FERN’s Friday FEED: The long, strange history of food dye

Food to dye for

The Atlantic

The use of dyes in food goes back at least to the 14th century, when European dairymen started adding annatto seeds and carrot juice to turn their butter a deep yellow  — the color of milk when cows are on summer grass — all year round. But the practice really escalated in the 19th century, when bakers began adding chalk to whiten their breads and meatpackers dyed meat red. Today, companies are trying to respond to customer pressure by moving away from synthetic dyes to “all-natural” substitutes. Although in some cases, like the insect-derived pink dye in Starbuck’s strawberry frappuccino, “all-natural” didn’t go over so well either. Perhaps the bigger question is why eaters want their food delivered in hyper-color? What about an electric green cake is more appetizing?

John T. Edge: The controversial voice of southern food

The New York Times

“If you become the nation’s most-quoted authority on southern food, you are sure to collect critics, and [John T.] Edge, 54, has his share. Even some fans find his take on southern history wrapped in too much romance, his style too ego-driven or his perspective sometimes skewed by his race, gender and power,” says The New York Times. The director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, Edge has written for nearly every major media outlet about the cuisine of his region — and the culture behind it. But as a white man writing about a food that was built on slavery, Edge has made some enemies, a few of whom have even argued that viewing southern history through the lens of gastronomy offers a picture that’s too rosy. And yet Edge, whose program now has a $1.8-million budget, with hundreds of stories, podcasts and documentaries published to date, says he’s as disturbed by the region’s racism as anyone. “I wanted to reconcile my profound love of the South with the deep anger that boiled in me when I confronted our peculiar history,” he writes in his new book, The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South.

All things in moderation — even healthy eating


When Isabelle and Franzi Ross were growing up, their dad cut sugar, wheat and dairy from his diet to help his psoriasis and arthritis. But whenever he messed up — whenever a bit of gluten or sugar made its way into his mouth — he was plagued with guilt. That guilt turned out to be contagious, as the sisters later started to see their own food in terms of “good” and “bad,” vigilantly cutting out the latter to the point where they hardly ate much of anything. They developed eating disorders in college in what has become an increasingly common story as Americans struggle to define the so-called right way to eat, losing moderation in the process. “Food should not be a constant tug-of-war between denial and blame but a normal, positive part of life,” the sisters write today. (The illustrations make this story.)

Dinner with the Jetsons

Fast Company

The hi-tech future of food is sure to be a wacky place. Reimagine Food, “a Barcelona think-tank that brings together hundreds of food companies, entrepreneurs, and future-watchers,” predicts that someday we’ll have diets customized to our gut biomes, while cities will measure the quality of life of residents based on food consumption, and food scanners will tell us what’s really in our food, says Fast Company. As for agriculture, much of our farming could move to highly controlled, indoor operations — or Mars. British scientists are preparing to plant lettuce on the red planet in 2018.

Public lands are a national treasure, and a political headache

Christian Science Monitor

“The federal government owns 47 percent of all the land in 11 Western states,” says The Christian Science Monitor. “That ranges from a high of 85 percent in Nevada to a low of 30 percent in Montana.” The fight over how to manage those lands isn’t new, but the Trump administration has ushered in a new era of the Sagebrush Rebellion, as state politicians, ranchers, recreationists, hunters and extraction companies vie for control. Trump has proposed a 12-percent budget cut for the Department of the Interior, which manages federal public lands. That cut would exacerbate the long maintenance backlog on these lands, a key argument used by people who want to see the states take control of federal lands. But others point out that state coffers aren’t exactly robust, and suggest that the temptation to sell off the land would be strong. Of the 77 million acres granted to 11 Western states upon statehood, 44 percent have already been sold.

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