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An Explorer in Search of an Alien RaceHouseproud HivesDressed to Encounter an OtherOld School BeekeepingAn Ancient Woven HiveThe Keeper and His CombThe Highway to Hive Hell

June 6th, 2017

Hive Dive

BY Christian Ford

I was just along for the ride. Sometimes family determines what you encounter in life, and so it is that my children, students of a public school best described as renegade, are the gateway to a parade of unexpected things.  Their school embraces serendipity and one day serendipity brought Carl, a local man heavily engaged in beekeeping.  So now bees are part of the life of the classroom. The timing couldn’t be better because bees — as you must know and if […]

The Overlords of Automation Insist You Have a Bite to EatThe Overlords of Automation Insist You Have a Bite to Eat

May 21st, 2017


BY Christian Ford

Remember when San Francisco was a city of hills with modest white buildings stair-stepping down to the white-capped bay?   Yeah, me neither.  But I have it on good authority that it was once, that right around the moment when Kim Novak threw herself into the bay, San Francisco really was what a Greek island village might have been if it grew into a great city. But the city that created the legend of The City is gone and the […]

Ötzi Wondering if He's Being Followed (Artist's Reconstruction)Ötzi Wondering if He's Being Followed (Artists Reconstructing)Ötzi's Axe: Priceless Then and NowThe View from Ötzi's Last Meal

Chances are that you’ve heard of the Iceman, even if you can’t pronounce his nickname, Ötzi.  (Tell your lips and tongue to say “E,” but instead make the sound of “O” and you’ll be on the right path.) In any case, Ötzi was the copper age man who died in the Tyrolean Alps over 5,000 years ago, and then froze solid until his icefield melted in 1991, yielding the most well-preserved natural mummy ever discovered.  They’ve been studying him for […]

Smile Dammit:  A Good Breakfast or ElseDr Kellogg Knows What's Best for YouNo, Roald Dahl Did Not Make This Up:  the Corn Flaking DepartmentManagement Assesses Labor for Failings Both Moral and ProductiveUmblemished in Uniform, Soul and Purpose: Corn Flakers On Parade

I don’t think I’ll get a lot of pushback if I suggest that Americans have a singularly weird relationship with food.  Until now, I’ve blithely assumed that this was a relatively recent phenomenon, that the weirdness grew from a modern sensibility rooted in a reverence for technology, amplified by leisure and driven to full madness by advertising.  But, boy, was I wrong.  Or maybe, I’ve just been defining “modern” incorrectly. The craziness started in the 19th century, and it was, […]

Next Stop, an Underground World that Would have Been Familiar to Robin Hood.Nottingham: Above Ground, Tidy as a ToyNottingham: Below Ground, Another Life Goes UnseenIn the Pub:  Ale Served Up Front, Beer Made Out Back (Inside the Caves)

March 13th, 2017

The Malt Caves

BY Christian Ford

The English city of Nottingham — seat of Robin Hood’s infamous sheriff — was built on  sandstone.  The city’s castle stands on a high outcrop of the stuff which is why it’s now called  Nottingham Castle sandstone.  This silty stone, laid down by a primordial river, is so soft that just about anyone can dig through it.   At the same time, it’s sturdy enough to not collapse, even you don’t know much about digging tunnels.  As you might imagine, […]

An Urgent Question and a Vain RequestBuilt to Last: 78 Years, a World War, and a Cold War Later and Still Going StrongCraft:  The Place Where Hate Doesn't Live

March 4th, 2017

Hate You, Baby

BY Christian Ford

The other day I had the opportunity to play with no less than thirty typewriters from the first half of the last century and since this is a column about food and culture and not industrial design, I’ll limit my report to saying that it was a journey to a culture of refreshing tactility. The experience was still with me when I found myself trying to repair a brand-new electric pencil sharpener at my son’s school.  It was a doomed errand, because […]

Tribal Markings: Keeper of the Sacred GreenLawn:  Original VersionLawn: Home Store VersionInherited Rites of the SuburbsIf the Lawn Goes AWOL, is a Home Still a Castle?

February 24th, 2017


BY Christian Ford

About a decade ago, a movement emerged called “Food Not Lawns.” This was a drive to replace the ubiquitous suburban lawn with a yardscape that yielded sustenance. You will perhaps not be surprised to hear that this created a minor firestorm in some neighborhoods, particularly those governed by “covenants” that the homeowners bought into with their home purchases. Almost uniformly, these covenants were about protecting home value by mandating a certain 1950s suburban pride aesthetic, with the manicured lawn as […]

No Caption RequiredNo Caption Required (Training Mode)Fermented Herring:  The Bulge Isn't Lens DistortionStreet Food:  The Merchandise Sells ItselfWhen Culinary Traditions CollideThe Seattle Gum Wall: Disgust is in the Mouth of the Beholder

February 10th, 2017

The Yuck Factor

BY Christian Ford

Disgust arrives with such a visceral and instinctive punch that we should be forgiven for assuming that it’s hardwired.  To be clear, disgust is a universal human emotion with an equally universal facial expression, which means that it’s intrinsic to the human animal.  But exactly what triggers that response is highly flexible and culturally conditioned.  In other words, we have to learn just what counts as disgusting, which is why different cultures have very different ideas of what you should […]

A Traditional Malting FloorBarley Becoming MaltThe Snape Maltings with its River HighwayA 1930s Thames Sailing Barge Navigates the Thin Water.Hipster + Malting Rake = Craft MaltingFootsteps of the Maltster

February 2nd, 2017

The Maltings

BY Christian Ford

Brewing is the next edifice to fall to the welcome march of “local,” with some craft brewers branching into farming to create a bottled version of farm-to-table.  It’s an interesting development, but for some reason it puts me in mind of how we could only have local food after food became un-local in the first place, which of course means that most food was, in a historic sense, local.  Brewing was very much a part of that, because beer didn’t […]

This Year's Flower - Next Year's OnionSeed Saving:  Hands-On and Open SourceCorn:  Before and After its 9000 Year Makeover

Now that citizens of the United States live in what some cynics (or would that be realists?) describe as a kleptocracy, it’s useful to reflect on just who owns just what.  A lovely and lucid piece by Rachel Cernansky at Ensia details what is called the Open Source Seed Initiative, and it’s well worth reading if you’re interested in, say, food. The short version is that large seed companies (think Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer and so on) have taken to filling […]

Sarpa Salpa:  The Dreamfish Eyes a Potential DreamerDreamfish Chowing Down on their Secret IngredientThe Suez Canal: Ye Olde Quaint Unintended ConsequencesSuez Canal:  Stuff Migrates Above the Waterline, Lives Migrate Below

Rumor has it that ancient Romans once partook of a fish which produced what we would call an acid trip.  The evidence of this is, unsurprisingly, fuzzy — but it’s well within the realm of the possible.  Sarpa salpa is a common denizen of the Mediterranean coast that goes by the name of the cow bream, or the goldline, or the salema porgy.  It’s a frequent “fresh caught” menu item in the south of France, and that’s where a couple […]

A Vineyard Sleeps in Lebanon's Bekaa ValleyGrowing Season in the BekaaThe Fruit of a Fraught Land

In this season of unexpected obituaries, let me add one more name:  Serge Hochar.  He’s been gone two years now, but his story, his life’s work, is so deeply enmeshed with time and history that it seems somehow right to let him settle into history before turning to reflect upon what he accomplished. Hochar was a winemaker of French ancestry who worked in Lebanon.  I was surprised when I heard of his terroir but that was only demonstrating the depth […]