Monsanto or MonSatan? How—and Why—a St. Louis Startup Became a Hated Herbicide Giant

A chemical that kills the plants you don’t want—weeds—and keeps the plants you do—food!—seems kind of like magic. After all, weeds are the bane of farmers' lives, causing tens of billions of dollars in lost yield every year. So why is the world's largest herbicide company, Monsanto, so unpopular that it's been referred to as MonSatan? How harmful are today's herbicides for us humans, and for the environments they're seeping into? And do we need weedkillers to feed the world? In part two of our three-part series on weeds, we take on the big questions around this “bad seed” of the farming world—and the fascinating story behind the scrappy St. Louis startup that hooked the world on herbicides.

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The Way the Cookie Crumbles

If you’ve baked up a batch of chocolate chip cookies, enjoyed a nice cup of tea and biscuits, or somehow scarfed a sleeve of Oreos, you will know that cookies—or biscuits, as they were known for most of their existence, and still are in much of the Anglophone world—are one of humanity's greatest inventions. But you probably won't know that they started their illustrious career, more than four thousand years ago, as a kind of beer bouillon cube! This episode, we explore how this food of soldiers and sailors was transformed as it spread all over the world, fueling trade and empire, becoming the world's first industrial food, and shaping culture and language along the way. Featuring cookies as preventative medicine, the biscuit feud that followed the Oreo, and the true story of where the chocolate chip cookie really came from—you'll want to pour yourself a nice tall glass of milk for this one! Or, you know, put on the kettle for a cuppa...

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Black Gold: The Future of Food…We Throw Away

Food takes up more space in American landfills than anything else. About 30 to 40 percent of food produced in the US gets thrown away, rather than eaten. What's more, putting all that rotting food inside landfills produces a lot of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Our ancestors knew exactly what to do with food waste; the earliest descriptions of composting were written on clay tablets more than 4,000 years ago. So why is it so hard for us to keep food waste out of landfills? This episode, Gastropod visits the future of food waste: the high-tech facilities as well as the innovative policies that promise to keep our discarded food out of landfills, keep methane from escaping into the atmosphere, *and* turn those food scraps into something useful. Can a state the size of California really keep 75 percent of its food waste out of landfills, as it has pledged to do by 2025—and what will happen if it does?  Listen in for compost blow-dryers, fruit-sticker bingo, and a lot of microbes!

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Gum’s The Word: A Sticky Story

It’s sticky, it’s breath-freshening, and, according to the FDA, it’s technically food—this episode, we’re chewing on the science and history of gum! As it turns out, humans have been harvesting rubbery things to chew just for the chomp of it for thousands of years. But why? We're joined by anthropologists, archaeologists, gum scientists, and etiquette experts on our journey from the ancient birch tar-chewers of Scandinavia to the invention of modern-day, many-flavored bubblegum. How did an exiled Mexican president, a desperate Staten Island inventor, and a soap-selling runaway help gum go from something the Aztecs thought was only fit for children, the elderly, and prostitutes to a multi-billion dollar industry? Why did one country decide to ban gum altogether? And, with its popularity waning, is the gum-chewing bubble about to burst?

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Déjà-Brew: How Coffee Got Bad, Then Worse, and, Finally, Good Again

If you hopped in a time machine for a cup of coffee from a 17th-century London coffeehouse, you would probably be a bit disappointed by their stale, bitter brews. We told you the story of how coffee jumped from its native soil in Africa to achieve near-world domination in Grounds for Revolution, the first episode in our two-part series. This episode, tune in for the story behind how new technologies, over-the-top advertising, and a forgotten female coffee visionary helped coffee go from bad, to a little better, to downright terrible, before reaching today’s Nirvana of coffee choice and quality. After all, why is a recipe with just two ingredients so hard to get just right? For the answer, we explore the science of coffee brewing, roasting, and flavor, and meet the people who shaped humanity’s pursuit of the perfect cup. All that plus Frank Sinatra, unicorn Frappuccinos, and a whole latte more in our fresh-brewed episode.

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Grounds for Revolution: The Stimulating Story of How Coffee Shaped the World

About 400 years ago, a dark and mysterious stranger arrived in Europe and sent the jitters—really, shock waves—through society. That newcomer was the coffee bean, and it's hard to overstate its effects on the world. From its early days as a religious aid to its pivotal role in the founding of the London Stock Exchange, the first scientific society, and even one of the earliest forms of social media, this bitter brown beverage has democratized culture and sparked innovation, all while fueling capitalism and inequality. With the help of Gastropod's own founding godfather, Michael Pollan, as well as a crew of all-star historians, coffee growers, botanists, and coffee scientists, this episode we're telling the story of how coffee has changed everything it touched, from the humble workday to the fate of nations. This is the first of a two-part series on coffee, sponsored by Nespresso: listen now, and then come back in two weeks for the scientific secrets behind the perfect cup.

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The Fortune Cookie Quest

No dish of General Tso's, chow mein, or beef and broccoli is complete without a fortune cookie at the end. In fact, factories churn out an estimated *three billion* of these folded confections every year, mostly for the U.S. market. So how did fortune cookies become not just a quintessential part of Chinese takeout, but also an American cultural icon? This episode, we crack open the history of the fortune cookie to get at the conflicted origins—or, at the very least, the winning lottery numbers—hidden within. With the help of author Jennifer 8. Lee, we trace the origin of this oracular cookie back in time: from a court case pitting one set of cookie pioneers in San Francisco against their Angeleno rivals, all the way to the tiny town that may have started it all...a town that's (gasp!) not even in China! Your fortune today: listen carefully, and all will be revealed. 

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Your Mystery Date

Allow us to indulge our inner aunties: We’ve set you up on a really hot date this episode—with one of nature’s sweetest fruits, the date! Adored by pleasure-seekers and paleo dieters alike, dates are a Christmas baking standby, and the first bite when breaking fast during Ramadan. These fudgy, caramelly, brown-buttery fruits are so important in their Arab homelands that they're known as the "bread of the desert" and thought to be the tree of life in the Garden of Eden story. We reveal why this episode, plus we've also got the story of how a Native American couple in Nevada may have saved the Medjool date for the world, as well as how California built an Orientalist fantasy around its burgeoning date industry, complete with Wild East shows, hoochie-coochie dances, and camel races. All that, as well as the squidgy, soft, and oh-so-sweet dates you've been missing out on—and why you might want to play the field a little in future, at least when it comes to dates.

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The Most Interesting Oil in the World

Here’s a little riddle for you: What’s all around you, but can’t be seen, smelled, or tasted? Hint: It’s in your Oreos, Nutella, instant noodles, dish soap, shampoo, lipstick, potato chips, pizza dough, packaged bread, chocolate bars, ice-cream, and biodiesel. The answer is ... palm oil, the hidden ingredient on just about every aisle of the grocery store. It's the most ubiquitous, most important, most interesting oil that most of us don't really know. But palm oil wasn’t always so big, or so anonymous—in its West African homeland, it’s a fragrant red oil traditionally used in cooking and ceremonies. So how did palm oil go global? What does it have to do with the European colonization of Africa, soap for grimy factory workers, Girl Scout cookies, and Alfred Nobel of Nobel Prize-fame? How has growing demand for all things palm oil driven deforestation and peat fires in Southeast Asia—and what can we do if we want to rethink our destructive palm oil addiction?

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Are Plant-and Fungus-Based Fake Meats Really Better Than the Real Thing?

Move over, beef: there’s a new burger in town. Plant-based meats are sizzling hot right now; in 2020 alone, the alternative meat industry saw a record $3.1 billion in investment, with 112 new plant-based brands launching in supermarkets. These juicy, savory, chewy fake burgers are a far cry from the dry, weird-tasting veggie patties of the past. This episode, we visit the Impossible Foods labs to swig some of the animal-free molecule that makes their meatless meat bleed, try fungal food start-up Meati's prototype "chicken" cutlet, and speak to the scientists and historians who can help us compare these new fake meats to their predecessors—and to real meat! Can a plant-based sausage roll be considered kosher or halal? Are plant-based meats actually better for you and for the environment? And how might a mysterious protein-powerhouse fungus named Rosita help feed the world?

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