19 February 2019

On Qanats

Oliver Miles

Last year, a walker in the hills west of Guadalajara, Mexico came across a large hole that looked like the entrance to a railway tunnel. (The Mexican Guadalajara is named after the city in central Spain; the word is Arabic, meaning ‘valley of stones’‎.) He walked inside it a long way, noticing that every eleven metres there was a hole in the ceiling admitting sunlight. He had found a qanat.

27 November 2018

E. coli strikes America (again)

Hugh Pennington

Romaine lettuce in the US is currently under the cosh of a Food Safety Alert: don’t eat it, whether head or heart or baby; don’t sell it; and don’t eat ready-mixed Caesar salad, which contains it. Contamination with E. coli O157:H7 is the reason. An outbreak started in October, with 50 cases across 11 states, as well as in Ontario and Quebec, with 13 in the US admitted to hospital. The lettuce may have been grown in California, unlike the produce that caused the first romaine outbreak this year, which was grown in Yuma, Arizona. That outbreak lasted from March to June, and was the biggest E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in the US for many years, with 201 cases (96 hospitalised) and five deaths.

16 November 2017

Thomas Bewick’s Sketchbook

Esther Chadwick

A perfect farm animal, according to the 18th-century agronomist Robert Bakewell, would be shaped like a hogshead cask, ‘truly circular, with as small and as short legs as possible’. Bakewell’s ideal was founded ‘upon the plain principle that the value lies in the barrel’. There was no need for long limbs or lean necks: ‘all is useless that is not beef.’ This applied not only to cattle, but to pigs and sheep too, which after 1750 came to be reared as ‘production line animals’.

20 July 2017

Killing a Camel

Matthew Porges

I recently spent some time living with a refugee family in the Smara refugee camp, Tindouf Province, Algeria. The family were Sahrawis, exiles from the Western Sahara Conflict, and though they had lived a mostly stationary life in Smara for perhaps forty years, they were still culturally nomads. One day, when I had been living there for a few weeks, a relative of the family turned up in a white pick-up truck with a live camel tied to the flatbed. The camel was enormous, and gave no sign of discomfort as curious children swarmed around it.

30 December 2015

In Cumbria

Huw Lemmey

Aira Force is hidden beneath a strip of thick deciduous woodland on the banks of Ullswater. The waterfall drops 70 feet from the beck above, forcing itself through a narrow opening in the limestone, framed above and below by two humpbacked footbridges. It was near this spot that William and Dorothy Wordsworth saw their crowd of golden daffodils. The waterfall itself features in a handful of his poems; in ‘The Somnambulist’, the ‘drooping Emma’, separated from her lover, Sir Eglamore, begins to sleepwalk, drawn by the mesmerising sound of the beck: The moon is not more pureThat shines aloft, while through the woodShe thrids her way, the sounding FloodHer melancholy lure! The modern idea of the Lake District derives from the Romantic poets. Before they reimagined it, most people had feared and avoided the landscape of what is now Cumbria. It wasn’t hard to see why last week, as I trod carefully across the slippery bridge at the top of the falls. Storm Eva had followed close behind Storm Desmond, bringing unprecedented rain.

27 February 2015

Mediterranean Oaks

Inigo Thomas

Fernand Braudel began work on The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II in 1923. He finished it in 1946. Three years later it was published in Paris, and a revised and expanded second edition appeared in 1966. In 1972, almost fifty years after he started it, an English translation was published.

14 November 2014

Killing the Fatted Goose

Inigo Thomas

A new butcher's opened in Primrose Hill earlier this autumn, and because the shop sells foie gras it has been besieged by animal rights protesters, if only on Saturday afternoons. 'You have blood on your hands,' was one of the taunts aimed at the butchers the other day. The livers of wild geese and ducks typically double in size as they prepare for migration or the winter ahead. If domesticated and force-fed, their livers can expand six times or more. The fattening of all animals is ancient and persistent, and the making of foie gras is as old as Greece. Ditto, the sacrificial and spiritual significance of the livers of goats, sheep and cattle; the complexion of a liver determined whether the feasting element of a sacrifice would go ahead. If the liver looked unusual then the animal was dispensed with. The cultivation of edible livers has been so systematic and accompanied with such veneration and symbolic force that to call the practice 'inhumane' is, historically speaking, to misrepresent it (which isn't to say the animals don't suffer).