FERN’s Friday Feed: The world’s breadbasket

FERN’s Friday Feed: The world’s breadbasket

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

How American wheat changed the world

The New York Review of Books

“‘I have not felt so much at home for a long time,’ wrote Mark Twain of arriving in Odessa in 1867. It was a curious sentiment … But [Odessa’s] resemblance to his hometown of Hannibal, Missouri, was surprisingly strong,” writes Daniel Immerwahr. “[B]oth cities were wheat ports” and “Twain’s visit to Odessa came at a turning point. Ukraine had been the breadbasket of Europe, but the US wheat trade was about to dramatically overtake it. By the end of the century, New York exported as many tons of grain per week as Odessa at its height had exported per year. Did this grain trade matter? Hardly anything mattered more, argues the historian Scott Reynolds Nelson in his gripping Oceans of Grain: How American Wheat Remade the World.”

How foreign private equity hooked New England’s fishing industry

ProPublica and The New Bedford Light

“Blue Harvest and other companies linked to private equity firms and foreign investors have taken over much of New England’s fishing industry,” writes Will Sennott. “As already harsh working conditions have deteriorated, the new group of owners has depressed income by pushing expenses onto fishermen … Blue Harvest has also benefited from lax antitrust rules governing how much fish it can catch. ‘It’s a nickel-and-dime game,’ said the 40-year-old [fisherman Jerry] Leeman … ‘Tell me how I can catch 50,000 pounds of fish yet I don’t know what my kids are going to have for dinner.’”

Gophers farm to supplement their diet

The Atlantic

Pocket gophers “spend nearly their entire life excavating and maintaining a series of labyrinthine tunnels that can stretch several hundred feet,” writes Katherine J. Wu. These tunnels “are a particularly choice environment for roots to flourish in; the rodents, in turn, reap the nutritional rewards. The partnership may even qualify as ‘a low-level food-production system,’ managed by the rodents like a rudimentary subterranean farm, [biologist Veronica] Selden told me. ‘They’re creating a space for their crops to grow and then harvesting them’ in a way that enhances their diet to a pretty decent degree.”

Banchan is everything


“Even as banchan is becoming more known, it may still be largely unfamiliar to non-Korean diners who aren’t sure how to incorporate it into a meal,” writes Giaae Kwon. “Banchan is typically served first, before the main dishes arrive, so they’re often mistaken for appetizers. ‘Banchan isn’t a separate course that you’re eating with your main,’ says Danny Lee, co-owner/chef of Anju, a modern Korean restaurant in Washington, DC. ‘It’s actually meant to accentuate and enhance your meal from start to finish.’ For example, take seolleongtang, a thick, beefy soup made by simmering ox bones for hours until the broth becomes milky white. It’s delicious on its own, heavy and rich, but take a mouthful of seolleongtang with rice, then take a bite of crunchy, acidic kkakdugi, and the whole meal comes together.”

Climate change, overfishing put tuna out of reach for Kenya’s local fishers

The Associated Press

“‘Tuna is not for everyone,’ lamented 65-year-old Chapoka Miongo, a handline fisher on Kenya’s south coast, from his dugout canoe. He’s one of many artisanal fishers in Shimoni, a bustling coastal town 82 kilometers south of Mombasa,” writes Wanjohi Kabukuru. “‘My canoe is only suitable for the near shore and only those with the big boats and money can access tuna,’ he said. Miongo explained that warming waters due to climate change forced tuna species to alter their migration patterns, making it harder for local fishers to catch them. Fish stocks have also decreased due to a lack of sustainable fishing by larger vessels.”