FERN’s Friday Feed: The racial anxiety of watermelon

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


“My hand hovered over the fruit tray, about to spear a chunk of watermelon, when a white person walked up. I paused. It didn’t matter that she was a colleague and likely focused, like I was, on getting a pre-lunch snack during a long meeting,” writes Cynthia Greenlee. “I moved my fork carefully away from the watermelon, grazing over the pineapple, and picked strawberries instead. Safer territory, I thought. Safer fruit … [E]ven though I was surrounded by many black and brown faces, it was the presence of white people — even these aware, friendly, and familiar white people — that gave me literal pause. I didn’t want to be an updated version of that Sambo figure, tap-dancing and braying in joy at a succulent watermelon wedge.”

“Beneath the green vegetable world we see is a dark microbial world we don’t. The crops we eat, the forests that sustain us and most other life forms, even the regulation of Earth’s climate — all benefit from a shadowy network of fungi and bacteria that mobilize soil nutrients and trade them with plants for sugars and fats. And yet,” writes Gabriel Popkin, “the workings of this subterranean society are almost unknown to scientists.” New research has found that “plants and their fungal conspirators are not just cooperating with each other but also engaging in a raucous and often cutthroat marketplace ruled by supply and demand, where everyone is out to get the best deal for themselves and their kind.”

The ‘end-of-meat’ forces confront their ‘better-meat’ critics

New Food Economy

Meat-eating is under assault like never before, thanks to rising concern about the industry’s role in exacerbating climate change, as well as the longstanding health risks of a meat-heavy diet. But as Lynne Curry writes, a growing chorus of critics says the environmental and public-health claims of the anti-meat campaign are wrongheaded. “The simplified public health message is dangerous,” says Andrew Gunther, executive director of A Greener World, a sustainable livestock farming organization. “If we thought the soil, air and water could be fixed by a single solution, we’d advocate for that.”

The dark side of the chicken sandwich’s viral moment

Rolling Stone

We’ve had a lot of fun in recent weeks mulling the meaning of a national fever for Popeye’s new chicken sandwich. And yet, writes E.J. Dickson: “A Tennessee man … filed suit against Popeyes, accusing the brand of false advertising after it ran out of sandwiches; terrifyingly, on Monday a Houston man pulled a gun on employees when they informed him the sandwich was no longer in stock. Thankfully, no one was injured in the latter incident … Yet that story, combined with reports of Popeyes’ employees being subject to grueling working conditions as a result of the incredible demand for the sandwich, draws into sharp relief the actual potential consequences of a fast food item going viral.”

The miraculous existence of New Hampshire’s White Mountain butterfly


“The White Mountain fritillary, a pretty orange and black butterfly with a wingspan just under an inch and a half, has been found solely in the 4,158-acre alpine zone of New Hampshire,” writes Paula Tracy. “It was discovered 140 years ago but remained largely forgotten until relatively recently.” Now, scientists are trying to understand how this tiny, delicate creature thrives in a place with “some of the worst weather in the world.” “We don’t even know what the caterpillar eats,” said Samantha Derrenbacher, a biological aide for the state Fish and Game Department.