The Birds and The Bugs

Chicken is such a mainstay of the contemporary American dinner table that it seems hard to imagine that, just a century ago, it was rare and expensive. But over the course of the 20th century, both chickens and the chicken industry exploded in size. Much of that growth can be attributed to the miraculous properties of antibiotics, which were developed to fight human diseases but quickly began to be fed to farm animals in vast quantities. Journalist and author Maryn McKenna weaves these two intertwined tales together in her new book, Big Chicken: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats. In this episode of Gastropod, she describes the consequences of decades spent feeding chicken antibiotics, in terms of chicken flavor, poultry well-being, and, most significantly, human health.

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Peanuts: Peril and Promise

Despite their diminutive scale, peanuts play an outsized role in American culture. Peanut butter has long been a mainstay of the American lunchbox, with its sticky, slightly sweet nuttiness flavoring the memories of generation after generation of kids. And it's hard to imagine ballgames without, as the song goes, peanuts and Cracker Jacks (which, of course, also contain peanuts). But today, peanuts are the source of both hope and fear: while there’s been a surprisingly steep rise of peanut allergies in recent decades that can—though rarely—lead to death, peanut butter is also the basis of a medical therapy used to save the lives of millions of children around the world. This episode, we discover how the humble peanut got to be such a big deal. …More

Fake Food

Hamburgers that turn out to be horse, not beef. Honey sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup. Old, grey olives dipped in copper sulfate solution to make them look fresh and green. Fraudulent foods such as these make up as much as five to ten percent of the offerings on supermarket shelves, according to experts—but which food is most likely to be faked, and what does that tell us about our food system? Join us this episode as we put on our detective hats to investigate food fraud's long history and the cutting-edge science behind food forensics today—as well as what you can do to make sure what's on your plate is what you think it is.

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Here’s Why You Should Care About Southern Food

The food of the South is one of the most complicated, complex, contradictory cuisines in the U.S. This is the region where a monumental mixing of crops and culinary traditions gave way to one of the most punishing, damaging monocultures in the country; where food born in violence and slavery led to delicious, nutritious dishes. It's also the region that laid the tablecloth for seasonal, farm-to-table dining, as well as drive-through fast food. In this episode, authors Michael Twitty and John T. Edge, two of the nation's leading voices on Southern food, take listeners on a tour through their shared history.

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Better Believe It’s Butter

Butter is beautiful: solid golden bars add the perfect flakiness to pastry, give cake a delightfully tender springiness, and melt mouth-wateringly onto toast. But unlike its cousin, cheese—another concentrated, solidified form of milk—we don't tend to think of butter as something that's available in hundreds of varieties, each with a different flavor, color, and texture. Nor do we necessarily consider a dairymaid costume to be a uniform of women's empowerment. But we should. This episode, we explore the science behind butter's subtle variations, as well as its long history as a vehicle for both ritual worship and female entrepreneurship around the world.

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Meet Koji, Your New Favorite Fungus

It's impossible to imagine Japanese meals without soy sauce, or the umami-rich fermented bean paste called miso, or the rice-based spirit known as sake. Which means that Japanese cuisine depends on the one fungus that enables the fermentation of all these delicious foods: koji. Today, American chefs are discovering what Asian cooks have known for centuries, that koji is a microbial powerhouse with seemingly magical abilities to completely transform food. But how does a mold from a family of microbes known for their toxicity turn salty, mashed beans into sticky, succulent miso? How did koji make its way from Japan to the U.S.? And how might the weird and wonderful ways chefs in the U.S. are now using koji transform the American dinner table, too?

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V is for Vitamin

They're added to breakfast cereal, bread, and even Pop-Tarts, giving the sweetest, most processed treats a halo of health. Most people pop an extra dose for good measure, perhaps washing it down with fortified milk. But what are vitamins—and how did their discovery make America's processed food revolution possible? On this episode of Gastropod, author Catherine Price helps us tell the story of vitamins, from Indonesian chickens to Gwyneth Paltrow. …More

Hacking Taste

Taste is the oldest of our five senses, and yet perhaps the least understood. It's far more complicated than salty versus sweet: new research is dramatically expanding our knowledge of taste, showing that it's intimately connected to obesity, mood, immunity, and more. In this episode, we get into the science of how taste works, why we taste what we do, and what makes supertasters unique. And finally, we hack our taste buds—for fun, but, in the future, maybe for health, too.

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Cork Dork: Inside the Weird World of Wine Appreciation

“There’s the faintest soupçon of asparagus and just a flutter of Edam cheese,” says Paul Giamatti in the movie Sideways. Believe it or not, he's describing pinot noir, not quiche. The world of sommeliers, wine lists, and tasting notes is filled with this kind of language, prices seemingly rising in step with the number of bizarre adjectives. It's tempting to dismiss the whole thing as B.S., but listen in: this episode, author Bianca Bosker takes us along on her journey into the history and science behind blind tasting, wine flavor wheels, and the craft of the sommelier. You'll never feel lost in front of a wine list again.

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To Eat or Not to Eat Meat

With flexitarianism on the rise throughout the developed world, and everyone from Bill Clinton to Beyoncé endorsing the benefits of a vegetarian or vegan diet, it can sometimes seem as though meat is just a bad habit that the majority of us are too weak-willed to kick. But is giving up meat morally superior, healthier, and better for the planet, as its advocates insist? This episode, we fearlessly dive into the long, tangled history and surprisingly nuanced science behind those claims. Listen in now for the truth on Pythagoras, cow farts, and more.

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