Category Archives: agriculture/food

“The World of Soy” due out soon

The World of Soy, a new volume of articles about the uses of soybeans in various parts of the world, is nearing publication. It is edited by Christine M. Du Bois, Chee-Beng Tan, and Sidney Mintz, and the publisher is the University of Illinois Press (UIP).

This is the result of a project that goes back to a panel on soybeans worldwide held at the 8th Symposium on Chinese Dietary Culture in Chengdu, China on 17-19 October 2003.

The panel was a special project, the papers being destined for a book and not the proceedings, and the presenters having a focus on soybeans. Some papers, like mine on soybean use in West Africa, had little to do directly with Chinese dietary culture – the central link of course being the origin of the crop, and the broader interest to the symposium being comparative aspects of use of soy among diverse cultures.

The book that is about to be published, as the individual papers in it, has evolved a bit from the original work five years ago. Among other things, there are additional contributions. Taken as a whole, the publicity notes that the book

discusses important issues central to soy production and consumption: genetically engineered soybeans, increasing soybean cultivation, soyfood marketing techniques, the use of soybeans as an important soil restorative, and the rendering of soybeans for human consumption.

Although the table of contents is not listed in UIP’s current publicity, Christine Du Bois kindly supplied me with it so I can repost here (I’ve modified the presentation slightly):

INTRODUCTION: The Significance of Soy – Sidney W. Mintz, Chee-Beng Tan, and Christine M. Du Bois


1. Legumes in the History of Human Nutrition – Lawrence Kaplan
2. Early Uses of Soybean in Chinese History – H. T. Huang
3. Fermented Beans and Western Taste – Sidney W. Mintz
4. Genetically Engineered Soy – Christine M. Du Bois and Ivan Sergio Freire de Sousa


5. Tofu and Related Products in Chinese Foodways – Chee-Beng Tan
6. Tofu Feasts in Sichuan Cuisine – Jianhua Mao
7. Fermented Soybean Products and Japanese Standard Taste – Erino Ozeki
8. Fermented Soyfoods in South Korea: The Industrialization of Tradition – Katarzyna J. Cwiertka and Akiko Moriya
9. Tofu in Vietnamese Life – Can Van Nguyen
10. Soyfoods in Indonesia – Myra Sidharta
11. Social Context and Diet: Changing Soy Production and Consumption in the United States – Christine M. Du Bois
12. Soybeans and Soyfoods in Brazil, with Notes on Argentina: Sketch of an Expanding World Commodity – Ivan Sergio Freire de Sousa and Rita de Cássia Milagres Teixeira Vieira
13. Soy in Bangladesh: History and Prospects – Christine M. Du Bois
14. Soybeans and Soybean Products in West Africa: Adoption by Farmers and Adaptation to Foodways – Donald Z. Osborn

CONCLUSION: Soy’s Dominance and Destiny – Christine M. Du Bois and Sidney W. Mintz

Appendix A. Scientific Names for Plants and Edible Fungi
Appendix B. More on Tofu in Chengdu

Altogether I think this is a very important volume. From a personal point of view I enjoyed working on the article I contributed. More on that in a later post.


“Lost Crops of Africa”

Lost Crops of Africa: …

Read this FREE online!Full Book

The third and final volume of the Lost Crops of Africa series was recently published by the National Academies Press. Its topic is Fruits. I just received a copy, as well as a one of the second volume on Vegetables, which was published two years ago. Vol. 1 on Grains was published in 1996.

In that gap of time is a story, but the good news is that this project has finally been brought to a successful conclusion, the result of an incredible effort by Dr. Noel Vietmeyer and Mark Dafforn. The concept is that there are a lot of important cultivated and wild foods native to Africa that are neglected in research and planning, and so in effect “lost” beyond the local areas where they are well known.

Taken together the three volumes profile 11 cultivated and several wild grains, 18 vegetables, and 24 cultivated and wild fruits. I won’t list them here, but hope to take a few moments to highlight individual species and my comments on them in the future.

I had the privilege of contributing briefly to this project in the early stages, mainly as an intern in 1992 with an office of the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council called BOSTID (Board on Science and Technology for Development). At the time the plan was for a six volume series covering grains, cultivated fruits, wild fruits, vegetables, legumes, and roots and tubers. As I was told, the idea grew out of an earlier successful project on Lost Crops of the Incas (1989), but that it very quickly it became apparent that in the case of Africa there were quite a lot of species of interest.

Unfortunately BOSTID, which had done a lot of quality (and interesting) publications since its establishment in 1970, disappeared into another office in a mid 1990s reorganization and the Lost Crops of Africa project was put on hold. Funding was found to publish Vol. 1 in 1996, but then the effort relied on Noel and Mark, and a decision was made to condense the rest of the series into two volumes. Mark led the project to ultimately complete editing and publication (sponsored by the Africa Bureau and the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance of USAID). Incredible, but altogether the effort spanned 20 years. Mark and Noel deserve a huge amount of credit for their perseverance on this project.

I haven’t found any reviews of volumes two and three, but from quick perusal these cover the quite a number of species in the same highly readable style of vol. 1 (which was summarized in the New York Times on April 23, 1996; see also a review in ODI’s Natural Resource Perspectives 23 [9/97], and a short critical perspective on H-Africa).

Altogether the contribution of this series is in bringing various edible plant species to broader attention in a world that focuses – at its risk – on a few cultivars of a few main crops. Having this information in book format is of obvious use (such volumes from the BOSTID are still referenced in the field and these post-BOSTID volumes will continue to be as well, no doubt). Much has changed since the first volume was published in terms of the technologies for disseminating information, and I’m given to think that a wiki format to complement the online versions of the books could facilitate updates and ongoing contributions by specialists in the field. That would assure the longer term impact of this important work as a living resource. Who would set it up and maintain it is another issue.


International Year of the Potato

IYP logo, with permissionThe UN has given 2008 several designations, of which International Year of the Potato (IYP) is another one.* The reason for IYP is given as follows:

The celebration of the International Year of the Potato (IYP) will raise awareness of the importance of the potato – and of agriculture in general – in addressing issues of global concern, including hunger, poverty and threats to the environment.

The origin of IYP was apparently a proposal by Peru within the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which eventually resulted in a UN General Assembly resolution.

The IYP website is a nicely organized with information in the 6 UN languages, including activities for children.

* I’ve previously commented on the International Year of Planet Earth, and for the International Year of languages, have commented briefly and devoted a section of this website.