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!
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First Class Fare

Like most people around the world, you probably didn’t do much flying this past year. Maybe you miss the bustle of airports and the joy of seeing friends in far-off places—but chances are, you probably don’t miss the food handed out on planes: those sad little tinfoil-covered trays of rubbery chicken breasts, tired lettuce, and frozen cherry tomatoes. They’re a far cry from airline meals decades ago, in the golden age of flying, when lobster thermidor and rack of lamb were served on real china. So what happened? How did a zany Henry VIII look-alike revolutionize airline food, and why were stewardesses serving flaming cherries jubilee onboard? What does the tradition of serving nuts on a flight have to do with NASA? How does sitting in the pressurized cabin of a plane roaring 36,000 feet above sea level affect our taste buds, and how are airlines trying to use sensory science to make food taste better? Plus: A grisly tale to explain why both pilots can never eat the same meal! Buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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You’re Wrong About Prohibition

For most of us, Prohibition seems like a peculiar American experiment—a doomed attempt by straight-laced religious conservatives to ban alcohol, and, with it, fun. But as it turns out, we've got it all wrong: Prohibition was actually a progressive struggle that united powerless and oppressed people around the world—Leo Tolstoy, Frederick Douglass, Mahatma Gandhi, and Chief Little Turtle, among others—against a system designed to exploit them. Listen in now as political scientist Mark Schrad reveals the real reasons that Prohibition became "the most popular, most influential, and longest-lived international social-reform movement in the history of the world"—and historian Lisa Lindquist-Dorr tells us about the rum-runners, Cuban entrepreneurs, and corrupt judges who kept booze flowing during those dry years.

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So Hot Right Now: Why We Love the Chile Pepper

Perhaps no other plant is as entwined with pain and pleasure as the chile pepper. But why does it burn—and why on earth do we crave that uncomfortable sensation? How did capsaicin's fungus-fighting, digestion-enhancing, and adrenaline-triggering powers convince early hunter gatherers in South America to fall in love with the chile's tiny berry ancestors, and then European colonists to spread chiles around the world? Plus, new insights into the rise of the “superhots,” chilehead competitions, and a murder-by-Carolina-Reaper attempt right here on team Gastropod. Who survived to tell the tale? Listen in to find out!

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Easy A: The SuperRad Story of Home Economics

If you grew up in the U.S., you might remember home economics class as the source of deflated muffins and horrifically distorted sewing projects. You might, like Jonah Hill’s character in Superbad, have thought of home ec as “a joke” that everyone takes “to get an A.” But it wasn’t always so—and, in fact, the field of home economics began as a surprisingly radical endeavor. This episode, we talk with Danielle Dreilinger, author of the new book The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live. How did women a century ago use home economics as a backdoor to build careers as scientists? How did home ec trailblazers electrify rural towns, design the modern kitchen, and create the first nutritional guidelines? And what does Sputnik have to do with the field's decline? Can today's home ec once again meet the lofty goals set by its founders?

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Where There’s Smoke, There’s … Whiskey, Fish, and Barbecue!

As anyone who’s spent time by a crackling campfire or a barbecue pit can attest, the scent of smoke is unmistakable—and surprisingly mysterious. Smoke clings to clothing but vanishes in the breeze. You see it, but you can’t hold it. It’s fantastic in whiskey and terrible in toast. So what exactly is smoke—and what does it do to our food and drinks? What’s the difference between cold and hot smoked salmon—and what's a red herring? Is Liquid Smoke made from real smoke? And how did barbecue— smoked meat, cooked low and slow—become a uniquely American tradition?

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Phage Against the Machine

If you thought food poisoning was just a matter of the occasional stomach upset from a dodgy shrimp or two, the CDC has some unsettling numbers for you: foodborne bacteria is responsible for at least 48 million cases of illness, more than 130,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths a year in the U.S. alone. And those numbers aren't going down. But wait: a new fighter has entered the ring! Say hello to the bacteriophage, a small-but-mighty bacteria-busting virus that can wipe out entire colonies of harmful pathogens—and that is starting to be sprayed on packages of cold cuts near you. While most Americans haven’t heard of phages (as they’re commonly called), they’ve been saving lives in the former Soviet Union for decades now. So why has it taken so long for the U.S. to get on board? How do these teeny-tiny bacteria fighters work, and what’s their connection to Elizabeth Taylor and chlorinated chicken? Should we—and could we—get our food systems on the phage train?

Lambda Phage
Ben Wolfe urged us to Google Image Search lambda phage, and we were not disappointed! "They kind of look like a lunar lander coming down onto the surface of a bacterial cell," Ben told us. "It's really beautiful."
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Why Thai?

It’s hard to imagine the American restaurant landscape without Thai food: Tom yum and pad see ew are practically household names, and pad thai is the ultimate quarantine comfort food. (It's apparently zombie apocalypse comfort food, too, as shown on the Walking Dead.) According to the Thai Embassy, more than 50 percent of all Thai restaurants abroad are located in the United States and Canada. So why did the U.S.—and Los Angeles in particular—become the epicenter of Thai food’s global rise? How did Cold War politics and a shortage of ingredients lead to the creation of shrimp curry recipes made with anchovy paste and sour cream—as well as the jackfruit industry in Mexico? What does this all have to do with one street kid from Bangkok? Listen in now for these stories and more: it's a vacation for your tastebuds!

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Hot Tips

If you live in the United States, you’re familiar with a curious mathematical ritual that takes place at the end of every restaurant meal—it’s time to tip, with all the stress the process entails. How much should you leave? Who's getting that money? Is it enough? (And will you look like an idiot if you start counting on your fingers?) Unlike many other countries, where people tip by rounding up to the nearest ringgit or krona—or don’t even tip at all—it’s become standard in the U.S. to leave an extra 20 percent of the bill's total for your server. But how did we get here? How did tipping, a practice with roots in feudal Europe, become so ubiquitous in the United States while nearly disappearing from its home continent? And what does the abolition of slavery in the U.S.—and Herman Cain—have to do with the sub-minimum tipped wage of $2.13 today? Is tipping fair—and is there anything we can do about it? …More

TV Dinners

Cue the dramatic music, it’s quiz time: Can you identify the people behind these catchphrases? “Yum-O!” “Pukka!” “Bam!” “Peace, love, and taco grease!” The answers are below—but if you’ve already caught on, then you’re well aware of how entrenched TV chefs are in mainstream pop culture. But how did a medium where you can’t actually smell or taste the food get so popular? What was the very first food TV show, and how has food TV changed—and changed us?

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