welcome to FERN Friday Feed (#FFF), where we share this week’s stories that made us stop and think.
An Entitled Tycoon, an Angry Chef, and the Birth of the French Fries
“Any search for the origins of this unique snack must lead to George Crum (born George Speck), a 19th-century chef of Native American and African-American descent who made his name at Moon’s Lake House in the resort town of Saratoga Springs, New York. York. York,” writes Brandon Tensley. “As the story goes, one day in 1853, railroad and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt was eating at Moon’s when he ordered his French fries back to the kitchen because they were too thick. Furious at such a picky eater, Crum sliced some potatoes as thin as he could, fried them until crisp, and sent them to Vanderbilt as a joke. Instead of taking the gesture as an insult, Vanderbilt was overjoyed.”
A dystopian future of food that looks a lot like the present, only more
“In windowless beige back rooms, a hundred men (mostly) defended their data-gathering and organizing apps,” writes Jaya Saxena. “They asked seemingly easy questions: Why shouldn’t you be able to order not just food, but also flowers, toiletries, and shoes? Why should geography determine which restaurants you can order from? Why should you have to leave home? Andy Rebhun, El Pollo Loco’s senior vice president of marketing and digital, noted during the drone demo that “I don’t really feel like customers need to travel to pick up their food.” And I sat there, watching the drone video and the guys exchanging business cards as they chatted, thinking: Oh shit Y it is so?”
As fast food culture went global, so did autoimmune diseases
“More and more people around the world are suffering because their immune systems can no longer differentiate between healthy cells and invading microorganisms,” writes Robin McKie. New DNA research points to “changes in diet… as more and more countries adopted Western-style diets and people bought more fast food. “Fast food diets lack certain important ingredients, such as fiber, and evidence suggests that this alteration affects a person’s microbiome.” [researcher Carola] Vinuesa said. “These changes in our microbiomes trigger autoimmune diseases, of which more than 100 types have now been discovered.”
The Kings of California’s Irrigation Canals
“López is a zanjero, or caretaker of ditches, in the Imperial Valley, an agricultural extension that lies between the Saltón Sea and the border with Mexico,” writes Marcela Davison Avilés. “The Spanish word for ‘zanja’ is ditch. Since the days of old Alta California, zanjeros have directed irrigation water where it is needed, releasing exactly the right amount for crops to grow, and stopping the flow when the land has had enough. California leads the nation in farm cash receipts: The Imperial Valley alone produced more than $2 billion worth of crops in 2019. Every farm in the valley needs water supplied by the Imperial Irrigation District. López is his delivery man.
Fed up with food scandals, more Chinese buy directly from farmers
“As China’s middle class continues to grow at an astonishing rate… so does their concern over food quality,” writes Matthew Loh. “Especially now that an avalanche of food scandals continues to rock the country…including street vendors mixing raw sewage with waste fat from slaughterhouses to sell as cooking oil, and reports that some boba tea pearls they have been made from leather and rubber bits… Tian, who works at a social agency, said he rarely visits his local supermarket these days. He is one of thousands across China now ordering products directly from small rural farmers while doing his best to avoid the dubious domestic supply chain.”