a book about cod


“a biography of the fish that changed the world” is the subtitle of cod (1997) by mark kurlansky & succinctly describes this interesting book / kurlansky is the 1999 winner of the james beard award \ the highest honor for food and beverage professionals working in north america

though tasteless & flavorless, cod meat is more than 18% protein and only 0.3% fat / when dried  it is nearly 80% protein \ a basque-speaking cod hauled by a medieval fisherman from a basque folktale begins the fascinating story of this once highly valuable fish / basques were able to travel long voyages because they knew where to find huge schools of cod & which they salted \ this provided them with a nutritious supply that would not spoil for a long time / but the vikings had actually been curing cod centuries before the basques \ the difference is that unlike the basques, they did not have salt / they preserved cod by drying them in the frosty winter air \ because of its long history as preserved food, cod is generally thought of in its dried version, not fresh

it would not have occurred to me that this material for fish sticks that my favorite young people love had such an impact in the economic & thus political history of the new world <politics & economics tend to be intertwined>\ the entrepreneurial spirit of the colonists came to fore in their fight to keep their fishing & trade rights / rearing the head for colonial independence & bringing to fruition adam smith’s theory of the “invisible hand” <& the benefits of a free market & the growth of trade> \ i think books such as this give life and make the teaching & learning of history and economic theory much more interesting

one interesting bit of history is that during the time that the british were successfully fishing new england waters & supplying the cod market, the pilgrims were starving! \ in 1624, there were 50 british ships fishing the coasts of new england, up from 10 in 1621 when the pilgrims first arrived / aside from being unprepared <they did not know how to farm, fish or hunt> & the influx of more and more pilgrims, another reason given for their failure to take advantage of this abundant resource <cape cod, hello> is their rejection of unfamiliar food \ it must be a british cultural trait / the same behavior is noted in other books written about in this blog <books about india pale ale, rubber & tea>

interesting too are the innovations developed in the fishing industry where the cod is the central character / among them was freeze drying \ invented by the new yorker clarence birdseye / he sold his company to the postum company \ whose owner renamed his company to general foods / filleting machinery was introduced in 1921 & reduced waste \ freezing + filleting = fish fillets or sticks / and it became a commercial success / “scrod” which is a small cod fillet became a household word with the industrialization of filleting / the gorton company still makes fish sticks <you can find it in the supermarket’s frozen section> \ fish sticks are now mostly made from pacific pollock

the last section of the book  which is less interesting to me is about the damage done by overfishing & how countries try to mitigate its effects / overall, an excellent read, very well-written \ interesting, entertaining & informative

my favorite curmudgeon had suggested another mark kurlansky book “salt” but i chose to read this / next will be about the basques

a book about tea: corporate espionage & theft in the 19th century


for all the tea in china: how england stole the world’s favorite drink & changed history (2010) by sarah rose chronicles the theft in the mid-1800 of the tea plant,  horticultural knowledge, tea-making processes & technology in order to build the tea industry in india / this enabled britain to be in a highly competitive spot with china in the production of the world’s second most consumed beverage

the spy-thief in this story is scotsman robert fortune  / london’s daily express, in its book review, called him “the indiana jones of tea” \ indeed, fortune disguised himself as a local mandarin / he shaved the front of his head like any other ethnic chinese <an act of fealty to the emperor>, wore a tail & got rid of his western clothes \ he also spoke some pidgin chinese and outsmarted pirates!

despite his lack of a gentleman’s background, fortune was the royal horticulture society’s first choice for the mission to china / he is considered to be one of the world’s greatest plant hunters, introducing over 120 plant species to the western world \ many plants are named after him < … fortunei > and his enduring legacy are the many ornamental plants gracing our gardens < bleeding heart, clematis, rhododendron, chrysanthemum, etc >

fortune used many ways of transporting the stolen tea from china to the darjeeling region of india / among them was the use of wardian cases, the forerunner of the modern terrarium & inspiration for the glass aquarium <invented by nathaniel bagshaw ward, an interesting story itself> \ aside from the plant, fortune also brought with him five chinese tea cultivators so that the transfer of technology was complete

this is another interesting good read!

a book about the rubber tree: biopiracy in the amazon

thief at end of the world

the thief at the end of the world: rubber, power, and the seeds of empire (2008) by joe jackson is a fascinating story of henry alexander wickham who in 1876 under the order of the british empire smuggled 70,000 rubber seeds from the amazon to the kew gardens / these were used to seed the rubber plantations in asia & effectively ended the dominance of brazil & the amazon as the main source of rubber which was then a key resource for the military-industrial complex & the nascent automobile industry \ very interesting good read

the story of how henry wickham smuggled the rubber seeds is by itself compelling \ it turned out to be a game changer in world trade & economy <wild rubber production was 99.7% in 1905 and declined to 6.9% in 1922> / taking place during the glory days of the british empire, the act of usurping other nations’ natural resource & transplanting to its colonies underscored the political & economic significance of resource independence \ fastforward to the present when “energy independence” is in the united states’ political agenda

equally compelling is the story of the man himself \ wickham started off in his adventure in his mid-20s / not a very good planner & organizer but a good self-promoter & a staunch dreamer \ his obsession with propagating rubber <and other crops> in the amazon brought about hardships & tragedy not only for himself but his family / there is something to be admired about a man who would endure illness, disease & near death to fulfill his dream & persist against many odds, rejection, condescension & little reward \ wickham in his later years was knighted & spoken about as the “father of the rubber industry”

just as interesting is the question of a nation’s rights & sovereignty over its natural resources \ the transfer of indigenous knowledge of its flora & fauna without the source benefitting or compensated for the commercial use of this knowledge is biopiracy \ predating wickham’s rubber seed theft was the smuggling of cinchona seeds <cinchona being the source for quinine, the cure for malaria & yellow fever> by another british adventurer, clements markham / other cases of biopiracy: maya icbg controversy where the icbg was documenting the biodiversity of chiapas mexico with the intent of ascertaining their commercial medical possibilities; rose periwinkle, native to Madagascar and a cure for cancer; neem tree for controlling fungal infection in plants; a patent of enola bean that was revoked after causing economic damage to farmers in mexico; an attempt by a u.s. corporation to patent basmati rice

in 2001, india set up the traditional knowledge digital database containing translations of ancient manuscripts of old remedies \ the purpose is to protect its cultural heritage from exploitation by foreign companies / the philippines has done the same by establishing a national digital library containing local communities’ health practices that have been proven effective by modern medical societies


garden bloomed 28may2014a

the poppy is, botanically, not an ephemeral plant \ but in the everyday sense of the word, it is / i did not notice until this morning that the poppy buds of last saturday have bloomed <as have the iris, rhodies, potentilla & indigofera | the peony still has a way to go> \ the bold orange petals i know will not last long especially with the showers we’ve been getting the past days / i wonder what it feels like to be “ephemeral” \ it must feel light & unburdened / not a bad way to travel in life…