Buried Treasure: Weeds, Seeds, and Zombies

If you’ve ever engaged in mortal combat with a patch of ragweed, dandelion, or crabgrass in your garden, you might understand the twin emotions of rage and begrudging admiration when it comes to weeds: They. Just. Won’t. Die. When it comes to commercial agriculture, weeds pose a more existential threat—globally, the proportion of our harvest that is lost to weed infiltration is enough to feed millions, and, even with advanced herbicides, weeds cost farmers in North America an estimated $33 billion in lost yield each year. No matter what we throw at them, weeds just seem to get stronger. This episode, we follow a group of scientists along on a 149-year-old quest to see just how long weeds can survive—and, along the way, figure out what we can learn from weeds, what we really ought to thank them for, and what is a weed, anyhow? Listen in now for zombie seeds, a midnight treasure hunt, and the wild ways that weeds have outwitted us for millennia.

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The Barrel That Could Save A Forest

Bourbon has to be aged in barrels, by law; whiskey usually spends years in barrels, by custom; and between 20-30 percent of wine spends some time in one. And almost all of those wooden vessels are made from just two kinds of tree: American white oak and French oak. This episode, we tell the story—and try the whiskey—of the distiller and the barrel-maker who, together, are figuring out how to use the huge, elegant, native oak of the Pacific Northwest to create new flavor, and, in the process, restore an ecosystem that has nearly vanished. Along the way, we figure out the science behind how a barrel affects the taste of what you sip, and we trace the trajectory of barrels from their pinnacle, as the go-to container for everything from fish to petroleum, to their current niche status. Finally, we explore why oak became the default wood for barrel-making—and meet the coopers experimenting with different woods, and an entirely new flavor universe for booze.

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Tofu for You: Meet the Cult Leader, the Spy, and the Pioneering Chinese Woman Doctor Who Brought Tofu to the West

For a lot of Americans, tofu conjures up images of bland, squishy cubes: a sorry alternative to meat. Even in Asia, where tofu was born, the soybean was initially seen as unappetizing, not to mention flatulence inducing. This episode, we tell the story of how people in what's now northeastern China figured out how to turn this legume of last resort into an array of nutritious, delicious foods, from  slippery beancurd skins to silken puddings, and chewy soy crumbles to funky, fermented hairy tofu. Then we introduce the parade of unlikely figures—including Ben Franklin and a 1970s acid casualty who believed he could communicate telepathically with animals—who finally brought this "soybean cheese" to the Western masses. And, finally, we meet the twenty-first century immigrant entrepreneur trying to rebrand tofu from virtuous but boring into something much more delicious and desirable. Listen in now for all that plus Camembert tofu, anarchist zines, and the curious origins of that Thanksgiving favorite, Tofurkey.

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It’s All Going to Pot: The Science and Economics of Edibles

If you thought it was high time for us to get into the weeds with cannabis science and economics, then you’re in the right place: Welcome back to part two of our miniseries on cannabis edibles! This episode, we meet with leading cannabis researcher Adie Rae to figure out the biology behind the difference between inhaling and eating weed, as well as what we do and don't know about the potential health benefits and harms of cannabis. Can THC help you sleep? Is all this trendy CBD-infused everything on supermarket shelves actually doing anything? All that, plus we get into the surprising challenges facing a business that is still federally illegal, and talk to the entrepreneurs, farmers, and lawyers who are helping craft policy to make sure this new green gold rush benefits the communities most harmed by cannabis prohibition. And, of course, there's the biggest question of all: Will Cynthia get high for the first time ever? Listen in to find out!

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Baked: How Pot Brownies and Pate de Fruits Fueled an Edible Cannabis Revolution

Edible cannabis products are hot right now: Snoop's got some, Willie Nelson's got some—even Martha Stewart's making fancy French-style gummies. In states where it’s legal, you can buy everything from marshmallows to macarons, all laden with THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis. This commercial boom may be recent, but the history of edibles goes way, way back to the origins of the plant thousands of years ago in the Himalayas—in fact, people were eating (and drinking) cannabis long before they were inhaling it. So when did cannabis start being smoked instead—and how did it find itself not only banned, but classified as more dangerous than both opium and meth? With the help of the woman whose family ran America's first edibles empire, we also discover why the pot brownie is America’s quintessential edible, and how this humble, slightly mulchy baked good helped make weed legal again. Plus: How today's cannabis chefs are upping the ante and taking weed recipes to new—ahem—highs (please allow us just this one pun).

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The Bottle vs. Tap Battle Finale: Alkaline H2O, Lead Pipes, and, Yes, Water Sommeliers

As promised, it's time for the final splashdown in the battle of bottled vs. tap water. When we left off last episode, bottled water had staged a miraculous comeback thanks to Nike, yuppies, and Orson Welles. Today, it's America's favorite liquid refreshment: we buy more bottled water by volume than any other packaged beverage, even though you can get its less glamorous cousin, tap, delivered directly to your home for mere pennies. So, is bottled water somehow better than tap? Is it safer, or even just nicer tasting? This episode, we dive into the science behind the taste of water (spoiler: it has to do with spit) and explore the fine art of bottled water appreciation, before sharing the secret to making your own DIY Pellegrino. Meanwhile, we've all heard the water horror story unfolding in Flint, Michigan: should we be worried about lead or other chemicals in our tap water—or in the bottles on grocery store shelves? All that, plus our very own water taste test, as we declare the ultimate victor in this war of the waters.
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Bottled Vs. Tap: The Battle to Quench Our Thirst

Today, bottled water is ubiquitous and cheap: every single second of every single day, more than a thousand people buy and drink a plastic bottle of water in the U.S.. But it wasn’t always so. In this episode, we trace a centuries-old power struggle as bottled water went from hip to lame to hot again. Why did doctors prescribe the waters from specific springs for everything from hemorrhoids to hypochondria, and how did whaling ships and a golf course help kick off the first bottled water frenzy in America? How did a swimming pool chemical help tap water fight back, and what did Nike, yuppies, and Orson Welles have to do with bottled water's reincarnation from the dead? And what's up with all these oxygen- or electrolyte-enhanced, alkaline, and even magical waters on supermarket shelves today? Listen in now for the first in our two-part deep dive into this battle of the ages: bottled vs. tap. We'll be back in a week with part two, including the science behind the taste of water, the specialist sommeliers who pair water and food, and the secret to making DIY Pellegrino at home.

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Chocpocalypse Now! Quarantine and the Future of Food

We’ve dropped hints and left clues—and now, at long last, Gastropod’s very own Nicola Twilley has published her first book! Co-written with her husband Geoff Manaugh, Until Proven Safe: The History and Future of Quarantine is a captivating chronicle of quarantine across time, space, and species (and yes, they started writing the book long before 2020). Just for you, dear Gastropod listeners, we have a special episode in which, for the first time ever, your intrepid hosts sit on opposite sides of the (virtual) table as Cynthia interviews Nicky and Geoff about the quarantines that protect our food. Why do 75 billion bees get stopped in the dusty California desert every spring, and why does every single cacao plant that gets shipped around the world have to pass through one town in England? What are sentinel plots, and how are they protecting our wheat supply? And why on earth did Nicky and Geoff get naked, put on Crocs and Tyvek suits, and burn their notes on a reporting trip? All this, plus a video game for quarantine inspectors, in your feeds now! Quarantine: boring to live through, fascinating to listen to—and read about!
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First Class Fare

Like most people around the world, you probably didn’t do much flying this past year. Maybe you miss the bustle of airports and the joy of seeing friends in far-off places—but chances are, you probably don’t miss the food handed out on planes: those sad little tinfoil-covered trays of rubbery chicken breasts, tired lettuce, and frozen cherry tomatoes. They’re a far cry from airline meals decades ago, in the golden age of flying, when lobster thermidor and rack of lamb were served on real china. So what happened? How did a zany Henry VIII look-alike revolutionize airline food, and why were stewardesses serving flaming cherries jubilee onboard? What does the tradition of serving nuts on a flight have to do with NASA? How does sitting in the pressurized cabin of a plane roaring 36,000 feet above sea level affect our taste buds, and how are airlines trying to use sensory science to make food taste better? Plus: A grisly tale to explain why both pilots can never eat the same meal! Buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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You’re Wrong About Prohibition

For most of us, Prohibition seems like a peculiar American experiment—a doomed attempt by straight-laced religious conservatives to ban alcohol, and, with it, fun. But as it turns out, we've got it all wrong: Prohibition was actually a progressive struggle that united powerless and oppressed people around the world—Leo Tolstoy, Frederick Douglass, Mahatma Gandhi, and Chief Little Turtle, among others—against a system designed to exploit them. Listen in now as political scientist Mark Schrad reveals the real reasons that Prohibition became "the most popular, most influential, and longest-lived international social-reform movement in the history of the world"—and historian Lisa Lindquist-Dorr tells us about the rum-runners, Cuban entrepreneurs, and corrupt judges who kept booze flowing during those dry years.

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