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Up to the millet

Although the trend to extreme heat becoming the new normal could start in some parts of the world by mid-century,…

By Kate Allen , in The Masticator , on January 13, 2009 Tags: , ,

Although the trend to extreme heat becoming the new normal could start in some parts of the world by mid-century, well within the lifetimes of many people now alive, the researchers are confident it will become a global phenomenon between 2080 and 2100.

Rising temperatures will wither crops that are heat-sensitive, including staples such as wheat, possibly cutting yields by 20 per cent to 40 per cent, according to the study, conducted by scientists at two U.S. universities. The impact will not be as pronounced on some crops, such as millet, that are more heat tolerant but not exactly palate pleasers.

The Globe and Mail, January 8 2009

It’s difficult to write about food as a commodity without bringing up how food tastes. It’s true that food is only energy we put in our bodies to physically sustain them; as long as we’re getting 1500 calories a day, our bodies shouldn’t care how those calories are combined. But that’s not the case. Radiation therapy studies have shown that people who lose their sense of taste lose their desire to eat, and must be persuaded to nourish themselves. As one researcher wrote, “Taste is arguably the only external sensory system required for life.”

The reverse cannot be said for food writing. It’s very easy to talk about how food tastes without considering where it comes from or how it was made. Writing about food has traditionally involved either recipes or restaurant reviews—food as something that appears on a plate. But food writing seems to be experiencing a rebirth. Journalists like Michael Pollan and chefs like Jamie Oliver are doing their best to show us that food is two types of good: it is a good, a means of production, something that is bought and sold, and if we’re lucky, it also tastes really good.

This blog is about capturing both sides of the good. And I promise the last four paragraphs is the most serious it will ever be. So without further ado, I present you with the subject of today’s post:


The news is awash with horror stories about food and global warming, like the story I excerpted at the top of this post. I knew seafood was a goner, but wheat?!

In truth, some of the best cooking has arisen from difficult circumstances. Classic French fare like cassoulet and pot-au-feu started out as gnarly scraps of meat that your vassal grandpa threw in a pot and cooked the bejeesus out of until it tasted okay. But those dishes took generations to perfect. I decided that if the Globe is right, and millet is going to be the staple-du-jour in 100 years, I should get a head start on it now.

Thanks to the abundance of health food stores in Vancouver, millet is easy to come by. I managed to get a bag of hulled millet and a bag of millet flour for five bucks. Here’s what they look like in the raw:

raw millet
raw millet

Not much to see, right? I decided to cook the hulled millet like risotto, because risotto is my favourite food. I fried up some garlic and onion, threw in the millet and fried it for a bit, and then poured in some homemade vegetable stock. I was going to pour it in incrementally like you would for risotto, but it quickly became apparent that millet is a blunter tool than rice. So I cut my losses, tossed in the rest of my stock, and let the thing simmer for 15 minutes. At the end I added some mushrooms I had sautéed earlier. I figure mushrooms will be abundant in the apocalypse, what with all the dead stuff. Here’s what my millet risotto looked like:

millet risotto
millet risotto

The verdict: it didn’t taste that bad! It didn’t taste that good, either. It just tasted vaguely cerealy, with a nice mushroom kick. My roommate observed aptly, “I bet the first time people tried rice, they were like, ‘I don’t know if I like this.’” Which is pretty much how we felt about millet. A conditional pass for millet risotto!

The second thing I tried to make was millet pasta. I’ll save you 600 words and tell you right here that it was a disaster. Millet flour does not want to be turned into dough. Eventually I turned the wreckage into patties with herbs, but the whole thing was a major bust. As one unlucky test-taster put it, “I’ve never eaten something this dry.” You can see some of the carnage in the corner of the risotto photograph.

I’ll conclude on an upbeat note with an observation from my other roommate: “I think in the apocalypse, people will enjoy millet. Because really, it’s the taste of nourishment.”


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