FERN’s Friday Feed: The next Dust Bowl?

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

Scientists warn of modern-day Dust Bowl in the Great Plains

Yale Environment 360

“Improved agricultural practices and widespread irrigation may stave off another agricultural calamity in the Great Plains,” writes Nathaniel Scharping. “But scientists are now warning that two inescapable realities — rising temperatures and worsening drought — could still spawn a modern-day Dust Bowl.”

Has the American truffle finally broken through?

FERN and Smithsonian Magazine

“For the past two years, I’ve been hunting truffles around the world for a forthcoming book,” writes Rowan Jacobsen in FERN’s latest story. “I’ve followed some very muddy dogs through medieval Italian landscapes in the dead of night. I’ve dug black truffles in the arid oak plantations of the Spanish highlands. I’ve watched deals go down in Hungarian parking lots. I’ve seen stupendous truffle patches. But I’ve never seen a patch as productive as the one in these pines—especially not in America, where truffle farming has been a 20-year train wreck.”

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Hundreds of PPP loans went to fake farms


“Kabbage, an online lending platform … processed nearly 300,000 PPP loans before the first round of funds ran out in August 2020, second only to Bank of America,” write Derek Willis and Lydia DePillis. “In total, ProPublica found 378 small loans totaling $7 million to fake business entities, all of which were structured as single-person operations and received close to the largest loan for which such micro-businesses were eligible. The overwhelming majority of them are categorized as farms, even in the unlikeliest of locales, from potato fields in Palm Beach to orange groves in Minnesota.”

Our history with processed food is ancient, and more complicated than we think


“Is it fair to paint all processed food with the same brush of disdain? We forget that innovations in food processing have also helped to improve nutrition, reduce food waste and provide us with more leisure time,” writes Nicola Temple. “It is far more complex than to claim all processed food is bad. Processed food has, for better or for worse (and likely both), changed our relationship with food. Long before that, it shaped us as a species.”

The new food stars of TikTok

The Guardian

When sous chef Poppy O’Toole lost her job early in the pandemic, she began uploading her own recipes to TikTok. A year later, she “has 1.5 million followers … and a book deal,” writes Sirin Kale. She “is one of the ascendant stars of food TikTok along with American vegan chef Tabitha Brown, 17-year-old Starbucks barista Maya Smith, whose video for Skittles Frappuccinos has nearly 6m likes (diabetics, watch at your peril), and angry New Jersey muscle-head Gianluca Conte … whose catchphrase is ‘pasta, ya asshole!’”