny Food

21 Nov

Winter’s coming here in Europe and as it gets progressively colder I think more and more of comfort food, cocooning and: Grannys. (Well, they just go so well with comfort food and the Festive Season, don’t they?) Gabriele Galimberti embarked on a photography project celebrating grannys and their cooking skills around the world. It’s called Delicatessen with Love and here are some excerpts. The recipes are available on the project page, “underneath” every picture set. Most of the dishes are a wonderful testimony to ‘home economy’.


This is Gabriele’s Granny, Marisa Batini, 80 years old, from Italy and her dish: Swiss chard, ricotta Ravioli and meat sauce


Maria Luz Fedric from the Cayman Islands: Honduran Iguana with rice and beans. I just love her smile! (and, of course, the iguana. I have never seen an iguana on a kitchen table)


Here’s another lovely smile: Pan Guang Mei from China with Hui Guo Rou, meaning: twice-cooked pork with vegetables. Look at the ingredients on the left, it looks so little (so few items). Look at the dish on the right, it looks so full and yum!


Rosane Liborio from Brazil with: Garlic prawns, rice and prawns pirao (Pssst! Notice the knolling!!)


Eti Rumiati from Indonesia, having cooked Soto Betawi, i.e. beef soup with coconut and vegetables (Pssst! deconstructed Indonesian dish!)


A lady with an infectious smile: Regina Lifumbo from Malawi: Finkubala – meaning: Caterpillar in tomato sauce (Psst! Yes, neatly organised food!)

Lunchbox – The Film

17 Nov

Dear Peeps Who Read This Blog Entry: Yesterday afternoon we decided to make it a movie night. My husband was perusing the films on at our local favourite cinema and came up with >>Lunchbox<<! Hey, he said, you’ve been writing about lunchboxes in your blog, how about this one? A film about a lunchbox, I thought?! So I looked at the trailer and saw tiffins, dabbawallas and Mumbai featuring and of course we were set to go.

The-Lunchbox-2013_kleinThe film revolves around a dabba delivered astray and the lives involved (so it really does star a lunchbox!). There are three main characters: a government employee Saajan Fernandez (superbly played by Irrfan Khan), a housewife Ila (charmingly played by Nimrat Kaur) and a new government colleague Shaik (convincingly played by  Nawazuddin Siddiqui). This is a delightful, human film that will leave a delicious cookie in your heart.

600x450_kleinWe were a little surprised as we bought the tickets last night to be asked whether we had made a reservation and that there were very few places left. Turns out we went to a preview with guests: director Ritesh Batra, producer Karsten Stöter and leading actress Nimrat Kaur (Ila) came along after the movie for a discussion with the audience! How’s that for a serendipitous evening?

the-lunchbox_szenenbild_03_preview_kleinBatra, who’s also responsible for the script, is debuting with this film and kudos to him for this IndianGermanFrench collaboration. It won the Critic’s Week Viewers Choice at the International Cannes Film Festival in May this year and a couple more awards elsewhere. BTW, the German film site features some recipes for the film food here.