FERN’s Friday Feed: An ancient kibble question

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

Why have humans fed animals throughout history?

The New York Times

“Humans feed animals all the time, whether it’s our pets, the chickens we plan to eat or the ducks at the park pond, even though we shouldn’t,” writes James Gorman. “Throughout history in fat years and lean across many cultures, sometimes with no apparent reason, humans have fed animals of every imaginable stripe in every imaginable way. Some researchers think the desire to give food to other animals may drive domestication as much as the human desire to eat them does. But the fact is, “[a]lmost nothing about humans feeding animals is fully understood.”

The ‘magic’ behind viral videos of women making gross food


Social media has been abuzz for months about an increasing number of viral videos showing (mostly) white, suburban women making “extremely questionable” dishes, such as Spaghetti-O pie and the infamous “counter nachos.” But the pontificating about what it all means, writes Ryan Broderick, has overlooked the fact that, “more often than not, these videos are coming from a handful of the same Facebook pages … Craziest of all, they’re all basically connected to one magician named Rick Lax.” Lax has “worked for David Copperfield, written several books about Las Vegas,’ and “when the pandemic hit … he started bringing his friends into his Facebook network. ‘I’m not a foodie, I’m not an expert,’ Lax told Eater. ‘Calling [the recipes] “gross,” I would object to that.’”

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A ranching community faces a pandemic-driven surge of mental health issues

Kaiser Health News

“The pandemic … has been a surprising boon for many farms and ranches as higher consumer demand amid food shortages has boosted business,” write Vignesh Ramachandran and Eli Imadali. But it “also has led to mental health challenges, including serious stress, anxiety and depression among farmers and ranchers, health officials said.” In farm country, “[t]he stigma of acknowledging the need for mental health care can prevent people from seeking it. For those who overcome that obstacle and look for help, they are likely to find underfunded, understaffed and under-equipped health providers who often don’t have the bandwidth or expertise for sufficient mental health support.”

Cicadas have an existential problem

The Atlantic

“Many insects harbor beneficial bacteria called endosymbionts, which live permanently inside their cells,” writes Ed Yong. “Cicadas usually have two—Sulcia and Hodgkinia. Between them, they produce 10 amino acids that are missing from the cicadas’ diet of plant sap. Because those amino acids are essential, so too are the bacteria. Without them, the cicadas can’t survive. The opposite is also true: Inside the cushy confines of their insect hosts, endosymbionts eventually lose the genes they’d need to exist independently. They become forever tethered to their insects, and their insects to them.” This, as you will see, presents a complicated life-or-death conundrum that is likely to get worse.

Feeling like both a tourist and an exhibit at the Disgusting Food Museum

The New Yorker

“To be a new immigrant is to be trapped in a disgusting-food museum, confused by the unfamiliar and unsettled by the familiar-looking,” Jiayang Fan. “The firm, crumbly white blocks that you mistake for tofu are called feta. The vanilla icing that tastes spoiled is served on top of potatoes and is called sour cream. At a certain point, the trickery of food starts to become mundane. Disgusting foods become regulars in the cafeteria, and at the dinner table.”