The Food Chain

The Food Chain

United Kingdom

The economics, science and culture of what we eat. What does it take to put food on your plate?


Is Social Media Putting You Off Your Lunch?  

Are you the kind of person who can’t help taking a picture of your food before you eat it? Do you search out Facebook foods, Twitter tips and Instagram ideas for new restaurants and recipes? Or maybe the very thought of all this puts you off your lunch. This week we meet foodies, writers and experts to discuss where education ends and obsession begins. The BBC’s Manuela Saragosa talks to: Adaobi Okonkwo, who blogs about food under the name Dobby in Lagos; and Anna Barnett, who is a blogger, contributor to Vogue and Grazia, and author of cookery book “Eat The Week”. She also speaks to Ursula Philpot, registered dietitian and senior lecturer at Leeds Metropolitan University; and Eve Turow Paul, a millennial food expert and writer. (Photo: Woman takes picture of food on phone. Credit: Getty Images).

Stockpiles? What Stockpiles?  

We’re on the hunt for the world’s biggest stashes of food. Can the food system handle a big shock, or is it time to stock up on your supplies? In last week’s episode we met people doing just that - stockpiling food in anticipation of anything from a major natural disaster, to the apocalypse. They had little faith that their governments would be able to keep the food supply under control in extreme circumstances. This week we set out to test their assumptions. From forgotten World War Two food sheds to Switzerland’s stockpiling sirens, which companies and governments are storing food in bulk? Where are they keeping it? Who can access it? And, if disaster strikes, will any get to you? Presenter: Emily Thomas Contributors: Tony Lister, Buckinghamshire Railway Centre, Professor Tim Benton, University of Leeds, Tracey Allen, J.P. Morgan, Corinne Fleisher, World Food Programme. (Photo: abandoned warehouse. Credit: Getty Images)

What Will You Eat if the Apocalypse Comes?  

How long would your food supply last if you were unable to buy any food? Are you prepared for the worst is a hurricane hits, the floodwaters rise or the stock markets crash? Maybe your cupboards are full - but what if you had no electricity or gas to cook? Or if the water supply was turned off? And, if there was total breakdown of social order - could you defend the food you have? This week we meet the people who are stockpiling food in anticipation of anything from an earthquake to the apocalypse. They call themselves 'preppers'.Do they know something you don’t? When society is falling apart, do taste or texture matter? And when does stockpiling food become hoarding? The BBC’s Emily Thomas goes in search of some secret stockpiles to find the best post-apocalyptic food plans. With contributors: Pete Stanford, Lincoln Miles, owner, Preppers Shop, Henry Hargreaves, Photographer, Lisa Bedford, The Survival Mom, and Kate Daigle, psychologist.

Have We Cracked the Nut Problem?  

It’s a food problem that can prove fatal - and we might be about to crack it. The first licensed medicines to treat peanut allergy are close to being approved by regulators. But we ask – why has it taken so long? For over a century we’ve known that an allergy can be treated by controlled exposure to the allergen. Simply put, the treatment of a peanut allergy is a very small dose of peanut. So when the prevalence of allergies began to soar in the 1990s you could have been forgiven for thinking a solution might not be far off. But as yet, there are no licensed medicines for widespread use. Some clinicians already use the technique – known as immunotherapy – but it is unregulated and the cost is prohibitive for many. This could all be about to change. Two treatments are expected to be approved by regulators in the next couple of years. It couldn't have happened without the involvement of charitable donors, venture capitalists, and pharmaceutical companies. The food industry has also invested millions. In this episode we explore the relationship between profit and progress when it comes to solving a serious food health problem. Why has it taken until now to get to this point? And, when the worst possible outcome is the death of a child, isn’t total avoidance of peanuts the safest option? Contributors: Dr Louisa James, Queen Mary University of London, Lisa and Clara Goff, Dr Andrew Clark, Cambridge Peanut Allergy Clinic and Chief Scientific Officer, Camallergy, Dr Pierre-Henri Benhamou, DBV technologies, Stephen Dilly, Aimmune Therapeutics, and Dr Robert Wood, John Hopkins Children’s Centre. Presenter: Emily Thomas

Health lessons with the Hadza  

We're continuing our adventures in east Africa with the Hadza – a skilled tribe of hunter gatherers who could be the last remaining link to our ancient food past. We join them as they hunt and forage, eating baobab for breakfast and enjoying some very unusual honey, all in the quest to discover the ideal human diet. The reason the scientists and geneticists are so interested in the Hadza, is because it’s thought they can help us better understand our complex relationship with our gut microbiome – the community of microbes that live inside us all. It’s thought the microbiome exerts such a powerful influence on our health it’s considered now to be in an organ in its own right, and the Hadza have a diversity of gut microbes unmatched by any group on earth. So if the Hadza can help us understand the microbiome and where our modern diets have gone wrong in depleting gut microbe diversity, perhaps the secrets of the their diet can help us all become healthier humans.

Hunting with the Hadza  

This week we’re going to be telling what might be the oldest food story in the world. The Hadza of Tanzania, east Africa, are one of the last remaining hunter gatherer tribes in the world and the last remaining link to our ancient food past. The total population of the tribe now stands at around one thousand, with up to two hundred living as pure hunter gatherers, who grow nothing, and practice no form of farming. They’ve lived in this part of east Africa for at least 40 thousand years and food for the Hadza has remained relatively unchanged. We meet the tribe, who walk in the footsteps of our human ancestors, joining them as they hunt for porcupine, climb 30 feet up a tree in search of honey, dig deep for tubers and snack on berries picked from trees. Through this insight into what our earliest human ancestors ate, we learn about our own human development and the crucial link between the food we eat, and the crucial microbiomes we carry in our digestive systems. Using these discoveries, the Hadza can help give us much needed ideas for our food future. With contributors: Jeff Leach, Founder of the Human Food Project; Tim Spector, Professor of genetics at Kings College London. Presenter: Dan Saladino, in collaboration with BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme

Fortification: Too Much of a Good thing?  

What if we told you something had been added to your food that could affect your health? You can't see it, you won’t taste it, and you might not have realised it’s there at all. Most of us will eat something that has been fortified with micronutrients – small amounts of minerals and vitamins - every day. But who is adding them to our food - and why? And does a focus on fortification by development agencies mean valuable resources have been diverted from tackling underlying causes of malnutrition in the developing world? Mandatory fortification is when food manufacturers are required by law to add certain vitamins or minerals to foods. The other type of food fortification is voluntary - meaning it’s at the discretion of the manufacturer to add nutrients from a government-approved list. Some argue this leads to foods being fortified for commercial purposes, rather than genuine public health concerns. We’ll be speaking to global food company, Nestle, which is on a mission to fortify more of its processed food - and to one of the main NGOs involved in fortifying staple foods in the developing world, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition. We also visit a bakery in London, and a street market in Accra, Ghana to hear what the consumer makes of all this. With contributors: Gordon Polson, Federation of Bakers in the UK, Mark Lawrence Professor in Public Health Nutrition at Deakin University, Australia, Wayne England, senior Vice President for the Global Strategy Unit at Nestle, Barrie Margetts, Emeritus Professor within Medicine, University of Southampton, UK and Lawrence Haddad, GAIN. Presenter: Emily Thomas (Photo: Milk being poured into an overflowing bowl of cornflakes. Credit: Getty Images)

The Unlikely Power of Cookbooks  

Even if you’ve never picked up a book of recipes - cookbooks will have had a huge influence on how you live. What may appear to be mere collections of ingredients and cooking methods, sometimes tell us just as much about social class, politics and gender. We explore how cookery books have been used to demonstrate power, strengthen colonial and soviet ideology, and divide society by class and race. Do we see these dividing lines reflected in today’s publishing industry? And what does your choice of cookbook say about you? Plus - why did a stuffed peacock leave 150 Harvard undergraduates aghast? With contributors: Barbara Ketcham-Wheaton, food historian and honorary curator of the culinary collection at the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University; Polly Russell, food historian and curator at The British Library; Sarah Lavelle, publishing director at Quadrille; and Katharina Vester, professor of history at American University, Washington DC. Presenter: Emily Thomas (Photo: Man opens book. Credit: Getty Images)

Food Secrets of Centenarians  

People who have lived into their hundreds explain their food experiences and philosophies, to help us explore relationship between food and longevity. We ask whether despite having a greater variety of food available, and an ever growing abundance of dietary information, are younger generations able to replicate the diets of the oldest people on earth? Does modern food culture prevent us from emulating the food habits of centenarians? In Acciaroli, Italy,one of the BBC’s longest-standing reporters visits a village where more than one in ten people live more than a century, to find out their diet secrets. From there to Surrey, England, where 100 year old Helen Clare, a famous war-time singer explains her philosophy to food. Does attitude matter - and have younger generations become too obsessed with what we eat? We meet a man who has visited the oldest communities in the world - and hear their food secrets. What are the similarities between the diet of centenarians in Okinawa, Japan and California, US? Are there certain foods or general food principles that make you live longer? Or is it the company you keep? Plus, what is the scientific evidence for the link between diet and a longer life? With contributors: Helen Clare, singer, Dan Buettner, author, and John Mathers, scientific director of the Institute for Ageing and Health at Newcastle University. Presenter: Emily Thomas (Photo: Woman eating ice cream. Credit: Getty Images)

What time is dinner?  

We are taking a break from talking about what we eat this week, and looking instead at when we eat it. From Ancient Greece to New York hipsters - we’re asking what has determined our mealtimes in the past and who wants them to change now? Paul Freedman, history professor at Yale University in the US tells the BBC’s Emily Thomas that for thousands of years when we eat signified where we were in society. It seems this idea may not have been consigned to history - we ask if the resurgence of a new mealtime might be marking out a new social class. Canadian author Shawn Micallef tells us why he has a problem with brunch. And what of the so-called ‘fourth meal’? We look at the rise of snacking and ask whether the food industry wants you to abandon the three meal model. Is more food choice breaking apart the structured meal? We talk to Tamara Barnett, Vice President of Strategic Insights at The Hartman Group. Finally what exactly is the scientific evidence that any of this matters? Biologist Satchidananda Panda of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, at Harvard University in the US explains how the digestive system can experience jetlag. (Photo: Clock and cutlery. Credit: Getty Images)

Much Ado About Michelin  

For many chefs winning a Michelin star, or two or three, is often considered the pinnacle of their career. It could put them on the path to money and fame. But some critics claim not all stars are equal- and in an industry where receiving one could mean the difference between profit and loss, the stakes are high. In this episode we take a closer look at the Michelin guide and how two brothers made the name of their tyre business synonymous with the highest quality food in the world. Why do some chefs view earning a Michelin star as a curse, and others as a celebration? We’ll get a behind- the scenes look at the life of a Michelin inspector, with an interview with Clare Dorland-Clauzel, who heads the guides. The BBC's Kent DePinto speaks to Michelin-starred chef Tom Kemble on how the accolade has helped his career. Gary Pisano, professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School, talks about the impact of a Michelin star on a restaurant's ability to innovate. The BBC's Ashleigh Nghiem meets the Singaporian street hawker who was awarded a Michelin star. And we hear from food critic Andy Hayler on why he thinks recent partnerships by Michelin with tourist boards may be leading tourists astray. (Image: a Michelin guide on display. Credit: Kazuhiro Nogi / Getty Images)

Talking Rot  

If you found some mould on a slice of bread - would you eat it, cut it off, or throw the loaf away? What exactly is that green fur anyway? In this episode we’re asking whether we’ve become overly cautious about rot, and finding out how our attitudes to decaying food have changed. The BBC's Emily Thomas talks to Chris Wells from Leatherhead Food Research to find out when old food really becomes bad for you. Food historian Helen Zeit from Michigan State University explains how we may have become less tolerant of older food, and Christina Rice of Harvard law and Policy Clinic explains why the consumer is so confused over when to throw food away. Of course many of us are prepared to put our reservations about old food on hold when something’s presented as a delicacy. We’ll meet people who take pride in eating the oldest food they can – from a Sardinian cheese full of jumping maggots to a man who lived off fermented food alone for a year. Finally we’ll get up close to some creatures which you could call the true masters of the decomposing meal. (Photo: Mouldy bread. Credit: Getty Images).

Hands Off My Food!  

When it comes to aspects of cultural life being shared, adopted or borrowed in an increasingly globalised world - where more so than food? But should a culture be able to claim ownership of a cuisine, and should you profit from food that isn’t culturally your own? In this episode we discuss the cultural appropriation of food. Cultural appropriation can be defined as the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another culture. Some define it as the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of those elements - which reinforces historically exploitative relationships. We start in Ottowa Canada where a group of New Zealanders are objecting to the marketing of an energy drink. From there we go to Tennessee in the US where Rachel Martin, a food historian tells us how Hot Chicken has become Nashville’s favourite dish, and why she’s a little uncomfortable about how this happened. So where do you draw the line between appreciating food and appropriating or misappropriating it? The BBC’s Emily Thomas is joined by four people from the food world who have a real stake in this hot and divisive debate: Michael Twitty, a chef, food writer, and historian; Alex Stupak, a chef and founder of the Empellon Mexican restaurant chain in New York, Rachel Lauden, a food historian, based in Austin Texas, and Clarissa Wei, a food writer from Los Angeles. (Photo: Tacos being put on display by street vendor. Credit: Getty Images/ Milkos)

The Real Value of a Cup of Tea  

Coffee addict Dan Saladino sets out to understand what a cup of tea is really worth. Do we pay enough? In south west India, food writer Vanessa Kimbell gets up close to the leaf and hears the reality of a hard day’s work from a team of tea pluckers 6000 metres above sea level. From there we move to the Assam region in the north east to hear about an investigation into working conditions on a tea plantation. Will Battle, author of the World Tea Encyclopedia and a professional tea taster, explains how the global demand for tea has shaped where it’s grown and how it’s traded. Next, after the long journey from field to cup – what’s the best way to consume a cuppa? Tea tutor Caroline Hope is visited by people from all over the world to learn how the British drink tea. Finally, we enter a new realm of tea-drinking. Tim Doffay of Postcard Teas in London tells us about some of the world’s most expensive brews. (Photo: Cup of tea and saucer with gold spoon. Credit: Getty Creative)


A forensic look at food and its crime-solving powers. We start with one of the most challenging cases London’s murder squad has ever faced. The BBC’s Emily Thomas meets the Metropolitan Police’s former head of homicide investigations, Andy Baker, by the banks of the Thames, to hear how a murder victim’s stomach contents can prove vital to detectives. We meet some hungry criminals – a bank robber with a burger and a thief with his hand in the biscuit tin. Former crime scene investigator Dennis Gentles, from Abertay University in Dundee, Scotland, explains new research to identify fingerprints on food. Plus, David Foran, director of Michigan State University’s forensic science programme, tells us how a half-finished meal left at a crime scene can be a rich source of DNA. But why would a criminal stop for a snack? We speak to criminologist Richard Wright from Georgia State University. Plus, we find out how food industry technology is being used by detectives. Sheriff Todd Bonner from Wasatch County in Utah tells us how a case that haunted him for 18 years was eventually solved by a vacuum designed for use on food. Finally, the Food Chain’s own Simon Tulett, explores the mystery of the disappearing sausage stew. Please note - a couple of the cases we describe are of a graphic nature and might be upsetting for some, particularly younger listeners. (Photo: Apple and outstretched hand. Credit: Getty Creative).

I Don't Cook  

In the antithesis of a cookery programme, we meet people from around the world who can’t, don’t or won’t cook. Cooking from scratch will bring us health and happiness. Well that’s what we hear from countless cookbooks, magazines, TV shows, celebrity chefs, and even government initiatives. But studies suggest that in countries like the US and the UK people are cooking less than they did in the past. Is preparing our own food the realistic and logical choice for all of us? What are the social consequences if we don’t? Who better to tell us than the people who don’t cook? We start in the leafy London suburbs, where the BBC’s Emily Thomas meets some men who have spent most of their lives staying out of the kitchen. From there to a swish hotel in Lagos, Nigeria, for tales of a marriage torn apart by a wife’s inability to cook a certain soup. The non-cooking continues with Chilean actress Silvia Novak, journalist Bill Saporito in New York, and mum-of-two Melanie Dunn in Connecticut. Might they know something you don’t? Finally we talk to Sarah Bowen, associate professor at North Carolina State University. For her, the reasons people don’t cook tell us a lot about society and inequality. She thinks the ‘the food evangelists’ are partly to blame. Yes, there’s no space for master chefs in this week’s episode of the Food Chain.

The Fish Japan Ate  

The wild bluefin tuna is being eaten to extinction, but this hasn’t curbed the global appetite for this valuable fish in Japan and across the globe.In the last 70 years the fish has become a staple of high-end sushi restaurants and celebratory meals. It sells for up to hundreds of thousands of dollars–as to eat bluefin caught in the wild signifies quality. It is the apex of the sushi platter across Japan, which eats about 80% of all the wild bluefin consumed. But the tuna’s popularity is actually a relatively new phenomenon, as tuna was once regarded as a waste product until the middle of the 20th century, and even used for cat food. But recently, the appetite for the huge ocean-going fish has led to an ecological crisis, with projections that wild bluefin will no longer exist in the coming decades. The BBC’s Edwin Lane visits the iconic Tsukiji fish market, the hub of the global tuna trade, and speaks to a sushi chef who can’t bring herself to stop preparing the fish despite the extinction warning, and visits one of the world’s only functioning bluefin farms to talk about why it’s so difficult to raise bluefin tuna in captivity. (Photo: Bluefin tuna on ice Photo credit: Kindai University, Japan)

Liberte, Egalite, Gastronomie?  

Ahead of the French national elections, we’re looking at the food and politics of a country that for many is the epicentre of gastronomic excellence, with a tradition stretching back hundreds of years. Some see this crucial ingredient of the country's national identity being nibbled away by global competition. We talk to French chefs, producers and historians about what the state of French food tells us about the state of French politics. To understand a changing France, do you need to understand the changing French meal? We’ll be exploring the earliest origins of French cuisine, the foundations of the word ‘gastronomy’ and the advent of 'gastronationalism'. (Photo: Man holding bowl of croissants. Credit: Getty Images)

Little Kitchen of Horrors  

** The content in this week’s show requires a fairly strong stomach. So if you’ve got children with you, or you’re a bit squeamish yourself, best to look away now. ** Listen if you dare to this episode of The Food Chain, as we explore the scary, creepy, and spooky stories that people like to tell about what we eat. Why are some of our scariest stories about food? From the man-eating giants of Ancient Greek mythology, to the real story of Hansel and Gretel, the BBC’s Kent DePinto discusses why some of our scariest stories are about food and what that tells us about the societies that like to share them. We will also hear why many of those stories have their origins in agriculture and early economic systems. Watch out for the BBC's Regan Morris in California – as she finds out how horror films create their visual effects using bananas and gelatine, and Bryan Fuller, the creator of the television show Hannibal, on how making a programme about a villain with a gruesome diet made him question his own food habits. And what are we so afraid of? The social science behind why our bodies react to scary stories. You may just want to leave the lights on. (Photo: Selection of food and candles. Credit: Getty Images).

Orthorexia Nervosa: When 'Healthy' Food becomes Harmful  

When does a ‘healthy diet’ become unhealthy? This week the Food Chain looks at Orthorexia Nervosa - an unofficial term used to describe an eating disorder where people restrict their diet based on the quality and purity of food, rather than its quantity. The BBC’s Emily Thomas talks to women who have suffered from following extreme healthy diets, and hears how their internet use influenced their eating behaviour. We also hear from the people trying to help those whose quality of life is being destroyed in their pursuit of quality food. If you or someone you know has been affected by eating disorders please see the links to resources at the bottom of this page. Photo: Woman rejecting water and lettuce Credit: Getty Images

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