The Birth of Cool: How Refrigeration Changed Everything

For as long as we’ve been making Gastropod, co-host Nicky has also been working on another project: writing a book all about refrigeration. Well, time to pop the champagne you’ve had stashed in the icebox, because that book comes out June 25—and we’re giving Gastropod listeners an exclusive preview! This episode, Cynthia and Nicky talk about how a high school dropout's get-rich-quick scheme, some deadly explosions, and lots and lots of beer brought us the humming boxes of cold now ubiquitous in the modern kitchen—and how the proliferation of this portable, on-demand winter has transformed our food (not always for the better) while heating up our planet. It's almost impossible to imagine living without a fridge, but Nicky’s book totally changed the way we look at preserving food. Is there a better way? Listen to find out, and for the rest of the story, be sure to pre-order Frostbite: How Refrigeration Changed Our Food, Our Planet, and Ourselves!

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Sugar’s Dark Shadow

Your pantry's sweetest ingredient has an extremely bitter history. The sap-producing grass known as sugarcane has been grown and enjoyed by humans for at least 10,000 years, but it was only relatively recently that it went from a luxury to an everyday ingredient—a change that also triggered genocide, slavery, and the invention of modern racism. In this episode, how the Crusades got Europeans addicted to the sweet stuff, and how that appetite deforested southern Europe and kicked off the trade in enslaved Africans, before decimating indigenous populations in the New World and codifying racism into law. It's a dark story that involves Christopher Columbus' mistress, the early human rights advocate whose campaign to save indigenous people encouraged the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade, and a trip to southern Louisiana, where we met Black sugarcane farmers to explore sugar's troubling legacy there. No sugar coating here: join us for the fascinating and horrifying history of this household staple.

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Why Are Restaurants So Loud? Plus the Science Behind the Perfect Playlist

When you go out for a meal, it’s not just what's on your plate that matters, it's what's in your eardrums, too. From dining rooms so loud you have to shout to be heard, to playlists that sound like a generic Millennial Spotify account, it's not surprising that sound is the single most complained about aspect of restaurants. This episode, Gastropod explores the science behind the sonic experience of eating. Are restaurants really getting louder, and, if so, why? What does it take to create the perfect acoustic environment for dining? Can restaurateurs design their playlists to make customers order more or eat faster? Listen in now for the secrets to culinary acoustic bliss!

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Meet the Most Famous American You’ve Never Heard Of: His Legacy is Excellent French Fries and Monsanto

In his day, Luther Burbank was a horticultural rock star: everyone from opera singers to movie stars and European royalty to an Indian guru traveled to Santa Rosa, California, to meet him. Dubbed the "plant wizard," Burbank invented the plumcot and the stoneless plum, the white blackberry, and the potato variety used in every French fry you've ever eatenas well as some 800 more new-and-improved plants, from walnuts to rhubarb. His fame as a plant inventor put him in the same league as Thomas Edison—but, while Edison patented his light bulb and phonograph, Burbank had no legal way to protect his crop creations. Listen now for the story of Luther Burbank, the most famous American you've never heard of, and how his struggles shaped what's on our supermarket shelves today, but also led to a world in which big companies like Monsanto can patent life. It's a wild ride that involves the death spiral of the Red Delicious and the rise of the Cosmic Crisp apple, as well as coded notebooks, detective agencies, rogue farmers, and a resistance movement led by former New York City mayor (and subsequent airport namesake) Fiorello La Guardia.

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All You Can Eat: The True Story Behind America’s Most Popular Seafood

Americans eat more shrimp than any other seafood: on average, each person in the US gobbles up close to six pounds of the crustaceans every year. We can eat so many of these bug-like shellfish because they’re incredibly inexpensive, making them the stars of all-you-can-eat shrimp buffets and single-digit seafood deals. But we've got bad news: this is one bargain that's too good to be true. More than 90 percent of the shrimp we eat comes from overseas, where looser regulations lead to horrific labor abuses, environmental destruction, and the use of banned chemicals and antibiotics—all while American shrimpers struggle to survive. This episode, we’re exploring the history of how shrimp went from a fancy delicacy to buffet bargain (yes, Forrest Gump is involved), plus what to do if you want to enjoy everybody's favorite seafood with a clear conscience. Hold the cocktail sauce: this episode will change how you look at your favorite appetizer forever.

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The World Is Your Oyster: How Our Favorite Shellfish Could Save Coastlines Worldwide

If we at Gastropod were asked to name a perfect food, the oyster would be at the top of our list. Oysters are pretty much always our answer to the question of what we'd like to eat this evening—but are they also the answer to the slow-motion disaster of disappearing coastlines worldwide? Join us this episode as we discover how this magical mollusk contains a pearl of hope in the fight to counter rising sea-levels, prevent erosion, and buffer storm surges everywhere from hurricane-hit New Orleans to New York City's flood-prone fringes. But be prepared: you just might join the ranks of the oyster obsessed.

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Bam! How Did Cajun Flavor Take Over The World?

If "Cajun-style" only makes you think of spicy chicken sandwiches and popcorn shrimp, you need to join us in the Big Easy this episode, to meet the real Cajun flavor. Cajun cuisine and its close cousin, Creole, were born out of the unique landscape of the Mississippi River delta, whose bounty was sufficient to support large, complex Indigenous societies, without the need for farming or even social hierarchies, for thousands of years. Europeans were slow to appreciate the wealth of this waterlogged country, but, as waves of French, Spanish, and American colonists and enslaved Africans arrived in Louisiana and the port of New Orleans, they all shaped the food that makes it famous today. But it would take a formerly enslaved woman turned international celebrity chef, a legendary restaurant that's hosted Freedom Riders, U.S. presidents, and Queen B, and a blackened redfish craze to turn Louisiana's flavorsome food into a global trend. Come on down to the bayou this episode, as we catch crawfish and cook up a storm to tell the story of how Cajun and Creole flavors ended up on home-cooking shows, in Disney movies, and at drive-throughs nationwide.

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Can You Patent a Pizza?

Close your eyes and imagine this: a world without stuffed crust pizza. We know!—but that was the dismal state of the Italian flatbread scene before 1985, when Anthony Mongiello, aka The Big Cheese, came up with an innovation that loaded even more cheese onto pizza, while saving crusts nationwide from the trashcan. It was a multi-million dollar idea, Mongiello was sure—if only he could figure out how to protect his intellectual property and license it. But can you copyright the recipe for stuffing the crust? Could that puffy, cheese-filled rim be trademarked, or the technique for making it qualify as a trade secret? Can you patent a pizza? And did Pizza Hut, which unveiled their own stuffed crust pie in 1995, steal his idea—or does the concept of a cheesy crust belong to humanity as a whole? This episode, we're diving deep into the weird and wonderful world of food IP, via the legendary legal battles to defend Pepperidge Farm's Goldfish, Smucker's Uncrustables, and that futuristic mall treat of the 90s, Dippin' Dots ice cream. Listen in now for the true story of stuffed crust pizza—a story in which creativity, commerce, and lots and lots of cheese collide.

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Dining at the (Other) Top of the World: Hunger, Fruitcake, and the Race to Reach the South Pole

In contrast to the abundance of the Arctic, in Antarctica, "once you leave the coast, you're basically heading to the moon." Jason Anthony, who spent several summers on the seventh continent, told us that in this desert of ice and stone (where the largest terrestrial animal is a tiny wingless midge), food isn't just important—it's everything. This episode is packed full of stories of survival at Earth's southernmost points, from Heroic Era expedition chefs whipping up croissants on the ice, to desperate Dorito auctions when supplies run low today. Plus, listen in now for the scoop on how food fueled the race to the South Pole—and determined the ultimate winner and loser.

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Dining at the Top of the World: Arctic Adaptation, Abundance, and…Ice Cream

You may feel like it's cold where you live, but in the Arctic, the average temperature is well below freezing all year round. In winter, it's also pitch black for weeks on end—not an ideal environment for growing food. Still, for thousands of years, people in the Arctic have thrived in a landscape that most outsiders would find fatally inhospitable. This episode, we point our compasses north on a journey to discover how traditional knowledge, ingenuity, and a lot of hard work—combined with genetics and microbes—have allowed the indigenous populations of the far North to not only successfully feed themselves, but also develop a distinctive and remarkable cuisine. Tune in now for the secrets of a dish that feels like Fourth of July fireworks in your mouth, the story of Iceland's second-most famous celebrity (after Björk), and the science behind how to avoid scurvy on an almost vegetable-free diet. Just don't forget your long underwear!

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