FERN’s Friday Feed: A bad burn

Welcome to FERN’s Friday Feed (#FFF), where we share the stories from this week that made us stop and think.

Global demand for charcoal is destroying Africa’s forests

The New Republic

“In 2020, the United States alone imported over 158 million kilograms of charcoal from various countries,” writes Chekezie Omeje. “Africa accounted for about two-thirds of global wood charcoal production in 2018, with dire consequences for the continent’s carbon-absorbing forests. Deforestation is frequently blamed on local dependence on wood fuels, in addition to land cleared for farming, timber, and construction. But there is also another factor: illicit charcoal export to countries in Europe and North America with abundant modern energy sources, consuming charcoal for leisure and novelty. And because illicit charcoal export is hard to track, very little is known about the extent of the issue.”

The unlikely success of the fish stick


“[T]he most peculiar thing about fish sticks may be their mere existence,” writes Ute Eberle. “They debuted on October 2, 1953, when General Foods released them under the Birds Eye label. The breaded curiosities were part of a lineup of newly introduced rectangular foods, which included chicken sticks, ham sticks, veal sticks, eggplant sticks, and dried lima bean sticks. Only the fish stick survived. More than that, it thrived. In a world in which many people are wary of seafood, the fish stick spread even behind the Iron Curtain of the Cold War.”

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How urban inequality affects wildlife, and what to do about it


“A report released last year found that communities of color are almost three times more likely than white ones to live in ‘nature deprived’ areas with little to no access to trees, parks, and gardens,” writes Brianna Baker. “The shortage of greenery … limits the areas where wildlife can thrive, forcing animals into smaller, less diverse habitats where, among other things, they may come into conflict with humans. To [Chris] Schell, the solution is to design cities that work for all people and animals … Carving out green spaces for both humans and wildlife to enjoy can foster the biodiversity we need to draw down carbon, cool our cities, and keep our air and water clean.”

Can grafting save Puglia’s ancient olive trees?

Atlas Obscura

Xylella fastidiosa, a bacteria that researchers believe arrived around 2010 from Latin America … has infected at least one-third of the 60 million olive trees in Puglia, which produces 12 percent of the world’s olive oil,” writes Agostino Petroni. As the government dithered and farmers embraced conspiracy theories about the blight, an agronomist named Giovanni Melcarne, whose family has been raising olives in Puglia since 1500, invested his life savings in an ongoing experiment: “to see if the [olive] varieties known to be resistant to Xyella—Leccino and Favolosa—could be grafted on older trees, and if other types had some resistance, too.”

The diet industry is coming for our post-lockdown bodies

The New York Times

The diet industry took a hit in 2020. Now, despite conflicting evidence on whether Americans actually lost ground in the neverending battle of the bulge, it’s looking to reassert control over our minds and our wallets. “[T]he weight-loss industry isn’t going to let a lack of data dull its zeal to convince Americans that yes, we got fat, and that now we need to get up off our couches and get back into shape — by buying their app, or signing up for their meal-delivery service or enrolling in their program,” writes Jennifer Weiner. “These corporate entities have been joined by the freelance scolds, the people who are not going to miss a chance to feel superior to their friendly neighborhood fatties.”