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!

Black and white photo of a man in a pith helmet reaching into a paper bag to inspect its contents. Next to him on the folding table is a cardboard box and behind him is an old-fashioned car.
"California state plant quarantine inspector examining baggage for insect pests. Arizona," by Dorothea Lange (1937). Source: Library of Congress.

Episode Notes

Until Proven Safe: The History and Future of Quarantine

Until Proven Safe tracks the history and future of quarantine around the globe—from crumbling Mediterranean lazarettos built to contain the Black Death to an experimental Ebola unit in London, from the hallways of the CDC to closed-door simulations where pharmaceutical execs and epidemiologists prepare for pandemics yet to come.

But the story of quarantine ranges far beyond the history of medical isolation. Nicky and Geoff tour a nuclear-waste isolation facility beneath the New Mexican desert, see plants stricken with a disease that threatens the world’s wheat supply, and meet NASA’s Planetary Protection Officer, tasked with saving Earth from extraterrestrial infections.

Pre-order your copy now, make Nicky's day, and get a signed bookplate (plus a chance to win other quarantine-themed merch) here! There are also lots of quarantine conversations and events coming up, including a special virtual tour of some of the most curious quarantine facilities in the world in partnership with Atlas Obscura — and you're all invited!

Still on the fence? Take it from Buzzfeed, just one of the places that has picked Until Proven Safe as one of the best books of the summer. "Maybe reading a book about quarantine sounds like the last thing you want to do this summer, and, OK, I get that. But indulge me in a counterargument. Manaugh’s and Twilley’s extensive history of a concept we might otherwise take for granted is actually the perfect postpandemic read—an imaginative, layperson-friendly way to make sense of and contextualize what we just lived through. Looking at everything from the 14th century’s Black Death to the present day to possible futures, the authors expertly analyze the ways in which humanity has adapted to harm and attempted (and often failed) to survive. It’s a fascinating read."

Approaching the Needles Inspection Station on I-40. Photo by Nicola Twilley.

Nicola Twilley

You know Nicky! She's the proud co-host of a popular podcast you might have heard of called Gastropod, she's married to Geoff, and, although they live in Los Angeles, she originally hails from England, which is why some people think she has a funny accent. (She still believes consonants should be pronounced, so deal with it.)

Nicky taping as a truck driver hands over his paperwork so that the inspector, Mitch Vega, can verify whether or not the truck's contents need to be inspected. Photo by Geoff Manaugh.

Geoff Manaugh

Geoff Manaugh is married to Nicky. He's also a writer and author of the New York Times-bestselling book, A Burglar's Guide to the City, on the relationship between crime and architecture. He has been writing about the built environment at BLDGBLOG since 2004, but is, of course, perhaps best known for his guest appearances on the award-winning podcast Gastropod.

Geoff in a bee suit, inspecting a load of bees. The truck was being held at the border pending confirmation that it was carrying a Q-rated pest. If not, it would be released and allowed to continue onward to the almond orchards of California. If so, it would be pressure-washed to remove the pests, and re-inspected. Photo by Nicola Twilley.

An old-fashioned car sits in the background of this black and white photo, in which a man in a pith helmet opens a suitcase while a man and a woman stand nearby looking on. Another man appears to be searching through the backseat of the car.
"Plant quarantine inspector examining tourist baggage before entering California. Yuma, Arizona," by Dorothea Lange (1937). Source: Library of Congress.


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