End of Apple Pie?

Screen shot 2014-04-15 at 1.45.13 PMHello!

My name is Hokuma and I’m addicted to sweets. I love baked goods: apple pies, fruit tarts, pumpkin pies, apple turnovers… the list is long. Sometimes, I would wonder whether I was the only person in the world with such a big sweet tooth addiction, but an article I read a few days ago helped me see otherwise. The article was posted on the facebook wall of a very prestigious organization, Oxfam in Azerbaijan.

The article came from a well known news agency in Azerbaijan. It highlighted a new report by the Alliance for Food Security, an organization established in 2012, which aims to aid the development of agriculture in Azerbaijan. This program will help the population seek access to nutritious foods between 2008-2015 through public and private partnerships.

Nizami Garayev, a member of the organization, mentioned findings from a new report that paints a rather worrisome picture of Azerbaijanis and their diet. Regarding fruits and berries, people in Azerbaijan consume only 47 kg of food as opposed to 80 kg worldwide, with fish they consume 5 kg as opposed to 8.3 kg worldwide, and dairy, 209.2 kg vs. 360 kg. When it comes to meat, I was happy to see that Azerbaijanis consume only 27.8kg per year, while the world consumes 70 kg. (Being a vegetarian and an environmentalist, this seems like a positive so, GO AZERBAIJAN!)

Ok, so Azerbaijanis eat less than average, but what does this have to do with my own personal story and addiction to sugar? Here comes the answer, the area where Azerbaijanis excelled above others was in the consumption of baked goods! Azerbaijanis consume 133.8 kg instead of 120.5 kg of bread, and other baked treasures.

DSC_0463There…that’s it! This is the static that showed me that I am Azerbaijani and I shouldn’t take such things to heart. I have a sweet tooth, I loved baked goods, but it’s in my DNA. Plus, you always hear people say that those who like sweets tend to be kind people. I can confidently say that many Azerbaijanis are caring and considerate! Especially some of my relatives that live in Qax and make their own honey. They are the sweetest bunch of people you could ever meet!

And knowing that in recent years, food fraud has increased, I have no doubt that the farmers in my family (small, family owned farm), are the future of a sustainable agriculture. Food and taste matters too much for us, and quality is always important. You won’t see any added sugar in the honey they produce.

The same can’t be said for Americans. While many Americans consume  490 million pounds of honey a year, only 149 million pounds are produced in America. The rest was shipped from miles away, and who knows what additives were placed in it. But this problem doesn’t stop at honey. Other ingredients, such as meat, seafood and juices, are laced with ingredients which are foreign to the product. The beef you are eating could be horse meat, and that tuna, could actually be escolar. Food fraud costs the food industry anywhere between $10-15 billion. Combating it is not easy!

One thing I believe the world can learn from Azerbaijan is the need for moderation. True, not eating enough is never healthy, but eating too much is also a problem. With rising portions in America, it looks like eating more doesn’t mean better health. But, it does show that the drive of our ancestors to consume more food (which influenced the development of our current civilization) is still very relevant to our present lives.

But we can’t continue eating more, we need to eat enough to live, not live to eat. If you want to learn more about the history of agriculture on Earth, then check out this great video. As for me, I finally understand where my sugar craving comes from, and that helped me embrace the truth! I am Azerbaijani – I love sweets!

With much love!

Food & Climate

distance.marriage.food.delicious.healthy.indian.saynotofoodwaste.local.sustainableA bowl of warm rice, the steam of it rising up and floating around you. The sound of vegetables being stirred on a pan as you prepare to add them to your dish. Next to this a bubbling curry sauce releasing the aromas of ginger, coconut and other exotic spices. With all three components prepared, you add and mix the ingredients to produce one delicious meal.

Our food is exotic and amazing. Its components come from different parts of the world. They are born miles away from each other. Yet, they come together as one, blending their tastes perfectly as if they were born to be married on your plate. Your teeth clap in approval and your taste buds beg for another spoonful. 
It’s a fact, I love food! But then again, who doesn’t?

Yet, our days of overindulging in food, buying in bulk and wasting half of it will soon be ‘the selfish thing of the past’. With our climate changing and our biodiversity dwindling, food prices will rise, diversity will decrease and nutrition will outweigh our shallow behavior of discarding food due to cosmetic flaws. But, things aren’t ALL that bad. There is still a way to enjoy a wide array of exotic food if we do it more sparingly, and reach a balance between consuming and throwing away 1/3 of all produced food. To do that we need to act NOW, not tomorrow, or the week after. If we choose the latter, we are doomed.

Oxfam published a report analyzing the costs our greenhouse gas emissions have on our planet, and what we should expect if we don’t clean up our act. And their outcomes aren’t pretty. The report says that “net global agricultural yields [are] predicted to decrease by up to 2% per decade.” The decline will make the current problems of hunger and demand for food, as global population grows, more difficult to address.

food.organic.local.foodwaste.saynotofoodwaste.healthy.sustainable.happyIf you are lucky to be living in a developed country and have a well paying job, continue reading. While you may not be facing hunger and it is possible that you can buy whatever you want when you go grocery shopping, it doesn’t mean you won’t feel effects of climate destruction.

Curious about what I mean? Let me explain: “Over the last six years there have been three global food price spikes in 2008, 2010 and 2012 – closely associated with supply shocks driven in part by extreme weather.” It is estimated that by 2030 our food prices will double and climate change will continue to wreck havoc on our lives. (Oxfam Report)

Even a wealthy country like the UK hasn’t managed to escape the shadow of this looming and slow approaching disaster. “The cost of food in the UK has risen by 30.5% in the past 5 years and has exacerbated other pressures such as unemployment, low wages and the removal of social protection – making it harder for people to feed themselves. This lead to a tripling of food bank usages in 2013.” (Trussell Trust)

armenia.food.percentageofincome.map.9billion.sustainable.health.saynotofoodwasteIf this is happening in wealthy and developed countries, then what is the fate of developing countries, such as my homeland Azerbaijan? Exactly a year ago I wrote about finding some shocking information. I saw that Cameroon and Azerbaijan were listed as two countries spending more than 45% of their income on food. If you visit the map today, not much has changed. Except for one fact, Azerbaijan’s neighboring country of Armenia, though not shaded in, seems to be doing much worse as its citizens are spending up to 60-70% of income on food. The country is facing droughts and is in the first place for spending most of its income on food.

But this is not an issue of politics or of neighbors. It is a global problem that affects everyone despite class, religion, natural resources and development. In fact, countries that begin to address the issue NOW, will be the real winners in the long run. So what I want most for my country? For it to start spending more money on research, and preparing its food system for climate change with proper mitigation and adaptation plans.

unemployment.food.foodwaste.saynotofoodwaste.happy.healthy.sustainableIt is refreshing to see that the World Bank will be aiding Azerbaijan in the development of its agriculture by investing $53.25 millions into projects bettering food security. I am hopeful that such actions will be enough to address events such as loss of fruit and berry crops due to inclement weather. This year, Azerbaijan experienced a problem of sudden snowfall and strong winds in late March, after these fruit bearing crops started blooming, not a good combination for temperature sensitive food.

Stories like this demonstrate how fragile our nature is. Any slight or sudden change in temperature and weather patterns can have devastating effects. Considering that in the past 100 years our seed diversity declined by 75%, more needs to be done to mitigate our growing food problems, and to strengthen our food security nets.

That means investing more in Research and Development (R&D) in agriculture. Currently, “for every $100 of agricultural output, developed countries spend $3.07 on public agricultural R&D, whereas developing countries spend just $0.55 on average.” In 2009 Azerbaijan spent a meager 0.2% of its GDP towards R&D. According to 2013 World Bank figures, that number hasn’t changed.

meat.meatlessmonday.saynotofoodwaste.food.waste.sustainable.climatechangeHere is my take home message: whatever we do, we must start today! In the story of the rabbit and the turtle, it was the slow and steady that won the race. Our figures seem to be showing that we are slow….but we are far from steady!

If you’re sitting at home and wondering how you can help, start by trying Meatless Mondays. By watching your diet, and consuming less meat. We can have small, but meaningful impacts on the future security of global food systems by starting with ourselves.

Happy [Conscious] Eating!

Recipe No. 2 – Eggplant Caviar

eggplant.caviar.vegetarian.azerbaijani.cuisine.food.delicious.organic.healthy.enjoyDear Readers,

Today I’d like to share a second Azerbaijani cuisine recipe. This is my favorite vegetarian dish! Not only is it really healthy, but it is also easy to make!

I’ll be covering various ‘vegetarian’ dishes from my homeland, and when I run out of those, I’ll find a way to give the meat dishes a vegetarian twist. If you have any other ideas for recipes share them with me.

As always, the goal is to get you into the kitchen and feel good about yourself. To cook, but not toil. And reap the delicious benefits of your work.

So download the Eggplant Caviar instructions and get your creative juices flowing!

Send me pictures of what your kitchen adventures leads to.

Much love!

Tuesdays of Novruz

Novruz.Azerbaijan.FoodQuote.Holiday.Festivity.SpringNovruz  Novruz  Novruz!

The  celebration of spring, of new life and warm weather!
Living on the East Coast in Washington, D.C., I enjoy a good amount of warm weather, but 2014 started off very cold and snowy!

And while looking at the falling snow cover the streets and dress up the world in pretty white dress is breathtaking, shoveling a pathway from my door steps through this thick and sometimes icy substance is a challenge.

Not to mention that unlike clothes, snow can’t be washed. And like all white clothes it gets dirty quickly and easily. So, am I looking forward to flowers, green grass, blue sky and an opportunity to wear shorts? The answer is YES YES YES!

But, with anything powerful and spiritual, you need to summon it. And after centuries of working on these spells and dances, we, Azerbaijanis, created a whole tradition around the coming of spring. We call this holiday – Novruz, and every tuesday we dedicate our energy to a specific element.

In total, there are four Tuesday’s we celebrate before Spring appears to us on the 20th of March (at least that’s her plan for this year). And not only is 4 my favorite number, but the elements at play are pretty awesome too!

Here’s the list of what to expect.

February 25 –         Water Tuesday
March 4 –               Fire Tuesday
March 11-               Wind Tuesday
March 18 –             Earth Tuesday

The celebration begins with water, because it cleanses the Earth and prepares it for the beautiful spring. Considering all the salt and dirt left from this winter, there will be need for lots of cleaning!

The other Tuesdays are followed by fire, wind and earth to awaken nature and prepare life to blossom anew! And boy, am I ready to blossom, try delicious new foods, watch wild flowers bloom, and enjoy star gazing while lying on the grass.

My personal favorite is starting a bonfire and jumping over the flames to make sure my new year is filled with success and that my dreams come to fruition. But, I won’t join in on ‘papagatdi‘ and will have to experience it vicariously from my friends in Azerbaijan.

The word literally translates to ‘throwing of the hat’, and describes the process of leaving a hat at the doorsteps of neighbors, knocking on the door and running away. The homeowner then opens up the door and puts some sweets into the hat. To some it may sound like ‘Halloween’, but there is definitely no ‘tricking‘ involved, and the treats are left anonymously. And the children leaving the hat do it as smoothly and as swiftly as possible, so it turns into an entertaining game both for the one sharing sweets and the one receiving them.

I will also be planting ‘samani’ which is made of sprouting wheat seeds. To watch it grow you must sing to it: “Samani, protect me, and I will grow you every year.” So be sure to catch the udpates and my samani growing skills on Facebook.

If you have any questions about the holiday, or how to grow your own samani, feel free to contact me.

With warm wishes,

Recipe #1

Dear Friends!

As some of you may know, I was born in Baku, Azerbaijan and truly love my country, culture and cuisine!

So, I figured that for all those wishing to taste and re-create those succulent dishes at home, I could help you by making step-by-step photo instructions of the recipe.

This will accomplish 2 things:

A) Will get me cooking more Azerbaijani dishes at home (in an easy manner that won’t compromise the taste).

B) Introduce you to Azerbaijani food, from the perspective of a young girl living abroad who wants to enjoy food from her homeland.

In Recipe 1 I show you how to make Vegetarian Qutabs! Easy peasy and tastes so good!

Since it’s Valentines Day,  you can impress your love or family with this exotic meal.

Cheers and good eating!

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Written by
Hokuma Karimova

Available alcohol stock in Azerbaijan

I’m from Azerbaijan and the region I grew up in is made of different cultures, languages, religions and customs within a very small area. I thought that analyzing the availability of alcohol in each country would give us an insightful look at how the social culture of each is transforming.

The countries that were examined all share a border with Azerbaijan, they are: Russia, Turkey, Iran, Georgia and Armenia. The only available data on FAOSTAT was from 2000-2009.

The results on which country has the most available alcohol for consumption per person is not surprising, Russia tops off the chart with 98.60 kg of alcohol available per capita. The most surprising finding was that amongst all the countries, Azerbaijan had displayed the quickest growth in alcohol availability per person. Its alcohol stock availability grew by an incredible 181.42% per person.

Available Alcohol Stock from 2000-2009 per capita in kg:  



Such a sharp increase in available alcohol stock for a country so small is pretty interesting and the reasons behind this push are varied. The best explanation is the social change that’s sweeping the country. Today, women of Azerbaijan can enjoy more social freedoms and it is no longer surprising to find a group of them at  bars during a girls enjoying a few drinks. This new behavior of women is probably the main driver behind the increase. However, this is just an opinion and a more thorough look is required. Other reasons for this growth could be the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan or a possible decline in number of orthodox Muslims.

The availability of stock was calculated with the following equation: Production – Export + Import. My goal was to look into the consumption level, however the FAO stats website didn’t have such data. To find the actual consumption level of alcohol we would need data on how much is bought, wasted or actually consumed (FAOSTAT does not have these numbers). Thus, we could only find the general volume of alcohol being produced, leaving and being imported to the country.

Nonetheless, since it is not likely that much of the alcohol is being saved for a later time, we can safely say that there is a high correlation between the available stock and consumption of alcohol within a given country. Still, the high increase in alcohol availability in Azerbaijan is definitely worth a further investigation and we hope our readers familiar with the culture and region could share their theories with us.

Posted by Hokuma Karimova