Caviar Dreams: The Tastes of Celebration

Yachts, private jets, caviar, champagne—all standard ingredients in the lifestyles of the rich and famous. But, every so often, at parties and special occasions, we mere mortals get to live large and enjoy fancy fish eggs and fizz, too. In this first episode of our two-part miniseries on the foods of celebration, Gastropod explores how something that Russian peasants ate as a form of religious penance became one of the world's most expensive foods. Join us this holiday season as we get up close and personal with the source of caviar by giving a sturgeon an ultrasound, and tell the story of the long-lost town of Caviar, New Jersey. Get out your mother-of-pearl spoon and dive in!

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That Old Chestnut: A Nutty Tale of Love, Loss, and Reconnection

Just a little over a hundred years ago, eastern forests were studded with what was called "America's perfect tree": 100-foot giants with straight-grained, rot-resistant wood, which filled the woods every fall with delicious, nutritious nuts. This nut—the American chestnut—was a staple in the diet and culture of Indigenous peoples, local wildlife, and colonial Americans. Then, in the early 1900s, disaster struck: a deadly and seemingly unstoppable disease moved in and made the species functionally extinct. But Americans haven’t given up on the chestnut; there’s a movement today to bring back this iconic tree using a variety of ingenious approaches. So what will it take to return the “redwood of the East” to our forests—and its sweet, buttery nut to our plates? Join us this episode as we take a frolic through the chestnut’s forgotten history and the science underpinning its potential return, as well as visit a farm growing hybrid American chestnuts to taste for ourselves why they once drove Americans wild—and might soon do so again.

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Prescription Dinner: Can Meals Be Medicine?

We've all heard that what you eat affects your health—but doctors prescribing dinner? It's real: Medically tailored meals are specifically designed to treat conditions such as kidney disease, diabetes, and heart disease, as well nourish people going through chemotherapy and radiation. Today, in a handful of places around the US, eligible patients can receive them for free, prescribed by their medical provider and reimbursed by their health insurance. There's even legislation in Congress that would roll this program out nationwide. This episode, Gastropod investigates: how do medically tailored meals work? From the science of how nutritionally designed dinners can affect disease progression, to the economics behind why it makes sense for taxpayers and insurers to invest in food, to the tricky logistics of bringing prescription meals to the masses, listen in now for the scoop on one of the biggest stories in healthcare.

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Trouble in Paradise: Coconut Water Wars and Coconut Oil Controversies

Whether enrobed with chocolate in a candy bar or sucked up through a straw on the beach, coconut has become shorthand for the good life: clear blue waters, white sand beaches, and an ocean breeze. But it’s not just a tropical treat. All around the world, people who live alongside the coconut palm refer to it as the “tree of life,” thanks to its ability to provide food, oil, fresh water, and the sturdy raw materials to build homes, clothes, and even musical instruments—all from one plant. But can this delicious, Swiss Army-knife of a nut (that's not technically a nut) also prevent heart disease, clean your teeth, and even stave off Alzheimer's? This episode, Gastropod cracks open what makes coconuts so great, including their role as everything from a Presidential lifesaver to the missing ingredient in nuclear fusion. We've also got the backstabbing battle that made coconut water popular, and the science on all of that Paleo coconut oil hype. Plus, we take on our toughest field assignment yet: traveling to a tropical island to taste the fruit of the tree of life ourselves—if we can just figure out how to get it open...

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Does the Western Megadrought Mean the End of Cheap Cheese and Ice Cream?

Imagine a summer's day without the jingle of the ice-cream truck, a pizza without its bubbling layer of melted cheesy goodness, or even a bowl of cereal without milk. It’s a shocking prospect, for sure, but the threat to these delights is perhaps even more surprising: The fact that Americans enjoy more than three times their body-weight in dairy products each year is, in no small part, due to a water-hungry plant that’s frequently, if counterintuitively, grown in the desert. That plant is alfalfa, and it makes up at least half of the diet of dairy cows all over the world. So why are we growing alfalfa in the arid American Southwest, and watering it from the Colorado River—both of which, as you may have heard on the news, are becoming drier with every passing day? To find out, Gastropod went on a good old-fashioned road trip for some field reporting (literally, in an alfalfa field) and talked to farmers, economists, plant experts, journalists, and exporters about where this surprisingly important plant fits in to a warming worldand how we can prevent a future lacking in lactose without also drying up the West.

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What Do Aliens Eat? Food in Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Whether you’re an adorable, candy-loving alien, a lost hobbit, a Federation starship captain, or the King in the North, you still need to eat. This episode, Gastropod is exploring the weird and wonderful world of food in science fiction and fantasy, from well-loved standards like Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings, to modern favorites like The Expanse, and all of the esoteric cult classics (parasitic frozen desserts, anyone?) in between. We talk to some of our favorite writers about how food helps them build worlds both foreign and familiar, chat with a legendary Hollywood food stylist to see how she brings stomach-turning Klingon meals and peacock-laden fantasy feasts to life on screen, and catch up with some of our listeners about the imagined tastes they’ll never forget. Fire up the replicator, pour yourself a glass of blue milk, and enjoy a bite of Lembas bread as you join us at this buffet of imaginary foods.

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Gut Feeling

Do you get butterflies in your stomach when you’re excited? Feel nauseated when you’re nervous? Get a knot in your gut when you're worried something bad is going to happen? Then you’ve experienced what’s called the gut-brain axis: a powerful connection between your brain and your stomach. And, if you’ve been on wellness social media over the last few years, you’ve probably heard that you can hijack this connection to help heal a whole host of mental illnesses, from taking probiotics for PTSD to treating depression with diet. But how much of this is science, and how much is modern-day snake oil? With the help of gastroenterologists, psychologists, and yes, the U.S. military, Gastropod is here to investigate! The answer involves prescription kefir, a trip to an Army base to play video games, and the trials and tribulations of some very melancholy mice—not to mention lots and LOTS of microbes. Listen in for the scoop on how tweaking your gut microbes can change your mind. (But, for your own health, please don’t drink every time we mention our favorite topic during this episode!)

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How Ketchup Got Thick

Ketchup is the crowd-pleaser of condiments—a ubiquitous accessory on dinner tables throughout the United States, and, increasingly, the world. But this kid-friendly classic actually has its roots in a much funkier food: fermented fish sauce! So how did the salty, pungent, amber-colored seasoning that gives Southeast Asian cuisine its characteristic flavor turn into a thick, red sauce typically found atop hamburgers and French fries? It's a saga that involves the fall of the Roman empire, eighteenth-century fish sauce knock-offs made from green walnuts and vinegar, and the marketing genius of one Henry J. Heinz. Listen in now for that story, plus the 1981 ketchup scandal that shook the Reagan White House, in our love song to ketchup's weird backstory and underrated culinary sophistication.

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The Milk of Life

No matter what your diet’s like today, we all likely started life eating the same thing: breast milk, formula milk, or a bit of both. But both of these products aren’t always easy to come by. Breastfeeding can be difficult or impossible for some parents, and formula milk isn’t always safe, affordable, or even available — as we’re seeing in the US, where formula milk is currently 70 percent out-of-stock. This episode, we tell the story of how we got here, and we explore what we should we do to make feeding babies easier in the future. Along the way, we find out what makes human milk—or "white blood," as it perhaps should be known—so unique, as well as why Parisian attitudes to feeding infants in the 1800s made it known as a city with no children. We've also got the story of when formula was first invented, the dirty tricks used to market it, and the competing pressures and changing advice that have swung the pendulum from "breast is best" to formula and back again. Listen in for the story behind the news: the tale of our first and most essential food.

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Reinventing the Eel

Aristotle thought they were born out of mud. A young Sigmund Freud dedicated himself to finding their testicles (spoiler alert, he failed). And a legendary Danish marine biologist spent 18 years and his wife's fortune sailing around the Atlantic Ocean in search of their birthplace. The creature that tormented all of them? It was the eel, perhaps the most mysterious fish in the world—and one of the most expensive per pound. So why are tiny, transparent, worm-like baby eels worth so much? Why have eels remained so mysterious, despite scientists' best efforts? And how has one pioneering farmer in Maine started raising eels sustainably, despite the species' endangered status? All that this episode, plus a nighttime fishing trip, suitcases full of cash, and a compelling argument that when it comes to the American Thanksgiving dinner plate, we should consider ditching the turkey—and replacing it with eel.

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