Bite-Sized No. 5 - Long weekend longreads edition

Hello eaters and happy Easter (or Passover, or just plain ol' happy long weekend!) 

I've got another draft ready to go for you but its full of doom and gloom and thought maybe you'd prefer some holiday longreads to chew on over the four-day weekend. I've gathered up some of the weird and wonderful articles I've come across in the last little while. Devour very very expensive muskmelons, the history of atomic age bread and cultish tea to stories about food and memory and exposés about conditions for farmworkers. 

On a side note if you happen to be in Sydney around ANZAC day come along to Sydney university for 'Cultivating our Campus', I'll be speaking alongside Dr Sinead Boylan and Tracey Ho with Dr Alana Mann moderating on transforming campus food environments. It's on 5pm, Wednesday 26th of April at the University of Sydney law school. 

An attendant shows of a luxury apple at Sembikiya fruit boutique. From  'Why Should a Melon Cost as Much as a Car'  by Bianca Boskey for Roads and Kingdoms. Photo by Alex Thomas

An attendant shows of a luxury apple at Sembikiya fruit boutique. From 'Why Should a Melon Cost as Much as a Car' by Bianca Boskey for Roads and Kingdoms. Photo by Alex Thomas

Settle in with a cuppa and a hot cross bun and sink your teeth into one, or all of these great pieces of longform food writing. 

Atomic Bread Baking at Home - this article might be the best thing since sliced bread, a fascinating look at how industrial food took over the world. 

And so, in 1952, hoping to offset possible declines in bread consumption, the U.S. Department of Agriculture teamed up with baking-industry scientists to launch the Manhattan Project of bread. Conceived as an intensive panoramic investigation of the country's bread-eating habits, the project had ambitious goals: First, gain a precise, scientific understanding of exactly how much and what kind of bread Americans ate, when and why they ate it, and what they thought about it. Second, use that information to engineer the perfect loaf of white bread—a model for all industrial white bread to come.

Remembrance of tastes past: Syria’s disappearing food culture - tracing the foodways of the Syrian diaspora 

Once, when talking to refugees in one of the camps in the Bekaa Valley, I asked a group of women if they made pickles and jams. The young chef Dima Chaar had told me that preparing mouneh (pickles) was a communal activity, part of the social fabric of Syria. “My mother used to get together with her neighbours in Damascus,” she said. “In artichoke season for example, my dad would go to the market and buy kilos of artichokes and then all the women would gather and clean them and cook them and prepare them, making preserves or freezing. Mounie is the tradition of preserving. ... Twenty or more refugee women in the Bekaa Valley sat around me in a big circle. Almost every one of them had a baby or a small child on their lap. Many of them had been living in tents for five years, since the beginning of the war. Mouneh? They shrugged. No, not really. Making pickles is a statement of settlement, it embodies the idea of a future of planning and looking forward: in six months, we will be here, in the same place. “We just live day to day,” one of the women said. “We buy what we need and we eat it.”

Inside the Box The Not-So-Wholesome Reality Behind The Making of Your Meal Ki - An investigation into the food chain behind the ever-growing industry of home delivered meal kits.

In the 38 months since Blue Apron's facility opened, the Richmond Police Department has received calls from there twice because of weapons, three times for bomb threats, and seven times because of assault. Police captains have met twice with Blue Apron to discuss the frequency of calls to the police. At least four arrests have been made due to violence on the premises, or threats of it. Employees have reported being punched in the face, choked, groped, pushed, pulled, and even bitten by each other on the job, according to police reports. Employees recalled bomb scares, brandished kitchen knives, and talk of guns. All told, interviews with 14 former employees describe a chaotic, stressful environment where employees work long days for wages starting at $12 an hour bagging cilantro or assembling boxes in a warehouse kept at a temperature below 40 degrees.

Why Should a Melon Cost as Much as a Car? - A exploration of Japan's luxury fruit trade - would you pay nearly $100 for strawberries or several thousand dollars for a melon?

These remaining muskmelons each get an outfit: a string tied around their stems to prevent them from falling as they ripen, plus their signature “hat”—black, cone-shaped—to prevent sunburn. As the melon grows, cracks develop in its exterior—think melon stretch marks, caused by insides expanding faster than the skin—and sugary juices flow into the cracks, creating elegant reticulation that makes it look as though the fruit has been caught in a khaki-colored net. (The finer the reticulation, the sweeter and juicier the melon, experts say.) To make the melons even sweeter, farmers don white cotton gloves and give each individual fruit a vigorous “melon massage”—what Sembikiya’s website refers to as a “ball wiping”—by rubbing the outside of the fruit. (Champion growers are so enthusiastic with this “ball wiping” they get holes in their gloves and go through multiple pairs per crop.)

Cults, Conspiracies and the Twisted History of Sleepytime Tea - I probably haven't a cup of sleepy time tea for well over a decade, but I know I have had it - who knew it had such a weird and racist history?

Siegel discloses that the ideals he gathered from The Urantia Book guided how he ran Celestial Seasonings from the beginning and provided a moral compass for himself and his employees. “I had wanted bold; I found bold,” he wrote. “I wanted spiritual adventure, and I was on the ride of my life. I was searching for truth and the book was loaded with it.”

Raped, beaten, exploited: the 21st-century slavery propping up Sicilian farming - a grim look into the Romanian women who work in terrible conditions to keep Europe in fresh vegetables.

Working conditions are in some cases highly dangerous. One young Romanian woman told us that she became sick when she was forced to handle and work with agricultural chemicals without protective clothing. “I had to handle foods covered in pesticides and it made me really sick. I was coughing and I couldn’t breathe,” she says. “I was pregnant and I started to feel sick and then I gave birth to my baby when I was only five months’ pregnant. The doctors said she was premature because of the work and that she is probably going to have brain damage because of the chemicals.”

How paella got punked – and the Valencian chefs trying to save it - one man's search for a proper paella and the story of crowd-sourcing cultural memory through wikipaella 

 The mission was to protect what’s served. A 10-point manifesto on the site lays out the fundamental beliefs that unite this cabal of writers, chefs and enthusiasts. A few of the highlights: authentic paella has its origin in the Comunidad Valenciana; we publicly denounce transgressions committed against paella, especially in the Comunidad Valenciana; we carry paella in our hearts and travel with it as far as possible … Rice is the star of this story, its entire place in paella a paradox: toothsome yet tender, independent but inexorably bound to the larger whole, swollen with the flavour of everything that came before it in the pan.


All You Have Eaten: On Keeping a Perfect Record -  an experiment on food as a mnemonic device - a weird and wonderful meditation on how the food we eat helps us remember the past, it goes from past relationships to interviewing members of a study on how people would eat on a Mars mission. It's hard to adequately represent this one - just read it. 

Getting to Mars will take roughly six to nine months each way, depending on trajectory; the mission itself will likely span years. So the question becomes: How do you feed astronauts for so long? On “Mars,” the HI-SEAS crew alternated between two days of pre-prepared meals and two days of dome-cooked meals of shelf-stable ingredients. Researchers were interested in the answers to a number of behavioral issues: among them, the well-documented phenomenon of menu fatigue (when International Space Station astronauts grow weary of their packeted meals, they tend to lose weight). They wanted to see what patterns would evolve over time if a crew’s members were allowed dietary autonomy, and given the opportunity to cook for themselves (“an alternative approach to feeding crews of long term planetary outposts,” read the open call). 

Escaping the Restaurant Industry's Motherhood Tra - a look at what could help women get ahead in hospitality. 

After six years, she learned she was pregnant, and worked all the way through to her delivery date, in her final month scaling back what had previously been a 60-hour-a-week job to 50 hours, before taking an agreed-upon ten weeks of unpaid leave. Just before the end of those ten weeks, she found out — via a customer — that in her absence, the restaurant had given her position, permanently, to someone else.... Why aren't more women running kitchens and restaurants across all tiers of the industry, especially at the top? People point to all sorts of things: discrimination in hiring and promotion practices, the aggressive environments and hours of restaurant work, the self-fulfilling prophecy of media coverage, the differing ambitions of women, the differing style of their cooking.

Have a great weekend

Eat well and read widely until next time