The Digest

The Sandwich Revolution & Other News

26th November 2017

Words: James Hansen

In this week’s round-up of the best online food media: the shape of bread, Japanese noodle history, and Native American culinary customs under threat

Michael Harlan Turkell reflects on the meaning of the shape of bread at Heritage Radio Network. Produced in conjunction with Modernist Bread, a research project from Nathan Myhrvold and Francisco Migoya, the podcast looks at bread’s place in social and cultural history. With the help of many guests, it is concluded that bread’s two principle shapes are balls and sticks – all versions a subset of one or the other. The raw shapes, soft and supple at the edges, and the baked loaves may share identities, but their meanings could not be more different. Listen on to find out why.

Continuing the bread theme, Sam Knight explores and explains how the sandwich conquered Britain for The Guardian. In the 37 years since Marks & Spencer introduced packaged versions in their stores, the sandwich has come an incredibly long way from total novelty. In presaging a new way of eating (al desko), working (al desko) and ultimately living, the packaged sandwich has left an indelible mark on Britain, caught between nostalgia – the best thing since sliced bread – and seemingly endless innovation. Whether it’s the latest version of baguette or triangles for millennials, the sandwich will never be anything less than ubiquitous.

Dr Laura Carlson looks at the history of soba noodles at The Feast podcast. Joined by various experts in the field, Carlson investigates the importance of noodles to Japanese culture past and present, as evinced by the illustrated food battles of 18th-century literature (soba vs udon) to the competitive noodle eating that finds its roots in manga. The underdog stories featured in these comics – young chefs competing in cookoffs against more illustrious elders – gave rise to the food competitions of today, most famously Iron Chef, which started in Japan before being exported to America. It’s a really interesting listen.

Tara Duggan reports on the vanishing traditions of Native American tribal food from Mendocino County, California, for San Francisco Chronicle. Coinciding neatly with Thanksgiving – “the one time of year American Indians are recognized by the wider American society, albeit usually in caricature” – chefs from the area and further afield are looking to eradicate that “albeit” clause for good. As federal food systems steadily cripple supply lines to ingredients such as acorns, mussels and surf fish, communities are taking ever greater strides towards protecting indigenous foodways. The importance of new efforts to hunt, fish and forage cannot be underestimated: they “are how memories — and histories — are forged. ‘That’s when all the stories come out, around food,’ said Renick. ‘You’re sitting there, and then you get to go through the centuries with them.'”

Last but not least, Diana Henry has a new Telegraph podcast called At the Kitchen Table, and on the evidence of the first episode with Rick Stein, it’s a keeper. After they talk about travelling around Mexico for the latest TV series, Henry makes a very astute comment on why Stein’s TV career has been such a success, particularly with less confident cooks. “This is not meant as a criticism but you are not that deft,” she says, risking opprobium. “You look like a home cook, if I can say that.” Stein takes it graciously. “I am,” he replies. “I had some training in a commercial kitchen when I started, but generally I’ve just done things on my own.” Henry sums it up nicely: “You want television about food to be empowering, not frightening,” she says.

Posted 26th November 2017

In The Digest


Words: James Hansen

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