FERN’s Friday Feed: Whither the knish?

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

Once a working-class staple, the knish has faded from New York’s culture and politics

The Forward

“A century ago, a knish was the lunch of striving Jewish garment workers,” writes Andrew Silverstein. “As more Jews entered the middle class and moved out to the suburbs, the knish became more a food of comfort than a food of subsistence.” From the start, though, the knish was “a New York thing as much as a Jewish thing … [W]hoever on the shtetl thought to encase potato, kasha, cabbage, or even liver in an easy-to-hold pastry dough must have anticipated the New York street corner. The hot dog had to be dressed up in a bun, and pizza needed to be sliced in eighths to be handled by a New Yorker on the go. The knish arrived at Ellis Island ready-made for a baseball stadium or Delancey Street.”

The peril and persistence of Iraq’s Mesopotamian marshes

The New York Times

“The Mesopotamian marshes, a series of wetlands that sit near Iraq’s southeast border … are home to a people called the Ma’dan, also known as the Marsh Arabs, who live deep in the wetlands, mostly as buffalo breeders in isolated settlements, a majority of which are reachable only by boat,” writes Emilienne Malfatto. Over the last 40 years the marshes have been “ravaged by war, famine and repression … Today, after being re-flooded and partially restored, the marshes are once again endangered — by climate change, lack of ecological awareness on a local level and, perhaps most dramatically, by the construction of dams in Turkey and Syria and upriver in Iraq.”

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Tracking a bug’s life in Britain

The Guardian

Britain has “tens of thousands of volunteer nature recorders, whose detailed sightings of flora and fauna, or key events in their lifecycles, are vital for keeping tabs on biodiversity as the climate warms, habitats shrink, and pesticides and pollution degrade the quality of land,” writes Isabella Kaminski. “It’s a hobby with a long history in the UK, where amateurs have been stuffing, pinning and pressing specimens for centuries. One of the earliest volunteer naturalists to adopt a more studious approach was Gilbert White, a parson whose observations of wildlife in his 1789 book Natural History laid the ground for modern ecology.”

In Mexico, destroying the forest to save it

Bloomberg Green

In 2018, the Mexican government launched Sembrando Vida, or Sowing Life, “a $3.4 billion tree-planting plan intended to help meet climate goals … while fighting Mexico’s rampant poverty and inequality,” writes Max De Haldevang. The project “incentivizes farmers to clear land of jungle in preparation for planting,” a strategy that local farmers say ends up destroying more trees than it creates. The World Resources Institute, “an environmental non-profit that has worked with the Mexican government to monitor the results of Sowing Life, estimates that the program may have caused the loss of nearly 73,000 hectares of forest coverage in 2019, its first full year.”

The nature of plastics

Orion Magazine

“The vast majority of what is now at sea began on land, dumped both deliberately and inadvertently, an estimated 8 million metric tons each year,” writes Meera Subramanian. “Plastic factories spill preproduction pellets known as nurdles, feedstock of the plastic production pipeline, easy to transport to other factories and easy to form into . . . anything. The nurdles escape. The objects they’re molded into escape. Things get used and discarded. Even when optimistically collected and bound for a ‘sanitary’ landfill, things fall off the backs of trucks or fly away with the wind. Rains flush it all down the sewer. The sewer daylights into a river, and the river travels to the sea. Along the way, I’ve come to learn, life takes hold.”