Archive for the ‘Controversy Corner’ Category

Wallabies, bower birds, bandicoots etc don’t need delicatessens. They have the hobby farms of tree-changers to meet their most exotic gastronomic requirements. Which is why so many tree-changers can be found combing the shelves of Woolworths and the local co-op supermarket.

When you shove those New Zealand peas into your freezer and close the door, you feel like shouting: “Try getting to that lot, wallabies!” The bower birds that have learned to consume all but the most thick-skinned citrus would no doubt find a way into my fridge if they could be bothered.  (I hear they now have their own Human Studies faculty on the Lismore campus. Hope all that liberal education makes ’em a bit more compassionate towards us.)

If the localist movement gets its way, I might be obliged to use my bamboo to build a garden-fortress. You see, there may be no more veggies freighted from North Queensland or Tassie, no more freeze-dried this or snap-frozen that. No more of those juicy Californian dates.

And these localists aren’t market-stall hippies. They’re posh and they’re heavies.

Gordon Ramsay wants Gordon Brown to fine those who market out-of-season foods. According to some localists, remote sourcing of all produce must be stopped by law. Freezing, canning and other preservation methods are now suspect. If not bans, then taxation must stop the rot – or non-rot. A former French Prime Minister, Alain Juppe, has written a book with the title: I Will Never Eat Cherries in Winter Again. A man who can make sacrifices like that is dangerous.

No need to exaggerate, of course. Lovers of Chateau Petrus, foie gras entier, Perigord truffles, Roquefort cheese, Sevruga caviar and the like needn’t worry. There are plenary indulgences and automatic carbon credits for all posh items that have been mentioned favourably in the weekend supplements of either The Guardian, the NYT, or the Melbourne Age.

No, these anti-globo campaigns are directed at the buying habits of common mangia-fagioli: the supermarket-shoppers. Gordon Ramsay will no doubt still be able to celebrate the passing of strict localist/seasonalist legislation with imported Blanc de Blancs and jet-freighted Malossol Beluga. (So might a Borgia pope relax with his mistress after a hard day’s piety.)

Well, I must confess to owning an ultra-globalised foodstuff, and I fear it’s not posh enough for any dispensations. (Maybe its quaintness will gain it a partial indulgence.) The wider scandal involves an entire race – those Tibetans! – and it’s been going on for centuries. Here is a nineteen year old jincha, or tea-mushroom.


An unbroken younger jincha looks like this:


This is not mushroom, it’s pure tea, from the original broad-leaf species of Yunnan, South West China. Known as puerh, it was wok-fried, sun-dried, then steamed and compressed into a traditional mushroom shape. Originally, this processing was to ready the tea for transport along the Old Tea Horse Road, one of the world’s ancient trade routes. The starting point was the town of Puerh, though the ancestors of my tea-mushroom may have been loaded at Dali, near to what is still the production area of that kind of puerh.


The main, but not only, customers were the Tibetans, who still relish this substance as a source of life-preserving vegetable-broth as well as a stimulant and social beverage. Of course, their way has been to add yak-butter, salt, sugar, hemp-seed etc to make it more sustaining. Without this very foreign and remotely sourced product, life would be unthinkable for plateau-bound Tibetans.

Something else came of all this carrying of compressed-tea over thousands of kilometres in different climates. Puerh tea was found to improve with age and storage, and even the warmth and movement of the horses. Consequently, other people in Asia, and now the world, have acquired a taste for it. (Caution: many who love tea nonetheless hate puerh.)

Needless to say, it has become the object of speculation, fakery, fibs, health-claims, hard-sell advertising…you name it. It comes in many shapes, ages, sizes and since the economic reforms in China, there are innumerable brands and labels to choose from.


My nineteen year old jincha, a cheap but good-to-age roughie made by the Xiaguan factory, was never in Tibet. It spent a lot of time in Taiwan, where there is great demand for puerh, before ending up in Newcastle, Australia. Before all that, I’m guessing from its flavour that it spent some time in humid conditions in Hong Kong. After nineteen years, it’s back in bamboo and camellia country. Not Yunnan, however, or Puerh township, where puerh tea isn’t widely liked. I did warn you it was a Global Thing!

How does it taste? A combo of smoke, earth, wood, syrup, mould, fruit, mushroom…


I totally love it. I  love it globally.


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