Using food to explore all manner of topics, from agriculture to zoology. In Eat This Podcast, Jeremy Cherfas tries to go beyond the obvious to see how the food we eat influences and is influenced by history, archaeology, trade, chemistry, economics, geography, evolution, religion -- you get the picture. We don't do recipes, except when we do, or restaurant reviews, ditto. We do offer an eclectic smorgasbord of tasty topics. Twice nominated for a James Beard Award.
Peanuts, Senegal and Slavery
Senegal, on the western edge of Africa, was an ideal base for the transatlantic slave trade, although the European powers that established themselves in the region found other goods to trade too. One of the most important was the peanut, brought by Portuguese explorers to Africa, where it grew well, tended mostly by enslaved African labourers.
Peanuts were exported in large quantities, mostly to France, to lubricate the industrial revolution and to provide a key raw material for soap, especially in Marseille. Trade encouraged the French to establish the port city of St. Louis, which was officially part of France. As such, slavery was abolished there in 1815. That, however, often failed to protect slaves who somehow escaped and found their way to the city.
Jori Lewis’ book Slaves For Peanuts: A Story of Conquest, Liberation, and a Crop That Changed History tells the tangled story of how colonial expansion and Christian missionaries simultaneously encouraged and opposed slavery, and how the history of peanuts and slavery still reverberates in Senegal.
* Slaves For Peanuts by Jori Lewis is published by New Press. Jori Lewis is on Twitter.
* The Women Who are Disrupting Senegal’s Peanut Basin is about a project to improve women’s lives in the modern peanut basin.
* Here’s my effort on peanuts and world affairs, which I need to update.
* Yes, there will be a transcript, thanks to the podcast's Supporters
* Banner image adapted from a photo by Heifer International
Garum: Rome’s new library and museum of food
It is impossible to avoid the past in Rome; indeed, the past is why so many people come to Rome. If you’re interested in the history of food, though, there’s been nothing to see since the pasta museum shut its doors, aside from a few restaurants resting on their laurels. A new museum, at the bottom of the Palatine Hill and facing the chariot-racing stadium, has put food history back on the tourist map. I was very fortunate to get a guided tour from the director, Matteo Ghirighini, a few days before Garum, as it is called, opened its doors to the public. I learned so much, including the French origins of a Roman street food and the most convincing origin story yet for perhaps the most contentious pasta dish.
* The museum’s website is packed with information about the place and a growing list of food history stories.
* Transcript right here.
* All photos by me.
Tomatoes: domestication and diversity
Plants of the weedy wild relatives of the tomato all look pretty much like one another, but under the surface they’re a seething mass of genetic diversity. That diversity — along with the discovery of truly wild tomatoes in Mexico — has allowed researchers to finally tell a story of tomato domestication that fits all the available evidence. In essence, people domesticated the tomato in the Amazonian areas of Excuador and Peru, but from wild material originally from Mexico. Traditional varieties, by contrast, are a feast of diversity for the eyes; size, shape and colour vary widely, but all that morphological diversity is not mirrored in genetic diversity. In fact, modern, scientifically-bred tomatoes are more diverse than traditional varieties, and almost a quarter of so-called traditional varieties are “tainted” by modern genetics.
Jose Blanca, one of the researchers involved in these two recent discoveries, told me more about what they found and what it means.
* The two papers we talked about are Haplotype analyses reveal novel insights into tomato history and domestication driven by long-distance migrations and latitudinal adaptations and European traditional tomatoes galore: a result of farmers’ selection of a few diversity-rich loci. Jose Blanca has also written a couple of articles (in Spanish) in The Conversation.
* Here is a PDF of the transcript.
* Extra music: Matamoscas from Blue Dot Sessions.
* Banner photo by me. Cover photo adapted from Berg’s Fairytale Garden’s Instagram feed.
Aaron Vallance — 1dish4theroad
Aaron Vallance’s writing at his website 1dish4theroad has twice been shortlisted by the Guild of Food Writers, not bad for someone who admits to having great difficulty doing his English homework at school. Even more, Aaron Vallance manages to combine sharing great restaurants from the many diasporas present in London with being a doctor in the National Health Service.
I first became aware of Aaron’s website through Curry and Kneidlach: A Tale of Two Immigrant Families, co-written with Shahnaz Ahsan, and I’ve followed him ever since. A visit to London gave me the chance to meet Aaron in person and get an insight about what food and writing mean to him and how they relate to his practice as a doctor.
* Aaron Vallance’s website is 1Dish4TheRoad and from there you can find links to follow him in many other places.
* Dig into his double life and the food that sustains the NHS at his post A Tribute to the NHS (from a foodie).
* Shahnaz Ahsan, the curry part of Curry and Kneidlach, published her first novel to great acclaim.
* Aaron mentioned Dr Saliha Mahmood Ahmed, Winner of MasterChef UK in 2017 and a gastro-enterologist with the NHS. It will be interesting to see what becomes of her campaign to ensure that the NHS means No Hungry Staff.
* And here is the transcript.
* Photos by me.
Yes, we have no plantains
Jessica Kehinde Ngo recently wrote an impassioned piece bemoaning the fact that “the plantain has long been eclipsed by its banana cousin”. That alarmed me a little, as did the question immediately afterwards: “Where can the curious go to learn about its fascinating transnational history?” My problems were, first, that I do not regard plantains and bananas as cousins. Botanically, they are one and the same. Secondly, despite having apparently done lots of research, Jessica Kehinde Ngo seems not to have encountered the mother lode for all the scientific evidence on banana one might want, for example:
The banana vs plantain dichotomy perpetuates the misconception that banana refers to dessert bananas only, and plantain to all cooking bananas, a distinction that doesn’t exist in countries where the banana is native and that arose in English,
We were coming at the word “plantain” from different standpoints. For Jessica, “[e]ach bite of plantain connects me to my roots, though I am many miles from my father’s homeland”. For me, the inability of my Musa-specialist ex-colleagues usefully to distinguish plantains from bananas was at one time a very sore point.
Time to bring the cultural and the botanical together, by talking to Jessica Kehinde Ngo and Julie Sardos, who collects and classifies bananas at the Musa Germplasm Transit Centre.
* Jessica Kehinde Ngo’s article is Publish the plantain: Why this venerable, global fruit deserves a book of its own.
* Julie Sardos’ account of bananas is expanded in two articles. The first explains the difficulty we have in classifying bananas (and the origins of “plantain” versus “banana”) while the second will take you deep into the rabbit hole of banana classification. To identify a true plantain, this page might help.
* And here is the transcript, thanks to the show's supporters.
David Kaplan calls himself a taste realist. That means he really does think that there’s something there, in food or drink, that enables us to agree on what it tastes like, if only we have the vocabulary. Kaplan is professor of philosophy at the University of North Texas, and aesthetics is only one of the areas of philosophy that he applies specifically to food in his book Food Philosophy: An Introduction. We talked about all of them in this episode.
* Food Philosophy: An Introduction is published by Columbia University Press. David Kaplan directs The Philosophy of Food Project, which contains many more resources at its website.
* In case you missed them, here’s a little mini-series I did on taste:
* Disputations about taste
* You are what you drink
* Questions of Taste
* In case you were wondering (I was, but I didn’t want to lose the thread) the Mount Rushmore of Existentialists would be Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heideger and Sartre.
* Here's the transcript.
Eat This Podcast
If you're interested in food around the world, where it comes from and where it's going, this is the podcast for you. Noted writer (books, blogs) and broadcaster Jeremy Cherfas interviews people who know their stuff, and the expertise and enthusiasm really comes through, making for entertaining and educational listening. Lots of great links and additional information in the show notes too.