“Found food”

[Many thanks to T-star for the title of this blog!]

Shrunken svamparna, Saturday morning

A quick update on our mushrooms, gathered in the forest south of Stockholm: they have lost most of their water volume, dried up into husks of their former fungal selves.

We happened to collect these tasty morsels the day after supper with one of our in-laws, who was in town for a meeting on sustainability.  The meeting was an interesting gathering of academics and policy people, with possibly a few business folks scattered among them, and one of the major topics was local food, fair trade and so on.

You are most likely familiar with the concept of food miles, and I’ve written here about “love miles” before as well — the idea that one should stick around home to avoid burning fossil fuels, or buy locally in order to minimize one’s footprint on the rest of the planet.  Here in Stockholm, I cringe when I buy my favorite sugarsnap peas, grown in Kenya, and avoid buying avocados from Peru altogether.

But I still buy my favorite Argentinian Malbec wines, and I am close to believing that lamb from New Zealand is okay. Argentina has the climate and the water, and New Zealand, the sheep, water, and grass down there to make growing those things more sustainable than, say, within a 100-mile radius of central Stockholm in the middle of winter — oh, and did I mention the sunshine?

So, sometimes, even when taking into account the transport costs of the goods, which usually means petroleum, carbon emissions, and other pollutants, it can be better to eat foreign. Our guest made the plausible argument that a local apple stored over the winter costs more energy-wise in particular to keep it cool than a fresh-plucked apple from half a world away.  I’ve not done the plane flight calculations that would counteract my love of lamb — but fresh lamb from Sweden disappears in the grocery stores when it’s out of season, just after spring fattening and slaughter. While there’s something to be said for eating seasonally, it’s hard for me to give up salad in winter in Sweden.

Like our dinner guest said, it depends on your desired outcome — are you worried about carbon footprints (which are notoriously complex), or water exports, or local labor?  Personally, and embarrassingly, as much as I want to get my stuff made local, I like too many food stuffs (and other treats) that just don’t come from Sweden.

But one thing that makes me cringe a little about getting my food from elsewhere is the lack of control over the growing/picking/making of my food.  I just read a little news tidbit about how restaurant diners here in Stockholm suffered from seeming food poisoning after eating tuna for lunch earlier this month.  The tuna, it turns out, came from Senegal and had not been refrigerated properly, leaving behind proteins called histamines that triggered allergic reactions in the lunchers.

But this kind of problem of poor food safety could happen anywhere of course — whether it’s E. coli  in spinach from wildlife, listeria from cantaloupe stored in unclean facilities in the U.S., or eating uncooked snails from your own garden.  Eating is a crapshoot, it turns out, even inside our modern food systems, from industrial agriculture (pesticides and genetically modified organisms) to restaurant salad bars.  And it was even more of a crapshoot before refrigeration, cooking, and post-nomadic agriculture.  Imagine searching for berries in a prehistoric summer in the forests of Sweden: you need the sweet sugary blast of lingonberries, pre-IKEA, but you have got to know what the poisonous red deer berries look like and never mistake one for the other.

Which makes me all the more grateful to have had an experienced mushroomer with us when we collected our own kanterelles the other day.  Most of the things he pointed out were edible, and he was careful to teach us about those that looked close enough to orange-hued kantarelles but that might have made us ill.  How did people ever determine what was safe for them to eat?  Was it really trial and error?  A few crazy poisoning events that from tiny tastes of unknown foods?  No wonder Judaism, Islam and other religions have such strict dietary rules!

And even though I trust AN, I confess to eyeing our mushrooms with some trepidation — what worms might have sequestered themselves inside?  What if we missed one poisoned swamp?  We will cook the bejeezus out of them before we eat them, and that should help allay my fears.  In the meantime, I have to stop reading the Promed e-mail alerts from the International Society of Infectious Diseases.

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One Response to “Found food”

  1. TSO says:

    Do not fear the friends of your found food. You can’t worry too much about worms.

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