How Leftover Turkey Launched The TV Dinner

In the fall of 1953, the frozen-food company of C.A. Swanson & Sons of Omaha, Nebraska, was left with what must be a record in turkey leftovers: ten railroad cars packed with 520,000 pounds of turkey.

Swanson had massively overestimated the number of birds Americans planned to purchase for Thanksgiving, and so now was stuck shuttling a trainload of spurned turkeys back and forth between the Midwest and the East Coast in order to keep the electricity on in the refrigerated cars, thus keeping the turkeys safely cold.

At its wit’s end, the company put out an all-points bulletin to employees, asking for solutions to the turkey problem. The winner ...

Fowl Play? The Twisted Linguistics of Turkey

As Americans prepare to sit down for a national day of feasting Thursday, what some of us may be wondering is, why is our Thanksgiving bird named after a Middle Eastern nation?

Blame it on the Portuguese.

But just to show that we’re almost all in the same muddled linguistic boat, their word for turkey is peru.

Let’s start at the beginning. There are six sub-species of turkeys worldwide, all native to North America. The star of the feast at American Thanksgiving dinners is Meleagris gallopavo gallopavo, which comes from Mexico, and was domesticated there possibly as early as 800 BCE. By the time Columbus arrived, the Aztecs were raising ...

To Bring People Together to Fix Global Challenges, Try Food

Some 749 million people worldwide go hungry every night, and almost two billion are overweight or obese. Our food system contributes substantially to greenhouse gas emissions. We overuse antibiotics.

It can be pretty depressing on this planet sometimes, when you think about it.

But Alessandro Demaio, a 30-year-old Australian whose medical work has taken him from Cambodia to Copenhagen, thinks we can solve these outsized challenges by connecting people through food and fun. He's been a global health fellow at Harvard and in 2013 co-founded NCDFREE, a worldwide social movement for global health. Now he's the mastermind behind festival21: a free, all-day celebration and festival on rethinking the future through food in Melbourne ...

Market Offers a Gleaning Model for the Modern Age

Gleaning—the act of collecting unharvested food that farmers leave in the fields to feed the hungry—dates back to at least biblical times. The ancient practice was a safety net to ensure that people wouldn’t go hungry in fragmented societies without centralized services for those in need. It has religious roots—the Torah commands farmers to leave some crops unharvested and Ruth gleaned to stay alive in the Hebrew Bible story. Jesus gleaned.

In the modern world, big farms don’t encourage people meandering around. But anti-hunger organizations still practice loose forms of gleaning and many farmers still love participating in this time-honored practice. FreshFarm Markets, an American farmers’ market ...

How To Update ‘Harvest of Shame’ for the 21st Century

On the day after Thanksgiving in 1960, Americans met a mother who couldn’t afford milk for her nine children. They met a family of six who were sleeping in the woods, $1.45 to their name, traveling miles looking for work.

They met men, women, and children who were trucked across the southeastern United States in open, unregulated truckbeds—conditions often worse than those afforded to cattle. These people, Edward R. Murrow told the audience of his CBS documentary Harvest of Shame, were “the people who harvest the food for the best-fed nation in the world.”

“We used to own our slaves,” Murrow says, quoting a farmer. “Now we just rent them.”

Never ...

Thanksgiving Dinner, From Bog to Table

It's Thanksgiving week in the U.S., which means home cooks are hitting the grocery, digging out beloved family recipe cards, or brainstorming new twists on classic dishes (chai-spiced sweet potatoes, anyone?).

But in the pre-holiday rush to pick the perfect turkey and gather up the green beans (and perhaps a can of cream-of-mushroom soup), it's easy to forget that each ingredient was sown and grown, and perhaps even picked by hand. Those cranberries were scooped out of a bog before they made it into that perforated plastic bag, and those glorious pecans, soon to grace your pie, were once nestled inside a beautiful pale-green shell.

This week, we're giving ...

U.S. Approval of GMO Salmon May Set Precedent

There’s a new fish in town—but not everyone’s ready to make room on their plates for it.

Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued its first approval for a genetically engineered animal intended for human consumption. The animal is the AquAdvantage salmon, an Atlantic salmon modified to contain a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon, turned on by a chunk of DNA from another fish called the ocean pout. These modifications let the AquAdvantage salmon reach adult size far before conventional salmon do.

Already, the FDA’s decision has been challenged by groups like the Center for Food Safety, which issued a statement Thursday that it intends ...

The Taste of Food Goes Far Beyond the Tongue

The science of taste is hard to illustrate, as National Geographic producer Kathryn Carlson found out recently. Assigned to produce a video to accompany the Science of Delicious article December's issue of National Geographic magazine, she flew to England to meet with the man whom many regard as the godfather of the neurogastronomy movement, Oxford psychologist Charles Spence.

Spence heads up the Crossmodal Research Lab, where he and his team study how the senses work together to create perception. And taste is heavily reliant on more than just the tongue. "Seventy-five to 95 percent of what we call taste is really smell," he says.

While their discussion was fruitful, Carlson felt ...

Between Clinic and Kitchen, New Hope for Patients With Taste Loss

Being diagnosed with cancer 10 years ago was hard. Being bombarded with various illnesses and infections since then has been harder.  But Gina Mullin, 49, says that the hardest days are the ones when she can’t eat.

“Food just doesn’t taste good to me anymore—some things I used to love, I can’t stand the smell of,” Mullin says. She remembers a day when she ordered take out from her favorite restaurants—Cracker Barrel and Waffle House—but by the time she got home with the food, she couldn’t force herself to eat a bite.

“I don’t cry much. I don’t even think I cried when I was diagnosed, ...

Forget Pizza; In Florence, Tripe is Tops

At lunchtime outside of Florence’s tourist-filled Mercato Centrale, locals line up to bite into a native delicacy, but it’s not what you think. Forget about plates of sizzling oven-fresh pizza, and wipe images of home-cooked pasta from your mind. In this Tuscan town, tripe is king of street food.

Beatrice Trambusti has been selling hot trippa and lampredotto—the first and fourth stomach of the cow, respectively—from her kiosk, Lupen e Margo, for 30 years. But the Florentine appetite for tripe dates back much earlier than even Trambusti can attest to. Its history begins in the 15th century, when ...

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