For some of us, the world of food is so captivating and exciting that it’s not enough to just eat it or see it – we have to listen to it, too. #FirstWorldProblems
More seriously, though, experts out there from any handful of disciplines will attest to the fact that food is a lens through which geography, culture, and history are viewed and inexorably linked, to the extent that learning more about food can teach us things we never knew about ourselves, others, and our respective origins.
And on top of that, hey, sometimes it’s just fun to know that people love fried dough because of Jesus.
That narrow of a food focus, though, can make it tough finding podcasts reliably so packed with cultural and historical tidbits, rather than those driven by recipes or chef’s personal stories. Add to that a need for options not easily exhausted, (read: good episode length and back-catalog depth) and not dry beyond bearability, and you’re in a niche that only weeks of research and clicking the “Related” button in iTunes can free you from. That’s where I come in.
I’ve graded the year’s five most consistent, fact-packed, and engaging audio podcasts dealing with food history and culture along the following criteria:
Consider this an equation of host voice quality and delivery and episode length
Variety of episode topics and depth of back catalog
Degree of likelihood to which you will leave having learned something new
|Bells and Whistles
The extras that make for good storytelling: interviews, music, sound, editing
From this grading system, I’d like to humbly deliver the Best Food History Podcasts of 2017, and encourage you to explore, download, enjoy (and on behalf of them, rate!):
In a nutshell: Having debuted at the end of February, this weekly cast from the makers of How Stuff Works is the newcomer of the group and looks set to be an especially strong option for food history buffs. Hosts Anney Reese and Lauren Vogelbaum keep the banter legitimately witty and funny – never a guarantee – and the facts dense over 30-50 minute episode. This catalog should only get better as it’s built out.
Best episode: The Unsweetened History and Technology of Sugar
In a nutshell: Hosts Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley intertwine a strong sense of story with expert interviews that help propel the narrative and keep the listener engaged. The back catalog is decent, but episodes are released only every two to three weeks, so its inevitable to get better with age and leave you, like Jodeci, fiendin’ in the meantime.
Best episode: Cork Dork was so fun to listen to, but The Maple Boom really blew my mind and sold me on the podcast
Southern Foodways Alliance
In a nutshell: Get transported to the New South with stories from all over the region delving into the direct, very personal, and often complex ways that Southern food and culture are shaped by immigration, history, and modernization. Music, field interviews, and a bounty of perspectives and voices make this one of the most dynamic series on the list. And while Southern Foodways legend John T. Edge hosts masterfully and with my gratitude, former host Tina Antolini was truly pecan-infused butter for the ears. Be sure to indulge in earlier episodes for max impact.
Best episode: Mexican-ish is sure to stick with you, but Fighting for the Promised Land has to be the most important
2. Food Programme
BBC Radio 4
In a nutshell: This product of former EU member, the United Kingdom, gets missed on a lot of American lists but it is a fun and insightful listen in the transportive vein of Gravy. Episodes play like the audio of a TV news story, (without missing any important context) and have a killer six-year-deep back-catalog of weekly episodes on nearly everything you can think of and not at all constrained to British themes.
Best episode: Why Cooking Matters, but In Praise of Bacon will have you LOLing. Post if you want more suggestions, I’ve burned through 50 of these.
1. A Taste of the Past
Heritage Radio Network
In a nutshell: This one is for the food factoid main-liners. Terri Gross-channeling host and mom to one cool dude, Linda Pelaccio, delivers straight knowledge no-chaser with the best food history scholars, authors, and curators in the industry. They cover everything to the etymology of punch, to the influence of yucca on world cultures, to the origins of fast food. This Tuesday Trivia pre-gamer (last drug and alcohol reference, I promise) is still active and dropping new episodes after eight years and 270 episodes! Do yourself a favor and cop a playlist of about six to fuel your workouts this week with the fury of not eating. Because you will get hungry, and only your brain will be satiated (nailed it!)
Best episode: Chocolate Chip Cookies and SPAM for some real no-shit! moments, or anything with Andrew Smith as the featured guest
So there you have it – the best of the best, to have your dinner date impressed! Already checked these out, or have others to suggest? Let us know below, and be sure to support your favs with reviews on iTunes – that helps them be found more easily, which helps the ridiculously niche listeners like us 🙂