Male Trailing Spouse Interview: Expat Survival Guide

For those interested, here is a very brief interview for the Expat Survival Guide; the views from male trailing spouses

The Male Trailing Spouse series – Brian in Iran

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Expat Guide to Living in Tehran

UPDATE 20 January 2016: Bread, Sourdough Bread!! 🙂 Thanks to information from reliable informant, Hanna Takemoto, Palladium now stocks great (better than Iran-good) sourdough bread. It looks the real deal, weighs the real deal, and IS the real deal. Located in the breadstore outside the supermarket entrance, near the shopping trolleys and the foot of the escalators. Highly recommended for those longing for luxury bread!

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For those of you living in Tehran, or visiting for a good while, you might like a list of good places to go and do things, and some help finding things. Tehran is confusing for the visiting foreigner; you have to find or know a place for every last thing. So, let me try to steer you in the right direction for things like eating, shopping, drinking coffee etc. I will start with the categories:

  • Shopping (where to buy stuff);
  • Eating (where to get decent nosh);
  • Out and About (some ideas for places to go to in Tehran and surrounds); and
  • Kids-friendly (some tips on places that are kid-friendly, kid-suitable, or family-friendly).

You will note some are not yet completed – it is a work-in-progress and will be updated with more information, reviews etc as we go on. I will also put up a list of useful telephone numbers, vets, dentists, doctors etc. with the disclaimer that they have worked for me, but I don’t stand behind their services (nor, sadly, have any kickbacks been offered or received). Caveat emptor!

This posting will change often as I update it, and so it will be a good idea for you to bookmark it for checking back regularly.

Also happy to take tips, and answer questions, if there is something specific you are looking for.

  • Shopping (where to buy stuff):
    • Basiji Market (or Meisam Bazaar), also called the Farmaniyeh Shopping Centre (which REALLY overstates its size!) located on the corner of Farmanieh Street and Ariya Street in Farmaniyeh is a nice little shopping corner with a few fruit and veg places, a ceramics shop for your cheap dinnerware, and a very decent corner store. This corner store in particular is useful for western goods, including ‘pickled chicken‘ (if you have to ask what that is, you don’t eat it). You can get Nespresso capsules, western breakfast cereals, burrito and taco kits, imported cheeses and sauces, and much more. A good spot! Where on the map:
    • Palladium Mall, located on Moqadas Ardabili Street, (best accessed from Aref Street), Zafaraniyeh is a new mall with a great supermarket in the basement floor. A food court, children’s playroom, and very good toy shop are some of the other features. The supermarket has rare features such as passable croissant, mighty good rucola, the best sparkling water in Iran (VIP) and a wide assortment of other goodies. A great fruit and veg section with things you won’t find anywhere else including a good array of herbs and spices. And VERY good quality fish (but stick to the Persian Gulf fish, not the toxic Caspian fish). And they have genuine (Italian) Parmesan cheese! Where on the map:
    • Miiv – A fabulous ice-cream maker. They are the best in Iran for sure, and probably rate up there with the best in Europe. They only deliver, making seasonal products – blood orange sorbet, for example – and great quality old favourites like French Vanilla, the quality is superb. Home delivery only. Tel: 0910 1180357
    • Hyperstar – see my earlier blog posting on this as a shopping place operated a la Carrefour. This mall is located off the Bakeri Expressway in the far southwest of the city in Kooy E-eram. Inferior to Palladium for the range and quality of their products, it is larger still and has a broad selection of department-store products including TVs, DVDs, electricals, sporting goods etc. Where on the map:
    • Ilio – Situated in the Modern Elahiyeh complex, corner of Afriqa Blvd and Bihar Street, Elahiyeh (just off the Chamran Expressway). While ostensibly a chocolatier (and their chocolates are by far the very best in Iran) (a la Belgian chocs), this is a great place to go for a superb coffee and also for excellent ice-cream. Premium ice-creams, such as their pistachio, are sublime – but be warned, the explosion of roast pistachios in this ice-cream makes it very rich indeed. They also have an ice-cream only outlet in the food court at Palladium Mall (see above). Where on the map:
  • Eating (where to get decent nosh):
    • Eclipse (Fresh bagels, burgers, and sandwiches) – Situated in North Dibaji Street, Kamraniyeh, close to the south-eastern side of the Italian Residence, this is a new place and a VERY welcome addition (start?) to good eats around Kamraniyeh/Farmaniyeh. The bagels, panini, and burger rolls are all freshly baked on the premises. It is possible to buy just the bagels – par-baked – also to take home. They deliver pretty much anywhere in the north. It is a branch of the same award-winning sandwich store in Copenhagen (Soren Norbys Alle 2, 2300, Kobenhavn S). I can highly recommend the Pulled Lam (sic) bagel, and La Bomba (La Bomba was the Danish award-winner)! They do burgers, baguette, and steak sandwiches. Ask for the owner, Shayan! Tel: 021 26450450.  Where on the map:
    • Sam Cafe (coffee and sandwiches) – located on the 2nd floor of the Sam Centre in Fereshteh Street, Elahiyeh, this is a very cool spot for a GREAT coffee and some pretty agreeable foods like croissant, sandwiches, terrific little cakes, and waffles with strawberries, this place looks and feels like a cafe from San Francisco or Soho. Brilliantly friendly (and hip) staff. Excellent fresh juices as well. A top spot to sit with or without friends and just relax. I highly recommend one juice in particular they have, called Sharbat-e Tokhme Sharbati (for more on this great drink, see: http://turmericsaffron.blogspot.se/2012/07/sharbat-e-tokhme-sharbati-chia-seeds.html) which is a traditional Iranian-Style Summer Drink; super refreshing. Where on the map:
    • Ilio (coffee and ice-cream) – see above.
    • Monsoon (Asian fusion – trendy) – Located in the Gandhi Centre, Gandhi Street, in north Tehran (another location in Goldan seems to have closed down now), this trendy lounge/cafe serves something different from the usual Iranian restaurant. It is principally Asian food with some slight western touches, one might say. The food is quite good for Iran, but expensive. Eat there, by all means, but don’t expect to be wowed by the food despite the stiff price. Decor is cool, soundtrack is usually uber-cool. Service in English is certainly possible. Tel: 021 8879 1982. Where on the map:
    • Parkway (Asian – elegant trendy) – Situated on the 8th floor of the Sam Centre in Fereshteh Street, Elahiyeh, Parkway is a nice change of flavours from Iranian food. Asian trendy, looking and sounding (great soundtrack!) like something from cool New York, a little reminiscent of the wine bar at New York’s MOMA, it is very nicely decorated and a relaxing place to eat away from the hustle and bustle of the nearby Valiyasr area. Expensive, of course (maybe to make sure the place is kept pretty much only for the well-healed in the city!), the service is quite good with a number of staff circling at any one time and some speaking English; one or two speaking very well. Try the Mongolian beef, or the chicken or shrimp dumplings. The Beijing Duck, while not especially close to the real deal in China, is more than Iran-good and well worth having for the great change of flavour from kebab. Parking on-site is free (access from the rear of the centre, Bahar Street). Where on the map:
    • The Terrace (international – trendy) – located in very leafy East Maryam Street, Elahiyeh, The Terrace is a cafe that has groovy music, and a nice ambience, at least if you sit upstairs and outside on the actual terrace. Inside feels like an ice-cream shop for atmosphere and colours. Parking is impossible (Maryam is a very busy but tiny street); take a taxi. The menu is a little pedestrian; pizzas, paninis, pastas etc are the order of the day. Pretty good drinks with fresh juices and mocktails available. Expensive, again aiming for the more well-healed Tehranis. Where on the map:
    • Diwan (Fine dining) – Situated on the 8th floor of the Sam Centre in Fereshteh Street, Elahiyeh, this is arguably the premier restaurant in Tehran. You can expect beautiful decor (lots of works by modern Tehran artists are on the wall), a great soundtrack, nice ambiance, a good percentage – but not all – of the staff speak some English. The menu is ‘western fusion’, and pretty good, although in my view not actually worth the very steep price. Friends say it used to be better; that the food quality has gone downhill. But if you have visitors, or are a visitor, and you want to see where all the rich go to dinner in Tehran, this is the likeliest place. You will not get out for under 80USD a head, and likely much more. Thank goodness you don’t have to add wine to the bill! Where on the map:
    • Cafe du Reza Golaie (Traditional Persian food, cool music cafe) – This music cafe at number 172, in 30th Tir Street, close to the Glass and Ceramic Museum, and the Chaim Synagogue, and due north of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The walls are festooned with old photos of rockers and stars, the soundtrack for the place is all western and variable, including my daughter’s favourite Michael Jackson. And the food is pretty darn good, really simple stuff and, well, at least Iran-good. The menu is Iranian food, with some western touches, like an Iranian roast chicken with English-style roast veggies. The borsht is far better than its Russian namesake, and very good on a cold day. A tiny hole-in-the-wall kind of place, it is easily missed except for the crowd of locals lining up for a scarce table. It is possible to book, although I understand answering the phone is not their strength. Possible even, for a large enough group, to book the whole thing and close the curtains. A well-worthwhile place to take western visitors to show that some touches of western style exist. Tel: 09124430694 (ask for the owner, Shervin). Where on the map:
    • Burgerland (burgers – home delivery and eat-in) – This burger bar located in Andarzgu Blvd, in the north, not to be confused with the nearby Home Burger, is a good spot for a good quality western style hamburger. With just a few burgers on their menu, they do them well; juicy burger, double burger, farm burger and a few others. They do pretty passable chips too. Beware that the burgers, when loaded up with sauces, get a bit sloppy after delivery, although their home-delivery is very fast. And those answering the phone for your order always speak English and are pleasant to deal with. Tel: 021 2239 8600. Where on the map:
    • Murano (Italian – home delivery) – Anyone here for long realises that the vast majority of take-away pizza in Tehran are simply crap, and not at all calorie-worthy. But with a handful of outlets around Tehran, including Gheytarieh and Pasdaran in the north, and one at Gandhi I believe, Murano is about the best home delivery pizza in Tehran. Suitably tasty thin-crust pizzas, the Inferno is what everyone orders when they want some spice. The vegetariana, parmigiana, and margerita are all Iran-good. You can very often get English-speakers answering the phone if you persevere, and delivery is fast (usually have it in half an hour or so).  Tel: 021 2207 7639
    • Taj Mahal (Indian – home delivery) – located in the Taj Mahal Hotel, near the Hemmat Expressway, this Indian Restaurant delivers. Allow a good couple of hours for delivery; so call around 7pm and you will be able to eat around 9pm. The phone number is for the hotel, so just ask to be connected to the restaurant. Delivery is in the final price, and usually comes hot and fresh by taxi with one of the staff. The food is pretty good, and favourites include palak paneer and aloo ghobi. The chicken tikka masaala is also more than Iran-good. Tel: 021 8803 5444
    • Chai Bar (cafe and sandwiches) – located in Salimi Street, (I think the area is called Hekmat, near Karimi Street), this cute garden cafe is situated in the grounds of what is a calligraphy museum these days. Parking is not especially easy; taxi is better. It is a lovely peaceful garden for sitting for a coffee, or a good fresh juice, but also good to eat. Sandwiches are the main fare; try the Cheese steak sandwich. They are not international standard, but Iran-good, but it is a really nice place to sit and chew the fat with friends. Where on the map:
    • Leon 1960 (western, trendy, brunch speciality) – open all hours, but a real favourite for brunch, Leon 1960 is, liked several other places listed, located on the 8th floor of the Sam Centre in Elahiyeh. A lovely view of the mountains, and open terrace if the air is not too chunky that day, it is actually a lovely place to sit and enjoy a big plate of bacon and eggs, or panini, or fruits. Fresh juices and mocktails are as good as you might expect, and the coffee is very agreeable. Where on the map:
    • Saboos (bakery, cafe, breakfast, sandwiches) – located in Elahiyeh, on the corners of Alef Street and Javanan – it is the first northern exit off the west-bound Chamran after the Parkway Bridge. The surroundings are cool, Seattle chic, I guess might sum it up. The crowd is also pleasantly modern. The food is very good, as is the coffee. Omelettes, baguettes, and burgers are the things to order. The bread from the bakery also more than passable, but not sourdough last time I looked. Where on the map:
    • Yas Restaurant (elegant Iranian food, lunch and dinner) – located on val Yasr Blvd 2627, adjacent to the entrance to Melat Park (opposite the bronze umbrella-man statue. Is it an elegant place to have lunch and dinner (not especially family-friendly, but possible). Some English from the staff, and menus in English. Very good for things such as lentil soup, kebab of course, and the stews and khoresh. A bit pricey for Iranian food, but worth it for the nice surroundings and linen. Where on the map:
    • Stay tuned – always more to come…..
  • Out and About (some ideas for places to go to in Tehran and surrounds);
    • Carpet Museum
    • Glass and Ceramic Museum
    • Golestan Palace
    • Niavaran Palace
    • Saad Abad
  • Kids-friendly (some tips on places that are kid-friendly, kid-suitable, or family-friendly).
    • Niavaran Park
    • Qeitarieh Park
    • Fire and Water Park
    • Melat Park
  • Handy Phone Numbers
    • Vet: Dr Ibrahim Abdehou (speaks some English, but less crossed wires if you have some Farsi help). Does house calls, and can source good quality pet food and cat litter (surprisingly hard to find in Iran). Tel: 09122171071.
    • General Practitioner: Dr Jamshid Ansari – A very friendly Iranian-German GP, he speaks English and German fluently, does house calls, with strong network of specialists for anything particular that needs attention. Tel: 09123707812.
    • Dentist: Dr Keyhani – a very friendly fluent English and Danish speaking dentist, he operates from his clinic in Farmaniyeh, beside the Farmaniyeh Hospital. Tel: 021 26110052.

Palm Oil Scandal in Iran’s Milk; Much Ado About Nothing?

Well, I had hoped for more rosy messages about life in Iran, it has to be said. But what with carcinogenic tap water and toxic fish, oh, and earthquakes, it seems there are also some warnings to be attached to life here.
The latest one is milk; a recent scandal has seen milk sales across the country plummet.

This blog posting asks ‘why?’.

Happy enough until now with what seemed like a dairy industry of international standard (the Iranian yoghurt is bloody good), we recently discovered that the dairy industry in Iran suffers, as with all private enterprise concerns the world over, from greed and shortcuts. There really are a lot of activities that cannot be trusted to the private sector and, in Iran, where quality and health checking are below par, that is proved so again.

In early August 2014, the news was broken that the Iranian Health Ministry had uncovered a nationwide scandal. Involving most major dairy producers in Iran, the scandal entails the addition of palm oil to dairy milk to boost its fat content. What is being sold as full fat milk, is only full fat if you don’t expect that fat to come from the cow.

The palm oil debate rages around the world; Google or Bing it and you will soon see.

In this debate, there seem to be two major areas of concern, health and environmental, and of course numerous defenders of the oil against both concerns. The adding of palm oil to milk, and not advising it, is serious on several levels; environmental, health, regulatory failure, and dishonesty. Let’s walk through these areas one by one.

But first, what is palm oil? And how is it used?

Palm oil is a vegetable oil widely used by food manufacturers globally across an extensive range of products. It is used in some products to enhance texture and to bond (emulsify) the ingredients or, as in the case of the Iranian dairy industry, to provide more fat content.

It has been used for centuries in food preparation, particularly in the tropics where palms grow naturally. The oil, extracted from the fruit of the oil palm tree, enjoys widespread popularity in processed foods because it is free of artery-clogging trans fats and rich in natural antioxidants, including vitamins A and E.

The politics of palm oil are also a complication, as it is something of a north-south issue. While there is major usage in areas that naturally grow palm, in Southeast Asia for example, most major palm oil suppliers are in the developing world (Malaysia and Indonesia together produce some 85% of the world’s palm oil). These developing countries, strongly reliant on this post-2006 boom in sales, then ship to food producers worldwide, notably in developed countries.

The world is ravenous for palm oil, and demand rises continually despite any health and environmental concerns. One source mentioned that one day quite soon, 10% of Indonesia’s land will be oil palm plantations.
Global production of palm oil doubled in the 2000s and is expected to double again by the end of this decade. While in Asia palm oil is used for cooking, in a number of places it is used – not without serious concerns as well – as feedstock for bio-fuel. In the developed world more broadly, however, the burgeoning demand can be put down to two things; it is used EVERYWHERE, and the trans-fats debate in the west sent everyone scurrying for a substitute. And that substitute was palm oil.

When I say it is found everywhere, this is so literally true. It is used as an ingredient not just in foods and health and beauty products, but in the ingredients that make up those products — vitamin A palmitate, sodium laurel sulfate (as an aside, called SLS, sodium lauryl sulfate is a detergent and MAJOR cause of chronic mouth ulcers – if you suffer like I do, check your toothpaste for SLS!), stearic acid and so on. Indeed, if you use a product that has palm oil derivatives in it, and that is the vast majority of households, you will not even know you are using palm oil; it will say Vitamin A, for example, not palm oil.

So, there are countless ways in which palm oil sneaks into your house. Margarine, peanut butter, crackers, cookies, ice cream, lipstick, toothpaste, soap, pretty much all candy, contain palm oil. It is so pervasive in the products we put in and on our bodies that it’s virtually impossible to avoid it, no matter how hard we might try.

It is very often found in products labeled ‘fresh milk’ – as is the problem in Iran where the milk being boosted is still labelled pure, fresh milk; check the labels closely and you might find milk fats added. There is your palm oil.It is added instead of cream. Why? Because cream is expensive, and palm oil is not. Adding palm oil in place of fresh cream is, in a word, cheating you.

In many other places, such as the UK, the palm oil gets into the system as supplements (Mulac, etc) in the feed of the cow, boosting fat production in the animal. Either way, the palm oil is there.

Even soy milk, I hear vegans asking? Yes, even pretty much all brands of soy milk contain palm oil to bulk up the fats.

So, it is everywhere. Does that make it good? As I said, there are concerns.

Let’s walk through them.

Environmental Concerns

Much concern over palm oil and its burgeoning use is environmental. Chocolate maker Cadbury, for example, removed palm oil from its Dairy Milk recipe in New Zealand in response to environmental complaints from consumers. (Cadbury did not, you should note, remove it anywhere else they produce chocolate; only in local response to local complaints).

Palm oil is one of the planet’s most destructive ingredients. It is largely responsible for the massive deforestation of Borneo, and threatens habitats that include those of endangered and threatened species including orangutans and tigers. Companies slash, burn and bulldoze rainforest to plant uniform rows of oil palm trees, reducing biodiversity, threatening species, driving up greenhouse gas emissions, and destroying the livelihoods of local subsistence farmers.

On the environmental issues associated with palm oil, there is an industry has grown up around the ‘sustainable’ oil palm business, and many major food brands are now crowing about the rainforest-friendly palm oil sources they use, such as Fonterra’s claim that where possible they now use certified sustainable palm oil through the Green Palm™ scheme. How much of that is true, and how much simple PR, nobody can really answer reliably.

One thing is logically certain; if milk producers in Iran are adding palm oil underhandedly, the odds they are using ‘green’ palm oil are microscopic. The palm oil being used in Iran’s milk industry is – because its use is illicit in the first place – is pretty close to certainly environmentally damaging palm oil, not the ‘eco-friendly’ stuff.

But, if it is so all-pervasive in our lives, is the addition of palm oil to the milk supply a real health concern? What impact does palm oil have on our health?

Health Concerns

Heart Disease Risk – Could Increase Cholesterol Levels
While palm oil has no trans-fats (and so the food industry giants jumped on it as a substitute), it does contain high levels of saturated fats, which increases your risk of heart disease as it encourages the buildup of plaque in your arterial walls.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest reports that palm oil is second only to soybean oil in terms of worldwide popularity as a food oil. The use of palm oil in processed foods, its most widespread application in the United States, jumped sharply after government authorities took aggressive steps to reduce the trans fat content in processed foods.

In a 2005 report entitled “Cruel Oil: How Palm Oil Harms Health, Rainforest & Wildlife,” the Center conceded that palm oil is less harmful than partially hydrogenated soybean oil, but it points out that it “is still considerably less healthful than other vegetable oils.” In support of its warnings about the dangers of palm oil, the center cites two meta-analyses that show that palm oil raises blood cholesterol levels. Further, a 1997 British analysis evaluated 147 human trials and concluded that palmitic acid, an active ingredient in palm oil, raised total blood cholesterol levels. A Dutch analysis, released in 2003, weighed data from 35 clinical studies and found that palmitic acid significantly increased the ratio of total cholesterol to so-called “good cholesterol,” a widely recognized risk factor for heart disease.

And sadly, more recent studies find that the jump to palm oil by the food industry was a little kneejerk and not very well founded. It was not necessarily better than trans fats – it was just really, really cheap, and free from criticism.

In 2006, the US’ FDA started requiring that trans-fats be listed on nutrition labels. Because of that requirement — and outright bans on trans-fats — many food manufacturers and restaurants have stopped using trans-fat and sought alternatives. One of them is palm oil. It’s less saturated than butter and contains no trans-fat per se. But just because it’s not as bad as trans-fat does not make it good.

A 2009 study by the USDA/Agricultural Research Service examined the impact on heart disease risk from trans-fats, palm oil, canola oil, and soybean oil. The findings suggest that consuming any diets enriched with equivalent high amounts of palm oil or partially hydrogenated soybean oil would result in similar (to trans-fats) unfavorable levels of LDL cholesterol and apolipoprotein B (a protein, attached to fat particles, that carries bad cholesterol throughout the bloodstream). That’s when compared to consuming either of the diets enriched with canola and soybean oils high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, respectively. The results suggest – some 7-8 years after the food industry jumped to using it – that palm oil would not be a good substitute for trans-fats by the food industry, the USDA authors wrote.

According to Harvard nutrition experts, however, palm oil is better than trans-fat shortenings and probably even a better choice than butter — but vegetable oils that are naturally liquid at room temperature, such as olive oil and canola oil, should still be your first choice.

So, palm oil is not good for you for any  number of reasons, but in particular for heart disease.

Can Cause Weight Gain
Palm oil naturally contains palmitic acid, a fatty acid that may increase your chances of weight gain and obesity. A 2005 issue of the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” included a study on the overall effects of a diet high in palmitic acid in healthy young adults. The study found that an increase in palmitic acid intake led to lower fat oxidation rates and a decrease in metabolism. As a result, researchers concluded that a diet high in palmitic acid may increase the chances of obesity and insulin resistance.

Can Cause Toxicity
In a study published in a 1999 issue of “Plant Foods for Human Nutrition,” three Nigerian biochemistry researchers extol some of the nutrients found in fresh palm oil, but point out that the oil in an oxidized state can threaten physiological and biochemical functions of the body. They acknowledge that manufacturers of processed foods oxidize palm oil in their products for a variety of culinary purposes, meaning that much of the palm oil consumers eat is in an oxidized state. The dangers of oxidized palm oil include organotoxicity of the heart, kidney, liver and lungs, as well as reproductive toxicity, the researchers claim. Additionally, they note, oxidized palm oil can cause an increase in free fatty acids, phospholipids and cerebrosides. Now, I do not know what all of that means, but it looks bad for palm oil.

Despite the health issues related to palm oil, and saturated fats, if you want to read more about the technical (read: scientific) reasons the milk industry might defend adding palm oil to milk, read this:

The milk industry does, in many places, argue for palm oil as a necessary additive. If you want to pursue the reasons for that, read this: http://www.volac.com/media/9110061%20The%20role%20of%20palm%20oil%20in%20a%20sustainable%20dairy%20industry%20-%204%20-%20saturated%20fats%20in%20milk.pdf

Regulatory failure

The health authorities in Iran have announced the scandal. While falling short of announcing what they will do about it, they have said they have taken it to the President. What comes of that nobody can answer, but one hopes action follows.
In the failure of regulation, the price is initially paid by the consumer through health and safety. However, long term the price for failure is paid by the industry guilty of the breaches, in this case the dairy industry. People need and want dairy, but as the complete sinking of milk sales this last fortnight demonstrates, people will look elsewhere for their milk if they cannot trust the ‘Made in Iran’ on the milk bottle.

As the Iranian Health Ministry itself points out, serious health concerns in Iran at present include osteoporosis, calcium deficiency in children, and vitamin D deficiency. Half the women and girls in Iran, and a third of Iranian men, are suffering these ailments).

These are not societal health problems – and societal health costs – that can easily be solved without complete faith in the dairy industry.

Dishonesty in the Food Industry

Truth in labeling is something that has come up in this blog before, notably in relation to bottled water where almost all suppliers in Iran were found to be dishonest – or at least inaccurate – in their labeling as to mineral content.
And of course, I hear you say, milk already has saturated fats as does palm oil. Naturally, this is why it is used as an additive.

But not making consumers aware that they are drinking palm oil-boosted milk is where there is fault. It is one of honesty.

What this new milk scandal says about food quality and standards in Iran is that neither labeling, nor the regulatory agencies, can be trusted to provide guarantees about food quality and safety. While the Health Ministry has blamed sanctions for the dairies adding palm oil to boost fat content, it is hard to see this as anything other than deflection away from serial dishonesty. Up to 50% of the fat in milk comes from the diet of the cows. The rest are made by the cow itself. So, looking for causes and apportioning blame for adding palm oil, we need first to look at cow diets, cow health, and the number of milk-producing cows, not at sanctions.

Moreover, Iran does not have the advantage of having civil society engaged, or enabled to act, on issues of consumer safety.

The upshot is clearly that food quality and safety regulators in Iran need to lift their game if they are to ensure consumer safety, and restore consumer faith in the products on the shelf in the local.

 

So, overall, palm oil is not a happy additive to the milk in Iran for several reasons, but not – as announced – because they are trans-fats. Rather, they do – like all oils which are heavy in saturated fats – have adverse health impacts and, in fairness, consumers should be given the right to choose how they get their saturated fats in their diets.

Consumers should also be able to trust ‘pure, fresh milk’ as distinct from those fortified with other sources of fat, and thus vote with their wallets.

In short, consume low-fat milk, not the full-fat milk, in Iran quite simply because the makers and the labels cannot be trusted to be delivering whole milk to you.

If you have young children, because low-fat milk does not really provide the nutrients (including fats) of whole milk, consider the powdered milk alternatives from Milupa and Danone etc, which will almost certainly (says he with some risk of being proved wrong in time) does not contain palm oil.

The consumers of Iran pay a health price for the additive. Iran’s dairy producers now face a crisis of faith, and Iran’s regulators now face a crisis of oversight. Whether it clogs arteries or not, everyone is worse off for the malfeasance of milk producers in Iran and we can only keep watching to see what action gets taken to make the milk in Iran safer, better labeled, and more clearly healthy.

PS: If, prompted by health or any other concerns over palm oil, you are serious about wanting to avoid palm oil in products as much as you can, here is a neat list of possibilities for you: http://www.palmoilinvestigations.org/palm-oil-free

Selected Sources:
“Cruel Oil: How Palm Oil Harms Health, Rainforest & Wildlife”; Center for Science in the Public Interest; 2005
“Cooking for Healthy Healing: The Healing Diets, Book One”; Linda Page; 2002
“Plant Foods for Human Nutrition”; Influence of Palm Oil (Elaesis Guineensis ) on Health; P.E. Ebong, D.U. Owu and E.U. Isong; 1999
“Effects of palm oil on cardiovascular risk”, Chong YH, Ng TK, Medical Journal of Malaysia. 1991 Mar; 46(1):41-50.
“Palm Oil Not A Healthy Substitute For Trans Fats, Study Finds.” USDA/Agricultural Research Service, ScienceDaily. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090502084827.htm (accessed August 25, 2014).

Football in Iran

Well, how about a timely ‘football in Iran’ post while the World Cup has so many millions of football lovers around the world glued to their screens?

Let me start with a disclaimer; I know almost nothing about professional football (called soccer, where I come from), but know enough to be able to size up the teams on the pitch for quality. Beyond that, I can eat ice-cream and cheese doodles (although not always in that order) to match the most ardent soccer fan.

And so, I recently went to a soccer match at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium, located in the southwest corner of the city. En route to the game, you just know who is going to the match; cars festooned with club colours start aggregating on the major feeder roads. Flags from windows and, equally, football fans hanging precariously from windows waving banners. I even saw a little boy standing in the front seat of the car, hanging out of the sunroof (not an uncommon sight in Iran) waving his team beach towel. For this game I had chosen to attend, all bunting was blue.

Pic: Azadi Stadium

With only what turned out to be 18,000 fans turning up to this 85,000-seater stadium – which for one game against Australia somehow is recorded to have seated 125,000 (that must have been COSY!) – my first observations were, in this order, surprise at the long queues of cars to get into the carpark, the ineffectiveness of the authorities to effectively guide parking, the vigour with which drivers sought to offend the few officers trying to ‘herd cats’, and the venom of those officers when they saw their game-plan being challenged by drivers left, right and centre.

Seeing a traffic officer kick one vehicle, as just one example, a couple of things had started already to be evident.

1) The traffic officers seriously need some decent training, or personality transplants, and

2) the crowd was riled up waaaaaaay before kickoff.

Anyway, Iran’s National Pro League comprises some 16 teams and, with the national side getting to fly to Brazil this year, you could expect the league is of some quality. Albeit not World Cup winning, one presumes.

According to Wiki, the clubs, their home towns, home stadia, and their home stadia capacities, go something like this:

Current clubs in the Iran Pro league (2014–15)

Team City Venue Capacity
Esteghlal Tehran Azadi 84,412
Esteghlal Khuzestan Ahvaz Takhti Ahvaz 30,000
Foolad Ahvaz Ghadir 50,199
Gostaresh Tabriz Gostaresh Foolad 12,000
Malavan Anzali Takhti Anzali 8,000
Naft Masjed Soleyman Masjed Soleyman Behnam Mohammadi 30,000
Naft Tehran Tehran Dastgerdi 8,250
Padideh Mashhad Samen 30,000
Paykan Qods Shahre Qods 25,000
Perspolis Tehran Azadi 84,412
Saba Qom Qom Yadegar Emam 10,610
Saipa Karaj Enghelab Karaj 30,000
Sepahan Esfahan Foolad Shahr 31,439
Sorinet Tehran Takhti Tehran 12,922
Tractor Sazi Tabriz Sahand 75,000
Zob Ahan Esfahan Foolad Shahr 31,439

You should note that, over time, most of the seasons have been won by either Esteghlal or Sepahan. The game I attended some weeks back was Esteghlal FC (home town Tehran and home ground Azadi Stadium), versus NAFT Tehran.

My second set of observations is about the queuing to get into the stadium. After parking, you make your way on foot towards the stadium and the ticket offices. The crowd was, let’s just say, a little punchy. All were young men, all wearing or waving blue, and the feeling was not really a very friendly one, I have to say. You got the feeling, just in the poor excuses for queues that existed at the ticket gates, that turning out to football games is, besides driving, the only emotional outlet for this crowd in Iran.

The queues were long and massively disorganised. Tempers were frayed. And ignorance of the others around you was the rule. It seemed like the best strategy for queuing (if you ever happen to go) is join any queue from the side, as close to the front as possible. And then just quickly turn your back on anyone behind who might protest. That seems to be the way.

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Pic: A local form of queuing

And, of course, NO WOMEN. Football is, it seems, not for the eyes of ladies. Girls are allowed, up to the age of 7. But, in hindsight, anyone kept away from the live innards of the spectacle are really not missing out. Having said that, that women don’t have the right to choose to go or not to go is, of course, the patriarchal tragedy.

And so, observations of patriarchy behind us, into the stadium we go. An enormous concrete double-decker bowl stadium, with decaying plastic seating, Azadi Stadium is divided into heavily-fenced sections. A glass media bay, and presumably the odd VIP bay, sit high atop the western side of the stadium. This enormous stadium – apparently the world’s third largest soccer stadium and voted the most intimidating stadium in Asia – was built in 1971 for the 1974 Asian Games. Like most constructions in Tehran, it really has seen better days and is, in large part, a ‘renovator’s dream’. I am not sure it has seen any renovation at all, or maintenance for that matter, since 1974.

It must be mightily impressive when filled to its capacity, and throbbing from chants and game songs of really pretty avid Iranian football fans. But it is a shabby stadium with, I think, its headiest days behind it. It needs more than a touch of paint. The fans, all blue, squeezed into mainly two sections at the southern end behind the goal, and one upper deck on halfway, making the remainder of the stadium feel cold and dead even in the late afternoon sun.

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Pic: View to the West

On the field are, surprise, surprise, two teams. One sporting bright yellow, the other a royal blue and white strip. The teams are NAFT Tehran FC, and Esteghlal FC.

NAFT cuts something of a strange figure; a team that is effectively created by and still owned by the Iranian National Oil Company without much of a fan base it seems (their home-ground only has a capacity of around 8000 people), they presumably have some cash but are relatively ‘homeless’. In bright yellow ‘away’ strip, the team certainly paraded well. In terms of the play, one might say they had a better ‘average’ than the Esteghlal team. NAFT had one standout player, a tall and somehow near-blonde guy named Norouzi. Me and my co-obervers were convinced for most of the game we was a German or a Swede, possibly we had seen him in Vikings Season 2, and in any event he was clearly a cut above the rest of his team. But of course from 150 metres up in the stadium, it is not clear that we were seeing him in enough detail to make out his ethnic origins. To NAFT’s credit, despite having almost no supporter base, they did not seem to have a bad player on the field.

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Pic: NAFT Badge

Esteghlal FC, in their bright blue ‘home’ strip, on the other hand, have a huge following but never for a second looked like the favourites. In my humble amateurish ignorant-of-soccer way, I would assess Esteghlal that day had 2-3 players worthy of the corner office, 3-4 players that might hang around the cubicles where the ‘average’ sign hangs, and the rest languishing in the below-average or just plain awful heating pipe trunk room. Two of those heating pipe trunk room players, who shall remain numberless, could, in a fair competition, have been dispossessed by my 2-year old daughter. Mind you, she is bloody good for her age. 🙂

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Pic: Esteghlal Badge

The game can best be described as two teams struggling to define what their ‘average player resting point’ was. It was not a very bad to-and-fro, just not a very inspiring one. The game went back and forth like any football game. One could not say it raged back and forth, however. And depressingly most of the plays of the game ended up in one decent player passing to one less good player, who was quickly dispossessed by a semi-decent opposition player. It is not that I don’t enjoy football. I do, when it is good. 🙂

Overall, Estaghlal certainly had more shots at goal than NAFT, courtesy of their better players being in the attacking half of the field, but the NAFT keeper was mostly up to the task and, frankly, the shots were sufficiently lack-lustre. I might have been able to stop them.

With the on-field action being less than enthralling (this is perhaps why so many stay home and just watch it on TV), the goings-on off the pitch were more interesting. Of the entire stadium, only two sections were really being used to house the fans. Two sections, situated at one end behind a goal, were jam-packed. And ringed by yellow-clad ice-cream sellers and a LOT of black-clad, yellow-vested security guards.

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Pic: The ‘blue’ supporters section

Chants and songs were seemingly orchestrated by a hardcore fan club located near the top of the filled sections. What started out as friendly chants, it felt, were a little more…. um…. let’s say ‘bitter’ after a time. I could have sworn by the time the crowd started chanting “attack” to their beloved Esteghlal team, what they really meant to say was “may you and your families suffer the pox when you quit the pitch”.

The home crowd turned on Esteghlal with alacrity, just as the game failed to.

By the 90-minute mark (who knew it could go on so long!?), the game was an awe-sapping 0-0.

And so, into overtime. I guess it is injury time? A soccer fan reader will almost certainly school me on this. Anyways, with barely a single supporter in the stands, and in overtime, NAFT snatched a victory against Esteghlal, scoring the only goal of the encounter. NAFT went 1 up at the hands (read: foot) of the remarkably Scandinavian-looking Reza Norouzi. If I had bothered to do some research before going, I would have found this particular NAFT player, dubbed the ‘blue killer’ for his ability to score uncannily against Esteghlal, is a national player (so probably in Brazil as this goes to press), MVP of the league or something similar in 2010, and a top goal-scorer for the league. And at 190cm tall, that is why we thought we’d seen him in Vikings.

The completely blue Esteghlal crowd was, well, disappointed. No, that does not quite capture the mood. More….ummm….homicidal. Yes, that’s it. The blue fans, by the time the final hooter sounded, wanted blood from some of their blue players.

The air was so thick with distaste at the performance of Esteghlal, one blue player at the end of the game , so sick of being booed and, presumably, having rude things said in his direction, cunningly averted the player tunnel and sought to leap into the stands. One presumes his plan was to fight at least some of the 18,000 supporters-turned-assassins before he was de-limbed. Luckily for him, the security keeping the blue fans at bay also stopped his advance to his own death.

Fighting was, for a small crowd, more common than I would have imagined. Most of the fighting seemed, however, to be between fans and guards. Even two soldiers, definitely high on something, and in uniform, got punchy in our enclosure and were soon booted out by security guards after copping a smack or two from incensed members of the home crowd.

And so, for the generally disinterested observer, there were large packs of cheese doodles available, ice-cream, and as much bottled water as you can drink. Not a dry game by any standard. And overall a good day out for more of a sociocultural experience than a footballing one.

Considering the punchy start to the outing in the feisty queues, and a dull game that ending almost in the lynching of a home player or two, it ended serenely. The sun setting, a little snow still shining with twilight glow on the background Alborz Mountains, the crowd filtered away into the night with a whoop and a yell, but no more fighting.

And the 18,000-strong crowd were very, very quickly soaked up by the anonymity that comes from a 16-million person city.

 

 

Enormous wall of sand engulfs Tehran

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While one suspects the flag might have been photoshopped, given that is is waving across the face of this massive wall of sand with winds of 130kmph, the drama captured in this picture captures well the drama felt by those in its path….and its wake. The powerful sandstorm – blown in from the Gulf Countries, and even may have had its genesis in the Horn of Africa – killed half a dozen people, left many injured, felled some colossal trees, and took out power and phone lines in some areas for many days.