Couscous, a dish beloved far beyond North Africa

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A Moroccan chef prepares a traditional couscous dish in a restaurant in the capital Rabat. (AFP)
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A Libyan family prepares to eat a freshly cooked traditional couscous dish, with lamb, onions, chickpeas, and pumpkin, in a home in the capital Tripoli. (AFP)
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A freshly prepared traditional couscous dish, with lamb, onions, chickpeas, and pumpkin, being served in a home in the Libyan capital Tripoli. (AFP)
Updated 13 February 2018
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Couscous, a dish beloved far beyond North Africa

PARIS: Couscous may be the signature dish of North Africa, but steaming plates of the stew-topped semolina are also served up in West Africa and around the Mediterranean.
Since 1998 the Italian island of Sicily has been the unlikely host of the couscous-making world championship known as Cous Cous Fest, which bills itself as a “festival of cultural integration.”
Each September chefs convene on Sicily, whose Mediterranean location opposite Tunisia has made it a cultural crossroads throughout history, battling to be crowned couscous king or queen.
Palestinian chefs George Suheil Srour and Elias Bassous won the competition last year, with a couscous topped with grilled sea bream, pomegranate and fennel crumble.
In France, from the mid-20th century an influx of North African laborers from colonial territories and French expats returning after decolonization helped popularise the dish.
But here too, couscous already had a history.
In his 1534 novel “Gargantua,” the French writer Francois Rabelais described banquets on tables featuring meats of all kinds, accompanied by soups and couscous.
The 1938 version of the Larousse Gastronomique, France’s hallowed food bible, featured an entire chapter on the dish.
Spain also has long been gobbling couscous, not least due to centuries of Muslim rule on the Iberian peninsula.
“From the 10th century durum wheat was cultivated in Spain and couscous landed on the tables of the working classes,” write Hadjira Mouhoub and Claudine Rabaa in their book “The Adventures Of Couscous.”
But the local aristocracy was rather partial too, they added — as related in the 13th-century cookbook “The Excellences of the Table,” by Andalusian gastronome Ibn Razin Al Tujibi.


Gaming addiction classified as mental health disorder by WHO

Updated 18 June 2018
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Gaming addiction classified as mental health disorder by WHO

  • Addiction to video games has been recognized by World Health Organization as a mental health disorder
  • The International Classification of Diseases now covers 55,000 injuries, diseases and causes of death

GENEVA: Obsessive video gamers know how to anticipate dangers in virtual worlds. The World Health Organization says they now should be on guard for a danger in the real world: spending too much time playing.
In its latest revision to a disease classification manual, the UN health agency said Monday that compulsively playing video games now qualifies as a mental health condition. The statement confirmed the fears of some parents but led critics to warn that it may risk stigmatizing too many young video players.
WHO said classifying “gaming disorder” as a separate addiction will help governments, families and health care workers be more vigilant and prepared to identify the risks. The agency and other experts were quick to note that cases of the condition are still very rare, with no more than up to 3 percent of all gamers believed to be affected.
Dr. Shekhar Saxena, director of WHO’s department for mental health and substance abuse, said the agency accepted the proposal that gaming disorder should be listed as a new problem based on scientific evidence, in addition to “the need and the demand for treatment in many parts of the world.”
Dr. Joan Harvey, a spokeswoman for the British Psychological Society, warned that the new designation might cause unnecessary concern among parents.
“People need to understand this doesn’t mean every child who spends hours in their room playing games is an addict, otherwise medics are going to be flooded with requests for help,” she said.
Others welcomed WHO’s new classification, saying it was critical to identify people hooked on video games quickly because they are usually teenagers or young adults who don’t seek help themselves.
“We come across parents who are distraught, not only because they’re seeing their child drop out of school, but because they’re seeing an entire family structure fall apart,” said Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones, a spokeswoman for behavioral addictions at Britain’s Royal College of Psychiatrists. She was not connected to WHO’s decision.
Bowden-Jones said gaming addictions were usually best treated with psychological therapies but that some medicines might also work.
The American Psychiatric Association has not yet deemed gaming disorder to be a new mental health problem. In a 2013 statement, the association said it’s “a condition warranting more clinical research and experience before it might be considered for inclusion” in its own diagnostic manual.
The group noted that much of the scientific literature about compulsive gamers is based on evidence from young men in Asia.
“The studies suggest that when these individuals are engrossed in Internet games, certain pathways in their brains are triggered in the same direct and intense way that a drug addict’s brain is affected by a particular substance,” the association said in that statement. “The gaming prompts a neurological response that influences feelings of pleasure and reward, and the result, in the extreme, is manifested as addictive behavior.”
Dr. Mark Griffiths, who has been researching the concept of video gaming disorder for 30 years, said the new classification would help legitimize the problem and strengthen treatment strategies.
“Video gaming is like a non-financial kind of gambling from a psychological point of view,” said Griffiths, a distinguished professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University. “Gamblers use money as a way of keeping score whereas gamers use points.”
He guessed that the percentage of video game players with a compulsive problem was likely to be extremely small — much less than 1 percent — and that many such people would likely have other underlying problems, like depression, bipolar disorder or autism.
WHO’s Saxena, however, estimated that 2 to 3 percent of gamers might be affected.
Griffiths said playing video games, for the vast majority of people, is more about entertainment and novelty, citing the overwhelming popularity of games like “Pokemon Go.”
“You have these short, obsessive bursts and yes, people are playing a lot, but it’s not an addiction,” he said.
Saxena said parents and friends of video game enthusiasts should still be mindful of a potentially harmful problem.
“Be on the lookout,” he said, noting that concerns should be raised if the gaming habit appears to be taking over.
“If (video games) are interfering with the expected functions of the person — whether it is studies, whether it’s socialization, whether it’s work — then you need to be cautious and perhaps seek help,” he said.