FERN’s Friday Feed: How a Maine soup kitchen beat the virus

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

Feed the people

FERN and Eater

In March 2020, Covid-19 forced the Preble Street soup kitchen in Portland, Maine, to close its dining room for the first time in 39 years. But, as Christian Letourneau reports in FERN’s latest story, the soup kitchen staff went mobile, tracking and delivering meals and other services to the growing ranks of the hungry and homeless who scattered across the city as shelters and other aid operations shut down or restricted access.

Evidence grows that neonics harm mammals, fish and birds, too

FERN and National Geographic

Neonicotinoids, the most widely used pesticides in the world, have been linked by “scores of studies … to the steady decline of insects across North America and Europe,” writes Elizabeth Royte. “Bees, essential for crop pollination, have been especially hard hit. The evidence of harm is strong enough that the European Union has banned outdoor use of three popular neonics. And while the U.S. hasn’t yet taken such decisive action, it’s becoming increasingly clear that bees and other beneficial insects aren’t the only animals at risk.”

How a New England town kept the virus at bay, and our fish supply flowing

National Geographic

As the pandemic threatened to shut down the fishery that defines New Bedford, Massachusetts, the “city retraced its history dealing with past outbreaks of communicable diseases, and officials and community members expediently prioritized the science around the novel coronavirus,” writes Julia Sklar. “The response wasn’t perfect, and low-wage workers on the frontlines initially bore the brunt before precautions were adopted. But in many ways, New Bedford is a rare coronavirus success story among the nation’s food processing hubs.”

My watermelon summer


“Almost two years ago, I read about the Bradford watermelon in a magazine. Nathaniel Bradford cultivated the melon on his farm near Sumter, South Carolina, in the 1850s. Prized for its sweetness, the Bradford fell out of commercial production because its delicate rind makes shipping impossible. I was instantly intrigued. Could this melon really taste so different from the mass-produced, grocery store variety? I had to find out,” writes Debra Freeman. “That summer, Fitz and I started tracking down other heirloom watermelons … What started as a weekend hobby morphed into an obsession.”

Spaghetti-Os Pie? The absurd logic of internet recipe hacks.

The Atlantic

“Disgusting food goes viral for the same reason you ask whoever is close by to smell the awful, forgotten thing you just found in the back of the fridge,” writes Amanda Mull. “By the millions, people voluntarily look at things they find revolting, over and over again, before gleefully spreading the experience to others. The cycle continues—more people document themselves trying out the offending recipes, the sense of communal disgust expands—until another video emerges to briefly obliterate our understanding of how other humans eat when the cameras are off. But the mystery here is really about us: Why can’t we look away?”

The moral calculus of New York’s second attempt to resume indoor dining

The New Yorker

“In December, the city and state’s worsening infection rates and climbing death tolls were not the fault of desperate restaurateurs who chose to open their dining rooms, nor were they the fault of people who trusted the leaders who gave them permission to go and eat,” writes Helen Rosner. “But today, on the cusp of a second, nearly identical experiment with indoor dining, the moral weight of our individual decisions has increased. We know what happened last time; we know the limits of what this move can fix, and the extent of whom it can harm. There is a flip side to the fallacy of individual responsibility during the pandemic: just because we’ve been given permission to do something doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do.”