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54 minutes | a month ago
The Brightest Bulb
Imagine, for a moment, a world without garlic: garlic-free garlic bread, tzatziki sans Allium sativum, a chili crisp defanged. If this sounds like the makings of a horror story to you, you’re not alone. Garlic consumption in the U.S. has quadrupled since 1980, and people around the world have been enjoying the stuff for thousands of years. But alliums smell like sulfur, and sulfur is something humans are born *not* liking—so why did we start adding garlic, onions, and their kin to our food? This episode, we join microbiologist Rob Dunn and food safety specialist Ben Chapman to follow along as they conduct the world's first experiment designed to figure out whether alliums started out as a food safety additive designed to keep our lamb stew safe for longer, and only later turned into a flavor we crave. Plus, why did the British government send garlic to the trenches in WWI? What do fetal sniffing, Egyptian fertility tests, Korean mythology, and the world’s first-recorded labor strike have to do with the stinking rose? Listen in now for all this and more!See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
55 minutes | a month ago
Like Water in the Desert
Over the past century, we've transformed the arid lands of the American west into year-round, well-irrigated agricultural powerhouses. Today, fruits, nuts, and nearly all of our leafy greens are grown in the desert, using water diverted, stored, and supplied at taxpayer expense. This intense irrigation is having an impact: Reservoir levels are dropping, rivers are drying up, and the state of Arizona is literally sinking. With the help of agroecologist Gary Nabhan, farmers Ramona and Terry Button, and others in the region, we ask the big questions: Should we be farming in the desert? What would a water-saving system even look like? And does a tiny bean that smells like desert rain hold the secret to survival in a hotter, drier world?See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
51 minutes | 2 months ago
The Magic Cube
You could call it the Swiss Army knife of the kitchen: bouillon is a handy ingredient, whether it comes as bottled brown gloop, or a cube wrapped up in shiny foil like a tiny present. Today, cooks around the world rely on this secret ingredient to add depth, flavor, and umami to their cooking. It wasn’t always so; like many of today’s packaged shortcuts, condensed bouillon got its start in the 1800s, when nutrition science was just taking off. How did the (mistaken) discoveries of a German chemist pave the way for these umami bombs—and what is umami anyway? How did bouillon brands like Maggi and Knorr become part of national dishes as far afield as Nigeria, India, and Mexico? And how did the invention of these early "essences of meat" lead to the creation of the love-it-or-hate-it spreads Marmite and Vegemite? Listen in now for all that, plus a matriarchal subterranean master race with electrical superpowers!See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
59 minutes | 2 months ago
The Big Apple Episode
There’s nothing more American than apple pie—or is there? We might prescribe an apple a day and call our largest city the Big Apple, but this legendary fruit originally hails from the mountains of Kazakhstan. This episode, Michael Pollan (something of a legend himself) tells us how apples become so important on the American frontier, and what cider (the alcoholic kind) had to do with it. We talk to apple fan Amy Traverso and apple detective Dan Bussey to figure out how many thousands of apple varieties used to grow in America, and why are there only a handful—including the notorious Red Delicious, which, while red, is far from delicious—in supermarkets today? All that, plus we get out in the orchard with Soham Bhatt to learn about the cider renaissance that's sweeping the nation.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
45 minutes | 3 months ago
The Hangover: Part Gastropod
Morning fog. Gallon-distemper. Busthead. These are all names for alcohol's age-old after-party: the hangover. But, aside from being a physical (and painful) manifestation of regret, what exactly is a hangover? What's happening in our bodies—and specifically in our livers—and can science do anything about it?See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
51 minutes | 3 months ago
To snack or not to snack? And what counts as a snack, anyhow? Plus the great meal vs. snack smackdown: is grazing good, or does eating between meals lead to waistline expansion? We’re asking deep questions about not-so-substantial foods in this crispy, crunchy, and highly craveable episode. Along the way, we uncover snacking’s early connections to pirate’s booty, reveal which of your favorite snacks started their lives as cattle feed, and tell the shocking, true story of the woman who never snacks.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
39 minutes | 4 months ago
This Spud's For You
Fried, roasted, mashed, steamed: it's hard to imagine life without the crispy, fluffy comfort blanket of potatoes. But until the late 1500s, no one outside the Americas had ever encountered this terrific tuber, and initially Europeans, particularly peasant farmers, didn't trust it at all. Or did they? This episode, we tell the story of the potato's rise to global dominance once it set sail from its native Andean home—and the stories behind that story! From tax evasion and population explosions to soup kitchens and potato bling, listen in now as Rebecca Earle, author of the new book, Feeding the People, helps us uncover the delightful myths and even more incredible true history of the spud.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
45 minutes | 4 months ago
Moo-Dunnit: How Beef Replaced Bison on the American Plains—and Plate
Saddle up, folks: Today’s episode involves the cowboys' lullabies and meat riots that helped make beef an American birthright. With the help of Joshua Specht, author of Red Meat Republic, we tell the story of how and why the 30 million bison that roamed the Plains were replaced with 30 million cows. You'll never look at a Porterhouse steak—the first cut of beef invented in America—the same way again.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
43 minutes | 5 months ago
What the Shell? Cracking the Lobster's Mysteries
Consider the lobster roll: tender chunks of lobster bathed in butter or mayo, sandwiched between two slices of a squishy bread roll… Have we caught your attention yet? Lobster is a summertime staple in New England, a fixture on casino and cruise ship buffets, and a steady partner for steak in the classic surf 'n' turf. Today, the American lobster industry is the single most valuable fishery in the country—but it wasn’t always so. This episode, we're cracking the lobster's many mysteries, including how it went from prison fare to fancy food. There's also the question of what lobster eyes have to do with both the International Space Station and the belief in Intelligent Design, plus the rollicking tale of why it took scientists so long to locate the lobster penis—and what makes lobster sex so, well, steamy? Listen in now for the lobster lore you never knew you needed to know!See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
19 minutes | 5 months ago
Guest Episode: Rocky Road with Science Diction
This episode, Gastropod is bringing you a guest: Science Diction, a bite-sized podcast about words, and the science stories behind them. They answer questions like: what does the word “meme” have to do with evolutionary biology? And why do we call it the Spanish flu when it wasn’t from Spain? Science Diction is doing a series on food words, and this episode is all about Rocky Road. Grab a spoon and enjoy! We’ll be back in just one week with our regularly scheduled Gastropod episode.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
48 minutes | 5 months ago
Shatter-Proof: How Glass Took Over the Kitchen—and Ended Child Labor
Cheers! The lively clink of glass on glass is a must for any festive gathering, whether you’re sipping champagne in a flute or lemonade in a tumbler. We rely on glass in the kitchen—for baking perfectly browned pies, preserving jams and pickles, and so much more. But glass wasn’t always so cheap and ubiquitous: to ancient Egyptians and Romans, this was precious stuff—it was high fashion to own a clear wine goblet in ancient Rome. Later, Venetians so prized their glass know-how that they imprisoned their glassmakers on an island. So how did glass go from fragile and precious tabletop ornament to an oven-ready kitchen workhorse? How did the inventions of a glassmaker in Toledo, Ohio, transform the peanut butter and ketchup industries, as well as put an end to child labor? And are we running out of sand to make glass?See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
44 minutes | 6 months ago
The Most Dangerous Fruit in America
It's the epitome of summertime: there’s nothing like a cold, juicy slice of red watermelon on a swelteringly hot day. But, once upon a time, watermelons were neither red nor sweet—the wild watermelon has white flesh and a bitter taste. This episode, we scour Egyptian tombs, decaying DNA, and ancient literature in search of watermelon's origins. The quest for tasty watermelon continues into modern times, with the rediscovery of a lost (and legendarily sweet) varietal in South Carolina—and the Nigerian musical secret that might help you pick a ripe one. But the fruit's history has often been the opposite of sweet: watermelons have featured in some of the most ubiquitous anti-Black imagery in U.S. history. So how did the watermelon become the most dangerous—and racist—fruit in America?See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
51 minutes | 7 months ago
Dig for Victory
You’ve seen the news: vegetable seeds are selling out. All that quarantine ennui has combined with anxiety about the gaps on supermarket shelves to create a whole new population of city farmers in backyards and windowsills across America. And everyone from the Los Angeles Times to Forbes to CBS has dubbed these brand new beds of beets and broccoli "COVID-19 Victory Gardens." But what war is your pot of basil fighting? This episode, historian Anastasia Day helps us explore the history of urban gardening movements—and shatter some of the nostalgic myths about those original World War II-era Victory Gardens. One thing is true: in 1943, more than 43 percent of the fresh produce eaten by all Americans came from Victory Gardens. So, can a combination of vegetable patches, community gardens, and urban farms help feed cities today? Or is growing food in the city just a feel-good distraction from the bigger problems in our food system? And does the hype about high-tech vertical farms live up to environmental and economic reality? Listen in as farmers and activists Leah Penniman and Tepfirah Rushdan, food writer Tamar Haspel, and researchers Neil Mattson and Raychel Santo help us dig in to the science on urban agriculture, and harvest some answers—as well as a tomato or two.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
42 minutes | 8 months ago
Shared Plates: How Eating Together Makes Us Human
We love eating dinner together with friends and extended family, and we miss it! But why does sharing a meal mean so much—and can we ever recreate that on Zoom? As we wait for the dinner parties, cookouts, and potlucks of our post-pandemic future, join us as we explore the science and history of communal dining. Scientist Ayelet Fishbach shares how and why eating together makes us better able to work together, and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar and archaeologist Brian Hayden demonstrate how it actually made us human—and led to everything from the common cow to the pyramids. Plus we join food writers Nichola Fletcher and Samin Nosrat for the largest in-person banquet of all time, with Parisian waiters on bicycles, as well as the world’s biggest online lasagna party.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
47 minutes | 8 months ago
At last, an episode on pizza! But that raises a tricky question: what exactly is pizza? As it turns out, the original pizzas from eighteenth-century Naples looked nothing like a standard slice—they were more like a focaccia, topped with oil, herbs, anchovies, or whatever else was on hand. Even after these first pizzas met the tomato, the dish was a local peculiarity—most Italians thought pizza was gross and weird until just a few decades ago. So how did we get from Neapolitan subsistence snack to today's delivery staple? Listen in this episode as we travel with historian Carol Helstosky, author of Pizza: A Global History, and Francisco Migoya, head chef at Modernist Cuisine, from Italy to New York to Brazil and beyond, to tell the story of how pizza conquered the world. All that, plus the tough questions: is Chicago deep dish really pizza? How about bananas on top? What about (gasp) a donut pizza?See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
41 minutes | 9 months ago
Eating the Wild: Bushmeat, Game, and the Fuzzy Line Between Them
It's a safe bet that your recent media diet has included the words "wet market," "zoonotic disease," and "pangolin," as experts take a pause from discussing COVID-19's spread and impact to speculate on the virus's origins. This episode, we're digging into the larger story behind those words, that of our relationship to eating wild animals: how and why have our attitudes to wild meat shifted over time? Why is it that deer shot by a hunter in the U.S. is game, but monkey caught in the Democratic Republic of Congo is bushmeat? With the help of Gina Rae La Cerva, author of the new book, Feasting Wild, we explore what we gain and lose by eating wild, from the lost primeval forests of Europe to Robin Hood, and from smoked monkey to bird spit.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
46 minutes | 9 months ago
Eating the Rainbow: Or, the Mystery of the Orange Oranges, the Red M&Ms, and the Blue Raspberry
From stripy fuchsia beets to unicorn doughnuts, the foods available today on grocery store shelves and in cafe displays are more brightly colored than ever. But this hasn't always been the case. This episode of Gastropod, we offer three stories that explore the colors of our cuisine: How did a food fight between Florida and California turn oranges (the fruit) that perfect bright orange (the color)? Why did US consumers freak out about the food dye Red #2, and what was the impact on our M&Ms? And finally, who invented the blue raspberry? All that, plus one very sexy indigo-hued blossom.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
38 minutes | 9 months ago
A Tale To Warm The Cockles Of Your Heart
You might have heard of Molly Malone, selling cockles from a wheelbarrow in Dublin, or of Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, with her cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row—but the chances are most Gastropod listeners have never actually tasted a cockle. And, apparently, you're missing out! For the Native American tribes in the Puget Sound, where cockles used to be abundant, they're a treasured treat: meatier, sweeter, and richer-tasting than other shellfish. But they're also disappearing, and no one knows why—or how to save them. This episode, we join the team of intrepid marine biologists and tribal leaders on a mission to restore the cockle, on a journey that involves cockle viagra, a cockle vampire, and some carefully choreographed simultaneous spawning. Listen in now for a story of shellfish science and cultural history that will warm the cockles of your heart—and perhaps inspire the revival of other indigenous foods.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
54 minutes | 10 months ago
White vs. Wheat: The Food Fight of the Centuries
White or whole wheat: while today the question is most frequently asked at the sandwich counter, the debate over the correct answer goes back literally thousands of years. In the past century, though, as white flour and thus white bread became more accessible, the debate became increasingly heated: "Science finds that white bread develops criminals,” reported newspapers in the 1920s, while anti-white bread activists at the time claimed that eating too many slices would causing blindness and facial deformity. But whole-wheat bashers had their retorts ready: "Whiteness and purity go hand in hand," proclaimed health writer Dr. Woods Hutchinson. "The whitest possible of white bread" is "not only much more appetizing, but ... more nutritious and more wholesome than any black, brown or brindled staff of life." White vs. wholewheat: this episode, we dive into the world's longest-running, highest-stakes food fight. Along the way: the invention of sliced bread, the science behind Wonder Bread's curious bounce, and a light dusting of eugenics. Listen in now as Aaron Bobrow-Strain, author of White Bread: A Social History of the Store-bought Loaf, unpacks the anxieties and values underlying the bread wars, while wheat breeder Steve Jones introduces us to the "approachable" loaf that he hopes will win the battle for once and for all.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
44 minutes | 10 months ago
Licorice: A Dark and Salty Stranger
Licorice is a polarizing candy: there are those who pick out the black jelly beans, those who think Twizzlers are better than Red Vines, and those who won't travel without a supply of salty dark lozenges. The dark and chewy treat begins life as a plant root that is more than fifty times as sweet as sugar. This episode, we tell the story of how a traditional remedy become England's first branded candy, and we get to the bottom of a medical mystery (licorice poisoning!) in a tale that involves both Tutankhamun and Henry VIII. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
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