Podcast: COVID-19 Dispatches #4

For the fourth episode of our podcast series, produced in collaboration with “Meant to be Eaten” on Heritage Radio Network and dedicated to dispatches from the food world in reaction to the first months of the pandemic (the focus of recently published 20.3 issue), Amanda Blum joins guest host (and issue editor) Bob Valgenti to talk about her piece, “I Miss the Grocery Store the Most”, in which she describes the missed pleasures of grocery shopping, and whether Instacart or Amazon can make up for the human connections of brick-and-mortar stores.

For 30% off single print-issues of “Food in the Time of COVID-19”, use promo code GASTROAUG2020 at checkout.

Podcast: COVID-19 Dispatches #3

For the third episode of our new podcast series, dedicated to dispatches from the food world in reaction to the first months of the pandemic (the focus of our forthcoming 20.3 issue), Shalini Sinha – Country Director for WIEGO, or Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing – joins guest host Krishnendu Ray to discuss the consequences of the pandemic for the “informal” (but vital) economy and culture of street food in Delhi, and India more broadly.

For 30% off single-print issues of “Food in the time of COVID-19” (available from August 19), use promo code GASTROAUG2020 at checkout.

Podcast: COVID-19 Dispatches #1

We’re thrilled to be back with a new series of podcasts produced in collaboration with Meant To Be Eaten on Heritage Radio Network. In this series, we focus on our upcoming issue 20.3, entirely dedicated to dispatches from the food world in reaction to the first months of the pandemic. Listen to issue editor Bob Valgenti talk to Stephen Meinster about his article, “The Sickness Unto Hospitality”, which describes the unique capabilities of the hospitality industry to respond swiftly in crises – as he (as General Manager of a Chicago establishment) and many of his colleagues were forced to do – and about how things have unfolded since the piece was written in April 2020.

Issue 20.3 will be available online and in print in late August. If you want to be notified when the issue is available, please sign up for an alert (or simply follow us on social media). The University of California Press is offering a 30% discount on purchases of single print issues, which can be redeemed using the offer code GASTROAUG2020 (offer valid through June 2021).

Banking on Wild Relatives to Feed the World | Maywa Montenegro

Abstract: Crop wild relatives, the progenitors and kin of domesticated crop species, promise breeders a potent weapon against climate change. Having evolved outside the pampered environs of farms, wild relatives tend to be more rugged to survive temperature, salt, floods, and drought—all the extremes characteristic of a warming planet. But who will benefit from re-wilded crops? What kinds of agricultural systems will they tend to support? And can wild relatives be protected before they are lost under pavement, desertification, and expanding industrial farms? In this essay, I explore different visions of conservation and use for crop wild relatives. With CWR valued at an estimated $115–120 billion to the global economy annually, many researchers suggest ancient germplasm can be harnessed to feed billions in a warming world. Others look more closely at ancient customs and farmer knowledge that have long promoted conservation of wild species within and around cultivated landscapes. By intentionally planting crops at field borders, farmers also perform “in vivo” breeding. I conclude that wild relatives hold much potential to reinfuse diversity into eroded crop gene pools, providing greater systemic resilience. But unless we consider who controls seeds, intellectual property, and wild and agricultural lands, CWR innovations will only prop up an agriculture that ultimately undercuts crop and wild relative renewal.


Not long ago, Native Seed Search, a Tucson-based organization dedicated to preserving indigenous crop varieties, was approached by representatives from Monsanto. Did Native Seed have any samples of teosinte they were willing to sell? The wild ancestor from which domesticated corn was bred, teosinte is scarcely recognizable as a kin of modern corn, the latter with its multiple rows of kernels, plump and sweet. Yet it is in the genes of this wild relative – and those of all the world’s major crop species – that modern plant breeders are eager to find a potent weapon against climate change.

Having evolved outside the pampered habitat of a farm, wild relatives are hardier than most domesticated species. Their traits, say researchers, could potentially be bred or engineered into crops to produce climate-hardy varieties. If you have not yet heard that “weeds will feed the world,” you soon will.

But who will benefit from such wild relative improvements? What kinds of agricultural systems will they go to support? And how to stanch the loss of wild relatives due to climate change, urbanization, deforestation, pollution – and industrialized agriculture itself?

With such questions still waiting to be satisfyingly addressed, much wild relative work is already underway. Scientists at the United States Department of Agriculture are looking to red rice, a weedy relative of domesticated rice (genus Oryza), for genes that could make commercially grown varieties more heat-resistant, adapted to saltier soils, and higher yielding even under the driest conditions (Palmer 2014). Other USDA researchers are crossing the countryside in search of wild relatives of sunflower (Helianthus), one of the few domesticated plants native to North America (Harvey 2015). Similar research at CIMMYT in Mexico, the cradle of Green Revolution research, focuses on relatives of wheat (Triticum), with advances in drought- and heat-resistant traits already resulting in edible grain.

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Don’t Mono-crop the Movement: Toward a Cultural Ecology of Local Food | B.R. Cohen

from Gastronomica 14:1

What matters for the future of healthy food is not just farmers’ markets, CSAs, urban farms, food hubs, and the like—the particular individual innovations of the foodsheds—but the ways they interact and overlap. 

The former director of the Community Food Security Coalition, Andy Fisher, recently pondered what, if anything, holds the local food movement together. The CFSC is a coalition of several hundred food security organizations across North America; Fisher’s prior experience at its helm offered a vantage point to ask about cohesion and common purpose. It was an echo of the point Michael Pollan made about the 2012 election, when President Obama had asked if there really was a movement to be tapped—for him, a voting bloc—or just a collection of disparate pieces. And it is an important question for advocates and activists to ask, but not because there actually is one thing holding the movement together, like a label, or an aphorism, or a fad diet, or an appeal to public health. Rather than an individual feature that can center various attempts to improve food and farming, what matters is the way the many activities of local food advocates overlap with one another in an interdependent, ecological whole.

This is a point about organizational identity and the political possibilities such an identity makes possible. It is grounded, though, in the ways advocates for food health, security, and sovereignty envision the spatial arrangements of food production, distribution, and consumption. In North America—and across the United States in particular—good food advocates over the past generation have defined that spatial arrangement almost entirely through the farm-to-fork trope. That trope provides a common framework to think about the various stages involved in food and farming. Consider its many examples. Farmers’ markets, food hubs, community supported agriculture (CSA), virtual marketplaces, organic grocery stores, rooftop, community, and schoolyard gardens, 100-Mile Diets, urban farms: the architecture of reform is endless, but every part seeks to reduce the distance between food producers (farms) and consumers (forks).

Some innovations, for example, pull consumers closer to producers by bringing them to the farm (CSAs); some redefine consumers as producers too (gardens and urban farms); some eliminate links in the long farm-to-fork chain by appealing to urban living patterns (virtual marketplaces, organic grocery stores, food trucks). These would seem to provide points for a food movement to rally around.

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