Rank #1: 8 - Michael Pollan – Magic Mushrooms
You know Michael Pollan from his blockbuster book The Omnivore's Dilemma or his most recent title, Cooked, which was adapted by Netflix as a documentary series. But the celebrity author hasn't always been so obsessed with what people eat. "Before I started writing about food, my focus was really on the human relationship to plants," Michael tells us. "Not only do plants nourish us bodily—they nourish us psychologically.” Now he's researching flora with psychedelic properties for a new book. Part of the project covers recent experimental trials using psilocybin (a compound found in magic mushrooms) to treat cancer patients' anxiety about death. Plus: How much do you know about ayahuasca? And what Amazonian creature did Michael munch on in Brazil?
Rank #2: 22 - You Don’t Get Fat For the Reasons You Think
Avoid potato chips. Watch less TV. Run more. Get surgery. You’ve heard dozens of reasons about why people get fat, and what they should do about it. But today’s guests have some theories about obesity that might not sound so familiar. Biochemist and author Sylvia Tara always had trouble staving off pounds—and then she learned about some truly surprising causes of weight gain. Journalist Gary Taubes thinks obesity can mostly be blamed on one single ingredient. And he thinks that another very popular theory about what leads to obesity is screwing over research into the condition.
Rank #3: 2 - Marta Zaraska - Zebra Meat and Vegan Butchers
More than two million years ago, early humans started eating meat. Now considering the harsh climate they inhabited, where every day was a fight for survival, you’d think people turned to eating animals just to stay alive, right? Think again. As journalist and author Marta Zaraska puts it, "man's love affair with meat was as much about politics and sex as it was about nutrition.” Zaraska is the author of the new book Meathooked: The History and Science of our 2.5-Million-Year Obsession With Meat. On today’s episode, we talk to her about the cultural traditions, chemical pull, and masterful advertising that have made meat-eating such a worldwide obsession over the ages. We also get the scoop on why agribusiness is salivating over Cuba and learn some tips on understanding the labels on your egg carton.
Rank #4: 11 - Luz Calvo and Catriona Rueda Esquibel - Real Mexican Food
Luz Calvo and Catriona Rueda Esquibel are co-authors of Decolonize Your Diet. The cookbook draws on ingredients and recipes from ancient Mexico. “We quickly found that foods from the pre-Hispanic era were among the healthiest foods on the planet,” writes Calvo. We talk to the couple about those pre-Hispanic foods and get a mouthwatering summer recipe involving squash blossoms. Plus: Tom gives us the scoop on where Hillary and Donald stand on food and agriculture issues, and Kiera dives into a moral debate involving Malcolm Gladwell and college dining.
Rank #5: 6 - Bill Marler - Outbreak!
This week, we talk to a guy who deals with food gone bad. Tainted hamburgers, sour burritos, salmonella-laced chicken: Food poisoning attorney Bill Marler confronts the aftermath of foodborne illnesses. Since gaining a reputation through his litigation during the infamous 1993 Jack-in-the-Box E.coli outbreak, Marler has worked on cases involving companies like McDonald’s, Odwalla, and most recently, Chipotle. He’s also a major force in food safety policy and runs a website called Food Safety News. During our conversation, he traces the rise of illnesses like E.coli and salmonella (“We have to keep up with these bugs”), gives us some tips on avoiding them, and reveals the real scoop on thrice-washed-spinach. We also explore some news about the superbugs emerging from antibiotic resistance in the livestock industry, and discover how food changes when in flight.
Rank #6: 19 - Top Chef's Tom Colicchio Talks Trump
A question that some people might be asking right now: How can you think about food at a time like this? But actually, food has everything to do with the election of Donald Trump: On this episode, Tom Philpott talks to Tom Colicchio of TV’s Top Chef, about how the mighty food industry is poised to stage a major resistance against some of Trump’s policies. One giant group of people who are wondering what’s in store for them over these next few years is restaurant workers, many of whom are undocumented. We hear from one of them, a waiter in New York City with a complicated immigration status. Also: Jenny talks to the formerly homeless manager of a kitchen at a single room occupancy building about why he voted for Trump.
Rank #7: 16 - What Fox News Missed in Chinatown
Manhattan's Chinatown recently made headlines for being the target of an offensive segment on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News show. Fox missed the real story: the truly special place it occupies in the US food scene. Navigate the narrow, bustling sidewalks Mott Street between Canal and Hester and you'll see food everywhere, from live frogs to whole dragon fruit. What makes culinary Chinatown tick? For answers, we turn on this week's Bite podcast to Valerie Imbruce, author of the new book From Farm to Canal Street. Imbruce argues that Manahttan's Chinatown is a remnant of pre-supermarket New York—and also a viable model for a more tantalizing food future. We also went to San Francisco’s Chinatown to track down the surprising origins of fortune cookies. (Hint: They’re not from China!) And: If you want to spice up a conference panel, invite some angry, chanting vegans. Just ask Tom.
Rank #8: 29 – This Simple Advice Completely Changed the Way I Eat
Writer and chef Samin Nosrat distills cooking into four basic elements: salt, fat, acid, heat. In this episode, she reveals secrets about using one of them to transform what you cook—and her advice changed how Maddie was tasting food for the days following. Maddie and Samin conduct a taste test, and Samin reveals how she clinched her first cooking job at Chez Panisse, and dishes on what it took to win over Alice Water. Plus, Tom reveals some of his own home cooking tricks.
Rank #9: 47 – Not Just Granola: How Hippies Reinvented American Cuisine
If you enjoy avocado toast and power bowls, thank a hippie. On this episode, Tom talks to Jonathan Kauffmann, whose new book is about how the 1960s counterculture gave way to some of today's most popular American dishes. Plus, Maddie talks to New York Times reporter Nellie Bowles about why some people are rejecting tap water in favor of pricey, untreated H20.
Rank #10: 48 – This Science Will Make You Feel Better About What You Eat
Have you ever wondered why some foods make you feel more full than others? Or why when you’re stressed out you turn to your mom’s mac and cheese recipe? Our guest Rachel Herz is a psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist who studies why we eat what we eat. Kiera talks to her about how your culture influences your cravings, and why the outcome of the Super Bowl could make you eat healthier. Plus: Tom breaks down why the Farm Bill is actually interesting.
Rank #11: 76 – What It Feels Like to Be Big in America
Tommy Tomlinson is the author of “The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man’s Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America.”
Rank #12: 66 – The Bizarre Fad Diet Taking the Far Right by Storm
Lately, Jordan Peterson, the Canadian psychologist known for his arch-conservative politics and views on masculinity, has been talking up the virtues of carnivorism. He’s not the only extreme right winger who has an unusual relationship with meat. In today’s episode, we talk to Kelly Weill, a Daily Beast reporter who wrote about the rise of the all-meat diet in the conservative fringe. Then, University of Colorado PhD student Alexis De Coning talks about her investigation into the disturbing history of veganism among white nationalists.
Rank #13: 60 – (Not) Eating Animals
This episode is all about giving up meat. As novelist Jonathan Safron Foer prepared to become a father, he became increasingly irked by a question: How would he justify eating meat to his kids? The question morphed into a bestselling book, Eating Animals, which became a documentary, premiering June 15. Jonathan shares more about his reasons for going veggie, and reflects on talking about food choices in the age of Trump. Then we hear from the Vegan Bros, two all-American dudes who gave up hunting and fishing for plant-based diets. The hosts share their favorite vegetarian cookbooks. And we ask you to tell us why you became a vegetarian or vegan—even if it didn't stick. (Go to www.motherjones.com/veggie-stories)
Rank #14: 54 – Did Drinking Give Me Cancer?
Mother Jones Senior Reporter Stephanie Mencimer just wrote a blockbuster story that weaves together her own breast cancer diagnosis and the disturbing history of the alcohol industry downplaying the link between booze and cancer. She joins us to talk about her drinking history and how the industry courts women. Then, New York Times op-ed writer Liz Tracy reflects on what it’s like to be a sober mom in a parenting culture that’s obsessed with wine. Finally, MoJo's Becca Andrews caught up with Planned Parenthood’s outgoing CEO Cecile Richards about her new memoir and the recipes that have fueled her career. Bonus: Cecile reveals her secrets to baking the best cherry pie.
Rank #15: 74 – The Cult of the Chili Pepper
We all know that burning sensation particular to eating chili peppers. But who knew the tiny fruit did so much more than make our mouths sweat? Stuart Walton, author of the new book “The Devil’s Dinner,” reveals the life-altering power of capsaicin, the active compound in chilis. Then Nopalito Chef Gonzalo Guzman shares his tips and tricks for taming dried chili peppers.
Rank #16: 55 – This Is the Best Kind of Milk
In this episode of Bite, we dive deep into the contentious topic of fake milk with the great Plant-Based Milk Showdown of 2018. And Tom tells us how a particular kind of alterna-milk could restore America’s farmland. Then, in honor of Mother’s Day, we talk to Aimee Lee Ball, the journalist behind the website Eat, Darling, Eat, where she collects stories about a very potent mix of topics: mothers, daughters, and food.
Rank #17: 75 – Cooking Chicken With Beto O’Rourke
You can now hang out with Beto O'Rourke in his kitchen or chat with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez while she makes mac’n’cheese in her InstantPot: Politicians are using social media to livestream their everyday moments. Mother Jones senior reporter Tim Murphy dissects this phenomenon—and talks about what it means for politics today. We also pay a visit to the #ChefsForFeds relief kitchen, which doled out free meals to furloughed federal workers during the shutdown.
Rank #18: 41 – Do Farmers Still Love Trump?
Farmers voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in the last presidential election. But over the course of the past year, the conversation has shifted, says journalist Ted Genoways, author of the new book, This Blessed Earth. "Farmers are starting to realize the real threats this could pose to their livelihood." Ted also talks about what he learned following around one family from harvest to harvest for his book. And Kiera discovers what it’s like to consume nothing but pumpkin spice products for a whole week.
Rank #19: 73 – The Five-Second Rule, and Other Food Myths Busted
Is the five-second rule real? How risky is double-dipping chips at a potluck? Food safety expert Paul Dawson, co-author of the new book "Did You Just Eat That?", shares scientific answers to our most pressing questions about germs at the table. Then we visit a mysterious basement marketplace showcasing the future of meat.
Rank #20: 63 – Farmers Are Growing Squash That Actually Taste Good
Do you find the taste of squash bland? That could be because most seed companies today breed their plants to withstand the chemicals that farmers routinely apply to their crops. But Chef Dan Barber believes that seed breeding can do so many more interesting things. And he thinks chefs and breeders should be teaming up to work on, for example, a honey nut squash that doesn’t even need maple syrup and butter. Plus: The Bite hosts say goodbye to beloved food critic Jonathan Gold.