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Posts by Christian Ford

Bangladesh: Not the 'Land of Rivers' for NothingWater is Community: Schoolchildren Go to the LibraryWater is Nemesis:  This Used to be a Village Surrounded by FieldsWeapons of the Intellect: Practical Action's Farm/Flood/Weed JudoWater Hyacinth aka 'The Blob'Floating Garden Ready for PlantingFloating Garden Producing HeavilyA Cool Way to Reap the Harvest

East of India, at the head of the Bay of Bengal, there’s a place that the geographers of medieval Europe labeled “paradise.”  You and I might not think of a steamy, equatorial, monsoon-lashed delta as paradise, but then again, it depends on your priorities.  For those medieval Europeans, what mattered was that the land was flat and fertile, a place where the ground never froze and water never lacked. In other words, it was one of those special places where […]

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Ikaria:  The Island Where People Forget to DieIkaria:  This is What Subsistence Architecture Looks LikeIkaria:  This is What Subsistence Fishing Looks LikeIkaria: This is What Subsistence Restaurants Look LikeBeer: Subsistence Drinking in HollandGin:  Industrial Drinking in England

In the fall of 2012, the NYTimes magazine ran a piece by Dan Buettner with the catchy title The Island Where People Forget to Die.  It was about the Greek island of Ikaria and, yes, it looks just like all those Greek islands, with the whitewashed walls, the turquoise sea and the nostalgic haze suggesting that this slower, simpler life must be a better one.  The difference is, at least when it comes to human lifespan, life on Ikaria really […]

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Looking for the State of AutarkyA Western Idyll — In the Hinterlands of RussiaHitler's Favorite Author:  Karl May Living a German-Speaking Wild West DreamThe Midwest's Twin — White RussiaRussians, AKA 'Redskins'

The first thing to know about autarky is that it’s not “autarchy” — a government-less state where every individual rules him- or herself.  Autarky refers not to individuals, but to societies which are self-sufficient.  That self-sufficiency can manifest in a number of ways, but the most fundamental meaning is economic, and the root of all economics is the trading of food.  So, that’s our difficult autarky, the word that tells us a society can feed itself from its own resources. […]

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A Seaweed Forest: Nori Farming in Japan's Ariake SeaKathleen Drew-Baker & the Microscope She Used to Unravel the Mystery of NoriKathleen Drew-Baker's World at Age 13: The Manchester Home for Working Men.  
Yes, the courtyard is paved with gravestones.Kathleen Drew-Baker's World at Age 13: Holiday at the ShoreNori Fishers in Edo Bay:  Only 44 Years Before Kathleen Drew-Baker Was BornWelshman's Caviar:  Laver and Toast

January 28th, 2014

Mother of the Sea

BY Christian Ford

In the south of Japan, there is a shrine overlooking the Ariake Sea.  In a park fringed with hydrangeas, behind a seashore where mudskippers improbably promenade, a modest bronze frieze bears the image of an Englishwoman who never set foot in Japan.  Her name was Kathleen Drew-Baker, and she lived her life in the hard industrial north of England where she was a lecturer at the University of Manchester.  A serious-looking woman, hair soberly tied back and with glasses that […]

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The Beauty of Glass and Manure: les Maraîchères in the Artist's EyePostcard from the Past:  Les Maraîchères Have a Message

January 13th, 2014

The Cloche Garden

BY Christian Ford

We have a problem talking about food.  Not that we don’t talk about it; some days, it seems that the internet is evenly divided between shopping, porn and food porn.  But when it comes to talking seriously about food — about how the world’s population eats, mis-eats and doesn’t eat — language fails.  Chocolate or perfect espressos may come to life in mouth-watering prose, but if we try to talk about how those things are made and brought to market, […]

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Off to Market:  The Old Nepali WayOff to Market:  The New Nepali (Rope)wayFarming Nepal's Highlands:  Trip in This Field and You'll Never Stop RollingWithout the Ropeway, this is How You Go Down the MountainMembers of the Farmers' Cooperative Build the Upper StationPreflight:  Farmers Queue in the Uphill StationReady for TakeoffSee That Road Down There?  It's the MarketFinal Approach:  Another Load Comes into the Lower StationManning the Brake at the Lower StationHighland Produce Arrives Unblemished in the LowlandsA Technology Sufficiently Advanced as to be Indistinguishable from Magic

December 16th, 2013

Manna from Heaven

BY Christian Ford

Before the 20th Century, having a home with a view was a consolation, not an amenity.  The reason is that back then climbing to that view meant that you, or possibly an animal, were doing the work of that climb.  Goods, too, had to make the climb — food, furniture, building materials, the works.  So the hills were where the poor lived, slogging to and fro, arm-wrestling gravity to bring home dinner from the market square — because the market square […]

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McRib:  Enjoy Your SymptomNo Soup For YouThe Lunch Ladies Have Something For YouAnd This is the Good Stuff:  Explorer Cuisine

  We know you’re tired of cooking, so here are a few reminders of why you do it in the first place. How can we not point you towards an Atlantic piece on meta-state fast food that’s perfect from the title down — “The McRib: Enjoy Your Symptom.” Some fast food pretends to be other kinds of food.  The folks at FedUp.org have been encouraging kids to photograph what lands on their tray at lunch, so that others can vote on […]

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The Salad CollectorOne Half Protein and  Essential Nutrients...…One Half Dietary FiberAvailable Everywhere

November 23rd, 2013

A Taste for Salt

BY Christian Ford

For better or worse, I spent most of my childhood in close proximity to the beaches of California.  Some were crowded, others deserted, some urban, some idyllic, but what they all had in common was seaweed. Today, I could tell you that it was Giant Kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera, and that there’s nothing quite like it anywhere in the world.  But back then?  I hated it.  We — friends whose names I no longer remember and some I still see — […]

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File Under:  Joie de VivreFile Under: Defaced with NutritionFile Under: Elephants and Ants

I think we’re justified in calling this week’s selection of notables a smörgåsbord. Julia Child’s je ne sais quoi has been distilled into a short book called Julia Child Life Rules.    There are rules such as Play the Emperor, Learn to be Amused and Every Woman Should Have a Blowtorch, but author Karen Karbo suspects  “Julia’s real genius wasn’t in breaking down the nine million steps in cooking a mind-blowing beef bourguignon… but in having the confidence to stand […]

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Even Murderous Dictators Get HungryUK Prime Minister David Cameron (right) Enjoying Humble Entertainments

November 13th, 2013

Feeding the Power

BY Christian Ford

Everybody eats, but everybody doesn’t feed themselves.  That means there are witnesses in unexpected places. For instance, the astonishing revelation that Adolf Hitler had a squad of unwilling food-tasters, one of whom has just decided to reveal herself at the age of ninety-five. And the astonishing (but not unexpected) tone-deafness of Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron when he delivers a speech on the virtues of austerity at a gold-plated dinner, as described by the person serving him.   Pix: Adolf Hitler […]

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Wings are ExpensiveWings are Expensive

We lost. Washington State Initiative 522, requiring the labeling of GMO foods, has gone down to defeat.  It’s not a totally done deal; this is a vote-by-mail state and somewhere around 20% of the votes are still uncounted, but a victory for Washington State’s Initiative 522 would be a real startlement at this point.  The Forces of No, they of the Newspeak GMO Dictionary, are claiming victory and well they should.  That’s because in this conflict, words are weapons and […]

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The Sheep Have Always Been on the Road — It's the Buildings That are NewNeanderthal:  Dinner Smells Good!East London:  Noshing While Waiting for the BusSupermarket + Climate Change = MessSalmonella:  Spicing Up Your Spices

November 4th, 2013

Food in Motion

BY Christian Ford

The uneasy magic of modern supply chains casts a spell of forgetting over the ways in which food and movement were always inseparable.  Here’s a few cracks in the enchantment. The bus route through the poor districts of any city is always a study in patience and despair.  Except these routes in London. Watch the video about the Edible Bus Stop, you won’t be disappointed. Scientists trying to untangle just what and how Neanderthals ate are starting to believe that […]

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Life, But Not As We Know ItAn Orchid Named VanillaVanilla Beans:  the Unlikely Object of DesireMonkey See, Monkey Do

October 30th, 2013

Artificial Vanilla

BY Christian Ford

It’s not easy being a vanilla bean farmer in Madagascar.  For one thing, you live in a country that is extraordinarily poor.  For another thing, vanilla farming isn’t for wimps.  Farms average only five acres in size because come springtime, every vanilla flower must be individually observed morning and night, day after day until it opens.  When it does open, you’ve got no more than twelve hours to get it pollinated; no pollination — no vanilla bean.  The only way […]

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Alien FoodMachine FoodThought Food

Truly, “something to eat” contains multitudes. In the Czech Republic’s second largest city, when you order coffee to go, what you’re really ordering is coffee and bike-share.  This just may be the epitome of civilization. In Seattle, there’s a right way and a wrong way to eat the biggest species of octopus on the planet. From Germany, a window into the difficulties of doing the right thing, like breeding a new kind of chicken so you can sleep at night. To balance that […]

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Golden Rice, Seen From the FrontGolden Rice, Seen From the BackForging Silver Bullets, 1908 Version: Paul ErhlichForging Silver Bullets, GMO Version 2013Forging Silver Bullets, Hollywood VersionResearching Bad Taste at the International Rice Research Institute

Where to begin — and where to end? — with Golden Rice.  In case you missed its recent return to the spotlight, Golden Rice is the white knight GMO, born of  humanitarian impulse and great need.  Twenty years ago, crop scientists spitballing what single intervention could produce the greatest global benefit came to Vitamin A as their pick.  It wasn’t a tough call.  In poorer African and Asian countries, Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is a first class blinder and killer, […]

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South Dakota:  Real Halloween Horrors This YearThis Was Once the Most Modern Thing Imaginable

As we approach Halloween, weird and unnatural things gather… In an age when you can call up cat pictures from Zanzibar in a heartbeat, it’s surprising how you can still not know things you really ought to know — such as what happened to the cattle ranchers of South Dakota when winter storm Atlas struck before winter started. As an aficionado of Space Food Sticks in my youth, I always thought astronaut food was about as bad as it could get.  […]

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Time to Stock Up the Spice ShelfTime to Stock Up the Spice Shelf

A storm in your very own kitchen, that is. Dinah Fried has made something whimsical and elegant by whipping up and photographing Fictitious Dishes from literature. At last a cogent explanation of why those triple washed bagged salads are actually a very good source of foodborne illness. Jim Sollisch recalls breaking the gender barrier in 1970s Home Ec class — and never regretting it. The next time you find yourself wondering if something is okay to eat, check in with […]

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Guess Who's Growing Faster.One Fine SwineThe Key to a Zero Food Waste HouseholdMan's Most Edible Friend

October 4th, 2013

Pig Cheer

BY Christian Ford

The first time I encountered Pig Cheer, I had no idea what Pig Cheer was.  All I knew was that this was something I was supposed to eat and I was horrified. It was two decades ago in Ireland, and my hostess had gone out of her way to share something special with me.  You see, when I’d casually mentioned that my Great Grandmother Annie had come from County Cork, a bond had been forged.  Turns out, my hostess, Eileen, […]

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Cork Forest:  This Ecosystem Wants You To Drink More WineNo Cork Trees Were Harmed in the Making of This PhotographLanding Barge Kitchen:  It is Still Chowtime if You're Seasick?

For your edification and mortification, a selection of things that are — or should be — or have been — over and done with. Ixnay on the crewtopsay, cork turns out to be the best choice for, ah, corks. If you want to understand the whole economic-political/social hairball that is our food system, then this amazingly lucid open letter from Michael Pollan to then president-elect Obama is the one thing to read. Too bad Obama doesn’t seem to have read it. It’s […]

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It's Not Your ImaginationIt's Not Your Imagination

  Deep in a bed of soil, vegetables do naughty things. Deep in the heart of Texas, junk food in schools becomes the law. Deep in the heartland, a horse-drawn theater/bicycle-powered cinema celebrates the rural. Deep in the California Redwoods, pot farming goes industrial. Deep in your Halloween goodie bag, gummy bears hide strange secrets. Deep in the ocean, real monsters are filling up the fishless sea.   Pic: Intimate Carrots by Mark Magnusson

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The International Food Information Council's Words for the PublicThe International Food Information Center's Words for ProfessionalsTrust the ExpertThe International Food Information Center's Expert in His Own WordsFor Comparison:  Dr Strangelove in His Own WordsFor Disclosure:  Your Author in His Own Words

In the state where I live, there’s an upcoming ballot initiative that would require labeling of GMO foods. On an strictly economic level, this is a good thing, because it means that tens of millions of dollars are in the process of flooding into the state, courtesy of the country’s largest agribusiness firms.  Yes, most of it will go to buying air time and running ads of questionable veracity, but still, you have to believe that at least some of […]

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Take Sunscreen to London: 20 Fenchurch Street Lights Up EastcheapTake Sunscreen to London: 20 Fenchurch Street Lights Up Eastcheap

Not a lot of good food-related news coming out of the British Isles this summer, but at least there’s some unintentional low-comedy in the mix… As the second largest retailer in the world, Tesco has huge power to extract cheap prices from its suppliers.  So when the boss of Tesco announces he can’t do that any more, it really is news: Tesco Chief Says Cheap Food Over This one’s fascinating less for its ostensible topic — how climate volatility wreaks […]

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Old School Instagram in <i>Memento</i>Social Minus Media: No One Keeps Score at Their Daily GameSocial Minus Media:  People are the Show at Speaker's CornerSocial Minus Media: Chess as a Center of ConversationJust Hanging Out: Jardin du LuxembourgMore Media Artifacts Successfully CollectedSocial Plus Media: Dreaming of a Better World

September 13th, 2013

Eat Your Phone

BY Christian Ford

While recently reading the NYTimes, I was stopped cold by this quote:  “If you’re wondering when people are going to reject the (smart)phone, that will mean they need to reject Silicon Valley’s entire concept of how you ought to be dining.” The notion that Silicon Valley even had an idea of how I should be eating gave me pause because a healthy or appetizing relationship to food is not the first thing that pops to mind when I think of […]

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Suitable for Human ConsumptionA Tool of TradeA Cup of This, 200 Grams of ThatUSDA No. 1 Summer SquashIn Regensburg, this is an Ell (and a Fathom and a Foot)In Hildesheim, this is an EllIn Braunschweig, this is an Ell

Going local is an attractive pitch.  Unlike so many ethical choices, this one you can actually measure.  The basic idea is that long distance supply chains — the ones that send your average supermarket carrot 1,838 miles to your plate — are a sign that you’re dealing with the kind of food system that tends to burn ten calories of fossil fuel to grow one calorie of human fuel.  Avoid produce that racks up food-miles and you’ll do the world […]

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The Secretary of Agriculture Has a Message for YouJoel Salatin Reaping what he SowsRelationship of Elites to the Land: Ancient (Artistic Interpretation)Relationship of Commoners to the Land: Modern (Political Interpretation)Classic Farming ReinterpretedEnergy-Slave Free Agriculture

If there were rock-star farmers, Joel Salatin would be one.  Smart, opinionated, and bracingly authentic, he’s mastered the art of being a grass farmer, or, as he likes to say, a “Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist-lunatic-Farmer.”  Whatever moniker you tag him with, Salatin uses self-developed methods of symbiotically cycling different animals through pasture to produce beyond-organic meats in a way that enriches instead of exhausts the soil.  Combine that with a genuine gift for storytelling and making the right kind of spectacle, and it’s no […]

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Betsy PeabodyBetsy Peabody on the Living Shore of Puget SoundVolunteer Harvest at the Port Madison Community Shellfish FarmOysters in Grow Bags Wait for the TidePort Madison Manager and Fisheries Biologist Josh Bouma Makes a PointAs Fresh and Local as It GetsJosh Bouma's Daughter Learning the Family Trade

Once upon a time in the 20th Century, before the ocean had turned to carbonic acid and the North Pole had melted, a little girl went snorkeling on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and her life changed.  He name was Betsy Peabody and like most anyone with an eye for wonder, what she saw made an indelible impression.  Unlike most anyone, however, that impression didn’t come from something you could photograph.  Yes, the fish and the color and the seafans were […]

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Paul Zitarelli with 72 Pacific OystersPaul Zitarelli with 50,000 Bottles of Wine

What I was trying to do was research a story different than this one. On the muddy beach that is the Puget Sound Restoration Fund’s maritime twist on CSAs — namely a Community Supported Shellfish Farm — I was mingling as the supporting community members wrapped up up their volunteer work and collected the dozen or so oysters that were their due.  That’s when Betsy Peabody, the Fund’s puckish director, tapped me on the shoulder.  “Would you like to meet […]

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What You Ordered:  AlbacoreWhat You Got: EscolarWhat You Ordered: Red SnapperWhat You Got: RockfishWhat You Ordered: HalibutWhat You Got: Tilefish

When it comes to fish on your plate, traditional wisdom is that there are two types, white fish and oily fish.  It turns out, however, that there’s a third category: mystery fish. Through a nifty little technology known as DNA barcoding, you can now straightforwardly test to see if the “name” on the DNA matches the name on the tag.  For the past two years, operatives of a group called Oceana — actually the largest international advocacy group for ocean […]

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So Much for ChildhoodMaybe a Future Museum Exhibit?I Always Kinda Liked the Matterhorn'The Art of the Cookie'Yet Another Reason to AvoidMore Than Butter in All Those CranniesYou Always Knew It Wasn't a Health FoodToo Much IronyHe Looks So HonestAll Depends on How You Define 'Nature'

June 22nd, 2013

GMO Judo

BY Christian Ford

Sometimes frustration gets the better of you.  That seems to be the case with Label It Yourself, “a decentralized, autonomous grassroots campaign to empower people to make educated decisions about what is in their food.”  The educated decisions which the LIY campaign wants people to be able to make about are Genetically Modified Organisms and the how is giving ordinary shoppers the tools to start GMO labeling themselves. Stopping by the LIY site, you’ll find a brief rundown of the […]

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Metaphor Alert:  Time Melts FortressesOregon Wheat:  It's Out There, SomewhereLet Them Eat GMO CakeKing Canute Looking for his Window Office at Monsanto

  Where’s Claude Rains when you need him?  As you may have heard, an unapproved genetically modified wheat from Monsanto was recently found growing in eastern Oregon.  There was about an acre of the stuff, growing as a weed in a field that was supposed to be bare and fallow.  We can surmise that this wasn’t an organic farm, because the farm workers decided to solve the problem by hosing down the errant wheat with Monsanto’s kill-‘em-all herbicide, Roundup.  But […]

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Underneath the Marketing — ArmorBavarian Hills:  Water, Hops and Barley Above / Shale Gas BelowBrewery:  GermanyBrewery:  WisconsinOne Fracked FarmFunny How the Lens Makes Everything Look BiggerProst!

Quick, name a 500-year-old food purity law.  If you found yourself blurting out Reinheitsgebot, chances are that you’ve been successfully targeted by beer marketing some time in the last thirty years.  This is faintly ironic, because the Reinheitsgebot hasn’t technically existed since 1988.  Still, striking a law from the books doesn’t necessarily mean the death of the tradition it embodies up and dies.  That’s a very good thing, because the bierstuben of modern Germany are suddenly in need of a […]

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Ersatz: Substitute CoffeeProcessed: Substitute CreamReplacements: Substitute Men

May 24th, 2013

Faking It

BY Christian Ford

Pity poor ersatz.  In its native German, ersatz started out as a harmless word, connoting a simple substitute or replacement — a new part for something worn out.  But two world wars and a whole lot of not-enough-food changed that forever, particularly on the lips of returning POWs who brought the word into English. The reason that ersatz became something in its own right had to do with the fact that World War I wasn’t supposed to last as long […]

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Suka Kullus:  Works of the AncientsSuka Kullus:  Works of the Moderns

Being weak is an interesting thing.  For most of the animal kingdom, it’s a fatal flaw.  But for humans, weakness — the inability to inflict our will — is something else altogether.  In fact, the preponderance of humanity’s moments of real boldness, of deathless against-all-odds achievement — whether it’s flying to the moon with less computational power than a smartphone or Roman aqueducts that still function 2,000 years later — arise from accepting that weakness and applying a little mental […]

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A Fair-Trader's Dream: Aymara Farmer with her CropTry Farming This: the AltiplanoTry Farming This:  Altiplano Dust Storm from SpaceFair-Trader's Dream 2: It Comes in ColorsNext Stop: Upscale Grocery in Another HemisphereNot Your Ordinary FieldhandsHistory Rhymes:  TiwanakuSeen It All BeforeA Landscape Beautiful......and Harsh

It is, officially, the Year of Quinoa.  That’s the declaration from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, and it’s hard to say that they’re wrong; quinoa is everywhere on menus, in grocery aisles, and in the pages of newspapers, where this unusual crop and its unusual farmers are attracting attention. But first, a profile of our hero.  Quinoa is a member of the goosefoots, a diverse family of plants that have been on the human menu for at least 6000 […]

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Metaphor Alert: Sun Sets on the StadeIn Harbor on the StadeThe Fishers and Their Net ShedsMove Along, Nothing to See HereNothing to See Here, EitherAquarium of the Future (Artist's Rendering)Flash Frozen Cash: Bluefin in Tokyo Tuna's EndJellyfish:  It's Not Just for Dinner

On the southern shore of England, in a town called Hastings, there’s a beach called the Stade.  It’s been called that at least as far back as the Year 1066, when you could have stood on the Stade and watched William the Conqueror make the last successful invasion of England just down the beach. The word is Saxon and it means “landing place.”  On these cobble shores, where tides rise and fall 15 feet, harbors are hard to come by […]

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No Ambiguity AllowedKamal MouzawakThe Souk el Tayeb at Work

“Local food is the hottest trend we’ve seen in decades.” So says the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Kathleen Merrigan, and she’s right.  But we must admit that while local food is growing hand over fist, it’s still damn small.  You could erase every farmers market, farm-to-school program, CSA and the like and — while one to two percent of us would notice a sudden decline in the quality and taste of our food — the existing system would swallow the […]

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X-ray Revealing Internal Structure of a PatentCommons Knowledge: the Hamburger has No Known InventorCommons Knowledge: the Cookie has No Known InventorCommons Knowledge: the Doughnut has No Known InventorIrony Alert:  the Fence is Commons Knowledge, Too

Someone who should know once told me that it takes twelve “exposures” to learn the taste of a new food.  That is, if you encounter a food you don’t immediately spark to, you still need that much experience in order to genuinely know whether or not you like it.  If you cook for children, this is faintly terrifying. It isn’t made easier by the consideration that cooking is about more than getting calories past the tongue.  Because eating is social, […]

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An Unlucky HorseshoeRaw Meat for the Scandal SheetsOne Brave HorseEditorial Happy MealDark Red, Actually, and with a Hint of Gaminess

February 24th, 2013

My Food Flicka

BY Christian Ford

In Europe these days, the word on everyone’s lips — and in some people’s stomachs — is “horsemeat.”  It hasn’t gotten the same kind of play on this side of the pond, so here it is in an ever-expanding nutshell.  Last November, Ireland’s Food Safety Administration tested some economy frozen beef patties and found that they were not wholly cow.  That, in an of itself, wasn’t startling since an “economy beefburger” can legally contain as much as 53% of things-that-are-not-beef.  […]

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Cats:  Waiting to See How You Like Your GiftEnglish Granary:  Staddle-Stone Feet to Fend Off RodentsCats:  Put Me In, Coach, I'm Ready Ethiopian Granaries: Wooden Feet to Aid CirculationRobots:  What You Were PromisedRobots:  What You GotMalian Granaries:  Standing Tall on Big Stone FoundationsCats:  Employ Me Before I Kill Again

February 13th, 2013

Cool Cats, Lost Boys

BY Christian Ford

In the beginning, there was the granary.  Generally we date the dawn of civilization to the transition from hunting and gathering to farming, the shift from a life on the move to a settled existence.  But that’s not really how it started. On the plains close by the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, there’s a place called Dhra where archaeologists have uncovered granaries that predate domesticated crops.  What this suggests is that the ancient Dhraians hit the jackpot.  They […]

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The Top of the Food Web Contemplates the BottomHerring Lassies Standing Uncharacteristically StillHerring Lassies:  Proud Sisterhood in 1930s RubberThe Fleet Sails at DuskHollandse Nieuw:  Dutch Raw Herring StandDutch Raw Herring Snack:  TraditionalDutch Raw Herring Snack:  ModernDutch Raw Herring Snack:  Celebrity (Josephine Baker)The Silver DarlingsZooplankton:  Copepod with Anti-Herring AntennaeBloaters as Art:  Van GoghBloaters as Commerce:  BrandingHerring Lassies Working as Gutting Quines

February 2nd, 2013

Dutch Lullaby

BY Christian Ford

So: Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night Sailed off in a wooden shoe — Sailed on a river of crystal light, Into a sea of dew. “Where are you going, and what do you wish?” The old moon asked the three. “We have come to fish for the herring fish That live in this beautiful sea; Nets of silver and gold have we!” Said Wynken, Blynken, and Nod. If you were a child any time between 1899 and now, chances […]

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Nutmeg wearing its Coat of MaceWhere the Nutmegs Are: the Spice Island of BandaCloves Back When They Were FlowersCloves:  A Spice Worth Dying ForWhere the Wild Cloves Are:  the Spice Island of TernateWhere the Real Spice LurksJust Like You Imagined a Spice Island Should Be

January 26th, 2013

The Scent of Other

BY Christian Ford

  About 3700 years ago in Syria, Puzurum’s house burned down.  These things happen.  So they knocked down the wreckage, built a new house over the rubble and life went on.  Under the floorboards, however, the fire had frozen time.  Inside an unassuming ceramic jar, scorched but intact, there were a handful of charred cloves. The reason this matters is that, when Puzurum’s house went up in flames, there was only one place in the world you could get cloves […]

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Beach + Cabbage = SeakalePutting Down Roots in a Tough NeighborhoodAnother Kind of Four-Leaf CloverLifeboats Disguised as SeedsWhere the Wild Things Are

January 20th, 2013

Cabbage, Untamed

BY Christian Ford

If you’re a plant, you don’t go to the beach for fun.  For one thing, you don’t get to go home when the weather turns ugly.  For another, it’s poisonous.  The basic problem is that water wants to move towards salt.  So, if you’re one of the 98% of plants that are glycophytes, and you end up with your roots in salty soil, the water will be sucked out of your roots into the soil.  You can imagine how that […]

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Périgord Truffles:  $1200 per Pound, Never Mind What it Looks LikeChalk Caves:  Champagne in its Native HabitatChampagne Country:  YesterdayChampagne Country:  TomorrowTruffle Country:  YesterdayTruffle Country:  TomorrowTruffle Hunting the Old School Way

January 12th, 2013

Message Meals

BY Christian Ford

On the menu of conspicuous consumption, champagne and truffles loom large.  Whether it’s your flavor-of-the-month rapper with a bottle of Cristal or the Macau casino owner who paid $330,000 for a three-pound white truffle sniffed out by a dog named Rocco, champagne and truffles are — like them or not — foods that send a message.  They are “Veblen goods,” named after Thorstein Veblen, who first identified the whole idea of conspicuous consumption back in 1899 when he wrote The […]

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Diversity's Fortress of Solitude Easily Accessible by SnowmobileEasily Accessible by IcebreakerCary Fowler:  A Man, A Plan, A Sub-Zero ArkDelivery:  Seeds Planted in the MountainSeed:  Not the Packets from the Nursery Special Effects:  Nature Provides the AtmosphericsClimate Control:  Burning Coal to Keep CoolLighting:  Burning Coal to Look CoolCostuming:  All Extras Will Wear JumpsuitsThe Big Sleep:  Polar Night FallsPublicity:  Ready for its Close-Up

I should warn you at the outset that this piece isn’t going to go as planned.  My topic is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a bit of James Bond-style architecture which serves as the ultimate failsafe for the genetic resources that support human life. Or maybe my topic is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the corporate trojan horse which has fooled horticulturalists world-wide into delivering the fruit of decades of painstaking work right into the hands of Monsanto, the inhuman […]

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Eye-Witness to Cockaigne:  Bruegel the Elder Reports from the Little Ice Age Eat Me:  Egg on Legs Approaches its VictimNew Meaning to 'Self-Serving'

I first heard of cockaigne in the Joy of Cooking.  Here was a word I had never encountered and yet it was all through the book.  There was souffled liver paté cockaigne and corn zephyrs cockaigne and even madrilene ring with shad roe cockaigne.  Cockaigne repeated itself 144 times and fortunately, one of instances finally explained: “cockaigne” was the name of a mythical medieval land of plenty, here used to denote the author’s favorite recipes.  Mystery solved. Sort of.  Because […]

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1832 Map:  The Endecott Pear in Middle AgeSome of the MissingSheep's Nose Apple:  Tastes Like Clove19th Century Taste:  Winesap Apples19th Century Taste:  Ask for it at your local grocery?

December 2nd, 2012

Lost & Found

BY Christian Ford

I live in a house surrounded by about one-fifth of an acre of land, so it’s a strange thing to discover, after living here for five years, that there is an apple tree in the yard.  For the longest time, I didn’t even know this thing was a tree.   Apparently dead, jutting from a surly clump of brambles, it looked like a fallen branch, long, straggly, encrusted with lichens.  But one day I looked up and saw fruit.  Not […]

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Learning to Press: Old Skills for New HandsCider Apples:  All Kinds Are WelcomeA Suggestion of Magic at the Cider PressCold off the PressA Mountain of QuenchDriven to Drink: Horse Drawn Apple PressOld School Stone Apple PressFrom Spitter to ElixirShoes for a Shower of Cider

November 14th, 2012

The Press of History

BY Christian Ford

I may well have been one of the last victims of prohibition.  Many years ago, my bohemian parents took the infant me on an epic tour of Europe, where one of our many stops was the Emerald Isle.  I was particularly content there, so much so that there were comments about my being happy in the land of my ancestors. Since I left the States as a milk-drinker, my first foods ended up being European, a melange of what-have-you from […]

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Jack o' Lantern:  The Spirit of a Very Old TraditionThe Velvet Rope for Good Spirits and BadHoliday StressAn Open FaceCouch PotatoesSo Damn HappyJourney's End — Low TechJourney's End — High Tech

November 3rd, 2012

Soul Cakes

BY Christian Ford

Something’s special when an inedible food makes people smile.  I’m talking about jack o’ lantern pumpkins and now, when their lights are dark and they are transitioning from delight to disposal problem, let’s take a moment to muse over the strangeness of this tradition. Halloween, halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice, is one of those times that is special no matter what religion or culture shapes your view.  It’s All Saints’ Day, it’s Samhain, it’s the Day […]

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Ikaria:  The Island Where People Forget to DieIkaria:  This is What Subsistence Architecture Looks LikeIkaria:  This is What Subsistence Fishing Looks LikeIkaria: This is What Subsistence Restaurants Look LikeBeer: Subsistence Drinking in HollandGin:  Industrial Drinking in England

In the fall of 2012, the NYTimes magazine ran a piece by Dan Buettner with the catchy title The Island Where People Forget to Die.  It was about the Greek island of Ikaria and, yes, it looks just like all those Greek islands, with the whitewashed walls, the turquoise sea and the nostalgic haze suggesting that this slower, simpler life must be a better one.  The difference is, at least when it comes to human lifespan, life on Ikaria really […]

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Farmer Alfalfa and Grocer Cat:  A Win-Win TransactionMove Along, Nothing to See HereMove Along, Nothing to See HereMove Along, Nothing to See HereMove Along, Nothing to See HereMove Along, Nothing to See HereMove Along, Nothing to See HereMove Along, Nothing to See HereMove Along, Nothing to See Here

It’s taken decades to come to the realization, but my world-view was irreversibly shaped by Richard Scarry.  It may be impossible to not know his work; he’s the children’s author who wrote 300 titles, sold 100 million copies, was translated into over 20  languages. Scarry’s anthropomorphic animals inhabit a sort of Europeanized America, or perhaps a version of Europe filled with the American love for cars and heroic feats of construction.  Either way, I’m struck, as I re-encounter these books […]

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Agricultural Erosion:  Artist's RenderingAgricultural Erosion: Reality's RenderingAgricultural Erosion - Artist's NSFW RenderingAtlatl Training — LargeAtlatl Training — SmallHonoring the Extinct - Atlatl in the Shape of a MammothAtlatl: Trading Up for a New ModelPlowshare: Sword for a Different QuarryEroding Farms: Vintage CharmEroding Farms: Charmless Contemporary

October 14th, 2012

The Dirt on Dirt

BY Christian Ford

So I’m reading a book entitled Dirt.  This attracts a certain degree of notice, even from unlikely types, like Customs Officers.  They’re mostly amused, and, in truth, it’s good to hear the laughter.  It helps to counterbalance the other feelings I get when reading this book. Dirt is written by David Montgomery, a University of Washington geomorphologist, which was a new word for me, too. It’s the study of the evolution of landforms over time.  In other words, Montgomery is […]

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American Gothic:  There's a Reason They're So StiffAmerican Gothic: Efficiency Through AutomationAmerican Gothic: Production of Calories is Job One

October 5th, 2012

Dead Man Farming

BY Christian Ford

In the beginning, there was the census.  Article I, Section II of the Constitution mandates a count every ten years and the first one went off in 1790.  It was pretty basic.  Heads of household had their names recorded and everyone else was just tallied up in the categories of “free white males over 16,” “free white males under 16,”  “free white females of all ages,” the rather circumspect “other free persons” and “slaves.”  It gives a crude but accurate […]

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An Estaminet: An Artist and a Café, What Could Be More Normal?An Estaminet: An Artist and a Café, What Could Be More Normal?

September 28th, 2012

Café de Combat

BY Christian Ford

Ninety-eight years ago, the horse-ploughed farmlands of northern France and Belgium became the first testing ground of fully industrialized war.  As we have come to expect, the application of reason, science and technology increases efficiency, so, for example, the months-long Battle of Passchendaele managed to kill or wound 400,000. Or perhaps 800,000.  No one’s really sure. The farmers of Belgium, Northern France and Flanders had worked this land for generations and part of that cultural memory was war; a farmhouse, […]

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Humankind: Carried on the Shoulders of GiantsBeforeAfterThey Met at the FairAbundantia Brings the HornThe Spectacle is the PointTotally Unsustainable, but —Wow.Someone Turn Off the Fog MachineOne Sure Way to Draw a CrowdSic Transit Gloria Cucurbita Maxima

Part of writing for Hogsalt is about keeping your ear to the ground, being sensitive to subtle intimations of food-related zeitgeist.  Another part is trying not to get hit in the face with ridiculously obvious topics.  I’ll leave it you to to guess where to file “Giant Pumpkin Regatta in Germany.” Voyaging in mutant squashes is, apparently, the answer to “what do you do with that giant pumpkin once you’ve grown it?”  In southern Germany, on the waters of a […]

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Flax = Roman Snack FoodFlax = Fiber and Metaphor: Spun Linen ThreadFlax = Decoy Ponds for Real DucksFlax = Paper for Mysterious UsesFlax = Linen = Medieval Lingerie: Oldest Known Bra from 15th Century AustriaFlax = Economic DevelopmentFlax = Handcraft: Linen YarnFlax = Beauty: RedFlax = Beauty: WhiteFlax = Beauty: BlueFlax = The Clothes on Your BackFlax = Holy Relics:  Shroud of Turin

What do boat-building, bread-baking, a father’s day shirt and blue flowers have in common?  This wasn’t a question I set out to answer.  But when I found all of these uses literally crossing paths in a 25’ diameter circle (which also includes the computer I’m typing this on) I paused to consider how a single plant could do all these things.  And, since it could do all these things, why wasn’t it celebrated on the back of a coin, or a […]

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The Stanford Study: April Fools In September?Mutant Frog: Disagrees with Stanford About Health Benefits of Conventional vs. Organic FarmingYou Are Not Here:  Diagram of Global Agriculture's Happy PlaceBeautiful But Tasteless

This week the New York Times (and just about every publication that fills their pages from the Times Wire) is reporting a new study out of Stanford which, in the words of the headline, “questions the advantages of organic meat and produce.”  With organic produce being a $12.4 billion business, this is news.  The caption of the photograph attached tidily boils the article down to “researchers say organic foods are no more nutritious and no less likely to be contaminated.” […]

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Mixed Messages at the HospitalThis Man Wants to Feed Your Baby: Justus von LiebigThis Man Wants to Feed Your Baby:  Henri NestléThis Pharmaceutical Company Wants to Feed Your Baby:  SimilacThis Pharmaceutical Company Wants to Feed Your Baby:  EnfamilActually Qualified to Feed a Baby

They say you can tell a lot about a society by how it treats its most vulnerable members.  But what about how it feeds them? At one end of the spectrum, we have the prison inmates, who I think of as vulnerable because someone else controls all aspects of their lives.  Turns out that if you’re an inmate and you break too many rules, you’ll end up eating something called The Loaf, AKA Prison Loaf, AKA Nutraloaf.  The recipe varies, […]

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This Butter Knows a SecretThe Secret the Butter KnowsModern Food Navigation Sign(s)More Modern Food NavigationTwo Different Kinds of Industrialized InfrastructureLifeboat:  Sunny Days are for Practice

If you want to sail from Britain to the United States, don’t strike out west.  At the latitude of northern Europe, the prevailing wind — the Westerlies — will be blowing in your face.   What the New World-bound sailor needs are easterly winds.  They’re out there, but quite far to the south, at the southern edge of the North Atlantic Gyre, a giant clockwise loop of wind and current.  So the question for the pre-gps/weatherfax sailor was, “how do […]

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Fisherfolk and their Coble at CullercoatsFarmfolk Adjusting Nature Through GraftingThe Coble: Genius Weirdness Lurks Below the Waterline

August 3rd, 2012

Naming of Names

BY Christian Ford

Pop Quiz.  On the east coast of England, there’s a peculiar traditional fishing boat that goes by the name of “coble.”  In the high mountain valleys of Tajikistan, there’s an early-ripening variety of wheat that goes by the name of “dzindham-dzhal-dak.”  How are they the same? It’s an unfair test, because chances are that you’ve never so much as heard either of these names, and that, right there, is the correct answer.  What’s in a name?  A lot.  When it […]

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Monoculture:  This is a DesertPolyculture:  This is a Garden of EdenWestern Hemisphere:  Repository of Genetic TreasuresPamir Highlands:  Repository of Genetic TreasuresIndustrial Tool for Industrial Food

What is the allure of the monoculture?   For a society relentlessly sold on the idea that everything from our shoes to our cars to our personal electronics will make us more individual, we certainly have a soft spot for uniformity. Maybe it’s the eye.  Ever notice how a coat of paint makes everything look so much better?  We love those even tones, that unbroken sameness.  Maybe that’s what underlies the institution of the American Lawn.  We’ve got over 50,000 […]

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Althaea Officinalis: The Original Fluffy White TreatPate de Guimauve: Nineteenth Century-Style French Marshmallows'The Original FOOD Marshmallow'Manna From HeavenS'more Inverted: Chocolate Melts MallowThis One's For YouPate de GuimauveThe Ugly Side of S'more Addiction

It’s strange, what you’ll accept simply because it was always there.  Take that thing going up in flames over your campfire, the marshmallow.  So ubiquitous, so socially embedded as a food of summer, so utterly weird.  What’s even weirder is that the marshmallow, overtly industrial in shape, texture and multiyear shelf-life, got its start thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt. There, in salt marshes on the edge of the Mediterranean, grew a six foot tall variety of hibiscus, or […]

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Lactobacillus:  Friend... Good!Microbiome SafariControl of Nature: Exterior MonocultureControl of Nature: Interior Monoculture (Artist's Rendering)Control of Nature:  Not Getting Dates with Project GlassThat Lots and Lots of Men to Come Might Live

Last month, the New York Times reported something pretty startling — only one in ten cells in the body of the average human is, well, human.  The rest, it turns out, are bacteria.  We outweigh them, the average adult having maybe three or five pounds of extremely tiny companions on board, but in terms of sheer population, we’re totally outclassed. I really do suggest you read both pieces on the topic, because this is a lot more than a curiosity.  This […]

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July 3rd Drought Monitor Map:  Doom for CornSize Matters:  Missouri Farmer Demonstrates How Big It Ought to BeDerecho:  Know Your EnemyRussia in Flames: For the Celsius Challenged, Body Temperature is 37°SF 1906:  Real Disaster Victims Bootstrap and Crack Jokes

So the NY Times reports this week that the bumper corn crop that was predicted only a short time ago is dropping dead in the field, a victim of — any guesses?   Well, yes, heat and drought. The short version is that unseasonably mild March allowed farmers to plant corn weeks earlier than they usually would.  Actually, it was a little more than “unseasonably mild.”  In NOAA-speak, spring was “the largest temperature departure from average of any season on […]

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Weath: Amber WavesIllth: Fleshly WavesWealth: Oil CapturedIllth:  Oil SpilledWealth:  Riding in StyleIllth: End of the RoadWealth < Illth:  A Mesopotamian Metropolis

You may not know it, but food is cheap.  As a percentage of total family income, food is cheaper, actually, than ever in history, anywhere.  Families in the United States spend an average of 10% of their income to buy food.  That is not an accident.  It’s policy. Blame it on the 70s, when an enormous sale of wheat to the Soviet Union collided with a bad harvest.  The result was skyrocketing prices and political blowback from the American electorate.  […]

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Mesopotamia: the O.G. One-PercentCircle-TimeArrow-TimeCircle-Time BeanstalkArrow-Time BeanstalkDenizens of the Arrow-Time ZooBeanstack?

Once upon a time, farming was all about time.  Time to plant, time to grow, time to reap.  The phases of the moon, the rhythm of the tide, seasons and solstices.  These are all instances of cyclical time, time that goes around and comes around, endlessly turning like the hands of a clock. Nature has a special affinity for circles.  Nutrient cycles, carbon cycles, water cycles, Nature loves her “closed loops,” where every Creature A’s trash turns out to be […]

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Victuals in Action — Galley Aboard HMS VictoryMonument to Horatio Nelson: No. 1 of An Infinite SeriesMonument to Richard Ford:  No. 1 of 1Victuals at Work — HMS VictoryVictualling Workplace: EnglandVictualling Workplace: La Maddalena IslandsVictuals in Action — Stove Aboard HMS VictoryOranges from SpainCattle from MoroccoSheep from Sicily

Here on Hogsalt, we talk a lot about the money-fixated global food system, and not in flattering terms.  But 200 years ago, there was another money-fixated global food system that went by the surprising name of the Royal Navy.  England’s navy was, of course, a navy.  Being the navy of a nation of merchants and shopkeepers, the Royal Navy had one overarching task — to make the seas safe for (British) commerce.  In other words, 200 years ago, the British […]

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Cookie Merit BadgeTwo Years Later, They Outsourced the BakingOMG is RightTrans Fat Shell GameDon't Think.  Keep Chewing.Hospital Ship:  Drumming Up BusinessSee No EvilThe Picket Fence is Probably Coated in Lead PaintMore Than One Way to Read the SignFar Out, Man

I hate Girl Scout Cookie® season. One day, early next spring, I’m going to walk out of my community grocery store and encounter Girl Scouts bearing cookies.  For the same reason that the toast falls butter-side-down, my daughter will be with me when it happens.  No one will have to say a word.  One moment I’ll be stepping into the light and the next I’ll be in a cage of expectant looks and hopeful smiles within which I get to […]

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Deceptively Lovely:  FD&C Red No. 40Periodic Table of Approved Food DyesHow To Test for Genetic Predisposition to ADHD.Weird Science:  A Big Bag o' FD&C Yellow No. 5 & 6Industrial AccidentFood Police Line-Up

How many of you are familiar with the following code words:  FD&C Blue 1 and 2; FD&C Green 3, Orange B, FD&C Red 3, FD&C Red 40, FD&C Yellow 5 and 6.  These are, of course, the eight FDA-approved food dyes. You can find them in an astonishing array of things we put in our mouths and on our skin, such as toothpaste, cosmetics and of course, foods, particularly processed foods. Now, given that the FDA was formed in 1906 […]

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Meat is Whose Murder?Self MedicatingAt Least This Ambulance Isn't IdlingCheesyBetter Than the Other Kind of Double BypassAre We Having Fun Yet?

I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that we, as a culture, have a pathological relationship with food.  Finding proof is like shooting fish in a barrel, but even so, the Heart Attack Grill is in a league of its own. You may have heard of it.  It’s an everything-bad-for-you burger joint where “nurses” in skin-tight costumes serve up the Guinness Records-certified highest-calorie sandwich (the 9,993 calorie “quadruple bypass burger”) with a side of “flatliner fries” (fried […]

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Beneficiary of Your 1933 Tax Dollars: Dust Bowl Farm BoyBeneficiary of Your 2012 Tax Dollars: Manure LagoonBenficiary of Your 1933 Tax Dollars: Oregon Farm Family RelocatesVictim of Your 2012 Tax Dollars: Industrial Poultry

We all encounter the long arm of the Law.  Maybe a parking ticket, maybe tax day, for most of us, it’s an exception to our daily lives.  But there’s one law that is, day in, day out, leaning hard, reaching into our homes, a long arm holding a fork.  I’m referring to the “Food, Energy and Conservation Act of 2008.”  That’s the most recent name of what is otherwise known as “the Farm Bill.” Now, don’t flee just because I’m […]

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'Old Anonymous' Keeping Her SecretsWhat Else Do You Need to Know?At Home on Any RangeAnother Era's Mark of QualityHeavy Metal for Delicate Work1000s of Meals Past, 1000s of Meals To Go

A year or so ago, I stopped to consider the condition of my pans.  Like most people, I had an assortment: a couple hand-me-down cast irons, a special German crepe, two random pieces of non-copper Revere ware;  a whole bunch of Circulon.  You could tell from looking at the collection that the Circulon was the favorite son. They were eye-catching.  Not because of the color, a uniform flat gray, but because the entire interior of each pan was subtly ribbed.  […]

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Rebuilding a Food System by HandNot Just a Sack of PotatoesReal Food Systems Have Faces:  Hannah MellionMemory Aids for New RecruitsRuss, Paula and Kristin Double-Check the OrdersFarm Fresh/Market Mobile's Mission StatementOut of the Cool and Onto the PacklineOne Crate at a TimeReal Food Systems Have Faces:  Russ BoullardNever Carry What You Can DragDelivery Awaits

In the depressed town of Pawtucket (“The Bucket”) Rhode Island, all the way in the back of a sprawling red-brick factory that used to produce candy on one side and wire on the other, there’s a thing called a food hub.  Actually, this specific food hub is called Market Mobile (think “batmobile”) and it’s an offshoot of Farm Fresh Rhode Island, which manages and organizes farmers markets in Rhode Island. About four years ago, the folks at Farm Fresh had […]

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Breadfruit at HomeCaptain Bligh:  Still in the Shadow of BreadfruitWhat's in a Name?Diagram of an 18th Century Fuel Transport Diagram of an 18th Century Agricultural Machinery TransportBligh's Crew Discovers the Breadfruit-Enabled Lifestyle (Artist's Interpretation)Breadfruit: Marked Down to Move!

One brilliant South Seas day, a man found himself adrift in an overloaded open boat with enough food for a week, no useful navigation tools, and three and a half thousand miles between him and the nearest safe harbor.  He’d come half way around the world, spent more than a year of his life, all in pursuit of some plants, every last one of which was now sinking to the bottom of the ocean he found himself precariously perched atop. […]

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Funny How the Hand of the Market Looks Like Dick Cheney'sObsolete: Front Range Agriculture in ColoradoSnow. Hellish Flames. This Reminds Me of Something...Ten Percent of Your Cross-Country Flight Will Soon Look Like ThisThe Unspoiled RockiesWelcome to the New Home of Your Drinking Water

Out in Colorado, it isn’t just the mountain air that’s clear.  A routine auction of water rights has turned into an unusually bald demonstration of the fact that America is no longer a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too kind of place.  These days, it’s about difficult choices.  Or rather, choices that would be difficult if we weren’t letting our friend with the infallibility complex make them for us. In an ordinary year, in ordinary times, if you’re a farmer along Colorado’s Front Range, and […]

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Another Kind of Pie to LoveGene Logsdon: Not Your Typical TreehuggerDung Beetle:  Will Work to Fertilize Your Field for FreeIndustrial Agriculture Plots The Next Innovation

April 6th, 2012

H*ly Sh*t

BY Christian Ford

So, I’m reading a book called Holy Shit, and it’s not a work of comedy.  The title, in fact, is actually meant to be descriptive.  Now, I’m aware that featuring a book like this on a website devoted to “preserving food culture” is inappropriate, but that is precisely the point.  It shouldn’t be. The book is the work of Gene Logsdon, who may be more familiar to you by his nom de plume, “The Contrary Farmer.”  Gene is just that, […]

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Northamptonshire Glossary: CowslipsJohn Clare: Human-Nature Couples TherapistNorthamptonshire Glossary: CowslipsNorthamptonshire Glossary: LadysmockNorthamptonshire Glossary: LadysmockNorthamptonshire Glossary: Water Blob aka Marsh MarigoldNorthamptonshire Glossary: May (Hawthorne) BloomsNorthamptonshire Glossary: May (Hawthorne) FlowersNorthamptonshire Glossary: Plantain, Soothes May (Hawthorne) ScratchesDon't Piss Off Mother Nature

In Seattle, weather is identity.  Never mind that it rains more in New York and Chicago.  Or that the Northwest summer is five  months long and that the July sun hangs in the sky for nearly sixteen hours.  No, Seattle’s identity revolves around Rains All The Time. Now, given the extraordinary constancy of Seattle’s weather, you’d think that for the people who live here it wouldn’t really be a topic of conversation any more than the fact that the sun […]

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Try to Type 'Paradigm Shift' On ThisPop Quiz:  Make This Without a SawObesity System:  a Subsystem of the Food SystemFeedback Loops in the Form of Art

March 24th, 2012

State of Stuck

BY Christian Ford

When it comes to the production of food, we have a problem.  Succinctly, we get our food from a system that strip-mines the ecosystems that produce the food.  The damage we do — to the oceans, to the limited land that we call “arable,” to the atmosphere that keeps it all alive — reduces the ability of those ecosystems to produce food.   We compensate for that reduced ability with ever larger inputs of petrochemicals, which become more expensive by the […]

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Weeds on the Plate at Noma, CopenhagenDemon Seed?  Eight of 500,000 Baby Pigweeds Pigweed in the Police LineupPigweed PopcornPigweed Pondering its Relationship with Man

For a $10 billion dollar company, Monsanto doesn’t get a lot of respect.  They’re the house that Frankenfoods built, the target of Millions Against Monsanto, the inventor of Agent Orange.  And, while all that is well-deserved, I must give them some credit.  Monsanto has produced one of the finest, most resilient food crops ever.  The only problem is, it’s a weed. The plant in question is amaranthus palmeri, which also goes by the nom de guerre of pigweed.  Pigweed is […]

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Klaus Störtebeker — Real and Reconstructed 15th Century-Style Excessive Force21th Century-Style Excessive Force15th Century-Style Engine of Imperial Commerce21st Century-Style Engine of Imperial CommerceKlaus Störtebeker Immortalized on the Island Where He Became Mortal

In the year 1401, on an island in Elba River, the pirate Klaus Störtebeker made a deal just before his execution.  “Line up my men,” he bargained with the Mayor of Hamburg, “and however many I can walk past after you cut off my head, let them live.”  A deal was struck, a sword was swung and the headless Störtebeker took eleven paces.  Eleven men saved.  But the mayor ordered them killed them anyway.  So much for negotiating with the […]

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Map of All Those Subsidized Farmers in... Phoenix?Map of All Those Subsidized Farmers in... Phoenix?

Picture a farmer.  Now, subtract the land from that image.  What are you left with?  Not sure?  Here’s a suggestion:  a picture of the person we’re all counting on to feed us a decade from now. The good news is that there’s a groundswell of young farmers out there, an unexpected generation of educated, wired 20-somethings who find fascination in the unfiltered reality that comes with earning a living from the land.   They’re known by a number of names, but […]

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Who Needs Courtship When You've Got a Gene Gun?Lupin:  Not Exactly A WallflowerNot Your Ordinary Butcher ShopGene Gun:  Any Resemblance To Star Trek is Purely CoincidentalWould You Rather Be Looking at a Soybean?Soybeans Resting in the Shade of Pigweed and Lambs Quarters SuperweedsLupin Croquettes

February 24th, 2012

Planet Lupin

BY Christian Ford

Ever hear of lupin?  Not the character from Harry Potter, but the plant?  Me, either.  But it’s stocked civilization’s larder since ancient Egypt.  The reason lupin’s significant is that it’s one of the very few members of the vegetable kingdom that produces a complete protein.  That means it’s a potential rival to soy, and boy, could soy use some rivals.   If you were to encounter a field of lupin, you’d stop, because it’s beautiful.  Tall wind-swayed stems, lacy cones […]

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A very, very thin layer of life.Algae:  Small, Green and MightyVenus Modeling the Fourth AtmosphereNo Ordinary PlanetVolcanoes:  Less Mighty Than AlgaeLife-Supporting Atmosphere Factory

I am by nature suspicious of green consumerism.  The idea that you can change the world without actually changing anything but your consumer preferences is a lovely thought, like the tooth fairy.   The scale of the problem is literally global, and the fact that it was created by the same system that is touted as its solution raises just a hint of a red flag.  But there’s one place where my cynicism might be misguided. To understand that one place, […]

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This Money Did Not Come From a Bank (Netherlands)This Money Did Not Come From a Bank (Korea)This Money Did Not Come From a Bank (Thailand)This Money Did Not Come From a Bank (Hong Kong)This Money Did Not Come From a Bank (Hungary)This Money Did Not Come From a Bank (Germany)This Money Did Not Come From a Bank (Canada)This Money Did Not Come From a Bank (Italy)This Money Did Not Come From a Bank (Honduras)

Once upon a very long time ago, there was no money.  There were, however, riches though they weren’t in the form of gold, or diamonds, or unicorn feathers.  The vaults of the world’s first cities were filled with food. If you spend your life hunting and gathering, wealth is more psychological and social than anything.   It comes in the form of social relations, perhaps a better seat by the fire, or the best cut of mammoth.  But it sure doesn’t […]

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The Airlift in MiniatureBerlin Children Playing Manna Not Quite From HeavenFood Above, Rubble BelowDelivery vehicleThe Hands of Gail HalvorsenHershey Bars Away!

February 3rd, 2012

Besieged

BY Christian Ford

Food makes history.  The potato, the Spice Islands, the British Empire and tea, the Mutiny on the Bounty, in fact you could argue that without agriculture there would be no civilization to have a history.  Lack of food makes history, too.  The potato famine, the French Revolution, the fall of Rome, and so on.  The question is, can food be political?  Can food be a lever of intentional, and positive, change?   In 2008, Michael Pollan wrote an open letter […]

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A murmuration sighting.A Starling Flock demonstrating system criticality.Starlings Off to see the Wizard.Hand-drawn instructions for hand-made beer.This is a tool for industrial farming.This is a tool for craft farming.

Some things are just weird.  Sometimes weird things get weird names.  Murmuration is a 500-year-old word for a big flock of starlings, and it gets used when they do something that seems to violate “how things work.”  But a murmuration isn’t about breaking rules.  It’s about what happens when the deep rules break the surface. You may have seen video of  starlings doing their thing, and if you haven’t you owe it to yourself to do so.  Here’s an example […]

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Bicycle Bumper StickerOne of these fuels is optional.What happens to your car when you do the moving.What happens to you when you do the moving.What happens to your kid when you do the moving.Your car's idea of fine dining.Rendered Lard: 1300mpg.They're cuter when they're dead.A friendly reminder that biking and walking extends your lifespan.

I once found myself at the wheel of a car directly behind a bike bearing the message above.  After I’d stopped laughing, I started thinking.  What if?   What if, instead of funneling a carcinogenic, war-spawning, planet-warming, 1%-enriching fluid into your car, you ate a triple-scoop ice cream cone — and got the same mobility in return? This struck me as deeply clever.  On one hand, our cyclist had effectively doubled his transportation budget by using the same money twice, so […]

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Slave Cabin  & Garden (Reconstruction)Improvised Fence of a Slave GardenWage-Slave Garden (Actual)Fortified Granary in What Was Once Roman North AfricaThe Ventilated Floor of a Ruined Roman GranaryA Field Pea in Bloom

Once upon a time, back when Colonial Americans were pining for freedom, their slaves were pining for freedom and a decent meal.  Sometimes, those two things turned out to be the same thing. Begin with the fact that slaves were dependent upon their masters for their food.  This, as you may suspect, was a problem.  Plantations were economic engines, and food was the fuel which powered them.  Much like the modern motorist uses a smartphone to find cheap gas prices, […]

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Next-Gen Food System Incubator:  DetroitMove On.  Nothing to See Here.Detroit.  Not So Abandoned.120 Years and Going Strong

Farmers markets are big and getting bigger.  The last fifteen years have seen a 300% increase, to the point where farm-to-consumer sales now ring up $1.2 billion⁠.    It’s heartening to see how simple, individual acts really can make a difference.  Until you realize that the explosion of local food and farm-to-plate has less than one percent of the market and industrial agriculture seems to be doing just fine with the 99% percent left over. The problem is the wholesale market.  […]

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Peaks?  Or Foothills?Peaks?  Or Foothills?

We here at HogSalt love a good picture because beauty, on a good day, is truth.  But on other days — most days — it’s the other way around, even if the truth revealed isn’t so lovely. This jagged mountain range of a graph has a certain harsh beauty in its clarity.  The peaks that you’re looking at are food prices.  The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization,  whose mission is to ensure food security for the entire world, keeps track […]

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North American Local Food Rebel: Farmer Brown + CowAgribusiness Security BlanketSouth American Local Food Rebel: Via CampesinaSouth American Local Food Rebels:  Old SchoolNorth American Local Rood Rebels:  Old SchoolBlue Hill, Maine:  First Battlefield of the Food Sovereignty RebellionFree Trade in Action at a Cargill Palm Oil Forest

Last March on the snowy coast of Maine, the citizens of Sedgwick (pop. 1,102) came together in their town hall, as they’ve been doing since about a decade after the American Revolution.  Typically, they vote on local community issues.  Last March, they did something a little different.  They started a rebellion against the United States. They’re not looking for a fight.  They’re looking for the right to choose the food they eat.  Specifically, “Sedgwick citizens possess the right to produce, […]

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This is a Farm.This is a Farm in England.This is a Farm in Nepal.This is a Farm in Senegal.This is a Rice Farm.

December 10th, 2011

Leaves of Grass

BY Christian Ford

If you are what you eat then we are, overwhelmingly, grass.  Wheat, rice, barley, oats, corn…  we might eat almost anything, but we’re specialists in grass.  Now here’s the strange thing.  We don’t just like any grasses.  We prefer a small group of grasses that live less than a year and are also specialists — in disaster.   The majority of our food crops are annuals.  That means that they sprout, grow and die all in one year.  It would […]

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Can't Float a Boat.  Can't Grow a Peanut.Somewhere Outside the Peanut Belt, a Peanut BloomsNo Tractors for These NutsThis Message Brought to You by Gov. Rick PerryOne Crop + Straight Lines = Monoculture

December 3rd, 2011

The Peanut Crisis

BY Christian Ford

I’m the first to admit that the phrase “peanut crisis” is more likely to induce chuckles than alarm.  But the humble peanut, lunchbox stalwart and stealth vegan meal, is starting to look like a faltering canary in the coal mine of the modern food system. I first heard about the peanut crisis from a peanut roaster I met at a party.  I’d never heard of it.  But he spoke in a way that suggested it was regrettable but inescapable, like […]

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Every Picture Tells... Four Stories?At Least They're Not PodsSailing the Seas of CheeseUnder the Organic Tuscan Sun

November 12th, 2011

The Story of Food

BY Christian Ford

We here at HogSalt started out with a modest ambition.  Basically, we were frustrated. Our mothership is the restaurant world, and so we know a lot about the restaurant world.  But when we read about that world, we hardly recognized it.   The problem is easiest to see if you take a dip in the Yelposphere where the story — the “dominant narrative” if you will — is a seesaw battle between the fanboys and the haters. Now, we’re passionate about […]

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The Magna Carta —Habeas Fructus?Usufruct.  It's not just a good idea, it's the Law.Lawyers from Monsanto Clarify Intellectual Property RightsHammurabi Says:  Share.

Some ideas are difficult to get your head around.  Some words are hard to say.  Usufruct is both, which is a shame, because we could really use some. First things first.  Pronounce it Youse-uh-frucked.  Youse as in “youse guys.”  Uh, as in “uh, what?”  And frucked rhymes with exactly what you think it does.  Put the emphasis on the first syllable.  Hope that’s clear. Now, the tricky part.  Usufruct is a legal concept from ancient Rome, usus et fructus.  That […]

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Wood Ash + Pig Fat = BeautyPine Tar Shaving SoapEgyptian Musk Soap in ProcessOld School Soap MakingReally Old School Soap MakingSoap is Social in LebanonSoap in the Mold

October 28th, 2011

Soap Regained

BY Christian Ford

“Lye is like people.  If you’re patient and respectful, you’ll get along.”   In Winfield, Missouri (Pop. 1,134) there’s what looks like an ordinary house.  If you were to take a peek through the window, it would still look ordinary, if fairly empty.  But if you were to come back, say, at 2 o’clock in the morning, you’d find something cooking.  Literally. You’d find Debra Hendron working alone, stirring big stockpots to the accompaniment of medieval sacred music — or […]

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Golden MountainsThe Goddess of Cereal Sees No EvilA Friendly Wave from the Board of TradeHands Trade Wheat, Wheat Trades HandsWould You Buy Grain from These Guys?Money Before It's Harvested

Here’s the thing.  Part of our charter here at HogSalt is to explore how central food and cooking is to being human.  Another part of our charter is to be fun.  On occasion, however, Charter A runs headlong into Charter B and fun ends up vacationing at the morgue.   Balzac once said something appropriate to the matter at hand: “The secret of great wealth with no obvious source is some forgotten crime, forgotten because it was so neatly done.”  […]

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Steel WheelsLast Ride of the Tall Zucchini GuyCompost TriageFood Hates You, TooReady to RollNot Just for ChildrenFarmer Jane Upsets the Cart

October 14th, 2011

Harvest Velocity

BY Christian Ford

All cultures have a harvest festival.  Here on the sometimes sunny, mostly mossy shores of Puget Sound, a 35-minute voyage from downtown Seattle, the celebration of harvest comes on improbable wheels.  This is the Great Zucchini Race of Bainbridge Island, now in its “at least 25th” year.  In case you’re unfamiliar with zucchini racing, you should know that there are rules, such as: •Only free-range, cruelty-free zucchinis may race. •No genetically modified zucchinis are permitted, unless you really feel like […]

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Guerrilla Garden and Guerrilla LandscapingSeed BombsOne Happy WarriorThe Original Seed BombRecruiting PosterGuerrilla Recycling GardensA Guerrilla Garden Sprouts

October 7th, 2011

No Vacancy

BY Christian Ford

There’s a funny thing about vacant lots.  You never see them in the countryside. They’re there, of course.  It’s just that they’re invisible, and that’s the thing.   A vacant lot becomes vacant not when it’s empty, but when lots around it become full. Now, from a certain point of view, these lots aren’t empty at all.  The indicator species of the vacant lot (aside from trash) is the weed and those weeds have a job, part of what scientists […]

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Wageningen Was Charming.  Once.To Repeat.  I Do Not Like It.Add Crunch Without CroutonsSome Things are Better in the DarkHot, Fresh Tarantulas

Many things become cuter as they get smaller.  Livestock is not one of them. “Minilivestock” is the euphemism, entomophagy is the technical term, but they both mean adding protein to your diet in the most alarming way: eating bugs.  Before you dismiss the idea out of hand, consider that some Dutch professors are predicting that invertebrates (to broaden the menu to include critters with eight legs and no legs) will be a significant part of the Western diet by the […]

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Sparks of GeniusAuthor of the Original 'Joy of Cooking'Chicken  & Yams a  la  Chinese  Pit OvenYour Friend the Cook-FireOff to the MarketPeanuts of Perdition

September 23rd, 2011

Dinner With Friends

BY Christian Ford

How much time do we spend each day chewing? I don’t know and I doubt you do either, because it’s irrelevant, too small to matter.  Now, bonus question. How many hours does a gorilla spend chewing each day?   Eight.   Whether this strikes you as amazing, or frankly ridiculous, consider this: that’s a full work-day spent in mastication. Chewing is the gorilla’s job because, whether you’re licking termites off a stick or being a greeter at Walmart, any animal’s […]

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