May 222018

Today is designated as International Day for Biological Diversity (or World Biodiversity Day) by the United Nations: a day for the promotion of biodiversity issues. The International Day for Biological Diversity falls within the general scope of the UN Post-2015 Development Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals. In this larger initiative of international cooperation, the topic of biodiversity concerns stakeholders in sustainable agriculture; desertification, land degradation and drought; water and sanitation; health and sustainable development; energy; science, technology and innovation, knowledge-sharing and capacity-building; urban resilience and adaptation; sustainable transport; climate change and disaster risk reduction; oceans and seas; forests; vulnerable groups including indigenous peoples; and food security. The critical role of biodiversity in sustainable development was recognized in a Rio+20 outcome document, “The World We Want: A Future for All”.

From its creation by the Second Committee of the UN General Assembly in 1993 until 2000, Biodiversity Day was held on December 29 to celebrate the day the Convention on Biological Diversity went into effect. On December 20, 2000, the date was shifted to commemorate the adoption of the Convention on May 22, 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, and partly to avoid the many other holidays that occur in late December. The theme of the Day in 2018 is: Celebrating 25 Years of Action for Biodiversity

Coinciding with the observance of International Day for Biological Diversity, on May 2011 the Indonesian Forestry Minister inaugurated the Ciwalen Canopy Trail that is 120 meters (390 ft) long and 60 metres (200 ft) wide at an elevation of 30–40 meters (98–131 ft) above the ground at Gunung Gede Pangrango National Park, West Java, to accommodate five to ten people in one trip to experience biodiversity first-hand.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), biodiversity typically measures variation at the genetic, the species, and the ecosystem level. Biodiversity is not distributed evenly on Earth, and is richest in the tropics. These tropical forest ecosystems cover less than 10% of earth’s surface, and contain about 90% of the world’s species. Marine biodiversity tends to be highest along coasts in the Western Pacific, where sea surface temperature is highest, and in the mid-latitudinal band in all oceans. There are latitudinal gradients in species diversity. Biodiversity generally tends to cluster in hotspots, and has been increasing through time, but will be likely to slow in the future.

Rapid environmental changes typically cause mass extinctions. More than 99.9% of all species that ever lived on Earth, amounting to over five billion species, are estimated to be extinct. Estimates on the number of Earth’s current species usually range from 10 million to 14 million, of which about 1.2 million have been documented and over 86% have not yet been described. More recently, in May 2016, scientists reported that 1 trillion species are estimated to be on Earth currently with only one-thousandth of one percent described. Think about it for a minute: it’s possible that only .001% of all living species have been documented. I hope that boggles your mind. It is tribute to the vast ocean of ignorance about living things that we swim in, yet we claim to be oh-so-knowledgeable. Maybe in future centuries this period will be known as The Age of Scientific Ignorance (assuming Homo sapiens survives that long).

The Earth is about 4.54 billion years old. The earliest undisputed evidence of life on Earth dates to at least 3.5 billion years ago, during the Eoarchean Era after a geological crust started to solidify following the earlier molten Hadean Eon. There are microbial mat fossils found in 3.48 billion-year-old sandstone discovered in Western Australia. Other early physical evidence of a biogenic substance is graphite in 3.7 billion-year-old meta-sedimentary rocks discovered in Western Greenland. More recently, in 2015, what were called “remains of biotic life” were found in 4.1 billion-year-old rocks in Western Australia.

Since life began on Earth, five major mass extinctions and several minor events have led to large and sudden drops in biodiversity. The Phanerozoic eon (the last 540 million years) marked a rapid growth in biodiversity via the Cambrian explosion—a period during which the majority of multicellular phyla first appeared. The next 400 million years included repeated, massive biodiversity losses classified as mass extinction events. In the Carboniferous, rainforest collapse led to a great loss of plant and animal life. The Permian–Triassic extinction event, 251 million years ago, was the worst; vertebrate recovery took 30 million years. The most recent, the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, occurred 65 million years ago and has often attracted more attention than others because it resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The period since the emergence of humans has displayed an ongoing biodiversity reduction and an accompanying loss of genetic diversity. This reduction, called the Holocene extinction, is caused primarily by human impact, and if I were to put my finger on the single most important event I would name the Industrial Revolution as the villain of the piece. The reduction in biodiversity can be attributed to a number of causes such as increased pollution, climate change, destruction of habitats etc., but they all lead to one principal cause: the expansion of industrialism. Fossil fuels used in industry and transport pollute and produce greenhouse gases, habitats are constantly destroyed in the service of agribusiness monoculture and industry, and so forth.

The Industrial Revolution had a gigantic impact on all world cultures in a cascading domino effect. For example, factories in Britain in the 19th century needed raw products for manufacture which led to massive global colonization and imperialism, which, in turn led to slavery and enforced labor, deforestation, land clearing, and other impacts that caused the destruction of habitats – not to mention the fact that the factories consumed millions of tons of fossil fuels which polluted the air and created significant carbon dioxide emissions. Soon the rest of the world was following Britain’s lead, and we are living in the wake of that fundamental shift in vision of how we want the world to be. This means that individual efforts to reverse the trends that are causing a loss in biodiversity are feeble – at best – and probably (in my ever-humble opinion) doomed to fail in the long run. We want to eat our cake and have it. We want all the modern technology we have now – and more – and yet we want to (somehow) not pay for it with non-renewable resources. I do not see how that is possible. My dismal prediction is that Homo sapiens will be one of the species driven to extinction along with the millions of others, but, of course, I have no idea when that will come about.

Certainly, we should do our level best to convert to renewable energy sources, shift to sustainable foods, and the like, as much for ethical reasons as anything else. But I do not believe that these changes will have a lasting effect on the inevitable outcome. To put it bluntly: Homo sapiens is not a sustainable species. In other posts, I have spoken many times about thinking holistically when making decisions about what to eat or wear, what energy sources to use, and all the rest of it. You can’t avoid eating meat because of the cruel ways that farm animals are raised, but drink coffee produced by slave labor. You can’t avoid wearing animal products, but wear synthetic materials that can be as damaging, if not more so, to the environment. In any case, this is not a matter for individual change, but for cultural change on a global level: and that is simply not going to happen. As long as some people are making piles of money from processes that are destructive of the environment and biodiversity, nothing will change until it is too late (if it is not too late already).

All that said, there is no need to contribute to species extinction personally, even if the final outcome is unavoidable. We can still take personal responsibility for our actions. Therefore, I strongly advocate eating organically produced foods (if they are genuinely organically produced, and not simply claimed to be by devious marketers, as they are so often in the US), which do not use pesticides that endanger a number of species; to avoid eating species that are endangered, or whose consumption endangers other species (as in the case of Pacific mackerel and tuna); and to be aware, holistically, of the effects of certain diets.

The food groups that are underused in the West, seaweeds and insects, are frequently vaunted as “sustainable” but I want to raise a note of caution here. No species is by definition sustainable.  If a particular insect or a particular seaweed is suddenly touted as “nutritious and sustainable” and there is a run on it because it has become a new fad, it is quite likely that global stocks will be depleted in short order, causing shock waves throughout the food chain. Seaweeds and insects have not been hanging about for millennia waiting for some human cultures to discover them as food. They have been eaten by other species for that time as their major food sources. They are also invaluable environmentally. It has recently been shown that seaweeds absorb more far more carbon dioxide than terrestrial plants, and, therefore, overusing them would have as significant an effect on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels as deforestation.

Rather than give you a recipe today, in light of these warnings, I am going to suggest a fundamentally important rule, namely, to maintain biodiversity, diversify your diet. You do not need to eat the same foods all the time to maintain your usual balance of fats, protein, and carbohydrates. I hope this blog has already made you aware of the incredible diversity of ingredients in the world. Today’s challenge, therefore, is to eat something today that you have never eaten before. It doesn’t have to be spiders or grasshoppers or kelp. It can be goat or squab or wild mushrooms. You can even use your normal recipes, just with different main ingredients. The point is to break out of eating the same foods all the time because by doing so you are contributing to a reduction in biodiversity. There are tens of thousands of edible species in the world, most of which are more readily available than you might think. Take advantage of them all.

May 202018

Today is called the Day of Remembrance in Cambodia, formerly called (in English) the National Day of Hatred, which is a mistranslation of the Khmer name ទិវាចងកំហឹង – tiveachangkamhoeng — which literally means “Day of Tying Anger” but is perhaps better translated as “Day of Maintaining Rage” that is, a day for maintaining the sense of anger at the genocide against Cambodians perpetrated by Pol Pot. The day has changed names, and fluctuated in importance over the years since Pol Pot was formally defeated by communist Vietnamese, because the Khmer Rouge has maintained a continuous presence in Cambodia, with waxing and waning fortunes. The Day of Remembrance (as I shall refer to it), was first launched in the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) on May 20th  1984. The commemoration was initiated by a September 12, 1983 conference in Phnom Penh of around 300 intellectuals and clergymen. The date was selected since it marked the initiation of mass killings in Democratic Kampuchea on May 20th 1976. It was also the date that the Khmer Rouge had initiated forced collectivization in southern Takéo in 1973.

Under the PRK, the full title of the event in English was ‘Day of Hatred against the genocidal Pol Pot-Ieng Sary-Khieu Samphan clique and the Sihanouk-Son Sann reactionary groups’. The Day was an important holiday in the PRK, and the Kampuchean United Front for National Construction and Defense mobilized Kampuchean mass organizations to ensure popular participation. Under the PRK, the policies of the United States (dubbed as imperialist) and the People’s Republic of China (dubbed as expansionist) were also targets of dislike during the Day of Hatred. The 1983 conference had made as the objective of the National Day of Hatred the mobilization of international public opinion against the Khmer Rouge, their allies and their foreign backers. In particular, the issue of the representation of the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea in the United Nations was highlighted.

(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

The Cambodian genocide killed somewhere between 1.5 and 3 million Cambodian people from 1975 to 1979. In 1976, the Khmer Rouge changed the name of the country to Democratic Kampuchea. In order to fulfill their goals, which were a particular blend of nationalism, Stalinism, and Maoism that was designed to create a monoethnic and deliberately uneducated agrarian society, the Khmer Rouge emptied the cities and forced Cambodians to relocate to labor camps in the countryside, where mass executions, forced labor, physical abuse, malnutrition, and disease were prevalent. This resulted in the death of approximately 25% of Cambodia’s total population. People perceived as the opposition were taken to the Killing Fields, where they were executed and buried in mass graves. The Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia ended the genocide by defeating the Khmer Rouge in 1979. Things did not end there, however, because the Khmer Rouge remained an active presence for many years, and were recognized internationally as the legitimate ruling party, while the world turned a blind eye to the genocide.

The Vietnamese were especially troubled by the Khmer Rouge because their genocide targeted ethnic Vietnamese living in Cambodia. The border between the two countries has always been fluid – especially around the Mekong Delta because control of that region is critical for trade and defense. On December 3, 1978, Radio Hanoi announced the formation of the Kampuchean National United Front for National Salvation (KNUFNS). This was a heterogeneous group of communist and noncommunist exiles who shared an antipathy to the Pol Pot regime and a virtually total dependence on Vietnamese backing and protection. The KNUFNS provided the semblance, if not the reality, of legitimacy for Vietnam’s invasion of Democratic Kampuchea and for its subsequent establishment of a satellite regime in Phnom Penh.

In the meantime, as 1978 wore on, Cambodian bellicosity in the border areas surpassed Hanoi’s threshold of tolerance. Vietnamese policy makers opted for a military solution and, on December 22nd, Vietnam launched its offensive with the intent of overthrowing Democratic Kampuchea. A force of 120,000, consisting of combined armor and infantry units with strong artillery support, drove west into the level countryside of Cambodia’s southeastern provinces. Together, the Vietnamese army and the National Salvation Front struck at the KR on December 25th. After a 17-day campaign, Phnom Penh fell to the advancing Vietnamese on January 7th, 1979. Pol Pot and the main leaders initially took refuge near the border with Thailand. After making deals with several governments, they were able to use Thailand as a safe staging area for the construction and operation of new redoubts in the mountain and jungle fastness of Cambodia’s periphery, Pol Pot and other Khmer Rouge leaders regrouped their units, issued a new call to arms, and reignited a stubborn insurgency against the regime in power as they had done in the late 1960s.

For the moment, however, the Vietnamese invasion had accomplished its purpose of deposing an unlamented and particularly violent dictatorship. A new administration of ex-Khmer Rouge fighters under the control of Hanoi was quickly established, and it set about competing, both domestically and internationally, with the Khmer Rouge as the legitimate government of Cambodia. Peace still eluded the nation, however, and although the insurgency set in motion by the Khmer Rouge proved unable to topple the new Vietnamese-controlled regime in Phnom Penh, it did nonetheless keep the country in a permanent state of insecurity. The new administration was propped up by a substantial Vietnamese military force and civilian advisory effort.

As events in the 1980s progressed, the main preoccupations of the new regime were survival, restoring the economy, and combating the Khmer Rouge insurgency by military and by political means. The UN General Assembly voted by a margin of 71 to 35 for the Khmer Rouge to retain their seat at the UN, with 34 abstentions and 12 absentees. The seat was occupied by Thiounn Prasith, an old colleague of Pol Pot from their student days in Paris and one of the 21 attendees at the 1960 KPRP Second Congress. The seat was retained under the name ‘Democratic Kampuchea’ until 1982 and then ‘Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea’ until 1993. Pol Pot continued as nominal ruler of Cambodia until 1997, and died in 1998.

On 2 January 2001, the Cambodian government established the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, to try the members of the Khmer Rouge leadership responsible for the Cambodian genocide. Trials began on 17th February 2009. On 7th August 2014, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan were convicted and received life sentences for crimes against humanity during the genocide. As of 2009, the Cambodian NGO Documentation Center of Cambodia has mapped some 23,745 mass graves containing approximately 1.3 million suspected victims of execution. Direct execution is believed to account for roughly 60% of the full death toll during the genocide, with other victims succumbing to starvation or disease.

The effects of Pol Pot’s policies, including, but not limited to, genocide cannot be overstated, and have left an enduring legacy in Cambodia. Virtually the entire urban population was displaced, educational and religious institutions were ravaged, and the whole culture was turned upside down. On the surface, Cambodia seems like other SE Asian cultures to the casual visitor, but if you live there for any length of time it is obvious that the culture is far from “normal.” There is still a general undercurrent of suspicion of strangers, particularly foreigners, and key institutions, such as universities and temples, are still essentially rudderless and ill staffed.  It will take at least a generation before Cambodia can be said to be a stable nation.

All that said, Cambodian cuisine marches on regardless. I’ve talked about Cambodian dishes several times already, and given my usual caution that for authentic dishes you need to travel to the country. As the chameleon cook, I routinely cook Cambodian dishes at home because the ingredients are readily available and I know the basic principles. Sour and spicy/hot are the most common elements along with sweet/fruity, salty, and bitter (not unlike the Chinese ideal, although the flavors are different.

Kuy teav (គុយទាវ) is one of my favorite morning dishes whether I make it at home, or get it from a market stall. It’s better at market stalls because they have constantly simmering vats of broth that are enriched over the morning with the ingredients that are cooked in them. Kuy teav  is a noodle soup consisting of rice noodles with pork stock and toppings that is generally assumed to be of Chinese origin. In Khmer, kuy teav is formally pronounced IPA: [kuj t̪ieʋ] but is often elided to IPA: [kə t̪ieʋ] (Romanized as k’tieu, katieu, kateav, etc.) due to the sesquisyllabic nature of the Khmer language. It is impossible to learn Khmer pronunciation from books. When I learn a new phrase and then practice it on the streets, all I get are puzzled looks, because I am putting too many syllables and consonants in. You almost never hear a final consonant, even though it is there in the written text and complex vowel sounds and diphthongs are drastically simplified from what books teach.

Kuy teav is prepared with partially dry thin squarish rice noodles cooked by quickly immersing the noodles in boiling water. The noodles are then strained, placed into a bowl, and moistened with a nutty, caramelized garlic oil. After dressing with a sticky brown liquid made of oyster sauce, soy sauce and a pinch of sugar, the bowl is then filled with a clear broth made from pork bones, dried squid, and sugar, and seasoned with a bit of fish sauce. Then the meat toppings are added, which may include a variety of different types of meat, such as pork loaf, minced pork, pork belly, duck, seafood or offal. When I order from a market stall I just ask for a little of everything on offer. It usually varies from day to day. Only once in a while will I ask for one ingredient only. This is not unheard of, but is not normal.

When the dish is served, you have a wide choice of garnishes and aromatics to customize the dish. The pork broth is tasty and complex, but also subtle, so you add what you want to adjust it to your taste. I usually add the Cambodian trinity of garlic, fresh lime juice, and hot peppers. Garnishes can include lettuce leaves, bean sprouts, fresh herbs (sawtooth coriander and holy basil), crushed black kampot pepper, and chopped green onion.

Mar 082018

Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), commemorating the movement for women’s rights. The first observance of a Women’s Day was held on February 28, 1909 in New York, but March 8 was suggested by the 1910 International Woman’s Conference as an “International Woman’s Day.” After women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia in 1917, March 8 became a national holiday there. The day was then predominantly celebrated by the socialist movement and communist countries until it was adopted in 1975 by the United Nations.

In August 1910, an International Women’s Conference was organized to precede the general meeting of the Socialist Second International in Copenhagen. Inspired in part by U.S. socialists, German socialist Luise Zietz proposed the establishment of an annual International Woman’s Day and was seconded by fellow socialist and later communist leader Clara Zetkin, supported by Käte Duncker, although no date was specified at that conference. Delegates (100 women from 17 countries) agreed with the idea as a strategy to promote equal rights including suffrage for women. The following year on March 19, 1911, IWD was marked for the first time, by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. In the Austro-Hungarian Empire alone, there were 300 demonstrations. In Vienna, women paraded on the Ringstrasse and carried banners honoring the martyrs of the Paris Commune. Women demanded that they be given the right to vote and to hold public office. They also protested against employment discrimination. The US continued to celebrate National Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February. In 1913 Russian women observed their first International Women’s Day on the last Saturday in February (by the Julian calendar then used in Russia).

Although there were some strikes, marches, and other protests led by women in the years leading up to 1914, none of them happened on March 8. In 1914 International Women’s Day was held on March 8, possibly because that day was a Sunday, and now it is always held on March 8 in all countries. The 1914 observance of the Day in Germany was dedicated to women’s right to vote, which German women did not win until 1918. In London there was a march from Bow to Trafalgar Square in support of women’s suffrage on March 8, 1914. Sylvia Pankhurst was arrested in front of Charing Cross station on her way to speak in Trafalgar Square.

On March 8, 1917, by the Gregorian calendar, in the capital of the Russian Empire, Petrograd, women textile workers began a demonstration, covering the whole city. This was a component in sparking the Russian Revolution. Women in Saint Petersburg went on strike that day for “Bread and Peace” – demanding the end of World War I, an end to Russian food shortages, and the end of czarism. Leon Trotsky wrote, “23 February (8th March) was International Woman’s Day and meetings and actions were foreseen. But we did not imagine that this ‘Women’s Day’ would inaugurate the revolution. Revolutionary actions were foreseen but without date. But in the morning, despite the orders to the contrary, textile workers left their work in several factories and sent delegates to ask for support of the strike… which led to mass strike… all went out into the streets.” Seven days later, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote.

Following the October Revolution, the Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai and Lenin made the day an official holiday in the Soviet Union, but it was a working day until 1965. On May 8, 1965 by the decree of the USSR Presidium of the Supreme Soviet International Women’s Day was declared a non-working day in the USSR “in commemoration of the outstanding merits of Soviet women in communistic construction, in the defense of their Fatherland during the Great Patriotic War, in their heroism and selflessness at the front and in the rear, and also marking the great contribution of women to strengthening friendship between peoples, and the struggle for peace. But still, women’s day must be celebrated as are other holidays.”

From its official adoption in Soviet Russia following the Revolution in 1917, the holiday was predominantly celebrated in communist countries and by the communist movement worldwide. It was celebrated by the communists in China from 1922. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949 the State Council proclaimed on December 23 that March 8 would be made an official holiday with women in China given a half-day off.

The United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day in the International Women’s Year, 1975. In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for women’s rights and world peace.

International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day (IWCBD) is also held on 8th March, to coincide with International Women’s Day. The event was first started in 2014, when 60 women brewmasters around the world simultaneously brewed the same recipe of craft beer. The event helps to raise awareness of women working in the brewing industry, especially as brewmasters. It is also a chance for women interested in brewing to network with one another.

The idea for the IWCBD came from Project Venus member, Sophie de Ronde, who reached out to the Pink Boots Society in 2013 to start a “unified brew day.” De Ronde wanted the day “to encourage women to brew together.” The day was meant to “raise awareness of women in the brewing industry and raise money for local charities and Pink Boots Society.” Brewing beer has become a male-dominated industry and is “still struggling with sexism and gender bias.” Another participant said, “I’d like to normalize the idea that women can and do work in the brewhouse along with other departments in a brewery.”

The first year, 2014, over 60 women in five different countries brewed a pale ale called Unite. In 2015, there were 80 women from eleven different countries involved who worked together to brew Unite red ale. In South Africa, Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela, helped organize the first IWCBD event in Johannesburg. For 2016, the type of beer brewed was a gose.

The Pink Boots Society (PBS) is a non-profit organization with international membership which supports women working in the brewing profession, especially in creating craft beer. The organization helps women brewers meet mentors, have the opportunity to network with other women in the profession and raises awareness of women in brewing. PBS also encourages women brewers to further their education and helps teach the skills needed to become beer judges. PBS raises money for scholarships for women to continue their education in brewing. There are around 1,800 members across the world. All members must be women and have some type of career in the brewing world or related to beer and beer-making.

In 2007, brewer Teri Fahrendorf met other brewers, Laura Ulrich and Whitney Thompson while on a road trip. Her trip, in which she went to 70 different breweries and participated in 38 brewings helped her realize that many of the women brewers she met didn’t know there were other women in their profession. The first manifestation of PBS was merely a list of women brewers maintained on a blog. PBS had its first meeting at the Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) and it drew 22 members. Later, Fahrendorf founded PBS as a non-profit organization and named it after the pink boots she wore when brewing which had been given to her by her mother-in-law.

In 2013, PBS was contacted by Sophie de Ronde to create the International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day (IWCBD). The day helps raise awareness about women in the brewing industry and also helps raise money for PBS.

Because today is a beer brewing celebration as well as a celebration of the rights of women I give you two recipes incorporating beer – one savory and one sweet. I have given recipes before for beef and chicken in beer. These are a little different. The cake requires Guinness, but the recipe for green beans is cook’s choice when it comes to the beer. Pilsner, IPA, stout, brown ale, etc. will all produce different results.

Green Beans in Beer


⅓ lb lean bacon, diced
1 lb green beans, cut in long pieces
⅓ cup beer
⅓ cup butter, cubed
3 tbsp brown sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tsp cornstarch
grated onion


Cook the bacon over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. Keep the liquid in the saucepan.

Place the beans, beer and butter in a saucepan and bring them to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the beans are al dente (about 10 minutes). Remove the beans with a slotted spoon and keep warm.

Combine the brown sugar, vinegar, cornstarch and onion to taste in a small bowl and mix until well blended. Stir the mix into the saucepan with the beer and butter. Bring to a boil.  Cook the mix, stirring constantly until thickened (1 to 2 minutes). Turn off the heat and add the beans. Let them heat through, then sprinkle in the bacon and serve.

Chocolate Guinness Cake



1 cup Guinness
½ cup butter, cubed
2 cups sugar
¾ cup baking cocoa
2 eggs, beaten
⅔ cup sour cream
3 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking soda


8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
½ cup heavy whipping cream


Preheat the oven to 350°F/

Grease a 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Heat the beer and butter in a saucepan over low heat until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat. Whisk in  the sugar and cocoa until well blended.

Combine the eggs, sour cream and vanilla in a bowl until smooth. Whisk into the beer mixture.

Combine the flour and baking soda and whisk them into the beer mixture until smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Remove the sides of the pan.

To make the topping, beat the cream cheese using a stand mixer until fluffy. Add the confectioners’ sugar and cream and beat until just smooth. Do not beat too much. Place the cake on a platter or cake stand. Spread the topping on the cake so that it resembles a glass of Guinness.

Feb 202018

Today is known as World Day of Social Justice or Social Equality Justice Day, a day recognizing the need to promote efforts to tackle issues such as poverty, exclusion and unemployment. The United Nations General Assembly voted on 26 November 2007 to observe 20 February annually as a day for promoting social justice worldwide. The declaration reads in part:

For the United Nations, the pursuit of social justice for all is at the core of our global mission to promote development and human dignity. The adoption by the International Labour Organization of the Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization is just one recent example of the UN system’s commitment to social justice. The Declaration focuses on guaranteeing fair outcomes for all through employment, social protection, social dialogue, and fundamental principles and rights at work.

The General Assembly invites Member States to devote the day to promoting national activities in accordance with the objectives and goals of the World Summit for Social Development and the twenty-fourth session of the General Assembly. Observance of World Day of Social Justice should support efforts of the international community in poverty eradication, the promotion of full employment and decent work, gender equity and access to social well-being and justice for all.

Social justice is a concept of fair and just relations between the individual and society. This is measured by the explicit and tacit terms for the distribution of wealth, opportunities for personal activity and social privileges. In Western as well as in older Asian cultures, the concept of social justice has often referred to the process of ensuring that individuals fulfill their societal roles and receive what was their due from society. In the current global grassroots movements for social justice, the emphasis has been on the breaking of barriers for social mobility, the creation of safety nets and economic justice.

Social justice assigns rights and duties in the institutions of society, which enables people to receive the basic benefits and burdens of cooperation. The relevant institutions often include taxation, social insurance, public health, public school, public services, labor law and regulation of markets, to ensure fair distribution of wealth, and equal opportunity.

Interpretations that relate justice to a reciprocal relationship to society are mediated by differences in cultural traditions, some of which emphasize the individual responsibility toward society and others the equilibrium between access to power and its responsible use. Hence, social justice is invoked today while reinterpreting historical figures such as Bartolomé de las Casas, in philosophical debates about differences among human beings, in efforts for gender, racial and social equality, for advocating justice for migrants, prisoners, the environment, and the physically and developmentally disabled.

While the concept of social justice can be traced through the theology of Augustine of Hippo and the philosophy of Thomas Paine, the term “social justice” became used explicitly from the 1840s. A Jesuit priest, Luigi Taparelli, is typically credited with coining the term, and it spread during the revolutions of 1848 with the work of Antonio Rosmini-Serbati. In the late industrial revolution, progressive U.S. legal scholars began to use the term more, particularly Louis Brandeis and Roscoe Pound. From the early 20th century it was also embedded in international law and institutions; the preamble to establish the International Labour Organization recalled that “universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice.” In the later 20th century, social justice was made central to the philosophy of the social contract, primarily by John Rawls in A Theory of Justice (1971).

The theme for 2018 is Workers on the Move, thinking primarily about the plight of migrants: 

There are many websites with suggestions for recipes for social justice. One theme is, of course, fair trade ingredients. I am going to take a different slant. The key element to social justice is equality. How about a recipe that involves equal proportions of all ingredients? This would be a little tricky in baking where one cup of flour, one cup of sugar, one cup of baking powder, one cup of eggs, one cup of butter, one cup of vanilla essence etc. would certainly be unpleasant. But soups and salads based on the equality of ingredients would be just fine. In fact, that is often my method with salads. I do not like one ingredient to dominate in a conventional salad. Put in a cup of each of the ingredients, diced or chopped, mix them together, and then dress them with extra virgin olive oil. Or make a soup of equal parts of onion, beans, potatoes, meat, celery, carrots, parsnips etc. I guarantee it will be good. Call them Social Justice Salad or Social Justice Soup.

Dec 102016


Today is Human Rights Day celebrating the proclamation of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations in Paris on 10 December 1948 (General Assembly resolution 217 A) as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. It sets out, in clear language, the fundamental human rights that are to be universally protected and it has been translated into over 500 languages. Sadly, the resolution was non-binding, making the United Nations a rather toothless tiger. But it was a start for a fledgling world body to come together under a common banner with a common goal. The full text of the declaration is here:


Ancient cultures had complex legal systems, but, despite spurious claims by some scholars that documents such as the Cyrus Cylinder are declarations of human rights, the concept as it is understood now, was not formulated until the development of humanist thinking and Protestant ideology in the West beginning with what we now call the Renaissance and the Reformation. Its ideals crested in Enlightenment philosophy in the 17th century and in key documents such as the English Bill of Rights (1689), the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789), and the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution (1791).  Preceding documents such as the Constitution of Medina (622), Al-Risalah al-Huquq (659-713), Magna Carta (1215), etc., all contains germs of the idea, but the notion that a person is born with inalienable rights regardless of gender, color, creed, or religion does not emerge full blown until the late 17th century. However, even the documents I have cited are equivocal. The U.S. Bill of Rights, for example, was passed by slave holders, but it put the principles in place.


The word “Man” is troublesome. The documents cited seem to be a bit vague in this regard. Are they using the word “Man” to mean Homo sapiens, or just men (and not women)? You can waffle all you like; they meant men, and the word when used now is still sexist, even if unintentionally. I don’t use the word to mean humans; I use the word “human” – end of story. These are HUMAN rights, not the Rights of Man. It’s not difficult to say “human” rather than “man” or “humankind” rather than “mankind.” A few extra letters won’t hurt you. If you need convincing look at these sentences:

In prehistoric times man was a hunter.

Man is the only species that menstruates on a 28-day cycle but is receptive to sex all the time.

The first sentence seems all right, but the second one looks odd. Why? Both show gender bias, but the first gets a free pass and the second gets a question mark. The first is fair enough in that both men and women have participated in hunting historically, but . . . hunting is (and was) predominantly a male activity in forager societies. Thus “Man the Hunter” seems all right and has been used as the name of a classic text in anthropology. “Man the Menstruator” doesn’t sit well.  Case closed. Talk about HUMAN rights.

It would be nice if traditional musicians would get the memo. The “Rights of Man” is a classic Irish hornpipe that is very popular at music sessions. Irish tunes in general have catchy titles that have nothing to do with the music. That said, I will rename this the Human Rights Hornpipe:

There is a basic human right to food.  This is subsumed under the basic human right to life. Food, water, and shelter are the most basic of human needs to support life. What form food comes in is not relevant as long as it is free from harmful contaminants and is plentiful enough to avoid hunger or malnutrition. This means that there is no human right to banquets or fancy dishes. In fact there are a lot of people (and cultures) in the world that are not interested in diversity in food. I don’t understand people who want the same food all the time, but I respect their habits. The domestication of plants led to cereals being primary staples worldwide with wheat, barley, corn, and rice topping the list. In many world languages the word for the local staple is also the general word for food. The Lord’s Prayer asks: “Give us each day our daily bread.”  The word “bread” here means food, and “daily bread” means enough food for the day. The basic character in Chinese, 饭, is pronounced fan (4th tone), and can mean rice in particular, or a meal in general.


So, frankly, I don’t know what to present as a recipe du jour. The times in my life when I have had almost no money to live on (too many for comfort), I’ve usually resorted to a bowl of rice per day. It’s a bit bleak but I’ve always found ways to dress up plain rice. Stalls that sell bowls of rice in Asia always have condiments of some sort – sauces or pickles. I usually opt for a fiery hot sauce and some pickles.

Oct 012016


Today is the UN International Day of Older Persons.  This from the WHO website:

The International Day of Older Persons is an opportunity to highlight the important contributions that older people make to society and raise awareness of the issues and challenges of ageing in today’s world. The theme for 2016, Take a Stand Against Ageism, challenges everyone to consider ageism – the negative attitudes and discrimination based on age – and the detrimental impact it has on older people.

The bit about “important contributions” is a tad condescending, and the “issues and challenges” bit is a little broad. But I’ll go with it. Let’s start with what an “older person” is. The WHO tactfully does not give an age but this does:


So apparently I am an “older person” at 65. Who knew? I thought 60 was the new 40. Here’s this “older person” at 63.


The beard wasn’t doing me any favors in that regard, so I lost it. My sister thinks I should lose the chops now also. Not a chance. The good thing about getting older is being able to be a curmudgeon. When I was younger I was simply a pain in the arse. Now it’s cute. If you don’t like it you can f**k off. And you know where you can stick this sign.


I have various thoughts about aging and, since this year’s theme is ageism I’ll get to that eventually. Other thoughts first. The need for a special day for older persons is in large part due to the modern cult of youth which has been creeping up steadily since at least the 1950s. When I was a boy in the 1950s I thought that people my age were ancient. That’s partly a function of my own youth at the time, and partly a function of different standards. Medicine was quite different then, and also people slowed down more quickly. My paternal grandparents were dead by their 50s and my mother wore a full set of dentures in her 30s. These were normal facts of life back then. On the other hand, a raft of my maternal great aunts and uncles lived well into their 90s and one made it past 100. I also had a great aunt by marriage who was going strong into her 100s – living alone, cooking for herself etc. until she dropped. But these were notable exceptions.

Nowadays, especially in the United States, older people have become a nuisance for many families whereas once they were valued. They get stuck in retirement homes and visited on Sunday afternoons. That practice is a gigantic failure of society. Younger relatives are too “busy” to look after people as they grow older so they get pushed aside. That doesn’t cut it with me, nor with many other cultures. In rural Italy nonna lives at home with one of her children and her grandchildren, and when she gets feeble she sits outside during the day and greets local villagers as they pass by. Someone brings her lunch where she is sitting, and in the evening she goes inside for dinner. She doesn’t need a nursing “home” – just someone to show some basic compassion.  Here’s a picture I took in 1963 in Australia of my neighbors (and my sister with them). No thought of bunging “gran” in a nursing home. She was a valued family member even though she needed a wheelchair.


There was a time, especially before the Industrial Revolution, when local “worthies” (old folk) were specially prized members of society because of their knowledge. Let’s say there’s an unusually heavy frost in the fields followed by a devastating flood. What do you do about ploughing this year? This just doesn’t happen. Well – you seek out the oldsters who tell you, “I remember my father saying that this happened when he was a boy. What he did was . . .” There are also well-documented cases of land-usage disputes in the 18th century that were settled by the courts by calling on the testimony of the oldest members of the village who gave evidence based on what their grandfathers had told them, and this testimony was legally binding. All gone.

The simple fact is that in a world where technology and fashions change so rapidly, the expertise of the elderly isn’t valued any more, although I like this tale:

An ocean liner was disabled because its main engine had failed. Expert engineers were called in but no one could fix it. Finally a 70 year old man who had worked on ship’s engines like it for 40 years was called in. He examined the engine for many hours, then took out a mallet and tapped in a certain spot twice. The engine sprang to life. The man asked for $10,000 for “services rendered.” The owners were flummoxed at the cost and asked for an itemized bill. This is what they got:

Tapping on the engine . . .  $2

Knowing where to tap . . . $9,998

I’m pretty good at keeping up with the latest developments in computers, smartphones, and whatnot, but it can be a struggle. I have complete sympathy with older people who are tired of constantly learning new things. I stopped updating Windows for my laptop at version 7. Enough is enough. Besides, later versions are crap. Newness for the sake of it is a disease of modern capitalism, and we don’t fight back enough. Word processing software is an infinite improvement over typewriters, but I don’t need the latest update every five minutes. Yet software companies want to push the new versions for the sake of revenue, not because they are really any better. I’ll take my current version of MS WORD, (which I am writing on now and which is about 5 years old), over the DOS version of WordStar I used on my first PC in 1983. I don’t need the latest bells and whistles even though I am sure they are just wonderful. I’m a simple hack who needs to get words on paper (or screens, or whatever).

This year’s theme, ageism, is, indeed, a big problem that continues to spread. Sexism and racism are, alas, still with us in spades, but they do, at least, have vocal opponents. Ageism is the forgotten prejudice. Luckily in Europe I can still find work at my age. I’m retired, so that’s not  a major issue. But I want to travel and live in different countries; teaching helps me out. Besides, teaching gets me embedded in new cultures easily. However . . . many countries in the Middle East and Far East have strict age limits on hiring. In China the cutoff is 60 although “foreign experts” such as myself can push the ceiling up a bit. In parts of the Middle East (notably Dubai and Saudi Arabia) and Indonesia the cutoff is 55. I’ll grant they have issues over health. These countries don’t want foreign workers being off sick a lot and a burden on the healthcare system. So demand a full physical !! It ain’t rocket science. In China I had to go for a full workup that took several hours – 11 clinics involving blood tests, an EKG, ultrasound, eye tests, chest X-ray . . . you name it. That works to weed out the feeble.

The other problem has to do with countries that have massive unemployment coupled with population pressure. If older people stay on in jobs into their 70s and beyond, they cripple opportunities for younger people entering the workforce. That’s a huge problem in the US right now where age discrimination is illegal. People are living longer and often want to keep working in a market where personnel needs are diminishing anyway – partly because of corporate greed, and partly because of improvements in technology that increasingly replace humans with machines. Asian countries “solve” the problem with mandatory retirement ages. This “solution” goes some of the way to help with youth unemployment, but it does not address the fact that by sending out sexagenarians to pasture, you are losing your knowledge base. I am a much better teacher than a 20-something fresh out of college because my 40 years of experience on the job are worth something. Admittedly I’m also more expensive. Cost versus quality? Tough choice. Usually I lose (or accept a pay cut).

What about old git cooking? Hard to say really. I did discover a few years ago in Argentina that I could cut vegetables just as well sitting at the table as standing at the kitchen counter and straining my back in the process.  I still don’t like doing it though, and have given up the practice. My back is stronger now for some inexplicable reason. So are my knees. It could be that I have strengthened them by walking more since I gave up driving. It’s also true that older people can do daft things such as leaving the oven on all night. But fair’s fair. I destroyed my fair share of kettles and blackened countless pots by leaving them on the stove and going back to writing when I was in my 30s. But forgetfulness and loss of motor control do creep up on you.

On the other hand, my landlady in coastal North Carolina was knocking 70 and cooked for a large-ish family every single day. Everyone went off to work and in the evening came home to a fully cooked meal, made from scratch. She started preparation around 10 am and worked on dinner for 8 hours. It was not solid work, of course, but many dishes took long, long hours. Greasy greens are a great example. First here’s a great oldster, Peg Leg Sam (1911-1977), blues singer and huckster from North Carolina who came to prominence in the early 1970s courtesy of a friend of mine in the Folklore program at UNC-Chapel Hill.

What about them greasy greens? Well, you just need to be an old-timey southern cook to get them right. Collards are the greens of choice. In Britain – called colewort – they are picked very young and go into what we used to call “spring greens.” In the US they are left to grow old and leathery (like the old cooks), and need to be boiled for long hours to tenderize them. Start with a “mess” of greens – i.e. enough to fill a large pot. Wash them well and cut out the hard parts of the stalks. Shred them loosely with your hands and stuff them into a pot. Pack them down well because they will cook down. Fill the pot with cold water and add a good slab of salt pork. Then cook and cook and cook on a low simmer. 8 hours or longer was normal in my household.


In the last hour or so my landlady added cornmeal dumplings. These are made by mixing cornmeal with a little flour then binding with lard and water. I never liked them so have not bothered to learn the recipe. This site looks good:  They are way too heavy for my tastes. I make my dumplings with flour and baking powder.


To serve greasy greens my landlady put them in a big bowl with the dumplings and salt pork on top and a raw onion and vinegar on the side. The younger members of the family didn’t care for the onion and vinegar, but Elsie piled on chopped onion and a splash of vinegar every time with a little bit of fat added “for flavor.” Not heart food.  Elsie was not a slender woman, but she did live to a ripe old age – bless her.


Sep 272016


Since 1980, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has celebrated World Tourism Day on September 27. This date was chosen because on that date in 1970, the Statutes of the UNWTO were adopted. The adoption of these Statutes is considered a milestone in global tourism. The purpose of this day is to raise awareness of the role of tourism within the international community and to demonstrate how it affects social, cultural, political and economic values worldwide.

At its Twelfth Session in Istanbul in October 1997, the UNWTO General Assembly decided to designate a host country each year to act as the Organization’s partner in the celebration of World Tourism Day. At its 15th session in Beijing in October 2003, the Assembly decided the following geographic order to be followed for World Tourism Day celebrations: 2006 in Europe; 2007 in South Asia; 2008 in the Americas; 2009 in Africa and 2011 in the Middle East.


The late Ignatius Amaduwa Atigbi, a Nigerian national, was the one who proposed the idea of marking September 27 of every year as World Tourism Day. He was not formally recognized for his contribution until 2009.

This is a subject dear to my heart and it gives me the chance to speak directly about the subject instead of lifting huge chunks from other sources. I can sum up my mixed feelings about tourism by saying that I think that world travel probably has some benefits, but I’m not a fan of tourism. Travel and tourism are different animals and I’ll spell out the differences in a minute. I’ll begin by saying that tourism can be a great economic benefit to huge swathes of the world, although the benefit comes at a steep price, namely, the disruption of local cultures.. Many parts of the world survive now on tourism economically. Take Easter Island as a classic example. It’s actually got many names and no one knows what its original indigenous names were. Currently its Polynesian name is Rapa Nui, which locals prefer, but it is part of Chile, so has an official Spanish name: Isla de Pascua. I’ll use Rapa Nui.


Rapa Nui has a long and complex history that is both fascinating in terms of what we do know as well as what we don’t know. The island is famous for its moai, of course, which too many foreigners think are carved heads (because of images from the site where they were carved and stored). Standing in place on platforms they are full body statues. Contrary to newspaper stories of recent years, it was not all of a sudden discovered that the heads have bodies. Anyone who knows anything about the island has known this all along. I suppose, therefore, tourism does have the immediate benefit of correcting false images.


I visited Rapa Nui in 2013 for my birthday. When I retired and moved back to Argentina I celebrated my birthday each year by visiting extraordinary places – 60th on Tierra del Fuego, 61st at Machu Picchu, and 62nd on Rapa Nui. Since then I’ve celebrated with a dinner party at home, but home keeps changing – 63rd in Buenos Aires, 64th in Kunming, 65th in Mantua. No idea about the 66th. Those five sum up the difference between being a tourist versus being a traveler. The first three I was a tourist, the last two I was a traveler. Buenos Aires is my real home.

My birthday often falls around (sometimes on) Easter Sunday. I wasn’t even thinking straight when I booked to go to Easter Island. My birthday was the day before Easter Sunday that year and so I had the great good fortune to go to a mass on Easter Sunday celebrated partly in Spanish and partly in Rapa Nui. When I booked, two months earlier, I was completely unaware of the coincidence – Easter on Easter Island. Yup, I’m an idiot. I mean, I’m an ordained minister; you’d have thought I would have been more astute.


Rapa Nui these days survives on tourism. The local economy is far from self sustaining. Not much food is grown locally, there’s no mining or industry, and just about everything is flown in from the mainland. Without tourists the local economy would die. When you visit the island you’ll meet many more tourists than locals. The locals are for the most part at least bilingual (Spanish and English, or Rapa Nui and Spanish), and many are trilingual. I don’t have exact statistics but my experience was that the vast majority of tourists were monolingual English speakers from the US and Britain. I met one or two Spanish speakers from Chile and Argentina, but they were in the minority, by far.

The English speakers did not even bother to attempt any Spanish; they just went straight up to workers in hotels and restaurants and addressed them in English, assuming that they understood (which they almost always did). I was appalled from the minute I stood in line at my hotel and saw this behavior, and vowed from that point on to speak Spanish only. It served me well. I had great conversations with all the locals, especially the breakfast chef who was Chilean but had lived for decades on the island. The tourists for the most part wanted their Western tastes catered to – hotel rooms like the ones in the West, steaks and other meats which had to be flown in from the mainland (mostly Argentina), and guided tours on buses with guides speaking their languages. Ever thought of eating locally caught fish, or hiking around the island without a guide, or just simply talking to the locals (even if you have to use English)? Nope. Selfies on a guided tour is the norm. Pathetic. Here I am standing beside a carved head. Here I am on the beach. Here I am at sunset eating a steak.


What I’m getting at is that I don’t see tourism in itself as expanding people’s cultural horizons all that much. Tourists are apt to skim the surface and not take much from the culture they are visiting.  I lived in a hostel in Kunming in China for about a year and had the misfortune to encounter a number of young people from the US and Europe who liked to call themselves “travelers” to distinguish themselves from tourists (that is, until I followed my son’s lead and kept away from public areas when they were around). They had backpacks and hiking boots and spent months going from place to place in Asia. Most carried a guide book such as Lonely Planet and followed a fixed itinerary. So if you asked, “where next?” chances are the answer was either Dali or Laos because that’s what the book said to do. They were not travelers, they were long-term tourists doing the modern version of the 19th century aristocratic Grand Tour but with less money and time. For most of them it was selfies at the Great Wall by day and clubs by night.


Marco Polo was a traveler. He had the great fortune to live before the era of jet travel, smartphones, and WiFi. He traveled on foot or by pack animal and got to know the locals, and recorded all of his experiences carefully. There have been many such travelers throughout history. It was on the basis of their travels that cultural anthropology was born. I believe that such travel can be informative and expand one’s horizons. Skimming off the barest surface is unlikely to do much.

More than ever I feel like saying – “I don’t want to give you a recipe. Travel the world and eat what’s good locally.” Italians are rabid about eating locally, especially within Italy. One of my best friends in Mantua, last time I talked to him, was cursing over foreign tourists he saw eating spaghetti Bolognese in a restaurant here. “If they wanted spaghetti Bolognese they should have gone to Bologna !!! Here we eat tortelli di zucca or bigoli con le sardelle.” Can’t fault him there. I’m a major fan of terroir cooking.


So, even though today’s celebration is about tourism, I’d recommend poking around and discovering what is truly local where you are right now. First thing I did when I moved to Cuddebackville in New York was to eat smoked eels at a local shack. They fish eels out of the Neversink and Delaware rivers and smoke them locally. They’re not popular, but they sure are local. Mushrooms were the big thing in Kunming, and I ate a ton of all manner of varieties, many picked wild in the mountains. I’ve had plenty of tortelli and bigoli in Mantua. Now I’m on the lookout for stracotto d’asino (donkey stew). Tomorrow I’m heading to Parma for local ham. Even in the barren wastelands of hot dogs and hamburgers in the US there are plenty of regional specialties if you look hard enough.


Sep 212016


Today is the International Day of Peace, sometimes unofficially known as World Peace Day, dedicated to world peace, and specifically the absence of war and violence. To inaugurate the day, the United Nations Peace Bell is rung at UN Headquarters (in New York City). The bell is cast from coins donated by children from all continents except Africa, and was a gift from the United Nations Association of Japan, as “a reminder of the human cost of war.”  The inscription on its side reads, “Long live absolute world peace.”


The United Nations General Assembly declared, in a resolution sponsored by the United Kingdom and Costa Rica in 1981, that the International Day of Peace be devoted to commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace. The date initially chosen was the regular opening day of the annual sessions of the General Assembly, the third Tuesday of September. The United Nations was, of course, founded in the aftermath of World War II to prevent another such conflict. Obviously there has not been another world war, but the body has not been especially effective at preventing smaller wars.

The ineffectiveness of the UN should not come as any surprise, but, nonetheless, we can applaud the ideals. It can be admitted that the UN has been successful in a great many areas through its numerous organs such as WHO and UNESCO. The problem is that world peace is certainly a goal that I am sure the majority would support in principal, but the practice is endlessly elusive. This is because the causes of conflict are seemingly impossible to eradicate. There are many causes, obviously but I would like to focus on two: human temperament and profiteering.

As a professional anthropologist I do not believe in some notion of universal human nature. All cultures are different, and some exist globally and in history, who seek/sought to live peaceably. Conflict is not in our natures; we learn it. In fact, a very good case can be made for the argument that genetically we incline towards cooperation. There’s also a good case to be made for the argument that prehistoric hunters and gatherers were peaceful people. It was the development of domestication and, thereafter, cities, that created the conditions for war.


What little we can glean from contemporary foragers is that it is in their best interests to share and live at peace. Presumably that was also true in prehistory. Unfortunately prehistoric foragers lived in conditions that no longer exist. The most obvious ones that have vanished are abundant natural resources and low population. Under those conditions, when local groups grew too big to be sustained by local resources they could simply fission and move to new territory without conflict. That state of affairs is long past.


The Genesis story of Cain and Abel is probably a fair summation in parable form of the state of affairs in Mesopotamia at the time of domestication. Their parents, Adam and Eve, were simple foragers when they lived in the Garden of Eden. They lived off the bounty of the land. But when they were expelled they had to grow their own food by the sweat of their brows. Whether foraging or farming, people need both vegetable and animal products for survival (as a general rule). Foragers can provide both for themselves by dividing up the labor and then sharing their resources. With domestication comes a problem. It’s not as easy to create communities that can both farm crops and raise animals. Both activities benefit from the same kinds of land, but if there is not enough to go around disputes may arise.

In Mesopotamia there was a simple solution to such disputes. Farmers could take the fertile river valleys and pastoralists (animal herders) could take the rugged hill country that was not useful for farming. Of course, the hills are not good for cows and pigs, but they are perfect for sheep and goats. Enter Cain and Abel. Cain raised crops and Abel kept sheep. With this division comes the need for trade: the farmers need meat and the shepherds need bread. One way to accomplish this is through peaceful negotiation. The other is to take what you need forcibly. Pastoralists have historically subscribed to the forcible course of action because they have the means at their disposal to be successful. They slaughter animals routinely, so they can turn the technology of death from animals to humans. In addition, they live in rugged highlands that are easily defended.


To protect themselves from such attacks, farmers need to build cities with walls and train soldiers for defense. And there you have it. Once communities develop with different interests you have the potential for conflict. Then as now the question is whether you are going to fight over resources or trade in harmony, and, then as now, fighting often seems to be the better option for one reason: profiteering. To put it in a nutshell, people have always gone to war to make a profit. Other factors come into play of course, but at heart someone is making a profit – always.

If it were illegal to make a profit from manufacturing guns and bombs no one would do it. But the fact is that weapons manufacture is hugely profitable. At this point, if weapons manufacture were outlawed national economies would collapse. What is more, if weapons manufacturers ran the risk of dying through the use of their products, they’d run a mile. But that’s not the case. One group of people makes weapons and makes huge profits, and a different group of people uses the weapons and die.  There’s the problem to be solved if you want world peace. As long as we live in a world where we’re content to let a small minority get fat at the expense of others, we’ll always have war.  We need to beat our swords into ploughshares.


My solution is in some ways simple, yet impossible to put into effect. Put the people who advocate war in the forefront of battle. If you want to make guns, you have to be the first one to put on a uniform and use them. If you want to declare war, you have to be on the front lines. I don’t doubt that conflict would cease instantly under those conditions.


Eating together is, as I have said many times, one avenue towards peace and harmony. We’ve all had fights over the dinner table, of course, but in general sitting down together for a meal promotes goodwill.  Some of my best times have come when circumstances required me to share a meal with strangers. I’d have no trouble filling a book with stories – passage from Australia to England sitting at tables for 14, a fish camp in the Appalachian mountains where everyone ate at one long table, hostel kitchens worldwide, barbecues in China, potluck suppers . . . the list is endless. Let’s talk about potlucks. Everyone brings a favorite dish and we all share. Perfect for a day dedicated to world peace. In the past my contributions ran the gamut from pies and pasta to creamy desserts. In the end I opted for bringing mounds of raw vegetables of all kinds with a dipping sauce because at every potluck there were oceans of casseroles and pies with not a vegetable in sight. My contributions always vanished in a hurry.

My food suggestion du jour to celebrate the idea of world peace is to hold a potluck or something of the sort to bring people together to eat. My favorite potlucks have been the multicultural ones where you wind up with one pots, curries, pastas and whatnot. So begin by imagining what you could make that would delight an international crowd. I’m spoilt for choice because I’ve lived in so many places and cooked so many different cuisines. Recently on this blog I showcased rice dishes as good for the masses. Here’s one I invented for a New Year’s potluck. It’s a burrito casserole. They all called it lasagna but loved it anyway. I don’t have a formal recipe because I made it up on the spot. You’ll get the idea.


Start by sautéing an onion, chopped, over medium heat in a little olive oil, and when it has turned translucent add ground beef and brown it. Add a little powdered cumin also, plus salt and pepper to taste. I didn’t add any hot pepper flakes but I would have if it were just for me. When the meat is nicely browned add some crushed canned tomatoes and beef stock to moisten. Simmer for about 40 minutes until the sauce is reduced and thickened.

In a separate skillet make a tomato-based sauce with crushed canned tomatoes, beef stock, and spices. Garlic and cumin are the mainstays, but you can add some others if you wish. Cilantro is a good addition.

When the beef is ready, take out some flour tortillas. Make individual burritos by wrapping the tortillas around the beef to form a roll. Place the burritos in a row in the base of a baking dish. You can make one or two layers as you wish. Don’t make the burritos too fat because you want a balance of tortilla, meat, and sauce (like lasagna). Pour your tomato sauce over the burritos so that they are covered, with a little on top. Cover the top with shredded cheese, and bake in a medium oven (300°F/150°C) until the cheese is melted and bubbling.

Aug 192016


World Humanitarian Day is a day dedicated to the recognition of people carrying out humanitarian work and those who have lost their lives working for humanitarian causes. It was designated by the United Nations General Assembly as part of a Swedish-sponsored GA Resolution A/63/L.49 on the Strengthening of the Coordination of Emergency Assistance of the United Nations, and set as 19 August. It marks the day on which the then Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Iraq, Sérgio Vieira de Mello and 21 of his colleagues were killed in the bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad.


A national of Brazil, Sérgio Vieira de Mello dedicated a lifetime spanning over thirty years in the United Nations, serving in some of the most challenging humanitarian situations in the world to reach the voiceless victims of armed conflict, to alleviate their suffering and to draw attention to their plight. His death together with 21 colleagues on 19 August 2003 in Baghdad, deprived the victims of armed conflict worldwide of a humanitarian leader of unmatched courage, drive and empathy who championed their cause fearlessly and etched their plight on the world map. The tragic event also robbed the humanitarian community of an outstanding humanitarian leader and intellectual whose thinking, philosophy, dynamism, and courage inspired all, and whose timeless efforts should be a model for coming generations to emulate.


Mindful of this legacy, in 2006 the Vieira de Mello family and a group of close friends founded the Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation dedicated to continuing his unfinished mission of encouraging dialogue between communities and relieving the plight of victims of humanitarian crises. The Foundation is dedicated to supporting initiatives and efforts to promote dialogue for peaceful reconciliation and co-existence between peoples and communities divided by conflict through an annual Sergio Vieira Mello Award, an Annual Sergio Vieira Mello Memorial Lecture, a Sergio Vieira de Mello Fellowship and advocating for the security and independence of humanitarian workers, wherever they may be operating and whomever they may be operating for. The Foundation views World Humanitarian Day as a befitting tribute to all humanitarian personnel who have made the ultimate sacrifices to make the world a better place for all victims of humanitarian crises and an encouragement to all their colleagues to aspire to even greater heights in accomplishing that laudable goal.

The Sérgio Vieira de Mello Foundation is committed to working closely with all Governments, the United Nations, International Organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations to make Word Humanitarian Day a meaningful observance every year. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is leading efforts to plan and guide the observance of the Day that will be commemorated annually world wide by Governments, the United Nations and International Humanitarian Organizations and NGOs.

World Humanitarian Day was commemorated for the first time on 19 August 2009. Subsequent years have focused on a particular theme. In 2010, the focus was on the actual work and achievements of humanitarian workers in the field, with the theme, “We are Humanitarian Workers.” The 2011 campaign, “People Helping People” was about inspiring the spirit of aid work in everyone. The 2012 campaign, “I Was Here” was about making your mark by doing something good, somewhere, for someone else. The campaign has had a social reach of more than 1 billion people around the world. It was supported by the singer Beyoncé, whose music video for the song “I Was Here” has been viewed more than 50 million times.


In 2013, the UN and its partners launched a project called “The World Needs More…”. In collaboration with global advertising firm Leo Burnett, the campaign aims to turn words into aid for people affected by humanitarian crises. Private sector companies and philanthropists are being encouraged to sponsor a word that they believe the world could use more of, e.g. “action.” People can then ‘unlock’ money pledged by sponsors by ‘sharing’ these words through social media, SMS and through the campaign website at  Events to mark World Humanitarian Day and launch the campaign were held in more than 50 countries around the world.

World Humanitarian Day also aims to bring attention to the fact that there is a humanitarian crisis in the world today. The UN’s Agenda for Humanity has five areas of focus.

1 End & Prevent Conflict

2 Respect Rules of War

3 Leave No One Behind

4 Work Differently To End Need

5 Invest In Humanity

If #1 were in effect there would be no need for #2 of course.

The Syrian refugee crisis is of major importance right now, but the UN estimates that at least 130 million people in the world today are in crisis because of war. It’s quite easy to discern counterproductive imperatives in developed countries: they cause conflict around the world and then refuse to help the refugees who are displaced by their actions. Monstrous. We ALL must speak out. Spread the word.

It would not be right to celebrate conflict and the refuge crisis, but I the day is really about honoring the life of Sérgio Vieira de Mello (as well as all humanitarian aid workers). So, a Brazilian recipe is in order. What could be more Brazilian than feijoada?  At root feijoada is a stew of black beans and meat, and, of course, you can cook it a million different ways. Here is a serviceable recipe. You can alter the meats, but it must have black beans.




1 lb/480 g dry black beans
4 tbsp olive oil
1 lb 480 g pork shoulder, cut into chunks
2 large onions, peeled and sliced
1 head of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 lb/450 g carne seca or corned beef, cut into chunks
½ lb/225 g fresh Brazilian pork sausage
1 lb/480 g  lingüiça  (smoked sausage)
1 smoked ham hock or shank
3-4 bay leaves
1 14.5 oz/411 g crushed tomatoes
meat stock


Soak the black beans overnight in cold water.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed large pot over medium-high heat and add the onions and pork shoulder and brown them well all over. Add the garlic and sauté 2 more minutes.

Add the other meats and bay leaves, and cover with rich stock. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover, and cook for 1 hour.

Drain the black beans from their soaking liquid and add them to the meat. Continue simmering gently, covered, until the beans are tender – about 1½ hours.

Add the tomatoes, stir well, and taste for seasoning. Add salt if needed.

Simmer the stew, uncovered, for a further 2-3 hours.

Serve with white rice and hot sauce.

As side dishes you can serve collard greens and fried plantains.