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Food Non-Fiction

Food Non-Fiction tells the incredible true stories behind food. Every week, we pick a food topic and delve deep into its history and fascinating facts. We look forward to taking you on this wild food journey, through history, and around the world.
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Now displaying: June, 2015
Jun 30, 2015

In this Food Non-Fiction podcast episode, we tell the insane but true story of when Parisians ate zoo animals to survive the 1870-1871 Siege of Paris. We transport you back in time to those five months when Prussian soldiers surrounded Paris to starve the city into surrendering. The five months started in September, 1870. As the months went by, people went from eating cows, pigs and sheep to eating horses. Then they resorted to eating street rats, as well as their own pet dogs and cats. Finally, in December, the zoo put its animals up for sale and the rich bought the meat for exotic meals. The 2 elephants, Castor and Pollux were sold together for 27,000 francs. In one of the most fascinating historical meals, chef Choron created an epic Christmas dinner made of zoo animals. All this was paired with the finest wines. The very rich managed to feast in the midst of starvation.

References:

Engines of Our Ingenuity

Defeated Flesh: Welfare, Warfare and the Making of Modern France by Bertrand Taithe

Chronicles of Old Paris: Exploring the Historic City of Light by John Baxter

Historynet.com Translated Memoir of Balloon Pilot

The Medical Times and Gazette, Volume 2

Jun 23, 2015

In this Food Non-Fiction podcast episode, we tell the origin story of chopsticks. During a 1993-1995 excavation of Neolithic ruins in North China, archaeologists found sticks made of bone. They believe that these bone sticks are the first versions of chopsticks. Previous bone sticks were considered to be hairpins but these bone sticks were placed close to the hands, alongside other things used by the hands, such as pots and tools, whereas previous bone sticks were more polished and placed near the head at burial sites.

The first chopsticks may have only been used to cooking, but eventually it became the norm to use them to eat as well. This isn't surprising given some context. North China was dry and cold, so people ate foods that were both juicy and hot - foods like stews. They likely ate their stews while the food was still piping hot, so the time between cooking and eating was minimal. Chopsticks were used to stir the food while cooking and then people could have simply used those same chopsticks to just begin eating right away. The chopsticks norm would have been spread, because North China happened to be the political and cultural centre of China at the time.

Spoons actually came before chopsticks, but as the popular foods changed from millet porridge to the foods of dim sum (eg. dumplings), spoons became less important.

How to hold chopsticks (quoted from the book "Chopsticks: A Cultural and Culinary History")

“First, chopsticks users generally believe that the most effective and elegant way to hold the sticks is to place the lower one at the base of the thumb and secure this position by resting it between the ring and middle fingers in order to keep the stick stationary. Then the upper stick is to be held like a pencil, using the index and middle fingers for movement and the thumb for stabilization. In conveying food, the two sticks are worked together to grasp the food for transportation and delivery.

References:

The book "Chopsticks: A Cultural and Culinary History" by Professor Q. Edward Wang

Special thanks to Professor Wang for granting us an interview!

Jun 16, 2015

In this podcast episode of Food Non-Fiction, we talk about the baker's dozen. When someone says "a baker's dozen" they mean 13. But why is it 13 when a dozen is actually 12? The history of "a baker's dozen" goes back to medieval England. In 1266, King Henry III revived an old statute called the "Assize of Bread and Ale", which set the price of bread in relation to the price of wheat. To make sure that even the poorest of citizens could buy bread (because it was a staple food), bread was priced at a quarter penny, a half penny or a penny. In years when wheat prices went up, the loaves got smaller, but you could still always buy bread for a quarter penny. The Worshipful Company of Bakers was the name of the baker's guild - one of the oldest guild in England. They were given the power to enforce the Assize of Bread and Ale and would punish bakers that sold underweight bread. In order to make sure they wouldn't be punished for selling underweight bread, bakers gave customers extra bread. Extra slices were called "inbreads" and extra loaves were called "vantage loaves".

References:

The Worshipful Company of Bakers
Phrase Origins
Bakers in the Middle Ages
Wonderopolis

Jun 9, 2015

This Food Non-Fiction podcast episode is about the founding foodie, Thomas Jefferson. More specifically, we talk about his gardens at Monticello. Jefferson collected crops from all over the known world in his time. He planted a huge variety of fruits and vegetables and helped to spread the seeds. The south-facing design of the Monticello gardens allowed him to plant crops from cold to tropical climates as the location captured a lot of sunlight and tempered the cold winters. Jefferson enjoyed salads and even grew sesame seeds so that he could make salad dressing oil out of them. The Monticello gardens are indeed amazing, but they would not have existed without the work of slaves. In this episode we talk about 2 people who were kept as slaves and worked at Monticello. The first is James Hemings and the second is Edith Fossett - both were trained as French chefs and cooked amazing meals.

References:

Monticello.org
Thomas Jefferson's ice cream recipe (typed out)
Thomas Jefferson's ice cream recipe (handwritten original)

 

Jun 2, 2015

This Food Non-Fiction podcast episode is all about mangos! This is our first listener requested episode so thank you Spencer! Looking at fossils, we can trace the appearance of the first mangos to around 30 million years ago in Northeast India, Myanmar and Bangladesh. Looking at old Hindu writings found in Southeast Asia and India, we can trace mango cultivation (for domestic use) back to 4000 B.C.E.  so that’s 6,000 years ago. Buddhist monks were amongst the first to cultivate the fruit and it is said that Buddha himself often meditated under the shade of a mango tree. Looking at historical records, we can see how the fruit spread. Mangos were spread over the world by traveling with people. They needed to travel with humans because their seeds are so big that they can’t be dispersed by animals eating them and pooping out or otherwise discarding the seeds further away / and the seeds definitely can’t travel by blowing in the wind. 

Nutrition
One mango is around 135 calories and will hold most of your daily recommended vitamin C as well as almost a third of your daily recommended Vitamin A. Actually the vitamin content changes depending on ripeness - when the mango is less ripe/more green, its vitamin C content is at its highest and when it is more ripe, its Vitamin A content is at its highest. Mangos contain over 20 different vitamins and minerals and are a great source of fiber. 

Health Benefits
Mangos nutrients support a healthy immune function, normal blood pressure, good vision and strong bones. There are studies that also claim added protection from certain cancers as well as stroke.

Cooking
Their natural tenderizing properties make mangos a great ingredient to marinate meat in.

Storage
Refrigerate mangos when they’re perfectly ripe. If you haven’t cut them, they’ll stay good for around five days. If you’ve peeled and chopped them, keep them in the freezer in an airtight container. They can last about 6 months like that.

Selection
- Check firmness. Push against the mango’s skin and look for something in between squishy and hard.
- You should also be able to smell its fruity aroma on the stem end. 

Useful References

Mango Food Nutrition
Fruits Production Statistics
History and Production

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