FERN’s Friday Feed: The profound truth of soil erosion

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

How the loss of topsoil sacrifices America’s natural heritage

Yale Environment 360

Public discussion of a new study that delivered the first “region-wide, landscape-scale sense of the extent of Midwestern soil erosion” has inevitably focused on the economic implications, writes Verlyn Klinkenborg: “The loss of topsoil on 30 million acres may result in a possible $3 billion annual loss to ‘Midwestern farmers.’ I have to admire the narrowness of that interpretation, which is completely consistent with the economic assumptions that have governed industrial farming since World War II. The catastrophic loss of an irreplaceable resource — what you might call an essential part of our common earthly heritage  — is construed as an annual loss of income to the farmers who operate those farms.”

A pork plant where the virus is relentless, the human tragedy outrageous

FERN and Documenting Covid-19

A coronavirus outbreak at the Farmer John pork processing plant in Los Angeles County that began nearly a year ago has been the focus of two state investigations. Cases at the Smithfield Foods-owned plant have more than doubled — with over 300 cases reported in January alone — as the county has become a Covid-19 epicenter, Leah Douglas and Georgia Gee report in FERN’s latest story, produced in collaboration with Documenting Covid-19.

Hawaii’s taro farms decline, even as demand for the sacred crop grows

Honolulu Civil Beat

Taro, or kalo as it’s called in Hawaiian, is a sacred crop, tied to Hawaiian beliefs about creation,” writes Yoohyun Jung. But “[p]roduction has declined in the past few decades, save for a few spikes here and there, because of climate events, aging farmers, and barriers to accessing land, water and infrastructure, farmers say … Much of Hawaii’s agricultural land is owned by large landowners and not all of them are utilizing the land for farming. Despite 47% of all of Hawaii’s land being dedicated to agricultural use, a comprehensive statewide study of satellite imagery and field interviews showed just 8% is being used for growing crops.”

Was human evolution driven by ‘a quest for deliciousness’?

The Guardian

“Ancient humans who had the ability to smell and desire more complex aromas, and enjoy food and drink with a sour taste, gained evolutionary advantages over their less-discerning rivals, argue the authors of a new book about the part played by flavour in our development,” writes Donna Ferguson. “Some of the most significant inventions early humans made, such as stone tools and the controlled use of fire, were also partly driven by their pursuit of flavour and a preference for food they considered delicious, according to the new hypothesis.”

How the pandemic revived the art of microwave cooking

The New Yorker

In college, while paging through Barbara Kafka’s 1987 cookbook about the hidden culinary potential of the microwave, Helen Rosner recalls being “gobsmacked by the realization that the microwave is essentially a machine that makes steam … a weird, electrical steam oven, a brute-force bain-marie.” Yet, after spending her “adult years using the device mostly to pop popcorn, zap leftovers, and thaw frozen bricks of ground beef,” the pandemic upheaval brought “me back to the old idea that my microwave might be a cabinet of wonders.”