States’ Plates

What's the dish that best represents your home state? Whose version or recipe would you choose to define it? And what do those dishes tell us about ourselves? In his new book, The Mad Feast, Matthew Gavin Frank travels the United States, teasing out the history and science behind each state's dish: for this episode of Gastropod, we chat with him about California rolls, buttwich sandwiches, and Pepcid AC.

For three-and-a-half years, Matthew Gavin Frank drove around America, eating spudnut after spudnut in Idaho and beaver tail in Arkansas. The resulting book, The Mad Feast: An Ecstatic Tour Through America's Food, is, he writes, both "anti-cookbook cookbook" and "digressive revisionist take on U.S. history." The dishes he chooses illuminate each state's history, but also its geography and ecology: New Mexico's famous chile peppers get their flavor from the state's high altitude, long, dry days, and cooler nights, but, although native to the American Southwest, they only began to be cultivated after colonization; Louisiana's crawfish étouffée reflects not only the state's melting pot history but also the nutrient-dense Mississippi Delta wetlands in which crawfish and rice are raised alongside each other in flooded fields.

In this episode, we tag along with Frank to explore the intertwined histories of colonization, immigration, and slavery, as well as the science of plant breeding and the agricultural ecosystems that lie behind each state's signature dish. Make sure you've got some antacids on hand, and then join us on an epic edible adventure, from Michigan pasties all the way through to Oregon's marionberry pie.

Episode Notes

Matthew Gavin Frank and The Mad Feast

Matthew Gavin Frank's most recent book, The Mad Feast: An Ecstatic Tour Through America's Food, came out this month. His previous books include Preparing the Ghost: An Essay Concerning the Giant Squid and Its First Photographer, Barolo, a food memoir based on his illegal work in the Italian wine industry, and Pot Farm, about his time working on a medical marijuana farm in Northern California. His resume also includes stretches running a tiny breakfast restaurant in Juneau, Alaska, and catering Julia Roberts’s private parties in Taos, New Mexico.