a taste of chris caldicott’s world food alphabet

#46 in an ongoing series of posts celebrating the alphabet.

Fancy some Moroccan dates, farm fresh eggs from France, bananas from the Caribbean?  How about a stroll through the street markets of Burma, Guatemala and England? Now, I know that if you chanced upon a particular street vendor in Thailand, you’d surely insist on a bowl of yummy noodles. Sitting around a low table on your plastic stool, you’d likely find the happy conversation every bit as satisfying as the food.

Acclaimed UK food and travel writer and photo journalist Chris Caldicott serves up an international feast for the senses in his photographic alphabet of world food. He takes us to Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, giving us a fascinating glimpse of how food is grown, transported, sold, cooked, eaten and shared. Far more than a standard “A is for Apple” compendium, each photograph in World Food Alphabet (Frances Lincoln, 2012) tells a story with an interesting cultural and geographical context, showing people interacting with particular foods in their everyday lives.

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unpacking andrea curtis’s what’s for lunch?

I grew up on school cafeteria lunches. For just 25 cents, we got a hot entrée like so-so creole macaroni, Spanish rice or mac and cheese, brown bread and butter, a forgettable veggie, a yummy, to-this-day-coveted shortbread cookie, and a carton of milk.

That the cookie was the best part of lunch says a lot. But 25 cents is 25 cents, an amazing bargain by today’s standards. At least our bellies were full, and we were not tempted by sugary soft drinks or high caloric snacks from vending machines.

It was not a perfect world by any means; there were no discussions about good nutrition either at home or at school. But there was also no “obesity epidemic,” rampant junk food advertising, or a discernible impact on the environment from the vast amounts of packaging waste produced by our global fast food culture. And it simply never occurred to us that we had the right to a healthy school lunch.

Andrea preparing her small urban backyard veggie patch.

Because it was a constant challenge making school lunches for her two sons every single morning,  Toronto-based writer and editor Andrea Curtis became curious about what kids in other countries were eating. In Canada, 90% of kids bring a home-packed lunch and they’re only given about 10 minutes to eat it! There’s no special lunchroom, so they eat in a crowded gymnasium or at their desks. Even when she packed healthy food her sons really liked, often they didn’t have enough time to finish everything.

“In Canada, one out of four kids is overweight or obese . . . Canadian school boards make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year through vending machine contracts with drink and snack companies.” (Photo by Yvonne Duivenvoorden)

In What’s for Lunch?: How Schoolchildren Eat Around the World (Red Deer Press, 2012), Andrea serves up a fascinating smorgasbord of typical school lunches from 13 different countries. Peering into the lunch trays, bags, bowls and cups of kids from places like Japan, France, Mexico, Brazil, Russia, China and Peru reveals that it’s always about more than just the food itself.

No matter where we live or what we eat, our food is part of a huge, complex global system, with issues connecting and affecting us all, everything from climate change, social justice, inequalities and the plight of farmers to world hunger and diet-related illnesses like diabetes and heart disease.

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Author Chat: Amy Novesky on Georgia in Hawaii

Amy at the Honolulu Museum of Art

I’m thrilled and delighted to welcome award-winning author and independent children’s book editor Amy Novesky to Alphabet Soup today.

She’s here to tell us more about her latest picture book, Georgia in Hawaii: When Georgia O’Keeffe Painted What She Pleased (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2012), which will be officially released next Tuesday, March 20th.

Did you know that in 1939, Georgia spent nine weeks touring the Hawaiian Islands? She was commissioned by the Hawaiian Pineapple Company “to create two paintings to promote the delights of pineapple juice.” Though she loved the time she spent in Hawaii and painted flowers, waterfalls, and feathered fish hooks, initially she refused to paint any pineapples.

She found the sharp and silvery fruit quite strange and beautiful. She wanted to live nearby so she could study it up close.

But the pineapple company would not let her . . .

Instead, they presented her with a pineapple. Georgia was disgusted. She did not want to paint the fruit now that it had been picked, and she would not let anyone tell her what to paint.

Georgia was just being herself — committed to painting what she saw, as she saw it, in her own way, so that is precisely what she did.

Amy and illustrator Yuyi Morales have done a brilliant job of presenting this little-known chapter in Georgia’s life, a rare instance in which she allowed her art to be used for commercial purposes. Despite the pineapple problem, Georgia was fascinated and intoxicated by Hawaii’s unique and varied land and seascapes — lush flora, interesting lava formations, mountains, gorges, waterfalls, beaches, caves, streams, and of course, abundance of tropical blossoms. She thrived in this natural paradise, as she explored remote areas in Hana, Maui, and strolled along the black sand beaches on the Big Island with her trained eye fixed on unspoiled vistas of singular beauty.

Amy’s lyrical, sensual text and Yuyi’s evocative acrylic paintings rendered in textured jewel tones (forest/moss greens, fuschia, aquamarine/prussian blues, fiery oranges, earthy browns) beautifully echo the iconic artist’s creative spirit gladdened by a place of pure enchantment.

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honest abe is a babe: maira kalman looks at lincoln

“History makes you hungry.” ~ Maira Kalman

In her brilliant 2009 New York Times illustrated essay, the inimitable, unfailingly hungry Maira Kalman, who looks like this,

Self portrait by Maira Kalman via WMagazine

tells about how she looked deep into Abe Lincoln’s eyes and fell head over heels.

Her witty, incisive, endearing paean to our 16th President, truly a love letter to top all love letters, made me fall even more head over heels — not only for Lincoln but for Maira.

I couldn’t stop looking at it.

After all, it included Mary Todd Lincoln’s famous White Cake, Lincoln’s favorite apples, “ornamental pyramids of nougat and caramel with fancy cream candy,” veal Malakoff, visits to the Lincoln Diner and Baked Potato King, as well as other “fancy small cakes.”

I want to be Maira when I grow up.

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tasty review: come and eat! by george ancona


“Come and Eat!”

Now, that’s music to my ears, probably yours, too. 🙂

When award-winning author, photographer and filmmaker George Ancona was growing up, his mother would always yell, “Georgie-e-e-e, come and EAT!”

While I was still in elementary school, the world opened up to me when I visited my classmates’ homes, where I tasted so many foods from faraway places. My friends also liked to come to my house after school because my mother always gave us Mexican hot chocolate with tacos.

Mmmmm! If I had lived in his neighborhood, I’d have probably gone over to George’s house every weekday afternoon. What I especially like about his new photo essay, Come and Eat! (Charlesbridge, 2011), is that he’s obviously still very curious and passionate about faraway places and views eating together as “a ceremony to celebrate life.”


Now, he’s invited all of us to a delectable multicultural feast, with food and mealtime customs from such places as Tibet, Sweden, Japan, India, Polynesia, the United States and Mexico. No matter where we live, eating together gives us the opportunity to share thoughts, feelings, and friendship. Continue reading