Eat This Podcast Podcast

Eat This Podcast

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"I began to dream of a binding machine. I dreamed of it at night and I dreamed of it during the day."
Did you know that malt whisky owes its existence in the marketplace to the stock market crash of 1973-74? Neither did I, so when one of the people I interviewed for the craft distilling episode a few weeks back made that claim, I wanted to know more. Unfortunately, if you just plug "scotch whisky economic history" into an online search engine, you don't find anything of real interest, at least not in the first few thousand hits.
As ever, I’m taking a little break and bringing you some repeats from 2015. This one is prompted by an episode of NPR’s Planet Money that I’ve just listened to. They decided to cook a peacock for reasons that I think had something to do with the role of spices in global trade and the birth of capitalism in the 17th century. And who should they call on as their expert guide but Christianne Muusers. Long time listeners may remember that it was almost a year ago that I met Christianne at the 2nd annual Amsterdam Symposium on the History of Food. We talked about the very antithesis of conspicuous consumption represented by a heavily-spiced peacock pie: tulip bulb soup, which kept some Dutch people alive through the hunger winter of 1943–44. The Amsterdam Food Symposium takes place again next week, on 15 and 16 January 2016. Unfortunately I really don’t think I can afford to go this year, which is a great shame. Notes Details of the Symposium here. Christianne Muusers’ site is called Coquinaria and there’s some more information on tulip bulbs as food from Green Deane. The tulip in the photo is China Pink, and I took it. The banner photo shows some Dutch ration coupons, from Wikimedia. Thanks for the inspiration to Planet Money’s We cooked a peacock, especially if it brings in a few listeners.
Karima Moyer-Nocchi is an American woman who teaches at the University of Siena. When she had been here almost 25 years she developed something of an obsession. On the one hand, she watched “a bewildering decline in the quality and craftsmanship of Italian food together with a skyrocketing deification of it”. On the other, “in a vicious circle, the decline stimulated the explosion of the gastronomic nostaliga industry, which in turn, hastened the very process it claimed to quell”. This is not something you would notice. The modern idea is that Italian cuisine has always been more-or-less what it is, and that if there were a difference between social classes, it was more about how often they ate certain dishes, or the quality of the ingredients, than about what they actually ate. As Karima Moyer-Nocchi discovered, that rose-tinted view is at odds with what actually went on. In an attempt to make sense of the changes, Moyer-Nocchi turned to women, now aged 90 and more, who had grown up under fascism and who, perhaps, could shed light on the recent history of Italian food. She gently coaxed their memories of food from them, and created a book that is part oral history, part academic history, and that puts the current mania for Italian cuisine in perspective. There’s no way we could cover it all in one interview, but I think you can get some idea of how things have changed, mostly for the better, and also how little one knows about the real history of food in Italy. Notes The book is Chewing the Fat: An Oral History of Italian Foodways from Fascism to Dolce Vita, and in the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that if you follow that link straight to Amazon and buy it, I get a teeny reward. The banner image, from a photograph by Henri Roger-Viollet (I think), shows Mussolini taking part in the first wheat threshing in Latina in 1932, a temporary victory in the Battle for Wheat. The podcast cover image is from a photograph by Mario Giacomelli. In another episode about food in Fascist Italy, I talked to Ruth Lo about the festa dell’uva    Huffduff it
What kind of business wants customers to buy less? The beef business, or at least, one tiny corner of the beef business. Mark Shelley is an environmental film-maker turned cattleman who raises grass-fed beef near Carmel, California. The methods he and many others have adopted make beef far less environmentally damaging than industrial methods. Quite apart from anything else beef is, as Mark puts it, "the big elephant in the room" when it comes to climate change. Anything to address that ought to be welcomed, and grass-fed beef is far less damaging. It does, however, cost more, not least because we're all paying the external costs of industrial meat. That's fine, Mark says. We should all be eating better beef, just doing so less often. How to make that happen? Mark has no idea, he's just doing his bit, one piece of meat at a time. Mark's recent visit to Italy offered the chance to find out more. I completely forgot to ask him about the drought. Notes Tassajara Natural Meats has a website. I reckon they're too busy taking care of the cattle to take much care of the website. Photo by Carrie Cizauskas, used with permission. You may remember that ages ago Eat This Podcast talked about the benefits of frozen beef.
By great good fortune, there is nothing I cannot eat. There are a couple of things I'd prefer not to eat, but nothing, at least as far as I know, that would make me ill. As a result, I am fascinated by people who have to forego certain foods to stay well. I used to follow someone on the web who swore that something called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet™-- which, I learn, apparently requires initial caps and a TM symbol -- was the only thing that kept her alive. I never really investigated further, because that was before I had a podcast to feed and she more or less stopped writing about it. So when the chance arose to talk to someone who is living with the disease and the diet, I leaped at it. Victoria Young is a journalist who has been following the SCD™ for about seven years. She says that it has actually renewed her relationship with food, partly by making her think hard about what she eats. Far from being a dull diet that is all about avoiding things, it forces her to be inventive with the things she can eat. And she says she's never felt better. The medical establishment may not be too keen on the SCD™ but the proof of the pudding -- assuming you can in fact make a pudding that complies -- does seem to be in the eating. Notes Victoria Young's website links to her blog How to eat (when you can't eat anything at all). She tweets @tory21. The mother lode on the SCD™ is Elaine Gottschall's book Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health Through Diet. Once again, I'm plaintively asking you to rate and review the show on iTunes. I know that's pathetic, but it honestly does help. The banner photo of a stained section of inflamed bowel is from Wikimedia, and doesn't it take me back ...
A couple of weeks ago I was at the 2nd annual Amsterdam Symposium on the History of Food, and a very interesting meeting it was too. The topic was Food, Hunger and Conflict, a reminder that food and control of the food supply can be both a weapon in human conflicts and a natural source of conflict. Talks ranged widely, from the politics of starvation under the Nazis to hunger in colonial Indonesia to the part food riots in the past played in winning food security. Some of it was – and I’m avoiding obvious wordplay – very hard to listen to. All of it was enlightening. There wasn’t as much time as I hoped during the packed but brief programme to record everything I wanted to, but I did get to talk to Ian Miller about force feeding and to Christianne Muusers about one Dutch wartime recipe that most people would rather forget. I hope to have some of the other speakers on the show soon. Notes Details of the Symposium here Ian Miller has a website called Digesting the Medical Past. Christianne Muusers’ site is called Coquinaria and there’s some more information on tulip bulbs as food from Green Deane. The tulip in the photo is China Pink, and I took it. The banner photo shows Thomas Ashe's funeral.
Tom Nealon on the plague-stopping power of lemonade.
Perhaps you’ve heard about IBM’s giant Watson computer, which dispenses ingredient advice and novel recipes. Jaan Altosaar, a PhD candidate at Princeton University, is working on a recipe recommendation engine that anyone can use.
You can thank the Irish Wine Geese for many of the Grand Crus of France.
From the all-seeing Dom Pérignon to the young bucks of London’s high society, champagne’s true history is absolutely intoxicating.
The growing popularity of “Mongolian” restaurants owes less to Mongolian food and more to, er, how shall we say, marketing. To whit: "It’s actually not a cuisine, but an INTERACTIVE style of exhibition cooking modeled after a centuries-old legend. According to this legend, 12th century Mongol warriors, led by the mighty warrior, GENGHIS KHAN heated their shields over open fires to grill food in the fields of battle!" The question of what the Mongols under Genghis Khan actually ate, however, is really rather interesting. In particular, did conquering that vast empire change their diet in any way? Jack Fenner and his Mongolian colleagues Dashtseveg Tumen and Dorjpurev Khatanbaatar analysed bones from three different cemeteries, representing Mongol elites, Mongol commoners and Bronze-age people from the same area, looking for differences in what they ate. They found some, but interpretation remains difficult. I didn’t think to ask Jack about using a shield as a wok. Notes Read Food fit for a Khan: stable isotope analysis of the elite Mongol Empire cemetery at Tavan Tolgoi, Mongolia if you have access to the Journal of Archaeological Science. There is also an accessible write-up at the Bones don’t lie website. I don’t plan to visit the Genghis Grill, although I’m happy enough to plunder their advertising copy. And to point out that the mighty warrior didn't become Genghis Khan until the 13th century. Images from Michael Chu, Dave Gray and Wikimedia. Music by Chad Crouch, aka Podington Bear. This show is a week late; apologies. There's a sort of explanation at my other website, which also provides hints of shows to come. Plus, an explanation of what Flattr is all about, and why I think you should flattr me and other content creators.
Who knows what evil lurks beneath the wrinkled skin of an "economy" English sausage? And what delights won for the Cumberland and the Newmarket their coveted status of Protected Geographical Indication? Jan Davison, that's who. She wrote the book on English sausages and is the guest in this latest episode.
First let's decide what kind of food supply system we want, then use that to bring about a renaissance in real farming.
A Dutch food writer tries to discover the origins of pom, the national dish of Suriname. Is it Creole, based on the foodways of Africans enslaved to work the sugar plantations of Surinam? Or is it Jewish, brought to Suriname by Dutch Jews? So began Karin Vaneker’s immersion in the world of edible aroids. Aroids are a large and cosmopolitan plant family, more commonly known as the arum family, and they include some of the most familiar houseplants. Many of them have starchy roots or tubers, and although these often contain harmful substances, people have learned how to process them as famine foods. A few species, however, are widely cultivated. The best-known of these is probably taro, Colocasia esculenta, which originated in southeast Asia and spread through the Pacific and beyond. That, however, proved not to be the elusive pomtajer that Karin and the Surinamese inhabitants of Amsterdam were looking for, which turned out to be a species of Xanthosoma. My conversation with Karin ranged far and wide, and to tell the truth I never did ask whether pom was Jewish or Creole. Most sources say it is indeed Jewish. Notes The whole question of Jews in Suriname sent me scurrying to the search engines, to discover that starting in the 17th century there was indeed an attempt to establish an autonomous Jewish territory there, on the Jewish savanna. This I gotta read more about. And having found that, I rushed to Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food, only to be massively disappointed that neither pom nor Suriname feature in the index. The big photo is of purple-stemmed Colocasia, which I took at Longwood Gardens. As promised, a recipe for pom. You’ll have to find your own pomtajer. Karin has written on Cooking Pom and other edible aroids.
Earlier this summer, I learned about a talk at the annual conference of the American Society for Horticultural Science. The press release said it “holds all the intrigue of a murder mystery and all the painstaking, arduous pursuit of an archeological dig, along with a touch of serendipity”. And it concerned the rediscovery of a kind of radish that in its day was extremely famous. My kind of mystery. Naturally I had to talk to the sleuth cum Indiana Jones, Dr Gary Bachmann. Before I did so, though, I did a bit of digging of my own so that I’d be able to contribute a clue myself. The rediscovery of the radish that put Long Beach, Mississippi, on the map raises all kinds of questions for vegetable sleuths, amateur and professional. Can you identify a variety beyond reasonable doubt? Does that even matter, if the culprit matches the suspect closely enough? And how many radishes would fill a boxcar? The radish in question Notes There are a few suppliers of Cincinnati Market radish out there, plus just about every combination of the words long, scarlet, cincinnati and radish. I’d get it from the US National Plant Germplasm System, but like I said, I’m a bit obsessive about these things. Photo of the radish itself from Gary Bachmann. Resurrecting lost vegetables is not restricted to keen gardeners. Local communities do it too, recovering varieties that they gave to genebanks and later lost. And genebanks work with other genebanks in search of national varieties that they may have lost. During his time at the Nordic Genebank, Svein Solberg’s team repatriated 329 varieties from the Vavilov genebank in Russia. Music by Black Keys Bob Stevenson. I have no idea who Black Keys Bob Stevenson is, but I thank him and the Internet Archive.    Huffduff it
We’ll have what they’re having has taken on a whole new meaning In a world in which you can get pizza in Tokyo and sushi in Rome, diets have become truly global in reach. You could argue that this has made them more, not less, diverse. Where once rice dominated Asia, wheat, potatoes and corn have made huge inroads: increased diversity. On the other hand, places that used to enjoy their own, local staples – tef in Ethiopia, buckwheat in eastern Europe – have also come under the sway of the global behemoths, and so have lost diversity. Those are two conclusions of a massive data-mining exercise that has rightfully been getting a lot of coverage: Increasing homogeneity in global food supplies and the implications for food security. I spoke to Colin Khoury, the study’s first author, about the increasing dominance of the big crops, the marginalisation of regionally important alternatives, and the sudden rise of a whole set of previously insignificant species. As we discussed, this new piece of research arose from a desire to provide updated and more accurate answers to the perennial question How many crops feed the world?, originally posed by Robert and Christine Prescott-Allen in 1990. It’s kind of gratifying to note that Colin Khoury first returned to that question in a guest post on one of my other platforms. And we’re still gnawing away at it over there, one way and another. So, how many crops feed the world anyway? [I]f you must know, it’s about 94 plant species that largely feed the world. To be more precise, according to the analysis of Colin and his colleagues, we can now say that 50 crops, or 94 species, contribute to 90% of food supplies at national level.
Sure, you've seen Trading Places. But do you know about the history of futures contracts, or why some things are traded on commodities markets and others aren't? I didn't, not really. So I spoke to Kara Newman, food writer and author of The Secret Financial Life of Food. One of the things Kara is keen to stress is that where money is involved, there's always a temptation to cut corners, and her book is full of delicious food-based scandals. One of her favourites is The Great Salad Oil Swindle. If you've never heard of it, there's an interesting reason why. The story of The Great Salad Oil Swindle has been told in a book by Norman C. Miller, based on his Pulitzer-winning articles. Some of Miller's original articles are online, and there's a nice account originally published in Accountancy. Bottom line seems to be that while everyone was making money, no-one was inclined to investigate too closely. And an interesting coda to the story, from those articles. The bankruptcy of De Angelis brought American Express almost to its knees. While it's share price was depressed, Howard Buffett bought a sizeable stake, believing the company fundamentally sound. It was a pretty shrewd investment. Notes Kara Newman's book is the Secret Life of Food: From Commodities Markets to Supermarkets. She also has a website. Trading Places turned 30 last year. NPR's Planet Money did a bang up job of asking how accurate it was, with added Roman Mars. Photo of bacon and eggs by Phil Lees Engage
Day after day, week after week, special agents keep a look out for invaders that they really don’t want to find. And we, the ordinary public, give them barely a second thought. Worse, we sometimes provide the means for the invaders to get in. Of course when it all goes wrong, there’s an outcry, as there has been for the Mediterranean fruit fly, the European corn borer, the giant African snail and many other pests. Most of the time, however, we remain blissfully unaware. And most of the time, pests either don’t get in or are detected fairly quickly and eradicated. I was lucky enough to hitch a ride on a field trip in Puerto Rico, organised by the local survey teams to show plant health experts how they go about the business of keeping pests from establishing. An aside: I can remember, back in the 1980s, sitting on a plane at Sydney airport ducking my head as the cabin staff wafted through spraying us with insecticide. These days, I learned, aircraft are mostly treated with persistent pesticides, eliminating the spray but not the need to keep insects out. Notes The opening and closing music is Che Che Cole, by Willie Colón with Héctor Lavoe. I had no idea when I chose it that like some species of giant African snail, it’s original home is apparently Ghana. Some incursions are better than others. The music in the middle is La Boriqueña, the national anthem of Puerto Rico, but the site where I found this version has apparently vanished in the interim. The banner photograph shows two male Mediterranean fruit flies facing off, and is by Derric Nimmo. The cover photograph of a giant African snail – no Photoshop – is by R. Anson Eaglin of USDA APHIS. And those pathetic dead snail shells? They’re the ones I found, all excited like, but they weren’t the pests I was looking for.
What do artisanal cheese and maple syrup have in common? In North America, and elsewhere too, they’re likely to bring to mind the state of Vermont, which produces more of both than anywhere else. They’re also the research focus of Amy Trubek at the University of Vermont, a trained chef and cultural anthropologist. Trubek gave one of the keynote speeches at the recent Perugia Food Conference, saying that terroir – which she translates as the taste of place – combines two elements. There is the taste itself, which when people talk about it with one another becomes a social experience that, she said, lends meaning to eating and drinking. And it is “a story we tell to assure that our food and drink emerges from natural environments and conditions.” Vermont cheese, at least the lovingly crafted artisanal kind, as much as maple syrup, reflects those concerns with natural environments and conditions. In our interview, we didn’t dwell too much on the scientific research underpinning Amy Trubek’s ideas. I found the idea that simply knowing the personal story of a cheese – who makes it, where, why – can influence how you respond to it fascinating. Taste, surely, is physiological. How would the story affect that? But it does. In one study of four different cheeses, people heard either a generic story about that cheese category, taken “from dairy science manuals,” or “socially and contextually relevant production information”. No matter how much they actually liked the cheese, or their “foodiness” on an established scale, people who had been told personal stories about the cheesemakers liked the cheese more than those told about the cheese alone. (See Note 3 below.) What’s more, according to Rachel DiStefano, who did a Master’s thesis with Amy Trubek, cheesemongers are vital allies in telling the stories and thus helping consumers to value artisanal cheeses. By contrast, terroir for maple syrup does seem to be less about personal stories and more about the soils the trees are in and the details of turning sap into syrup. Trubek has worked with a large, multidisciplinary team to create new standards and vocabulary that take discussions well beyond “sweet”. And yes, there is some evidence that soil does affect taste: [S]yrup produced from trees on limestone bedrock had the highest quantities of copper, magnesium, calcium and silica, which scientists hypothesized had a role in the taste. Shale syrups came in second in all of these substances, followed by schist. A final thought: Amy Trubek’s throwaway remark about fake maple flavour sent me down an internet rabbit hole that in the end proved surprisingly productive. Notes The 2nd Perugia Food Conference Of Places and Tastes: Terroir, Locality, and the Negotiation of Gastro-cultural Boundaries took place from 5–8 June 2014. It was organized by the Food Studies Program of the Umbra Institute. Sign photograph by Katherine Martinelli. Consumer sensory perception of cheese depends on context: A study using comment analysis and linear mixed models. Rachel DiStefano has written about her field work, behind the counter of a specialist cheese shop in Cambridge, Ma. If you’re entertaining thoughts of maple syrup expertise, you’ll need to study the new sensory maps and be able to talk knowledgeably about the history of sugaring. Other images by Rachel DiStefano.
A small bakery in Toronto, Canada, became a behemoth that bestrides global bread and beyond. Phew!
A bombie cluster munition on a farm in Khammouane Province, Laos.©2010/Jerry Redfern Karen Coates is a freelance American journalist who writes about food – among other things. She emailed to ask if I would be interested in talking to her about a book that she and her husband, photographer Jerry Redfern, have produced. It’s called Eternal Harvest, but it isn’t about food, at least not directly. Its subtitle is the legacy of American bombs in Laos. Some of those bombs are 500-pounders. Lots of them are little tennis-ball sized bomblets, which are as attractive to farm kids as a tennis ball might be, with horrific consequences. The story of unexploded ordnance in Laos was an eye opener, for me. But I also wanted to know about food in Laos, and so that’s where we began our conversation. Over the course of nine years and a bombing mission every eight minutes, round the clock, more than 270 million cluster bombs – or bombies – were dropped on Laos. The cluster bombs were a small part of the 2 million tonnes dropped on Laos, almost half a tonne of ordnance for every man, woman and child in the country. Some was aimed at breaking the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The rest was jettisoned by pilots who had been told not to return to base with any bombs left in their planes. The failure rate, as Karen said, was around 30 percent. Unexploded ordnance remains an ever-present threat, and not only during the business of farming. About half the people killed, according a a 2009 report, were going after scrap metal. A scrap metal collector can make $5 a day, compared to the average wage of about $1 a day. And that’s not the only way the bombs are “beneficial”. Many farming families use craters – created by bombs that did explode – as fish ponds, improving both their income and their nutritional status. Casualties have dropped, from about 1450 a year in 1975 to about 350 a year in 2009, but less than one per cent of the land has been cleared. A technician with a UXO Lao bomb disposal team scans for bombs in a woman’s yard as she continues weeding. They work along a new road built atop the old Ho Chi Minh Trail.©2006/Jerry Redfern Notes Eternal Harvest: the legacy of American bombs in Laos has a website and is available from Amazon. I started reading up about bomb crater fish ponds at Nicola Twilley’s Edible Geography. Fascinating accounts of individual farmers bring an otherwise dry FAO field manual on common aquaculture practices in Lao PDR to life. The maps in this online post by Xiaoxuan Lu about her thesis give some idea of the scale of the problem. Karen writes online at The Rambling Spoon and elsewhere. There’s plenty there about restaurants, Lao cookbooks and that nine-day field trip we talked about. The music is a Lao folk tune called Dokmai (Flower) by a group called “Thiphakon (roughly, resonance of angels)”. I found it online. Engage
“If you can tell your story with a graph or picture, do so,” says Marc Bellemare, my first guest in this episode. The picture on the left is one of his: “a graph that essentially tells you the whole story in one simple, self-explanatory picture.” Yes indeed, social unrest is caused by higher food prices. ((Yes, caused; this is no mere correlation.)) I could leave it at that, along with a link to the paper from which I lifted the picture. But this is a podcast. I have to talk to people, and that includes Marc Bellemare. Bellemare’s paper is a global investigation that doesn’t even attempt to ask whether the relationship between food prices and social unrest holds for countries or smaller areas. My sense, though, is that the relationship is strongest in more authoritarian regimes. At least, that’s where we’ve seen most food riots of late. In this, however, it seems I am mistaken. Marc pointed me to Cullen Hendrix, who has studied the links between social unrest and political regimes. Placating the urban masses who eat food at the expense of rural people who produce it has always been a fraught proposition, perhaps even more so for democracies. All of which raises the question that, I hope, keeps food policy wallahs and agricultural development experts awake at night. What’s so wrong with high prices anyway? Notes Marc Bellemare’s blog post on his paper Rising Food Prices, Food Price Volatility, and Social Unrest. He also examined some of the reactions to the paper. “Even when presenting to the smartest people in the world, a picture is really worth a thousand words.” Find this and Marc’s other tips for conference and seminar presentations here. Cullen Hendrix’s website contains a copy of his paper International Food Prices, Regime Type, and Protest in the Developing World The sound montage at the beginning draws on various reports on Haiti, Egypt and Tunisia, all glued together by a splendid recording of a protest march. The banner photograph is adapted from an original by Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images.
This episode of Eat This Podcast is something of a departure. With nothing in the pantry, so to speak, I had to make something with what I had: myself. So I hooked myself up to the audio recorder and went about some of my customary weekend cooking, muttering out loud about what I was doing and offering some reflections on my attitude to food and cooking. I hope the result sheds some light on where I’m coming from. Normal service will be resumed next episode. I started this exercise determined not to apologise either for having indulged myself so or for the audio quality. And I almost made it. But not quite. So, please accept my apologies, mostly for the quality of the audio at time. This stuff is not easy single handed. Also, no instructions from me on how to make your own yoghurt. If you want to learn the secrets of yoghurt as made by Turkish grannies, try The Food Programme. Notes The first recipe for my version of a light rye bread is here, though it doesn’t look very pretty. Pictures here. I need to transfer that recipe to the baking site, or better yet update it, because the current version is much better. A couple of earlier podcasts dealt with integrity vs “authenticity” and good industrialisation.
It’s all very well trying to eat local in a place like Rome or San Francisco, where the climate is relatively benign all year round and you can grow a great deal of produce without too much difficulty. But what do you do when you are at an altitude of more than 2000 metres with a growing season that is usually less than three months long? You do what you can, which in the case of Elkstone Farm, near Steamboat Springs in Colorado, means building four greenhouses, one of which is capable of ripening figs, citrus and even, occasionally, bananas. But it isn’t all greenhouses. Outdoors there’s a tangle of many different kinds of annual and perennial crops, which during the short growing season provide an abundance of fruits and vegetables.
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Podcast Details
Mar 4th, 2013
Latest Episode
Feb 17th, 2020
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