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?

Episodes

Of Maize and Men: Unpicked  

This week we continue the story of the most abundant crop on earth. Last week we established its position as the king of the crops. This time we ask: are we producing too much of a good thing? Does the way we produce this crop epitomise everything that’s wrong with the global food system? Maize - or corn, as it’s also known - is the lynchpin of the industrialised food supply. The BBC’s Emily Thomas talks to Ricardo Salvador from the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Stephen Macko from the University of Virginia about how the crop could be the fuelling the obesity problem in the developed world. Conversely, hundreds of millions of people in the developing world rely on maize for their very survival. Prasanna Boddupalli, from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre, explains the value of this crop – and the impact of US policy in sub-saharan Africa. We visit a farm in Aylesbury in the South of England and explore the role of corn in intensive livestock farming, with farmer Tom Morrison. From there we move to the cornbelt in the US Midwest, where corn farmer David Brant explains his solution for growing maize without stripping the soil, and polluting the rivers. (Image: An eerie scarecrow in a crop field. Credit: pick-uppath/ Thinkstock)

Of Maize and Men: The Rise  

Corn is everywhere, in much of our food, drink and even packaging. It has found its way, in a myriad of guises, into thousands of products and has come to dominate the industrialised food supply. Hundreds of millions of people in the developing world rely on it too, for their very survival. This week we bring you the story behind the king of the crops, in the first of two programmes dedicated to its spectacular rise, and its implications. The BBC's Emily Thomas learns how maize rose to pre-eminence with author Betty Fussell, and takes a crash course in plant biology with Ricardo Salvador, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, to hear why corn is so productive. . We hear one woman's unenviable, life or death battle to avoid this ubiquitous ingredient and talk to a man who can estimate your corn consumption from a single strand of your hair. Finally, we ask what lengths a government will go to to protect their corn secrets, and find out why the Chinese government is scaling back its production of the crop. (Image: A man standing next to a field of tall maize crops. Credit: alexsalcedo/ Thinkstock)

Food Chain: The Quiz  

Have you ever wondered how many litres of water it takes to make one egg, or what links a 19th-Century electrician to modern pet food? Whose job was it to eat a corpse cake, what really happens when you burn your toast, and what are the world’s most powerful chili peppers? For the answers to these and many more questions, join us for the ultimate test of culinary trivia in The Food Chain’s inaugural quiz. Get your pens ready and play along with our studio panel: BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones; BBC Radio 4 correspondent Matthew Price; Jozef Youssef, chef and founder of Kitchen Theory in London; and BBC World Service presenter Jackie Leonard. (Photo: Flour plus egg equals spaghetti. Credit: Ryan Michael Rodrigo/EyeEm/Getty Images)

Food Chain: The Musical  

What can our music tell us about our culinary and cultural heritage? We explore the ways songs about planting, growing, milking and cooking reflect our lives and our livelihoods. The BBC's Kent DePinto takes us through a sampler of music from around the world, all performed with one thing in mind - food. We'll interpret the rhythm of milking songs in northwest Scotland, visit the hey-day of Yiddish theatre in Manhattan's Lower East Side, dip our toe into an age-old culinary beef in Ghana, and hear how a samba about fish eggs pinpoints social inequality in Brazil. Plus, we get a lesson in playing the leek from an orchestra that only plays vegetables. (Image: A music sheet made of edible salad leaves. Credit: ShaunL/ Getty Images )

Survival Stories: ‘We Ate Spiders, Flies and Worms’  

Lost in a barren and unforgiving part of Turkey, and forced to hide for days in a cave to get away from torrential rain and floods, a group of students turn to berries, grass and insects for sustenance. We speak to two of the students: Merije de Groot and David Mackie. Plus, what happens when you’re surrounded by people, but still have nothing to eat? We hear from Amin Sheikh – who survived alone on the streets of Mumbai for three years from the age of five. In the third of our Survival Stories programmes, the BBC's Emily Thomas is joined by Max Krasnow, an evolutionary psychologist from Harvard University, who explains how your tastebuds could save your life, and Dr Chris Fenn, a nutritionist and survival expert. (Image: David Mackie, after being rescued in Turkey in January 2015. Credit: Anadolu Agency/ Getty Images)

Hunger in the Rich World  

Why do people struggle to feed themselves in wealthy societies? Food banks - depositories of donated and excess food where the neediest can collect ingredients for basic meals - have been running in America since the 1960s. But they are only meant to be for emergencies. Why then, does it seem that in some developed economies, they have become the last defence for those unable to feed themselves? The BBC’s Manuela Saragosa visits the Oasis Waterloo Foodbank in London to hear the stories of people who depend on donated food during times of hardship. We look at the different perspectives around food aid and charity – is it right to treat food banks as a political issue? And, we explore how hunger and food waste - another perennial food problem - might make interesting bedfellows. (Photo: A woman browses canned foods at a food bank in San Francisco. Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The Hidden Cost of a Home-Cooked Meal  

Who does the cooking in your house? In many cultures the responsibility for preparing meals at home traditionally falls to women. But as more women join the global workforce, traditional household responsibilities are changing. What impact is that having have on our internal family dynamics? As part of the BBC's 100 Women season, we hear about the social and economic costs of putting a meal on the family table, when the most expensive ingredient is time. Four women from different continents explain the challenges they face trying to balance family life, work, and food. A working mother in Mumbai tells us why she won't give up her kitchen, and a stay at home mum in New York explains why her working husband does most of the cooking. Plus, we hear that in parts of rural Kenya women who cannot cook are far from marriage material. (Picture: A woman prepares vegetables in a village in Bangladesh. Credit: Jewel Samad, Getty Images)

Full English Brexit  

Twentieth century British playwright and novelist Somerset Maugham said that to eat well in Britain, you should eat breakfast thrice daily. And, nothing speaks to British culinary tradition more than the Full English breakfast - bacon, sausages, egg, beans, black pudding and mushrooms all on one plate. But how much of the ‘full English’ today is actually English? And, in a post-Brexit United Kingdom, how will the industries that cater to British breakfasters fare? The BBC’s Manuela Saragosa works her way through each food on the full English breakfast plate and explores how they could be impacted following the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. Ian Dunt, author of Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now?, explains why many believe food prices are set to eventually rise. The UK imports two thirds of its supply from neighbouring Ireland, but as the BBC’s Diarmaid Fleming finds out, some Irish mushroom farmers have already gone out of business. Claire Macleod of Charles Macleod Butchers tells us why Brexit has cast uncertainty on the future of her black puddings. And, we speak to the staff and diners of Brunchies Café in Sutton, south of London – are they concerned about adding a sprinkling of Brexit to their breakfast and if costs rise, is it a price worth paying? (Photo: A traditional English breakfast plate, with Union Jack flag. Credit: Thinkstock)

Burnt  

From the golden crust on a perfectly-baked loaf, to a crispy, crunchy potato chip - do you ever wonder why food that's been browned or charred, can smell, taste and look so good? It's one of cooking's most important flavour secrets. But it's now at the centre of a battle between health campaigners and the European food industry. The BBC’s Mike Johnson follows the story of browned and burnt food from an unexpected discovery in Paris 100 years ago to a state-of-the-art food testing laboratory in the UK, picking up some tips at a London cookery school along the way. (Picture: Unhappy burnt toast Credit: Thinkstock)

In Search of Lost Foods  

What happens to a food when people stop eating it? Most of the food we eat today comes from a handful of crops, but before we became a globalised society, our diet reflected a variety of plants, proteins and foods that were cultivated as local specialties. Now, as our diets become less diverse, these foods face a critical point in their existence. In this programme the BBC's Dan Saladino explores several stories of foods that are dying out and talks to the farmers and producers who are working to save them. (Photo: Mexican Blue Corn Credit: Omar Torres/AFP/Getty Images)

Plate of the Union  

Can you tell a Democrat by their salad? A Republican by their hamburger? An Independent by their coffee? With the outcome of the US presidential election just days away, The Food Chain looks at the surprising role food has played in a campaign like no other. We visit Arizona, a swing state in this year’s election, to see whether Americans think your food preference can be determined by your political preference. Regina Ragone of Family Circle magazine tells the BBC’s Kent DePinto how a comment by Hilary Clinton started a nation-wide baking contest that has been running since 1992. Plus, Lizzie O’Leary from Marketplace follows the money to understand how the political wishes of big food companies is expressed in political donations. We look at how taco trucks have become one the 2016 election's most polarizing issues. And we hear about the forgotten tradition of the American election cake. Photo: A blueberry pie in the design of an American flag. Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Dining with the Dead  

Food is a fundamental part of life’s biggest celebrations, from birthdays and weddings to religious feasts. It’s also a key part of death. This week, we hear how saying farewell to the departed has inspired centuries of food tradition, from corpse cakes and sin-eating in medieval Europe, to the pan de muertos and sugar skulls of Mexico's Day of the Dead. We visit a Death Cafe in London to find out how food and drink help end the taboos around discussing grief and loss, and we go graveside feasting in Estonia, where family meals include the departed. Plus, how funeral food extravagance is driving families into enormous debt in Ghana. (Picture: Chocolate skulls prepared for Mexico's Day of The Dead celebrations)

Vegan Babies: Should You Restrict Your Child’s Diet?  

Are parents wrong to impose their own restrictive diets on their children? An Italian MP wants to jail parents who choose vegan or other “reckless” diets for their kids. But many of these families argue their children are healthy and happy. This week, we take a look at the implications of excluding certain foods from a child’s plate. Should children be encouraged to develop their own food choices regardless of their parents’ convictions? Vegan, veggie and Paleo parents talk to the BBC’s Manuela Saragosa. (Photo: A child contemplates a plate of salad. Credit: Thinkstock)

Should We All Be Vegans?  

What would happen if we all became vegans? Veganism – cutting out animal products from your diet, and often your wardrobe – suddenly seems more mainstream than ever. It is attracting followers from Beyoncé to Al Gore, and there’s a new breed of vegan, too: vloggers espousing their veggie-heavy lifestyle to millions of online fans. Whether it is for health, environmental or ethical reasons, more and more people are embracing plant-based food. The BBC’s Mike Johnson sets out to explore what the world would look like if everyone gave up animal products tomorrow, and the economic consequences of a meat and dairy-free world. We talk to the owner of the first vegan café in Qatar, we test a meatless burger that ‘bleeds’ beetroot juice and we weigh up the human cost of an animal-free diet. (Photo: A detail of a painting by Giuseppe Acrimboldo featuring a man's head made out of vegetables. Credit: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

Stories from Syria  

How do people living through the Syrian conflict find food? The BBC’S Dan Saladino explores what’s happening in Syria, where food is often used as both a weapon and target of war. Bakeries have been reportedly targeted in bombings, and profiteers look to gain from the scarcity of staples by hiking up prices for the food that is available. We speak to Jakob Kern, who oversees a $700m operation for the UN’s World Food Programme as he attempts to get food aid into besieged towns and hard to reach communities. And we hear a meal shared between two re-settled Syrian families as they try to start a new life away from their war-torn homeland. Plus, we further explore how a food culture re-forms after it’s forced to flee and relocate, as Syrian-American Dalia Mortada shares the food stories she’s been collecting from the diaspora in the United States. And the small industries that might offer hope for farmers in a post-conflict country. (Photo: Bakers pack bread at a bakery in the Syrian city of Aleppo. Credit: Karam Al-Masri/AFP/Getty Images)

The Olympics of Chinese Food  

The world's top names in Chinese cuisine meet once every four years in a prestigious and gruelling cooking contest to determine which of them is the very best. Can a team of UK chefs make a gold medal-winning debut? The BBC's Celia Hatton takes a front-row seat at the World Championship of Chinese Cuisine, often called the Olympics of Chinese cooking. She follows Gavin Chun, a first-time competitor from London, who hopes to help his team to culinary glory. But will the chefs be able to execute the complicated 56 dishes they have to make? And what does the competition say about the evolution of modern Chinese food? (Photo: A chef at the World Championship of Chinese Cuisine)

Pestatarians  

The aliens have landed. This week, we’re looking at an unlikely product of globalisation: invasive species or pests. That’s a species of animal that ends up in an ecosystem that isn’t their natural home. As we'll hear, they pose a huge environmental risk to local ecosystems and food systems. But perhaps there’s a solution and it might involve getting our taste buds used to the idea of eating them. Some of us are doing it already. One of the most popular items on one London menu is the pesky grey squirrel. We also head to Australia to hear how feral camels have found an unlikely market with an immigrant community. And why a lobster has Sweden and North America getting their claws out. If you can’t beat em’, eat ‘em? (Picture: A camel at QCamel dairy, Queensland, Australia. Credit: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

The New Sushi  

It's widely agreed that bugs could be a sustainable source of protein for humans in the future, but large-scale production is very labour intensive. As the BBC’s Katy Watson discovers, in Mexico - where there is a long bug-eating tradition - the infrastructure required for a profitable bug industry is almost non-existent. In the US though, where the idea of having insects for lunch still turns most stomachs, some farmers are adding bugs to protein bars and crushing them into powder for health-conscious Californians. Some proponents say insects could be the new sushi. But are they right? (Picture: A scorpion served up in Mexico.)

Food on the Open Road  

It could be argued that our global economy is in some ways, driven by drivers. That is, long-haul truckers who carry goods from one side of a country to another. But truck driving is a profession that is struggling to recruit new members and a lot of it has to do with lifestyle and what’s available to eat. The BBC’s Mike Johnson discovers that a lack of fresh food options, combined with a sedentary lifestyle and strict schedules, leave truck drivers facing a higher rate of obesity and a shortened life-span when compared to other professions. But some truck drivers are working to change that. Plus, we discover what it’s like to eat on the road in the world’s longest country, and get a lesson in cab cooking along the way. (Photo: Truck drivers wait to pass at the border between Greece and Bulgaria. Credit: Sakis Mitrolidis/AFP)

Big Beer  

Next month, the world’s current largest beer maker, AB InBev is expected to take over the world’s second largest beer maker, SABMiller. If the plan goes ahead, together they will become the world's largest brewer, making about one out of every three beers around the world. But many, craft beer drinkers especially, do not like the idea of a single company making so much of our brew. The BBC’s Manuela Saragosa asks whether their concerns are valid - or whether it is all just froth. She talks to beer writer Peter Brown and travels to a hop farm in the English countryside to see where it all begins. We head to Uganda where homemade brew is still the traditional drink of choice, and Jasper Cuppaidge from Camden Town Brewery - a London-based brewer - tells us what being taken over by a global company has done for his business. And, the BBC’s Rob Young breaks down the deal for us in the pub.

0:00/0:00
Video player is in betaClose