Archive for the ‘European Union’ Category

Why I consider myself European

OK, the current map of Europe is incredibly recent (last 20 years or so) and is still changing.   Most of my “German Ancestors” weren’t from Germany since it didn’t exist as such until 1871 (and Current Germany has only existed since German reunification on 3 October 1990) Also, there were lots of little realms prior to unification of Germany and Italy..[1]

AsterixPerso

Gaul is a Celt (Breton)

As Alfred Jarry pointed out in Ubu Roi, Pere Ubu is King of Poland, which is an imaginary nation since it didn’t exist as such when the play was written.  Some of the places my ancestors came from have been contested for ages (e.g., Lorraine).  There is this French-German-Burgundian thing going on for me, which is probably why Belgium is the Second place I relate to after Britain. Although there is strong Celtic heritage as well with ancestors hailing from Galicia (it was fun seeing “Pays de Galles” and realising that could be a lot of places besides Wales).

Yes, this map obsesses me in how fluid Europe is:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LfdXoL3Xck

Anyway, one of the reasons for the European Union is the fact that European culture can be fluid, as the map demonstrates. Even being “French” or “British” isn’t all that straight forward, given I also have Welsh and Borders ancestry. There are three centres of gravity for me on this map: Britain, The Rhine Valley, and what would be Eastern Germany/Austria-Hungary.

There is  lot more to this, but the bottom line is that being “European” isn’t really a question of being from a place since the boundaries kept moving–as did the people.

[1] The same applies to Italy which didn’t unify until 1861.

EU ban on refillable olive oil bottles and dipping bowls

This has to be a joke–right?  Except it’s not April Fools.

From next year olive oil “presented at a restaurant table” must be in pre-packaged, factory bottles with a tamper-proof dispensing nozzle and labelling in line with EU industrial standards.

The use of classic, refillable glass jugs or glazed terracotta dipping bowls and the choice of a restaurateur to buy olive oil from a small artisan producer or family business will be outlawed.

Sam Clark, the food writer, chef and proprietor of the award winning Moro restaurant in London, told The Daily Telegraph that the ban would stop him serving his customers specially selected Spanish olive oil in dipping bowls with bread when they are seated at their table.

The reason for this is supposedly food fraud, but this seems a bit absurd after the horsemeat scandal.

Cheering on the PIIGS in Euro 2012

I know this was taken BEFORE the Italy-Germany match, but…

While the starting mood of Euro 2012 was marred by accusations of racism from the hosts Ukraine and Poland, I found my behaviour was guided more by wanting to cheer on the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain), the countries being hit hard by the Euro crisis.

When I heard it was Germany v. Greece–I just wanted to Greeks to kick Germany’s arse so badly for all the austerity measures being foisted on the PIIGS. In fact, contrary to normal nature, I was cheering on the PIIGS whenever they went up against Germany.

Ultimately, it was Spain who beat Italy to gain the title while I would have preferred to see Germany duking it out with a member of the PIIGS for the title, but at least it was a member of the PIIGS who won!

One of my friends, who is an economist made sense of all this since he realised that subconsciously I was cheering on the underdogs in the economic Euro crisis.  Although, BBC’s World Have Your Say delved into this issue as well and I have to admit that yes, it is far more than just football.  So, maybe any tinge of Euroskepticism is illusory as I know full well that the Economic Euro also has to succeed for the European Union and Economy to thrive.  Deep down, I want to see the Euro thrive.

First Chicken Tikka Masala–Now Balti!

Just in case you didn’t know it, Chicken Tikka Masala is actually British. There is some debate as to where it originated, but it’s British! In fact, it is so British that it has probably knocked Fish and Chips and a few other stereotypical dishes off the scene.

O! the Roast Beef of Old England!
And O!” for old England’s Roast Beef!

Now, Birmingham’s Balti Association have applied for the EU Protected Food Names scheme which would make Birmingham Balti dishes a Traditional Speciality Guaranteed Product.  For those not in the know,   the Balti Cuisine comes from the Balti Triangle, the name given to the areas of Sparkbrook, Balsall Heath, Sparkhill and part of Moseley in Birmingham.

To repeat myself about all this EU food protection schemes:

European Union law uses various designations to protect the names of regional foods. There are three distinct regimes of geographical indications according to the law: Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) and Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG). The law which is enforced within the EU and being gradually expanded internationally via bilateral agreements between the EU and non-EU countries was designed to ensure that only products genuinely originating in that region are allowed in commerce identified by that name. This law came into force in 1992 with the purpose of the protecting the reputation of regional foods, promoting rural and agricultural activity, helping producers obtain a premium price for their authentic products, and eliminating the unfair competition and misleading of consumers by non-genuine products, which may be of inferior quality or of different flavour. These laws protect the names of wines, cheeses, hams, sausages, seafood, olives, beers, Balsamic vinegar and even regional breads, fruits, raw meats and vegetables.

So, Arbroath Smokies need to be made in Arbroath Scotland. For example, Roquefort cheese must be made from milk of a certain breed of sheep, and matured in the natural caves near the town of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon in the Aveyron region of France, where it is infected with the spores of a fungus (Penicillium roqueforti) that grows in these caves. In the case of the Cumberland sausage they now need to be made in what was the county of Cumberland, England, now part of Cumbria with lots of pepper and sage. They are traditionally very long (up to 50 cm), and sold rolled in a flat, circular coil but within western Cumbria they are more often served in long curved lengths.

The Protected Geographical Indication system is similar to Appellation systems throughout the world, such as the Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) used in France, the Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) used in Italy, the Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC) used in Portugal, and the Denominación de Origen (DO) system used in Spain. In many cases, the EU PDO/PGI system works parallel with the system used in the specified country, and in some cases is subordinated to the appellation system that was already instituted, particularly with wine, for example, and in France (in particular) with cheese, for example Maroilles (as most others) has both PDO (AOP in French) and AOC classifications, but generally only the AOC classification will be shown.

So, what makes Balti Cuisine Special?

Mohammed Arif, owner of Adil Balti and Tandoori Restaurant, claims to be first man to introduce the Balti to Britain – after bringing the idea from Kashmir – when he opened his restaurant in 1977.

The Balti style of cooking is not only quicker, but also a lighter and healthier version of a traditional curry.A true Birmingham Balti must be served in the same thin steel bowl it is cooked in over a hot flame, as it is this “Balti” bowl (a proper balti looks like a small wok, it can also be called a karahi) that gives the dish its name.  The Balti pioneers of the 70s and 80s also switched from using traditional ghee, which is high in saturated fat, to using vegetable oil.

While ghee is the traditional cooking ingredient used on the south Asian sub-continent, the use of vegetable oil in Birmingham Baltis is stipulated as a key unique feature in the Birmingham Balti Association’s (BBA) application to EU.

It requires that all Birmingham Baltis must use vegetable oil instead of ghee.

Another requirement is for all meat to be “off-the-bone” to allow it to be cooked quickly over the hot flame.

This off-the-bone preparation of meat sets the Balti apart from the more traditional “on-the-bone” meat used in the “one-pot” style of cooking from the Indian subcontinent.

 For a traditional Balti, all meat needs to be “off-the-bone” to allow it to be cooked quickly

While “one-pot” curries might take hours to cook all the ingredients, Balti chefs add meat and vegetables to the dish one ingredient at a time.

And freshness of ingredients is crucial to real Balti connoisseurs.

“Pre-prepared generic commercial curry pastes and powders are not used and not permitted” in any true Birmingham Balti, according to the BBA.

Baltis can vary from restaurant to restaurant as each Balti house prepares its own “restaurant sauce” to use as a base.

Should the Balti dish get protected name status, the dish would join Cumberland Sausages, Arbroath Smokies, Cornish Pasties, Stilton Cheese,among other foods.

So, although this protects the proprietors of the Balti Triangle restaurants, it does stop people in other parts of the world from enjoying balti dishes–short of a visit to Birmingham.

But will this mean that the Ali-Baba Balti House in Leamington Spa isn’t a proper Balti Restaurant? Somehow, I think it does.

See also:

The EuroMess

I’m not sure how to describe the Great Euro Mess, but I have to agree with Micheal Portillo’s comment that it will be a long time in sorting out. That said, I’ve finally watched The Great Euro Crash with Robert Peston and Michael Portillo’s Great Euro Crisis. Both of these have been uploaded to Youtube and are available on the “non-official” sources for BBC material (that is non-iPlayer downloads) if you are interested or outside the UK.

I won;t say too much about Robert Peston’s piece other than it was a well done overview of how the whole mess happened. There isn’t as much analysis as much as history. The main point that one should take from Robert’s piece is that the European Union was to bring peace and prospertity through the economic union of Europe. Which takes us to the Euroskeptic Michael Portillo looking into the topic.

I have to admit that having a Euroskeptic deal with the topic of the Euromess is truly intriguing. I was told that it was well done by others who keener on the EU than Michael. Although, I wanted to say take a look in the mirror when Michael makes his statement about not knowing what a European is (or looks like). Michael, You and I are EuroBrits (as is the Queen with her German background) if ever there were ones.

That said, I have to admit that seeing a non-US “conservative” is always a breath of fresh air. Unlike US conservatives who want to shout down the opposition, Michael was very open minded—especially when no one was willing to take him up on his Euro-Drachma/Euro-Mark challenge. Unfortunately, the single currency is the future for Europe, which having lived in Europe makes me say “Thank god!”

My best story was that I was at an antique market in Brussels’ Place du Grand Sablon and trying to figure how how much 32,000 Francs was in “Real Money”. The vendor thought I didn’t understand his trente deux mille and repeated it in English. I was tempted to reply, I knew how much it was in Francs, but how much is that in Real Money such as Pounds or US Dollars?  I can add in the joke about the woman who hires an armoured car with security guards to bring in a load of notes which after being labouriously counted for most of the day turns out to be worth 62p.  The main point is that a good, solid single currency is good for European trade.  Which the Euro was for a while until other causes set in.

Michael sees the problem as being totally related to just the single currency, which Roberts programme pretty much had debunked.  Although Michael’s points about the EU are somewhat valid.  Unfortunately, Austerity is not totally due to the Euromess since non-Euro countries (and non-European countries) are also tightening their belts.  Michael’s comment about the Greeks selling government assets seems to pale when one realises that the US is also trying to privatise government functions, which is more a political decision than an economic one.  In fact, I find it odd that a Tory would be against the single currency given its benefits for trade, while this lefty is defending it–as do most people whatever their political stripes.

Of course, reasonable people can disagree and somewhat see the other person’s point of view.  I have to bring the United States back into this discussion since Michael remains very civil throughout his programme. which US politics is not.  Michael and other Euroskeptics worry about the problems of Union in the United States of Europe, which given the two civil wars and lack of civility in US politics is a point which needs to be taken seriously whether you agree with it or not.  Of course, one needs to see the benefit of a union to realise that there are some sacrifices which need to be made.  Europe with its history of war realises that Union is necessary for peace and that union requires some compromise.

Now, why didn’t he say this in his programme?

Shooglenifty – A Fistful of Euro

I’m listening to the news where they are talking about people withdrawing millions of Euros–This came to mind–

On the back burner is Michael Portillo’s Great Euro Crisis from This World. The people who’ve seen it say it’s pretty interesting watching Eurosceptic Portillo’s opinion of the crisis.

Then again, I still have two series (2 & 3) of Great Railway Journeys to plow through!

Cumberland Sausages

I just found out that Cumberland Sausages have gained Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), which is something that European Union law uses to protect the names of regional foods. There are three distinct regimes of geographical indications according to the law: Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) and Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG). The law which is enforced within the EU and being gradually expanded internationally via bilateral agreements between the EU and non-EU countries was designed to ensure that only products genuinely originating in that region are allowed in commerce identified by that name. This law came into force in 1992 with the purpose of the protecting the reputation of regional foods, promoting rural and agricultural activity, helping producers obtain a premium price for their authentic products, and eliminating the unfair competition and misleading of consumers by non-genuine products, which may be of inferior quality or of different flavour. These laws protect the names of wines, cheeses, hams, sausages, seafood, olives, beers, Balsamic vinegar and even regional breads, fruits, raw meats and vegetables.

So, Arbroath Smokies need to be made in Arbroath Scotland. For example, Roquefort cheese must be made from milk of a certain breed of sheep, and matured in the natural caves near the town of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon in the Aveyron region of France, where it is infected with the spores of a fungus (Penicillium roqueforti) that grows in these caves. In the case of the Cumberland sausage they now need to be made in what was the county of Cumberland, England, now part of Cumbria with lots of pepper and sage. They are traditionally very long (up to 50 cm), and sold rolled in a flat, circular coil but within western Cumbria they are more often served in long curved lengths.

The Protected Geographical Indication system is similar to Appellation systems throughout the world, such as the Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) used in France, the Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) used in Italy, the Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC) used in Portugal, and the Denominación de Origen (DO) system used in Spain. In many cases, the EU PDO/PGI system works parallel with the system used in the specified country, and in some cases is subordinated to the appellation system that was already instituted, particularly with wine, for example, and in France (in particular) with cheese, for example Maroilles (as most others) has both PDO (AOP in French) and AOC classifications, but generally only the AOC classification will be shown.

Of course, this gums up the business of people who made cumberland sausages outside of the region (likewise Arbroath smokies anywhere other than Arbroath!). So, people who were selling things called cumberland sausages that were made outside of Cumberland now have to change what they call the things.

I have a couple of opinions on whether this is a good idea or not. First off, it is nice to know that you are getting the “real deal” for some of these products. On the other hand, if you live somewhere these things aren’t available due to import restrictions (as in the case of cumberland sausages), it is a royal pain in the arse. Those people are stuck with cheap substitutes for these products.

Of course, Protected Geographical Indication isn’t the only thing that can keep consumers from buying products. For example, the manufacturer could not distribute to a location (say Jordan’s Cereals, Lord Rayleigh’s Farms yoghurt, Baxter’s Soups–OK, Lord Rayleigh’s Farms doesn’t appear to produce yoghurt anymore, but…). Those poor souls are left with a desire for these products with no hope of buying them.

I forgot to add that Cornish Pasties can only be made in Cornwall, which has me wondering about those shops called something like “The Original Cornish Pasty Shoppe” in London. Do they need to go out of business or change their names? And it’s such a bugger to get to Cornwall, especially in the Summertime. I realise it’s across the Tamar, but I’m too lazy to make it to Dartmoor most times!