Further blogs

Right. Well, I guess that has to be my lot of blogs for the time being, I really appreciate the time and support from you, the reader. As it is nearly time to return to university for me, I will try my best to update whenever I can (whether I can cram in one more before then, I really do not know…) and write more interesting articles I can think of in the near future. Thank you for everything and all the best! ūüôā

Signed and from your respective blogger,

-Seb

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Food profile: The tomato

The tomato, a fundamental ingredient in the Mediterranean cuisine. [1]

Well, after doing a few international relations and history related posts, I thought I would revert back to a food one, and then eventually maybe a football or fencing one to spice things up. Anyway, the last time you read a food blog by me, it was about the potato, so it is only right that I do justice with a tomato one as well. I will be discussing about the origin and some dishes concerning the fruit…or vegetable (that particular myth to be explored as well), the advantages and disadvantages of genetically modified (GM) and organic tomatoes or products in general, some important nutritional facts and the occasional interesting facts here and there. All constructive criticism for improvement is always welcome, and I hope you enjoy this blog!

Firstly, let us understand the origin of the tomato itself. Called Lycopersicon esculentum in Latin and in the Solanaceae vegetable group (including the chili, potato and eggplant), the tomato is of Mayan, Aztec, Andean or ancient Peruvian and Chilean origins (depending on which source we, as the reader believe) and was a fundamental ingredient in the Mesoamerican cuisine, only to be introduced to Western Europe in the 18th century. (Fernandez-Armesto: 78) [2, 3] But more importantly, with the word origin in mind, I think by understanding whether the tomato is a fruit or a vegetable would be interesting, especially as it is an incredibly important ingredient that is used profoundly by many cultures, whether it is simply used in your salads or more!

“Is it a fruit or vegetable?”
I think to answer this particular question, it is very important that we first understand the definitions of ‘fruit’ and a ‘vegetable’, and then eventually onto the tomato itself. Firstly, a¬†‘fruit’, according to the¬†Oxford Dictionary, means “the sweet and fleshy product of a tree or other plant that contains seed and can be eaten as food”, whereas a ‘vegetable’ means “a plant or part of a plant used as food, such as a cabbage, potato, turnip, or bean”. [4, 5]

Again from the the¬†Oxford Dictionary, the tomato is defined as “a glossy red, or occasionally yellow, pulpy edible fruit which is eaten as a vegetable or in salad. [6] Fair enough, a very controversial, two-sided definition here where the tomato¬†can be¬†considered as both a fruit and a vegetable. But why so? To botanists or plant specialists, to correctly identify a vegetable, it must have roots, tubers (a much thickened part of the stem deep inside the crop), stems and leaves, or in summary, a type of plant. [7] For example, potatoes, carrots and onions are all vegetables. Conversely, fruits should be identified when it has seeds, where commonly recognised vegetables are in fact fruits. For instance, cucumbers, squash and bell peppers. [7]

Why all the fuss? As a matter of fact, in 1883, tomatoes were brought from the West Indies and shipped to New York, under the rule of Hedden, the port administrator, who taxed the imported tomatoes as vegetables. [7] Farmers, however, protested and felt that tomatoes should not be taxed as vegetables, and be considered as fruits instead. As a result, the American Supreme Court brought this up as a law case, and eventually decided that tomatoes should be considered as fruits, whilst consumers should recognise the products as vegetables. [7]

The tomato in dishes 
Now, onto probably my favourite part of this article, where I can discuss about the importance and usage of the tomato itself. Similar to the soy sauce to the Chinese, the fish sauce to Indo-Chinese people (Thai, Vietnamese, Burmese,¬†Laotian), the curry sauce to Indians and Indo-Chinese, the teriyaki to the Japanese, the sauce hollandaise or roux blanc to the French, the gravy to the British, the tomato is fundamental in Mediterranean cuisines, particularly in Italy with your pizzas, pastas, ragouts, salads, soups…

You can use tomatoes in many different dishes, and below are proper examples:

Italian
Generally speaking, the tomato is very important in many parts of Italy to make pasta sauces, minestrone (vegetable soup) and pizza bases. Interestingly, the Pizza Maghuerita was invented in Naples, in order to celebrate a new Italian ruler sinceNapoleon III in 1878, with the tricolour of the Italian flag being represented proudly to the Queen of Savoy through the green of the basil leaves, the white of the Buffalo mozzarella cheese and the red of the tomato sauce. [3]

Indian
Unlike their Indo-Chinese cousins, the Indians, especially the northern ones, make tomato-based curries. They add a rainbow range of spices and herbs into the sauce paste and fried on a medium heat. Serve that with some Basmatic rice and you got yourself a real treat. Mmhmm. A basic Indian curry recipe here for more reference: http://honestcooking.com/2011/09/21/indian-curry-paste/

Greek 
I once watched a travelling show on the television, and learnt that unlike the Turkish version, the Greeks use Feta cheese in making their glorious and light salads. A bit of tomato, onions, olives, cucumbers, Feta cheese, the traditional quadruple of the olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, perhaps even a bit of lemon or lime juice, mix and voilà. Bon appétit, monsieur et madame.

International cuisines 
On the international scene, the tomato is generally used as a garnish or a side-dish. For example, the tomato in hamburgers or roasted tomatoes that accompany your roasted vegetables and meats.

GM and organic products Рthe tomato 
GM tomatoes 
In 1994, the Americans created a new GM crop called the¬†FlavrSavr¬†tomato. This type of tomato was significant, because it did prolong shelf-life, but it did, unfortunately, also delay the ripening, which ultimately became substantial to consumers’ standards. [8] At one point, tomato pur√©e made from GM tomatoes was a success, but it was not fully approved internationally by the American and European Health Organisations. That being said, new researchers are attempting to find a proper answer to resistance of pests, and enhancing tomatoes with more health benefits in the near future. [8] This is an advantage and key, because many properties of tomatoes can be altered in such a way to improve the quality of the tomato itself, and we, as the consumer, can eat healthily as well.

Naturally cultivated/organic tomatoes 
Stephen Kaffka, introduced organic gardening at the University of California, Santa Cruz in the late 1960’s, of which he still continues to this date. Many organic tomatoes are said to have twice the amount of flavonoids (quercetin and kaempferol) than normal tomatoes. This is an advantage and important, because these two important antioxidants and substances, which are essential in giving the tomato its renown dark red colour. [9]

Another advantage, according to Kaffka, is that organic tomatoes absorb the nitrogennaturally from animal excrete, which is mainly broken down by the natural microbes or bacteria found in the soil and eventually released into the plants themselves. This is different to artificial genetically modified products, which get their nitrogen from fertilizers. [10]

Furthermore, as it is a natural process, the procedure takes a lot more time and is not cultivated as fast as GM crops. This is further emphasised by Alyson Mitchell, a food chemist at the University of California Davis, who explains that with limited amounts of nitrogen, the plants are slower to grow. However, it does have more time to trace its food source and make natural nutrients for itself, namely the flavonoids. [10]

Nutrients 
The tomato itself has many types of nutrients and it is believed that it is more beneficial properties than an apple. In the tomato, there are various anti-oxidants, one of which is called lycopene. This is fundamental, because this helps cell structure prevent the body from oxygen-free radicals, reducing chances of skin cancer and sickness. Moreover, it can reduce sensitivity to ultra-violet (UV) rays which are harmful to the skin and its cells. [11]

Another nutrient found in a tomato is Vitamin C, which increases the resistance against radicals developing in body, and also makes the body more immune from bacteria. This is key, as this reduces the possibility of us being sick. Furthermore, the tomato has Vitamin A found in them, which is found primarily from the flavonoid antioxidants. This is very important, as it can prevent the body from lung or oral cancers, and maintain essential skin membranes and bone health. Finally, the tomato has potassium, which is mainly used to maintain cell and body fluids which help regulate the heart rate. [11]

In conclusion, the tomato is a very versatile and ancient ingredient, which can be used in many types of sauces across many types of cultures. As controversial as this may be, in my opinion, the tomato should be considered as a vegetable, because it has been recognised that way in our daily lives in your salads or sauces. I have never heard of someone asking “have you eaten your tomatoes today?”, as opposed to your traditional apples and oranges as your main fruits. I also believe that that cultivators and botanists should always try to make the tomato as organic as possible, in order to make us not eat artificial or unhealthy substances and achieving consumer satisfaction. Finally, the tomato boasts quite a long list of nutrients that are essential for regulating and maintaining key body functions, beneficial to our skin, heart and bone health.

That is a wrap from me, folks. I hope you enjoyed your read here!
Bye for now! ūüôā

References
[1] http://cache.boston.com/resize/bonzai-fba/Globe_Photo/2008/06/29/1214782120_2686/539w.jpg
[2] Fernadez-Armesto, F., 2003, The Americas: The History of a Hemisphere, London, Phoenix
[3] http://www.tomato-cages.com/tomato-history.html
[4] http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/fruit
[5] http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/vegetable?q=vegetable
[6] http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/tomato
[7] http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/tomato-fruit-or-vegetable
[8] http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/grocery_shopping/fruit_vegetables/15.genetically_modified_tomatoes.html
[9] http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/quercetin-000322.htm
[10] http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=90914182
[11] http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/tomato.html

The South China Sea

The South China Sea has always been a disputed geo-political area and topic, so what are the different perspectives of the respective countries involved? [1]

Despite the fact that in every Asian language that directly translates the term “South China Sea”, it must be bizarre to some why it is the sea of “South China” rather than other geographical descriptions namely South Japanese, Western Filipino, Eastern Vietnamese, Northern Malaysian, North Bruneian or indeed, South Taiwanese. Perhaps that is why it is such a disputed area, with the appellation already adding coal to the huge fire of diplomacy in the South East Asian seaboard. I hope to utilise this space to analyse the current affairs and look at different perspectives of the main countries concerned in this political rally, particularly China, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and the¬†United States. This will be discussed with the three main sets of islands: the Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands and the Diaoyu Islands, using politics, international relations elements and some historical touches here and there. Again, any constructive comments on how I can improve is always welcome and I hope you enjoy your read here.

The Paracel Islands 

In this set of islands, a lot of important resources such as oil and gas blocks are disputed by Vietnam, China and Japan. China, being a global superpower, took the situation with an iron fist, and during a car journey with the Japanese ambassador, the Japanese flag was removed from the vehicle. [2] With many actions without the Vietnamese government’s consent, China sent foreign companies to Vietnam’s oil reserves particularly associated with companies such as American-owned Exxon Mobil Corp and Russia’s OAO Gazprom. [2]This is significant, because in response, the Vietnam people have reacted extremely angrily, showing their displeasure with many protests aimed at the Chinese government policies, together with a maritime law that claims their right of sovereignty in both the Paracel and Spratly Islands in June 2012. [2, 3] However, the Chinese military has planned to build fortifications on the Paracels, in order to further enact their own allegations on these territories.

The Spralty Islands 

Perhaps the most fundamental of all three schools of islands, the Spratly Islands are rich in oil and gas, strategic in sea ports for each of the nations’ navy.¬†Similar to the Scramble for Africa or the Scramble for China, these islands are disputed by many countries, namely¬†Chinese, Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Bruneian, Malaysian and Filipino, with all of these governments claiming their rights for administration. [4]
The Chinese government is again taking an aggressive stance with this geopolitical situation, arguing that the Filipino government under Aquino have wrongly claimed sovereignty to a disputed island in the Spratly Islands area. [4] This is key, as the Chinese government continues to flex its muscle in power to the world, showing its allegations and rights upon these islands, despite being frequently contestable and illegitimate. Ma Zhaoxu, the Chinese foreign minister representative, stated that China had “indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their surrounding waters” on this island, much against the Filipino government’s claims. This is again essential, because this increases the diplomatic tensions between the Sino-Vietnamese and Sino-Malaysian governments. Similar to the Vietnamese government, the Filipino administration reacted aggressively, by travelling to Pagasa Island (a sub-island within the Spratly archipelago) and declared it their own rightful territory. [4]
Fortunately, the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) are meeting in Bali, aiming to have resolutions over these territories and reducing further diplomatic confrontations by all the countries involved. [4]

The Diaoyu Islands 

It is legitimate that the world knows this set of islands as Diaoyu, in Mandarin pinyin meaning the Fishing Islands, and having the Chinese government once again disputing with a nation over their rights over the territory, this time being the Japanese government.

This is especially key, because, according to Chinese foreign minister representative, Hong Lei, the Diaoyu Islands were originally discovered and administered territorially and militarily under the navy, by the Chinese government dating back to the late 14th century to the mid 17th centuries, under Hu Zongxian, the Zhejiang governor of the Chinese Ming Dynastry. [5] However, the Japanese government did claim the islands during the Sino-Japanese War in 1895, calling these islands the Senkaku Islands. To add to the complication, the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Conference which occurred after the defeat of Japan in the post-WWII years, saw Japan taking these islands that had rightfully belonged to the Chinese and Taiwanese governments. [5]
This alleged right by the Chinese government was put into limelight by 14 Chinese sailors and political activists, comprising of Hong-Kongese, Macanese and mainland locals, were aggressively arrested by the Japanese upon arrival on the Diaoyu Islands on August 15, in protest of the Japanese proclaiming their rights on the islands. [6]
Conversely, the Japanese national government has disagreed and forbade the Tokyo local government to land in the Diaoyu Islands. This is significant, as the Japanese national national government is perceived to want more stability and a reduction of tension in the Sino-Japanese relations. [7] This ease of tension idea was further enforced when the Tokyo governor, Shintaro Ishihara, wanted to purchase the island in April as a way to assert Japanese rule on these islands. Worse still, there is a complex and rather ironic situation, where despite the fact that the Japanese government wants to discuss terms with the Kurihara family to formally stop their desires for sovereignty over the islands, the Japanese government are believed to have offered 2 billion yen ($25.4 million USD) to administer these islands under state control. [7]
United States reaction to geo-political situation 
With many states having diplomatic disputes over these aforementioned lands, American officials have taken their roles in trying to resolve this tense situation. Clinton, the American Foreign Secretary, has stated that these islands are in a tough decision whether to continue with economic and political ties with the Western countries or start to favour Chinese economic and political power. [8] This is significant, as there are many members of the ASEAN upon discussion, who believe China is frequently attempting to expand territorially, economically and politically within these areas. Consequently, all regional leaders have been instructed by the United States to come to terms with the Chinese government as diplomatically as possible, particularly with unsuccessful attempts to do in July. [8]Upon Clinton’s departure from Beijing, American Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, is to highlight to China America’s idea of dealing with this geo-political situation as diplomatically as possible, without the use of imperialism or force. [8] This is fundamental, because the Chinese government has argued that the Americans have only acted in their own national security and political interests, which satisfy them in their own way. Furthermore, China believes that the South China Sea problem should be managed between themselves and the other affected countries. Nevertheless, this is important, as American retaliated by stating¬†the less powerful nations are easier swayed away with Chinese political desires, putting them on the back foot. [8]

In effect, all these disputed areas are rich in oil and gas, important resources to all countries involved. With the Chinese government acting aggressively in these geographical area of the South China Sea, claiming their allegations of these lands, the other smaller countries have their opinions easily pushed away into the corner, as we saw in the Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands, where lesser countries namely Vietnam, Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia were out-powered politically.

However, the Diaoyu Islands presented a different and a lot more tense of a diplomatic problem, with Japan able to come to confrontations with China, matching her status as a global power and asserting their own opinions despite aggressively, but decisively to prove her own point where her territories lie specifically. Consequently, this is all significant, because despite the Chinese arguing for their own national interests against America and other countries, the Americans reacted with an orthodox political stance of ‘world policeman’, trying to restore peace and stability in these troubled waters. In my personal opinion, I believe that no country can have¬†everything¬†they want in this world, particularly with such an abundance of countries tangled in this situation. Thus, I think that all these countries¬†have to come to a¬†legitimate compromise, not one of the post-Second World War treaties where it left only the¬†main participants satisfied, but one that could be resolved as¬†fairly¬†as possible. For example, if one country has X sets of land, then another country should have Y sets of land, after that the third with Z sets of land, and so on. Or at the worst, create¬†condominiums¬†of these countries, splitting the islands in the required amounts geographically and politically. If this sort of equilibrium is achieved, a reduction of political tension and potential war would be greatly appreciated by the world audience.

Thank you for reading my blog and I hope you liked it!
Bye for now! (:

References 
[1] http://qph.cf.quoracdn.net/main-qimg-fcf0417c5b2724b416fc3cddaeed204d
[2] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-08-28/china-offers-oil-exploration-blocks-near-disputed-waters-1-.html
[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/22/world/asia/china-criticizes-vietnam-in-dispute-over-islands.html?_r=0
[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-14230708
[5] http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2012-08/25/c_131806321.htm
[6] http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/728438.shtml
[7] http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/world/2012-08/28/content_15710690.htm
[8] http://www.businessweek.com/ap/2012-08-31/clinton-in-south-pacific-with-china-in-focus