The Digest

The Church of Umami & Other News

12th May 2018

Words: James Hansen

The best of this week’s online food media includes nostalgia for a luxurious chocolate, the politics of restaurant reviewing and the problems with killing fish

Helen Rosner journeys to the centre of umami for The New Yorker. The place: Ajinomoto HQ in Kawaski, Japan. The ingredient: monosodium glutamate, or MSG. Enjoying an upsurge in popularity after years of unfair and racially unsavoury rejection, this pure form of umami is “revelatory: rich, deep, concentrated, and subtle”. At Umami Science Square, Ajinomoto (which translates as “essence of taste”) engages in a form of culinary tourism that is “equal parts propaganda and industrial playacting”. The essence of the trip is in MSG’s transformative effect: “We did a taste test of miso soup: pleasantly warm and bland, at first sip, and then—after a gentle snow of Ajinomoto—thunderous and baritone and complex.”

Daniel Patterson breaks down the loaded nature of restaurant criticism in an enlightening thread on Twitter. Following on from the backlash against San Francisco Chronicle critic Michael Bauer’s latest 100 Best list, which includes restaurateurs accused of sexual harassment, Patterson gets into how restaurant criticism’s unspoken rules favours certain restaurants at the expense of others. He arrives at rhetorical questions that demand an answer: “Is our review system fair? More importantly, is that system for everyone? Or is it designed for only some people, seen from one cultural point of view?”

Nikita Richardson takes Patterson’s questions with another at Grub Street: where are all the black restaurant critics? “Black points of view are common in film, music, fashion, literature, and politics, yet the slice of the journalism world that covers food, chefs, and restaurants as pop culture remains deeply un-integrated.” Richardson is clear that in food, diversity often and currently means granting a person a voice on their experience only, and it’s that “granting” that matters. equity means representation at the top, not only at another’s behest.

Liana Aghajanian explores the unique symbolism of Ferrero Rocher in American immigrant life for Thrillist. “It was a symbol of “the good life,” a tangible thing that vividly encapsulated social and economic aspirations in a way no other food item could.” Its golden foil a powerful representation of what life could be like and also of what it had been, through canny marketing and a model of luxurious accessibility the chocolate became a constant source of pleasure and aspiration for tumultuous lives: “The attainability of a luxurious product and its memories tied to sharing it with extended family was priceless.”

Gabriella Gershenson has a clear message at James Beard Foundation: the culinary is political. “Once upon a time, the culinary world was seen as a safe zone, a place where people could immerse themselves in the comforts of food and hide from the more complicated aspects of life. Well, that antiquated notion may have just died its final death.” Just as the Foundation’s Restaurant Awards for 2018 recognised equitable excellence, both regionally and nationally, Gershenson explores how food and politics necessarily intersect.

Cat Ferguson investigates the link between humane slaughter and taste for Topic. The ike jime method of killing a fish – “quick and calm” – results in longer-lasting, more tender flesh than the commonplace, slow, more painful method of asphyxiation. While fish sustainability has been on the global radar in the last 10 years, concerns over their final moments have long lagged behind concerns over meat. Ferguson meets farmers and restaurateurs to explore the gravity of fish pain, and to find out how the method of slaughter has implications beyond the moment of death.

Posted 12th May 2018

In The Digest


Words: James Hansen

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