Borborygmi: GOOD's New Food Column

Posted by Peter Smith

Food writer Peter Smith collects rumblings from the collective gut, around the dinner table, and across the food world.

Last week, I planted French fingerling potatoes, racked off five liters of imperial ale for bottle conditioning, ate homemade, wet-dough pizza topped with fiddleheads, and read Farm City, a forthcoming book about farming in Oakland. On Sunday, I sat down for a showing of Juzo Itami's 1987 "spaghetti Western" classic, Tampopo, paired with an omakase from one of Portland, Maine's best sushi chefs.For me, food is much more than a simple act of consumption. Food is culture. But Borborygmi isn't about my eating habits, my ethical rubric, or my experiences as a farm apprentice, fishmonger, or international freight shipper.The word borborygmi refers to the noises in the gut, onomatopoeia first used by the ancient Greeks, according to Mark Morton, an etymologist and author of Cupboard Love: A Dictionary of Culinary Curiosities.Borborygmi aims to round up rumblings, growls, and gurglings from across the food world. Slow food and fast food; skinny lattes and fattened livers; haute cuisine and hot dogs. Food is polemical.The sustainable food movement perseveres as a reactive, politicized opposition to the industrial food chain. It's a response to Downergate and salmonella outbreaks. This kind of thinking came from my parent's generation and the 1960s-era countercuisine, which embraced the idea that eating something (brown bread, rice, LSD) had the potential and the promise to change the world. Since then, whole, natural, organic, Fair-trade foods have become disconnected from their original goals and, in some cases, replications of what their proponents set out to oppose.Now we're stuck with yuppie food, food porn, and "delightful" restaurant reviews that The New York Times's Daniel Okrent has called some "weird form of cryptojournalism." All despite the latest instructive criticism from diet gurus, like Michael Pollan, on how to eat healthy food (Eat food, mostly plants, not too much, right?). The great irony is that Sylvester Graham, Linus Pauling, and other crusaders of better living through (food) chemistry died well within the average life expectancies of their time. Eating well doesn't mean you'll live forever.And despite the long history of masculine Meat Writers, who chronicle how disgusting food has become, global corporations still make what they make, promising better, more nutritious food made with the latest technology at cheaper prices.Eating has become an everyday action that few Americans have to think seriously about. But through the lens of food we can also learn about business, politics, literature, and the environment. My hope is that the rumblings on Borborygmi will explore these myriad ways people interact with food.To give you a sense of what might show up on Borborygmi in the next couple of weeks and months, here are a few stories that caught my attention recently:-Swine flu, or H1N1, which may or may not have originated at a confined animal feeding operation in Mexico, sickened 200 pigs in Alberta, Canada late last week. Canadian and American officials said pork lovers should not stop eating: bacon is not a medium for the swine flu.-The Pepsi-Cola Co. announced the launch of three "natural beverages" (with video), all using sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup as their sweetener. This is a big step forward in marketing the retro cool of preindustrialized foods and a knock against the Corn Refiners Association lobbying efforts. Slate says the HFCS-to-sugar does little to address the obesity epidemic or farm subsidies. In the end, though, real sugar may win out in the soda aisle. And not just during Passover either.-Organic agriculture now makes up 5 percent of the nation's farms, according to a New York Times infographic, although the recession has apparently slowed that growth to a standstill. Last month, a glut in milk supplies, the fastest-growing segment of organic foods, led at least one group of dairy farmers to start their own line of branded organic milk to counter low prices.-The economic crisis isn't just fueling an interest in Depression-era cooking. Combined with the global food shortage, the current recession has fueled a land grab with investors in the Middle East, China, and India buying up arable land in developing countries.Thanks for joining me at Borborygmi. I hope you keep coming back with comments, suggestions, and recipes. Just bring your curiosity, a taste of what's on your plate, and a hunger for compelling stories about food.