food / travel

How COVID-19 Has Impacted Expat Life

COVID-19 has disrupted the lives of billions of people all over the globe, and expats are no exception.

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In one of the biggest annual surveys on expat life, Expat Insider, the global networking community InterNations asked both locals and expats about the impact of the pandemic.

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La Sagrada Familia Delayed Again — Blame COVID-19 This Time

Hopes were dashed by local officials to see the completion of the iconic Barcelona church in 2026, in time for the 100th anniversary of the death of its renowned architect Antoni Gaudí.

By most accounts, it's currently the longest-running construction project in the world. And now, the completion of work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882, is going to take even longer.

Barcelona-based daily El Periodico daily reports that work on the church, which began as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. But a press conference Tuesday, Sep. 21 confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin).

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Not All Frites and Beer: Does Eating Belgian Make Sense?

When it comes to food, the fears linked to globalization must be put into perspective. They must also be weighed against the negative effects that Belgian protectionism could have on our economy.

BELGIUM — "Eating local" has become a global trend. Both the political world and the private sector are riding the "ethical consumption" wave and trying to take advantage of it by catering to the patriotic feelings of the "consumer voter." Whether it's a regional food relocation plan or the "BELhaize" campaign, through which the famous chain stop promotes "local products," the aim is to encourage people to buy "Belgian." However, this is neither in the interest of Belgium, nor the planet's.

Distrust in food imports was already palpable before the pandemic, as was the reaction caused by the free trade agreement between the EU and Canada. But these sentiments have been amplified by the health-crisis related supply problems for strategic products. While it's essential to be resilient with regard to products (e.g. semi-conductors or active pharmaceutical ingredients), Belgium would not benefit from a protectionist retreat with regard to food. It's not often pointed out that Belgium is one of the EU member states that benefits the most from the free movement of goods within the single market. Erecting economic barriers to food by favorably discriminating between Belgian products and those produced elsewhere — especially European products — is potentially dangerous. Such protectionist barriers against Belgian products, if extended to all goods, could result in the loss of up to 15% of Belgian GDP.

A man shops the bio (organic) section at a Carrefour in Brussels — Photo: Isopix/ZUMA

The Belgian food industry boasts exports worth 27 billion euros and contributes to a positive trade balance of several billion. Our biggest trading partners, both for imports and exports, are the EU member states and in particular our neighbors: Germany, France and the Netherlands account for 55% of our exports. The question arises as to whether, in a small country like Belgium, it is reasonable to encourage a consumer in Liège to prefer a vegetable produced in Visé instead of Maastricht. What would happen to our economy and our jobs if we pushed other European citizens to turn away from Belgian products? Promoting the know-how of our Belgian producers should involve the creation of a favorable economic environment that allows them to keep or gain market shares, in Belgium or elsewhere.

What would happen to our economy and our jobs if we pushed other European citizens to turn away from Belgian products?

First of all, it is strange to present the purchase of Belgian products as particularly "local" even though 56% of the country's population lives less than 25km from a national border, 65% when it comes to the Walloons. Thus for the inhabitants of Bastogne, eating products from Flanders is less local than eating French, Dutch, Luxembourgish or German goods.

It's appropriate, then, to question the widespread idea that eating locally is better for the planet. The assertion must, at best, be strongly nuanced; at worst, it's completely false. To understand why, we must first demystify the impact of transportation on the environmental cost of our plates. It is minimal: less than 10%. In reality, most of the greenhouse gas emissions come from the production of our food itself. Animal proteins have the greatest environmental impact. The "geographical" characteristics of the countries where our food is produced are also parameters that must be seriously taken into account.

Mussel farmer Peter Cooleman with his Belgian North Sea mussels. — Photo: Kurt Desplenter/Belga/ZUMA

Due to a favorable climate, produce such as strawberries or tomatoes from Spain, for example, have a much lower carbon footprint than those grown in greenhouses in northern Europe. Thus, for consumers concerned about their environmental footprint, it is much more useful to refuse their consumption of meat, even if it is Belgian, than to stop buying Italian tomatoes. Since the environmental impact of the origin of most products is insignificant compared to the impact of meat, eggs and dairy products, discriminating products according to their "nationality" is useless.

Fears of globalization must be put into perspective when it comes to food and weighed against the negative effects of protectionism on the Belgian economy. The economic opportunities that the single market offers to our small country are immense. As for the fight against climate change, it should not be used as an instrument to feed inward-looking attitudes and to support protectionist measures. On the contrary, we could seize the opportunity, on a European scale, to be part of the single market that has different climates in order, for example, to produce where the environment allows optimal production from an ecological point of view.

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French Wine, Cancelled? The Sexist World Of France's Winemakers

Discriminatory comments and practices still reign supreme in wine cellars. But the women of the French wine industry are determined to break down old barriers.

PARIS — On June 8, a Paris court rendered a decision that satisfied both parties involved, though in very different ways. After the wine magazine En magnum published a caricature of a scantily clad woman promising a dazed male wine merchant that should he order a pallet of wine bottles, she would "take off the top." In response, female wine seller, Fleur Godart, filed a complaint on the grounds that she had been "publicly insulted because of her sex." The judges considered the action to be legally inadmissible because the caricature did not feature an "identifiable" person. Logically, the director of the magazine was pleased with the decision. But, surprisingly, Godart was also claiming victory.

For her, she had won in a sense because in rendering its judgment, the court qualified the drawing as sexist. "The misogynistic nature of the drawing was officially recognized," Godart told French daily Libération. "That was my main motivation ... I think that this will make magazines in the wine profession start to think twice before publishing drawings like this in the future."

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Society
Léo Bourdin

What's Chic Now In Paris Dining? African-American Soul Food

Chicken waffles, mac and cheese, cornbread… these iconic African American dishes aren't just trending on Netflix — they're also making a name for themselves in the capital of haute cuisine.

PARIS — Soul food doesn't imply a region or nationality but something broader, closer to a sentiment — a feeling at the border of a sensory and culinary experience. With iconic dishes such as fried chicken (fried chicken legs seasoned with Cajun spices), mac and cheese (macaroni and cheese baked in the oven with melted cheese), and cornbread (a pan-fried, corn-based bread borrowed from Native Americans), this African American cuisine has become one of the most popular symbols of North-American food culture.

These comforting recipes, filled with history and emotion, have found their way to France as more and more restaurants, such as New Soul Food, Gumbo Yaya and Mama Jackson, advertise their soul food menus. Originally poor and rural, the nourishing tradition has come a long way from its 17th century origins, when its creators were Black slaves working the plantations of the southern United States.

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Weird
Alidad Vassigh

Poll: 29% Of Tourists Choose Mexico City For Its *Beaches

*¿Dónde está la playa?

A quick look at a map of Mexico will tell you that its capital, Mexico City, lies pretty much smack dab in the middle of the country. With the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico a five-hour drive in either direction, Mexico City is as landlocked as they come. Unlike many other major cities, it doesn't even have a river.

So this may come as a bit of a surprise that a study on tourism in the Mexican capital, conducted by the city's business association COPARMEX, found that almost 30% of potential foreign visitors to the bustling megalopolis said they were particularly looking forward to enjoying "its beaches."

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food / travel
Genevieve Mansfield

Hotels, Museums, Concert Halls: Upcycling Old Train Stations

As Bangkok transitions its iconic Hua Lamphong train station into a museum, here's a look at the other historical train stations around the world that have been kept alive in unusual ways.

Bangkok's century-old Hua Lamphong train station will arrive at its terminus in November. In its place arrives the state-of-the-art Bang Sue Grand Station, slated to be the largest in Southeast Asia.

But back in 1916, it was Hua Lamphong that modernized the city. Built in the Italian neo-Renaissance style, it was one of the last major projects undertaken by King Chulalongkorn, who died in 1910. With its stained glass windows and bright hall, the Hua Lamphong was seen as an architectural jewel in its hay-day and remains a national treasure. Luckily, the public will not have to say goodbye to this beloved monument as it will remain open as a museum.

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Society
Eva Sauphie

The Ital Diet, A Rastafarian Recipe For Eating Right

For a combination of spiritual and political reasons, Rastas developed a diet based on healthy, local ingredients that was a precursor, it turns out, to some current food trends.

Bob Marley used to drink a strange beverage every morning made of a reddish colored seaweed known as Irish moss, so named because it's thought to have been introduced in Jamaica in the 17th century by Irish immigrant workers. The algae has been growing on the coast ever since.

The drink derived from it, known for its high content of vitamins, iron and calcium, is now marketed in a ready-to-consume version. It has little to do with the brew that was so dear to the king of reggae. Either way, the Irish moss beverage is part of what's known as the "ital diet," which was born with the Rastafari movement in the 1930s.

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Society
Alice Raybaud

Sexism, Gastronomy: Bitter Recipe In French Culinary Schools

A growing number of women are speaking out against the pervasive harassment they experience in hospitality schools and apprenticeship situations.

PARIS — In photos taken during visits from local officials, the high school-aged students, all clad in impeccable uniforms, stand with straight backs. They're the embodiment of order and discipline, a ringing endorsement, it would seem, of the Lycée des métiers de l'hôtellerie d'Occitanie, the hospitality school in southern France they attend.

Appearances can be deceiving, however, and what played out behind the scenes was a different story altogether. For starters, there were the sexist jokes and comments — from "at least one out of every two teachers," recalls Juliette M. "It was so common that we soon stopped recognizing it altogether."

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food / travel
Laura Andahazi Kasnya

The Made-In-Argentina Product Every Glamper Needs

Javier Franco, a mountain guide in Argentina Patagonia, started with an idea. Next he had a prototype. Now, he and his siblings run a small but thriving business in Buenos Aires.

BUENOS AIRES — Venture off into the vast landscapes around Aconcagua, in the Andes mountains; El Chaltén, in Argentina's Patagonia region; or the desert highlands of Catamarca, in the far north of the country, and there's a good chance you'll spot one.

We're talking about the signature domes made by the Argentine firm Geodomos, founded just over a decade ago by three young people in a workshop in Ciudadela, in Buenos Aires. The structures are reinforced tents or marquis that effectively act as a personal, mobile little cabin or hotel room. And they're the brainchild of mountain guide Javier Franco, 40, who came up with the concept, almost inadvertently, in 2008.

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food / travel

Food & The Environmental Revolution: Nourishment To Save The Planet

Soup cans don't grow on trees. Of course some of the ingredients inside them do, as well as in the ground and on plants and vines. But by the time all those natural products reach your stomach, too often they've undergone processing, been transported hundreds (or thousands) of miles and generally bear little resemblance to the organic state they came from.

Yes, the over-industrialization of the food industry has put so many steps between the consumer and the product that most of us have forgotten the most elementary principle of food: We're human beings who rely on the earth for nourishment.

If this same earth is suffering today, it's largely due to the fact that our current food systems operate under the cold calculation that natural resources are a good to be exploited. But in the long term, the availability of these goods rely on a circular process of respecting the natural order.

It's about the planet, and so much more — an environmental revolution in the food sector means saving jobs from disappearing to machines as well saving our own health by increasing nutrition and decreasing pollution. This holistic vision was outlined by environmental activist Sunita Narain in her recent talk "Climate Crisis And Its Impact On Our Lives' (which can be watched here) at Slow Food's 2020-2021 Terra Madre virtual conference: "We can see the impact of climate change happening in our lives today. It is affecting the poorest, most marginalized and the farming communities."

Here are some new initiatives guiding us to a food future that can both better nourish the human race and respect the planet:

Green Deals

Governments around the world are pushing for measures to speed up the energy transition and slow down climate change. One way of doing so is through a so-called Green Deal, a set of policy initiatives aimed at accelerating the transition to climate neutrality, including a clear plan of action that involves important reforms to the agricultural sector:

The United States' Green New Deal, spearheaded by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, aims to make the country carbon neutral by 2030. Part of its objective is to combat the harmful effects of industrial food corporations by supporting family farming, and investing in sustainable agricultural processes and technologies that improve soil health and reduce emissions. It remains to be seen if the Administration of Joe Biden will prioritize such measures that also promise to create jobs and food security.

The European Commission's Green Deal is similar to its American counterpart: It aims for zero greenhouse emissions in the EU by 2050 through inclusive measures that stimulate the economy and ensure food security. Three of the nine policy areas within the deal focus heavily on the food industry: biodiversity, Farm to Fork (sustainable food systems) and sustainable agriculture. It also includes a 50% reduction in the use of hazardous pesticides by 2030 and maintaining organic farming on 25% of agricultural land by 2030. Yet the Green Deal's current challenge is reforming the Common Agricultural Policy — which accounts for almost 40% of the entire EU budget — to align with its objectives.

Biodiversity

The biodiversity of our planet is shrinking — and with it, the very ecosystems that keep the earth healthy and functioning. But a growing number of projects are fighting to keep native, endangered species blossoming by educating citizens on the situation and what they can do to help:

Preserving plants: Ark of Taste is a project launched by The Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity that catalogues disappearing food products, which often include endangered plant species. Today, more than 5,000 products have been catalogued from 150+ countries. The catalogue allows the Slow Food Foundation to subsequently activate campaigns and other processes to save these dwindling crops.

Backyard biodiversity: David Goulson, an activist and professor of biology at University of Sussex, is helping to fight the growing decline of wild pollinators. In addition to his multiple books on the ecological importance of bees and pollination, his YouTube channel is a free resource on how individuals can encourage biodiversity in their own gardens through tips like identifying weeds, information on which types of trees to plant, and attracting butterflies and recipes using home-grown ingredients.

Rethinking Resources

When respected, the natural world is a bountiful place. Yet when viewed only as a means to make money, natural resources quickly become scarce — especially when it comes to food. More methods around the globe are being designed to work with and not against the land:

USA: The NGO Zero Foodprint cleverly aims to both save soil and sequester carbon in one fell swoop. Founded by award-winning chef Anthony Myint, the project asks the customers of participating restaurants to donate 1% of their bill to the fund, which then provides grants to farmers to switch to regenerative farming practices, which both avoids the permanent destruction of soil and fosters a healthy type of soil that soaks up carbon.

Japan: Water is one of the most crucial resources to both farming and agriculture — and has become increasingly scarce. In the Takachiho-Shibayama mountains, however, the agriculture and forestry system uses an irrigation technique system who's development began in the 1600s and sources more than 1800 hectares of rice paddies in a sustainable manner. The system boths draws from mountain wells and catches rainfall, which helps prevent hillside erosion. Furthermore, the community recycles the excrement of their livestock to fertilize their crops — a great example of short-circuit sustainability in action.

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food / travel
Louis Imbert

Yemen's Nomadic Honey Traders Face The Sting Of Civil War

Yemen’s itinerant beekeepers must follow the flowering season. But this nomadism, essential for their bees to produce this liquid gold known around the world, is hampered by the nation's ongoing civil war.

SHABWA — You will meet the beekeepers late at night on the roads, stacks of wooden lockers stowed in the back of their pick-up trucks. In war-torn Yemen, with its endless checkpoints and occasional explosions, no one travels as much as the beekeepers — migrating with their hives, chasing the flowers.

Honey is a serious business in Yemen. In this sparsely industrialized country, with its dizzying winding mountain roads, this liquid gold is reputed to be one of the best in the Middle East, if not the world. There is no need to engage in the national debate about which region holds the prize for the finest honey.

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food / travel

Food & The Consumption Revolution: Green Justice On Your Grocery List


It's time for dinner — what will you prepare? The factors in your decision may include any or all of the following: your appetite, your beliefs, budget, schedule, location ... or maybe just your mood. What you might not realize is that the very choices you end up making tonight will also influence what will or won't make it to the table tomorrow night.

Consumers are, in fact, co-producers of the food they buy. When they purchase ingredients from local, sustainable and ethical sources, it gives these suppliers more power and space on the market. While our individual purchase choices may seem insignificant when placed within the bigger picture, the fact is that all movements start with individual action, and grow with campaigns of education and awareness.

As the global conversation ramps up around topics such as unbalanced agricultural markets, the health and pollution problems within the food industry, and the adjustment of habits and lifestyles in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, citizens everywhere are thinking twice about their consumption habits. Slow Food's 2020-2021 Terra Madre virtual conference is at the center of that conversation, including a fascinating Dec. 1 panel on "Mapping Your Markets" bringing people together from around the world to change the way markets are organized to benefit sustainable producers and consumers.

Here are some of the themes driving the effort to help us consume better to produce better, and vice-versa:

A Fair Market

About 80% of the three billion people living below the poverty line reside in rural areas, and most of them are farmers. Many of them are smallholder farms — which account for almost 35% of the world's total food production — who often employ more traditional methods that are more sustainable than their corporate counterparts. Yet there are initiatives leveling the playing field, helping consumers buy sustainably and locally so food workers can nourish themselves, their communities and the environment:

• Seasonal fruits and vegetables, native legume varieties, locally caught fish: This is not a Michelin-starred restaurant, but rather what's on the menu for the children of Xacinto Amigo Lera, a small school in the rural municipality of Portomouro, in northwestern Spain — a shining example of a "Zero Food Miles' school canteen. Beyond the good health and good taste that come from local products, students also learn the importance of sustainable food ecosystems.

• In many countries, independent women farmers have a doubly difficult time making a living. In addition to the challenges of small-scale farming, the inherent sexism of many societies continues to create big obstacles. One NGO in Indonesia, Gita Pertiwi, is tackling this problem by not only providing sustainable farming and business training to women, but also creating an entire marketing network to reach local communities, providing these women with a more stable income while offering organic food to locals.

• How do we get to consume the foods that are good for us, good for the planet, and affordable? "It really does take a village," noted Jessica Fanzo, Professor of Food Policy & Ethics at Johns Hopkins University at her recent Terra Madre talk. "It involves governments, businesses and civil society." One key for Fanzo is reorienting subsidy policies to "ensure that healthy foods are affordable and unhealthy foods are less affordable."

Healthy Food

Eating healthy isn't just about making sure you're getting enough nutritious ingredients, it means changing our entire relationship with food to create a healthier world. A truly balanced diet involves using climate-friendly products, as we end up inhaling the pollution caused by harmful farming practices. Here are two impactful projects that offer a more holistic approach to healthy food:

• In her recent book Sitopia, Carolyn Steel argues that "cheap food is an oxymoron," as they end up costing us dearly in pollution, poverty and health problems. According to Steel, an expert on food and urban development, the best way to change habits is with "guerrilla localism," both by buying from nearby sources and encouraging the planting of their own community gardens.

• The Slow Food Presidia is a project that not only identifies and protects Italian products, ecosystems and traditional farming methods that are at risk of extinction, but communicates the stories of these products to the general public through websites, newsletters, and markets that promote dialogue between producers and consumers. It allows for a better understanding of the origins and wider impacts of what's on your plate.

Pandemic Problems

The ongoing coronavirus has brought in an era of deeper reflection on how our society operates — how we work, live, communicate, and especially how we eat. In the early days of the pandemic, concerns about wet markets, unsanitary practices and unethical food trade proliferated. Now, consumers in lockdown are rethinking everything from the sources of their ingredients to how their food can safely be delivered. Nevertheless, chefs and food suppliers are stepping up to the plate in innovative ways:

• Ukranian chef Larissa Tytykalo, understanding that today's customers are both stuck in lockdown and increasingly wary of the provenance of what they eat, publishes daily recipes based on local fare, accompanied by a delivery service for regional products. It is a model that supports both small farms at risk during the economic downturn as well as locals trying to keep their bodies and environment healthy.

• In China, too, groceries became greener with the pandemic as demand for crop sharing subscriptions increased by 300%. Also known as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), crop sharing is a system where the consumer "subscribes' to a harvest, receiving a weekly box of whatever local producers have to offer. As the boxes are prepaid and much of their distribution takes place outdoors, the system offers a safer alternative to supermarkets where customers are more at risk of human contact.

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Green Or Gone
Antonio Orti

Regenerative Travel: Will The Pandemic End Mass Tourism?

A global pandemic and weariness in many places of cheap, mass tourism may hasten a real paradigm shift in the travel sector. Or not.

BARCELONA — While some airlines, as bizarre as it may seem, continue to offer "flights to nowhere" — on planes that take off and land in the same airport, just to assuage the need for certain tourists to fly — others in the tourism sector are embracing a concept that goes in the complete opposite direction.

The trend is called "regenerative travel," and its aim, says Silvia Grünig, a city planning specialist at Paris University and lecturer in sustainability at Catalonia's Open University, is not only that visitors take care not to degrade, in any way, the places they visit, but that they actually improve conditions there. They should make things better, in other words, and not just for the sector, but for locals, the environment and travel in the future.

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