how the world works, policy & design

The perplexing urban news today…

Huffington Post reports the first report of hospital treatment costs in the USA, released by the Federal Centre for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which reveals that hospitals in vicinity of one another differ by as much as 1,000% in how much they charge for same operations. Say, $7,044 versus $99,690 for the treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. HuffPost discusses the inefficiencies, inequalities, and lack of transparency in the market-driven and unregulated US healthcare system. For anyone not inured to the idea that a health problem might ruin you financially, this is a frightening read.

Twitter, meanwhile, brings me two articles about Adelaide policy concerning food trucks: on May 7, the council met to discuss higher concession prices, and on May 8 to decrease the number of concessions. Both, it seems, in order to protect fixed food businesses, who endure higher costs of operation, and who pay rates that fund the council. This might be systemic irrationality at its finest, punishing a service that is thriving financially precisely because it is agile, flexible, and thus able to be where it’s needed when it’s needed, while minimising loss at other times.

Restaurant offer in Australia, in general, is extremely erratic, and it seems to me that it has a lot to do with high operational costs combined with low footfall of low-density neighbourhoods (most of them). In perfectly functioning residential neighbourhoods I have lived in, it is not unusual to have 50-80% of cafes close by 3pm, and finding an open restaurant after 9pm can be difficult even in relatively central areas – the high cost of operation and wages does not warrant staying open past peak-hour foot traffic. How we’re making better cities by protecting that business model from food vans, oh, I really couldn’t say.

To continue the story of irrational legislation, here is a US-based article about the collateral of bad residential zoning. So, for example, “in Milbridge, Maine, seasonal workers sleep in cars and tents because employers can’t build enough housing for them—courtesy of state standards that needlessly inflate the cost of such housing.”

The article above connects NIMBY-ism to class warfare, which ties in nicely with Catriona Menzies-Pike’s critique in New Matilda of a notion that she calls the ‘cultural elitism of the new middle class’. This would be the way those with money feel not just better-paid, but genuinely BETTER people than those without. And which I discuss, to some extent, in my little piece on Brunetti. Menzies-Pike disagrees, but disagrees mainly with one particular book. The whole thing, seemingly, falls neatly into a culture war instead of rising above. But I digress.

Since today is clearly the day of bashing Adelaide, in this article for Kill Your Darlings, Connor Thomas O’Brien tell how you can kill independent culture by state-creating and state-funding their competition. And this fantastic interview with Dr Ianto Ware details how the creeping changes to the Australian Building Code, planning act, and liquor licensing laws have converged to undermine the Australian live music culture. Oh, we need more of this kind of analysis, and we need more of this kind of analysis actually informing policy. I am currently doing a small research on how temporary use could be helped by changing a couple of small, harmful laws of exactly this kind. There is a lot of legislation we have and don’t really need to have…

But not all is bleak. Here is Urban Catalyst from Berlin, giving a talk about how temporary use of space can be used in urban development.

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CITIES, travel notes

The delicately delineated ecology of the Queen Victoria Market

Ah, the great institution that is the Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne’s central and biggest marketplace! The unsung landmark of this town, the bastion of wog values, the shrine to everything we stand for. How unappreciated for the microcosm of Victorian society that you are! How underanalysed, and critically unassessed you remain!

We are now going to make a dent in this tragic cultural omission, by looking at the human fauna of this delicate ecosystem – listing them in order, from the rarest and most in need of conservation, via the common and the abundant, to the most weedily persistent.

The Tourist

Self-explanatory. Tourist may be an American or Swedish backpacker, a high-minded photographer documenting the life among the ethnics, a flurry of pastel-wearing Queensladers, or timid Melburnians from the outer suburbs, tasting the rough inner city – it is not their outfit or their hometown that defines them as a tourist, but, in the eyes of the other QV Market goers, their tendency to walk slowly, turn awkwardly and unexpectedly, block important circulation routes with their backpacks and fanny packs and parasols and whatnots, take photographs of bread or toilets, and generally make themselves an odious human obstacle on purpose. Tourists tend to keep in uncircumventable packs, and are often overheard making comments of highly embarrassing kind to everyone except them. (E.g., a snippet of dialogue un-self-consciously performed by a group of American backpackers in front of the Iranian nut-and-sweets stall circa May 2011: “‘Turkish Delight’?! What’s that?!” “You don’t wanna know!”)

The Wandering Hipster

Nobody knows what these creatures are attempting to get out of the experience. While The Tourist is deeply inhaling the atmosphere of anxiety-free food consumption and vibrancy such as only people of colour possess, The Wandering Hipster resembles one of those children dragged to very exclusive cocktail parties by their Gen-X parents, and withdrawn to a corner to sulk in a significant fashion. They often sit in inopportune locations attempting to merely hang out in a casual manner, as if the market were a highly desirable social setting, out of which they cannot escape, such is the strength of the finger they hold on the pulse of town. The do not buy anything, possibly because fresh food is exotic and intimidating. Once they overcome such fears, they graduate to become The Confident Hipster.
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CITIES, how the world works

Sliced White – notes

1. THE LOOKS

2. THE CULTURE

For a start, there’s its strange appearance. The wheaten tan of the uncrusty crust. The white, resilient sponge. The zombie-like, yeasty odour. The bleached and puffy crumb. And then you taste it. I hadn’t eaten really bad bread for a long time: it sparked whatever bit of my brain looks after Proustian recall. When I was at my dour boarding school, every breaktime the kitchen would send wee lads scurrying round the houses with cheap bread, tubs of margarine and buckets of sugary jam. The hungry teenagers would toast and smear, knock up McCoy’s-and-marg sandwiches, wrap slices round Snickers bars – this was Scotland, after all – and listlessly masticate.

Most people carry a vestigial affection for odd bits of foodie trash: American cheese singles sliming on patties, comforting tins of Warhol Campbell’s, Pringles that whiff of ancient jockstraps. I reckon the same phenomenon explains a persistent affection for cheap bread. The salty hit of a bacon sarnie becomes a taste of home or a hangover: speckled fat seeping into pocked dough, teeth threshing pink pig. Most Americans were reared on Wonderbread which, incidentally, features along with a dozen other brands in Lady Gaga’s video for Telephone. The laval pouch of a toastie has the same appeal for many Brits.

3. THE REASON WHY

The Chorleywood bread process is an industrial process used to lower the cost of bread production. The CBP, or no time method, was developed in 1961 by the British Baking Industries Research Association based at Chorleywood, and is now used to make 80% of the UK’s bread. Compared to the older bulk fermentation process, the CBP is able to use lower protein wheat, and produces bread at a much faster rate, with the disadvantage that the bread requires extra processing to enhance the flavour. The process had an important impact in the United Kingdom, as at the time, few domestic wheat varieties were of sufficient quality to make high quality bread products, and it therefore permitted a much greater proportion of low-protein domestic wheat to be used in the grist.

4. THE CHORLEYWOOD PROCESS

The wheat is milled in high speed steel mills at a high temperature. This smashes apart the starches making it easier for the enzymes and improvers to work on the flour but reducing the nutritional value. This process also makes the flour able to absorb more water. So when you buy an 800g loaf of industrial bread, you pay for a higher water content. In fact nearly half of your industrial loaf is water.

This wheat flour is then mixed with water, soya flour, fat, baking aids, ascorbic acid (designate on packaging as E300) and yeast. The mixing arms rotate at about 400 rpm for around five minutes, transferring energy to the dough.

The reactions created by this violent input of energy, assisted by the ascorbic acid, releases the gluten in the wheat very quickly and produces a stiff dough in a small fraction of the time compared to the traditional proving process used at home and in craft bakeries.

An important part of Chorleywood Process is the use of a hard fat. This works with the gluten to create a stiff dough that will rise very quickly and retain its structure during the baking and cooling of the bread. Until recently hydrogenated fats were used because these contain more stable heavy fat molecules, which give the fat a higher melting point.

Recently bad publicity about hydrogenated fats, in particular their implication as a key contributor to heart disease, has created a switch to fractionated fats. These are created from the processing of ordinary vegetable oils to remove the heaviest fatty compounds, usually by cooling the oil to make the heavy fats crystallise. They therefore have the same properties as hydrogenated fats, and may possibly cause similar health problems. Often, when a manufacturer states they no longer use hydrogenated fats, it’s likely that they are using fractionated fats instead.

After mixing the dough is poured in bulk and left for a few minutes before processing into tins, or onto trays, where it is left to prove for up to a hour (again, perhaps a half of the time of that used traditionally).

The Chorleywood bread making process uses two or three times the usual amount of yeast compared to traditionally made bread. The extra yeast creates a large volume of gas and in the process a spongy loaf. The proving dough may also be put under a low pressure vacuum to make it rise much faster than if it were at ambient air pressure.

To help the fats bond to the wet flours, emulsifiers are also added to the mix (usually E471 or E472e). In addition a small amount of vinegar is added as a preservative. Finally your industrial bread with its high water content is an ideal breeding ground for moulds, so it is often dosed with an anti-fungal compound.

Primarily because of the milling process, the vitamin content is lower than that of traditional stoneground flour. Accordingly, by law, vitamins are added to the dough mixture to compensate.

5. WHAT WE TEACH OUR CHILDREN

6. THE ADDITIVES

CBP processes may include the following additives, but these additives are not limited to CBP:

  • Fat in the form of palm fat or oils, to soften the dough and bread and create a finer cell structure.
  • Salt allows yeast to grow while reducing competitive bacterial growth, and affects the flavour.
  • Esters of monoglycerides and diglycerides act as emulsifiers and anti-staling agents.
  • Calcium propionate inhibits mould.
  • Enzymatically active soy flour contains lipoxygenase enzyme that creates whiter crumb.
  • Azodicarbonamide is a flour oxidizer, banned in EU, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, but permitted in the US.
  • Ascorbic acid is the most common dough oxidising agent used in the EU, mainly for wholemeal and whole grain breads.
  • Gluten provides texture. Added gluten augments the low gluten levels of cheap low-protein wheat.
  • Starch enzymes and protein enzymes are used to rapidly break down wheat starches to sugars to feed the yeast and to “mellow” the gluten to allow for reduced mechanical mixing times. Enzymes are also engineered to survive baking temperatures and great variations in pH to impart antistaling and softening qualities to the finished products.

In many countries, enzymes and several other “improvers” are not required to be listed on ingredient labels, as they are considered to be consumed in the baking process.).

7. QUALITY

Commercial bread making is held to strict government guidelines regarding food production. Further, consumer preferences compel bread producers to maintain a high quality standard of appearance, texture, and flavor. Therefore, quality checks are performed at each step of the production process. Producers employ a variety of taste tests, chemical analyses, and visual observation to ensure quality.

Moisture content is particularly critical. A ratio of 12 to 14% is ideal for the prevention of bacteria growth. However, freshly baked breads have a moisture content as high as 40%. Therefore it is imperative that the bakery plants be kept scrupulously clean. The use of fungicides and ultraviolet light are two popular practices.

8. THE HEALTH CONCERNS

8A. COELIAC DISEASE/ GLUTEN INTOLERANCE
The reactions created by the violent input of energy [of machine-kneading dough at very high speed], assisted by the ascorbic acid, release the gluten in the wheat very quickly and produces a stiff dough in a small fraction of the time compared to the traditional proving process used at home and in craft bakeries. This part of the process is being linked by some people to the increase in Coeliac disease, a serious gluten intolerance.

8B. SEVERAL FORMS OF BOWEL DISEASE
The Chorleywood bread making process uses two or three times the usual amount of yeast compared to traditionally made bread. This large increase in the amount of yeast we consume in our bread is being cited as one possible cause for the growth of yeast intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome and thrush (candidiasis / Candida albicans) disorders over the past few decades.

8C. ‘POSSIBLE CANCER’
But there were also the additives. Quite a few of them, in fact. Potassium bromate (now banned in the EU as a possible cancer producer), azodicarbonamide (also banned), L-cysteine hydrochloride, sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate and so on — the list was long.

TO avoid too many frightening chemical names, bread labels were allowed to group the nasties under bland headings such as ‘flour treatment agent’ and ’emulsifier’.

Some additives were belatedly banned (including the bleaching of flour with chlorine gas in 1999), but new ones filled the gap and, if anything, the list is longer today than 30 years ago. The additives were derived from substances that would never normally form part of the human diet. But we were reassured they were safe — until, that is, scientists told us they weren’t.

8D. GUT INFLAMMATION RELATED TO THE TYPE OF WHEAT USED
After World War II, plant breeders developed hybrid strains of wheat that delivered higher yields with intensive applications of artificial nitrogen, herbicides and pesticides.
While aggressively seeking bigger yields and more proteins that form the stretchy gluten in bread dough, wheat breeders reduced the density of vital minerals and vitamins in the grain.

Consequently, modern hybrid wheats are 30 to 40 per cent poorer in minerals such as iron, zinc and magnesium than strains from 40 years ago. And if each mouthful of bread contains less to nourish us, we naturally tend to eat more. A clue to rising levels of obesity, perhaps?

It gets worse. Farmers boost yields and protein levels by putting sulphur and nitrogen on the wheat late in its growth. And recent research has revealed the resulting flour has nearly doubled the bits of wheat protein known as omega-gliadins that are known to trigger certain inflammatory reactions in the gut of sensitive people – notably a condition called Wheat-Dependent Exercise-Induced Anaphylaxis. This didn’t exist 20 years ago.

9. THE OVERALL VALUE WHEN CONSIDERING THE GRAND SCHEME OF THINGS

“It is a process we invented and we should be very proud of it,” says Gordon Polson, of the British Federation of Bakers. “UK bread is around the cheapest in the world.”

One disturbing possibility is that modern farming and industrial baking produce bread that more and more people cannot and should not eat.

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