I’ve talked about the podcast Gastropod previously over on my other blog, as part of my efforts to write more about interesting sound projects. At the time I thought, really I should save it to talk about it over here but it fitted with the theme of the post I was writing too well. However, as I’d only recently started listening to the podcast regularly, I decided to download the previous six months worth of podcasts onto my mp3 player and was slowly working through the backlog. Then one day, the other week, as I synced my player, instead of my unplayed podcasts number going down it went up: by about 50 podcasts. Some glitch in my iTunes caused it to make all the podcasts I’d listened to on my mp3 player since the last sync appear as unlistened to and every single episode of Gastropod from the last two years (including episodes I’d already listened to and deleted) to download. How? Why? Once I’d cleared out the unnecessary duplication I found I now had 30 episodes of one podcast waiting for me. I decided to make a project of it. Listen to the entire back history of the series over the month of April and blog about it!
For clarity, I should explain, Gastropod is not a cooking podcast, it’s a podcast about the science and history of food – though I recommend listening to it with snacks because I’m regularly really hungry when I finish an episode.
(The first thing I noted, having gone right back to the start of the podcast, is how British Nicola Twilley’s accent is in that episode. I knew from listening to later episodes that she had grown up in the UK, but – to me – her accent’s very American so I presumed that either she’d emigrated while still a kid or that her parents were American and she’d moved back to the states. But she mentions in the very first episode her parents teasing her about her American accent – and using her fork US-style – and when she was interviewing an English contributor her own accent got much more English. Not that that’s particularly unusual but it was rather charming to see that play out as her accent was notably more American when she was interacting with her co-host.)
Having now listened to the entire backlog of the show – they just finished the current series – I can thoroughly and unreservedly recommend the show if you enjoy podcasts and reading/hearing interesting backstories about the food and drink that we consume. It is, however, not a podcast to listen to if you’re the kind of person who likes to be able to enjoy their food in an uncomplicated fashion. While both the presenters are omnivores, they never shy away from the dark side of some of the foods they explore, whether that’s the historical or current exploitation of workers or land that has lead to popularity of certain kinds of foods becoming popular and varieties replacing each other, the problematic relationship between food/agricultural science and industrial agriculture, or animal cruelty. A sizeable chunk of their episode on the history of beef in the US explored the connections between current livestock breeding programs and the eugenics movement in the US at the start of the last century. (About half the history units that I took at university were on US history, it never touched on this at all which is disturbing not just because of the subject matter.) Personally, I love that about the show. I’m quite happy to self-describe as a bit of a foodie, but the inherent classism shown by a lot of foodies and a lot of the food theories in general circulation is deeply uncomfortable to me. It’s preferable to me that people know where the food comes from and that they understand the costs and in some cases problematic issues around particular types of food. I like being informed about what I put in my mouth and this podcast is a brilliant source for that. I’ve learned all sorts of fascinating things about food and eating and the science and history behind both of these things. For example did you know that in Ancient Mesopotamia there was a Goddess who preferred act of devotion was to be given cheese? Or the Mafia got started in the citrus growing boom in Sicily that was caused by the English Navy buying lemons in bulk to fend off scurvy? Or, for that matter, that we have bitter receptors not just as part of our taste buds but also in our gut and respiratory systems, and that scientists suspect this may be why people who don’t like bitter tastes are more predisposed to sinus infections? (I’m one of those people; I was so excited to discover that it was an actual legitimate thing!)
I’m a little biased as they did a double bill on food and sound – going clubbing or to a gig and getting that bass thump in your chest is the closest we get to experiencing sound the way a plant does – and sound is my other great passion in life, but really the show is great, it makes me want to write blog posts on the topics they write about pretty much every third episode. Go listen!