Friday, May 31, 2019

In My Kitchen: Not Much!

My kitchen this month has only basic activities: not much new or sharable. However, my back yard and basement storage areas, which serve as kitchen extensions, have a few things going on. I like to wrap up each month with a look at my kitchen and many other bloggers' kitchens, all shared at Sherry's blog HERE.

New basement shelves help us organize things we buy in larger quantities. Mostly at Costco!
This basement storage feels as if it's an extension of our kitchen.
Potted herbs make summer meals more delicious. By the end of May, they are safe from frosts and we can start a few of them. As summer arrives, we're also grilling outside more and more, as I've depicted many times. Our chives didn't
seem to enjoy our deeply cold winter. Luckily, my friend Margo gave me a bunch more chives since I took the photo.

In May, I spent a week on the National Geographic Orion on a cruise in
French Polynesia. The main activities were morning and afternoon expeditions
to look at the islands or to snorkel. But who wouldn't want to have this
breakfast instead of facing one's own kitchen every morning? I love vacations!

Close up of the new items.

What I really don't like in my kitchen this month: washing all the dishes by hand. I had to get out an old dish drainer from underneath the sink. What I expect to like next month: a replacement for my very old and up-to-now trustworthy dishwasher. It lasted something like 14 years -- that's 98 in dog years.

All photos Copyright © 2019 by Mae & Len Sander.
Blog post created and owned by Mae's Food Blog: maefood dot blogspot dot com.
If you see this post at some other blog, it's been stolen.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Polynesian Birds


During our expedition to several Polynesian islands, we saw very few local land birds. In fact, the islands' natural history and human history has been very hard on land birds -- in contrast to other island groups like the Galapagos and the Hawaiian Islands. On one island, Makatea, we saw three endemic birds including this Polynesian Imperial Pigeon. This species once lived on a few other Polynesian islands, but is now extinct everywhere but Makatea, so we were thrilled to get this photo of it. (Note this word for Wordy Wednesday: a bird is endemic if it is found only in one native place, like this one.)


This is the Tuamotu Reed Warbler, which also now survives only on the island of Makatea. A third endemic species is a type of fruit dove, which we saw but were unable to photograph.

Two more bird photos:


The fairy tern, above, is an oceanic species that lives in many parts of the Pacific. They are quite beautiful when they perch in the trees, as well as when they are flying. This one was on Makatea very near the beautiful fresh-water grotto where we swam through a deep cave.


We saw many Lesser Frigatebirds, which are also found throughout the Pacific region. This one was on the island of Fakarava. All of these photos are from Len's Flickr set. If you click on one of them, you can see the rest of the birding and snorkeling photos from our recent trip. 

All photos Copyright 2019, Mae and Len Sander.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Our Ship: The National Geographic Orion

Our ship for the week of May 10 through May 17 was the National Geographic Orion. The view of the ship we saw
most often was from the zodiac boats that took us to all of our excursions to the islands of French Polynesia.
The most exciting navigation on the ship was the passage through several narrow gaps between islands on remote
atolls, where the sea is rushing into or out of the lagoon, and there's only a very narrow channel.

All National Geographic/Lindblad expeditions have a policy of open bridge -- you can go in and see how the ship is being
handled by the crew. At right in this photo is Heidi Norling, the ship's Captain. At left, the first mate and the expedition
leader. Heidi is from Stockholm, Sweden, where she began her career on cargo ships and ferry boats.
Another photo of Heidi with the Hotel Manager, who is in charge of
rooms and food service. Heidi's biography HERE.

The ship's lounge has rather distracting mirrors on the ceiling.
We rarely had time to enjoy a moment on the top deck. This was the
last day -- we had just returned our snorkel gear.

A very important functional apparatus: the anchor!
I didn't take many photos of the crew, the hotel staff of cleaners, or the waiters and kitchen staff at work. But when we got off the ship to take a  walk on the island of Fakarava, a zodiac brought a group of workers who headed for a covered basketball court and a quick game. Note the second-from-left player's NatGeo shirt.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Street Art in Papeete, Tahiti

Our bus tour of Papeete, Tahiti -- the principal city of French Polynesia -- went past a great deal of street art. 
The mural in this photo was created by French artist SETH for the ONO'U street art festival in 2015. This mural has been featured on a Tahitian postage stamp, and is much loved by the islanders such as our tour guide.

Among the many traditional island symbols in the design, you can see a little international radiation symbol on the sleeping girl's back, and just above her knees you can see a mushroom cloud. As I've written, the French conducted nuclear tests there from 1966 to 1996, which polluted the islands with radioactive fallout.

We saw all sorts of street art, from carefully painted murals and advertisements to crude spray-painted graffiti.
All this art seems to have become a part of the culture of this remote island, which I find fascinating.

All photos Copyright © 2019 by Mae & Len Sander.
Blog post created and owned by Mae's Food Blog: maefood dot blogspot dot com.
If you see this post at some other blog, it's been stolen.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Poison in Paradise

Mururoa Atomic Test, 1960s -- Source: BBC
French nuclear weapons testing is not a pleasant subject. Between 1966 and 1996, France exploded 193 atom bombs on the atoll of Muroroa in French Polynesia. Of these, 46 were atmospheric tests, from which unthinkable quantities of radiation rained down on islands throughout the South Pacific. The image of a mushroom cloud demolishing the Mururoa atoll is an icon of this era. Also iconic: the reaction of then-President Charles de Gaulle to the first test: "It's beautiful," he said. (source)

Virtually all of the French Polynesian islands, as well as some more distant islands, received multiple times the "safe" dose of radiation, including some astoundingly high radiation levels measured in samples of water, air, soil, and fish. Further, recognition of this situation has been very slow to occur. A few examples:
  • After the first bomb was exploded, vegetables harvested on nearby islands contained 666 times normal radiation; drinking water six times normal. (source)
  • In 1966, radioactive rain containing particles from a test called Betelgeuse fell on Samoa, which is thousands of miles from the test site. The 120 kiloton nuclear explosion was conducted 600 meters above the ground, despite adverse wind conditions. (source)
  • A similar test in 1974 resulted in radioactive rain on Tahiti, exposing residents to 500 times the maximum level of plutonium allowed. (source)
  • Cancer levels in French Polynesia have gone up steadily since the start of testing, but it's difficult to attribute specific instances of disease to specific exposures, especially because the population of the area is only around 250,000. (source)
On a community bulletin board at a market on the atoll of Fakarava, I saw this notice. At the
bottom is a list of 21 diseases that are covered by the French law for indemnities for victims,
and the poster itself, over the iconic mushroom cloud, reads:
"Women of Polynesia:
193 tests in 30 years, all of Polynesia contaminated, and the disaster continues!
Women's lives disrupted. Families murdered...
Do not forget that breast cancer is also a radiation-induced disease.
Reparation is a right."
More shocking than the extent of radioactive fallout, in my opinion, is the extent of the French government's coverup of the radioactive results and the harm that was done to humans in the wake of the tests. Clearly by the time of these tests, a great deal was known about the dangers of radioactivity to people and the environment, so they really knew they needed to obscure what they were doing:
  • Statistics on the levels of radiation and consequent incidence of cancer were hidden for at least 40 years, and many studies that could have been done were simply not done. "Despite ongoing efforts by Polynesian authorities to access documents, France still keeps most of them classified, which further increases the frustration of the Polynesians," according to an article published last October. (source)
  • The French and Polynesian governments have made very belated recognition of the damage done, and there are currently programs to help the islanders who have radiation-caused diseases. A law enabling restitution to workers has resulted in only a very few actual cases where compensation has been awarded (20 awarded damages out of 1000 cases).
  • In the fall of 2018, a French Polynesian politician brought charges against the French for crimes against humanity, taking the claim to the Hague-based International Criminal Court. (source)
We encountered one example of the coverup -- or maybe denial -- in a very charming and seemingly well-informed guide who took us around one of the islands. She insisted that all of the nuclear tests had been done underwater, thus containing the radiation. And she denied that there was any increase in cancer rates due to the tests. We have no idea if she was required to say this, or if she just believed the propaganda of the French official story.

Our charming tour guide whose statements on nuclear tests were
so wrong. Intentionally? Or not? She is a student of anthropology,
working on an advanced degree, so she should be able to read the
current discussions just as well as I can!

For a more technical discussion of the exact amounts of radiation see this article:

Fangataufa and Moruroa, French Polynesia

Did they really test bombs on an atoll like this one, that we saw last week? And did we do it too, on Bikini Atoll,
where 23 American tests took place between 1946 and 1958? 

Author of this content is Mae's food blog: Maefood dot 
If you are reading it somewhere else, it's been stolen!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Island Food

What do you think of when you think of island food? Beautiful tropical fruit growing on trees?
On excursions from the National Geographic Orion last week, we learned
a little about agriculture and food in French Polynesia.
Coconut trees were brought to the islands on the voyaging canoes
of Polynesian settlers. They sprout from coconuts like the ones in the photo.
Coconuts provide delicious coconut water, coconut milk, and tasty nut meat.
The leaves and bark fibers are useful as building material or textiles.
The ancient Polynesians brought chickens with them wherever they settled.
Today, chickens roam wherever they can find food for themselves.
They are an important source of meat. We saw these two cocks
having a fight not far from the vanilla plantation.
Bora Bora has a lot of farmland on its well-watered hillsides, as do many of the larger and higher islands.

Living the life of the stone-age Polynesians -- the dream life -- would include working with your fellow villagers to trap
fish in a structure like this. At the top of the trap, a few people would chase fish in between the stone walls. At the
far end, where there's a little hut, a couple of people would spear the fish and collect them for a nice meal.

French Polynesia is currently a producer of vanilla, grown either outdoors
or in indoor farms like this. Like most of the tree fruit, vanilla orchids are
an introduced plant species, originally native to the New World.
The vanilla orchid produces the valuable pods, which are dried and
then processed to be sold worldwide.  
Agricultural products from the open-air vanilla farm, showing both green
and dried (brown) vanilla pods and several types of nuts. 
The price of vanilla beans and other vanilla products at the vanilla farms we
visited was just as high as vanilla prices everywhere, as we & our fellow passengers
all noticed. A current article in the Economist discusses vanilla prices,
though it provides only a sketchy reason for the variation.  See "Vanilla Fever."
Despite the dream of idyllic life on a tropical farm, most of the residents of French Polynesia purchase food in supermarkets. Wouldn't you love to have this view from the porch of your market? (That's our ship on the horizon.)
The three food markets I saw during a walk down the main street on the atoll of Fakarava were rather small. The town has only around 800 people, with occasional provisioning visits from small sailboats and yachts, and it's almost flat, so there's little or no agriculture. In the markets, the selection of canned, frozen, and packaged goods was not that different from an American or a French supermarket. Although we drove past a number of markets on our tours of other islands, we didn't actually visit any of them.

We didn't see any fresh produce for sale. However, we heard that there had been a shipment of vegetables unloaded that morning, which had sold out immediately -- to the disappointment of some French tourists from a private boat who were ashore when we were. Unlike the larger islands where we saw small farms that raised fruit, vegetables, and animals like goats, cows, and chickens, Fakarava seemed to support only a few fishing boats to bring in food.

Historically, the islanders of French Polynesia relied on subsistence agriculture and fishing. In 1962, the French began to build a significant military presence, and also to develop tourism on the islands, which greatly altered the economy. The islands are now dependent on imported food, as we could guess even from our brief observations. According to Moody's Economic Analysis:
"French Polynesia’s tourism-dominated service sector accounted for 85% of total value added for the economy in 2012. Tourism employs 17% of the workforce. Pearl farming is the second biggest industry, accounting for 54% of exports in 2015; however, the output has decreased to 12.5 tons – the lowest level since 2008. A small manufacturing sector predominantly processes commodities from French Polynesia’s primary sector - 8% of total economy in 2012 - including agriculture and fishing." (source)
So it's interesting: these islands do not seem to be a food desert. But things are seldom as they seem; who knows?

In Fakarava's markets we saw many familiar brands of food manufactured
in Japan, other Asian countries, Europe, and the US.

The sign of another market. "Alimentation générale" means they sell all types of food.

A bakery and market. The baked goods were also sold out when we looked inside.

This impressed me! They must be sending these cans and plastics a long
way to a recycling plant. It's around 500 km to Tahiti.

Author of this content is Mae's food blog: Maefood dot 
If you are reading it somewhere else, it's been stolen!
All photos copyright 2019 by Mae & Len Sander.