The Digest

Unlucky Peaches & Other News

17th March 2017

Words: James Hansen
Painting: Adriaen Coorte

In this week’s round-up of the best food stories on the web: a history of fruit walls, the evolving kitchen, and Spain in a paella pan

There is only one place to start this week: the sad news that Lucky Peach will fold in Autumn, following its May issue with a bumper send-off. We find Chris Crowley writing a nostalgic eulogy over at Grub Street, centred on the magazine’s tireless commitment to tell the stories of diasporic food cultures transparently, and enthusiastically. The mantle that David Chang, Peter Meehan and Chris Ying leave behind is a considerable one; they at once created and sated an appetite for their version of what food writing can be, and the people it can reach: it remains to be seen whether the hunger will endure. Pair Chris’ piece with a varied trio: a sober take from George Reynolds; an LP classic: “America, Your Food is So Gay”, from John Birdsall; and the T.S. Eliot poem that questions whether we should dare to eat peaches at all.

“While I spent each day surrounded by food – touching it, growing it, making it sing for our customers – I did not earn enough to buy that same food for my own family.” This is the sobering reality endured by Debbie Weingarten, and countless food producers like her, which she documents candidly for Edible Baja Arizona. Weingarten is no longer farming – a privileged position she is unafraid to interrogate – and the stories she tells are anchored by in-depth statistical analysis. There is a dark irony at the heart of her piece: those who produce food for others cannot afford to feed themselves.

Moving from present-day farming to an historical perspective, Kris de Decker provides a fascinating history of fruit walls for Lowtech Magazine. A thorough excavation of the fruit wall’s role in urban farming is punctuated by beautiful archive images: vines twisting along brickwork in southern France; peaches (luckier ones) clinging to Parisian walls. It’s a juicy insight into the evolution of fruit production; stay to the end for an enlightening footnote on the colourful history of greenhouses. Spoiler: Romans.

Dipping back into the visual arts, we find the unapologetically literal Old Photo Archive with a photoessay on the evolution of kitchens. Key signposts include the Hoosier cabinet – eliminating the journey between pantry, shed and well that we’ve always found tedious – and the shift from individual cabinets to integrated units, treating the kitchen as a room worthy of spending time in, rather than a spartan preparation area. The sight of a “liberal use of yellow” – read, garish custard – in a 60s kitchen may well tickle some, while the essay alights in the 1970s, with the kitchen diner fully taking over. Look around your own space, and remember the Hoosiers that paved the way.

We finish for this week with paella: “You will find the entire history of Spain within the perimeter of a paella pan.” So says Matt Goulding at The Guardian, with an excerpt from his latest bookGrape, Olive, Pig. It’s an intense marriage of Valencian tradition – the dish as a reflection of the city’s immediate surroundings – with millennial knowledge-sharing –  the obsessively detailed Wikipaella, which maps the use of certain ingredients across 200 different versions of the one-pan cultural touchstone. Goulding skilfully dovetails an ingredient-led dedication to paella’s culinary particularities with its wider, historiographical implications: the dilution of the dish into “a pan of rice as yellow and wet as a banana slug” has ramifications far beyond a sloppy spoonful. Pair with Teresa Lust writing on grissini at Alimentum Journal, for another piece happily entangled in the reciprocity between the food we eat and the world outside the kitchen.

Detail from “Three peaches on a stone ledge with a Painted Lady butterfly” by Adriaen Coorte

Posted 17th March 2017

In The Digest


Words: James Hansen
Painting: Adriaen Coorte

More from The Digest

Fishing at the End of the World & Other News – This week's food-writing trawl pulls in an ode to the apron, a fruitless approach to cocktails and Seinfeld suppers

Cooking With Wine & Other News – This week's food writing round-up covers food delivery in Calcutta, eating in crisis and the global journeys of three great ingredients

Hell’s Chicken & Other News – This week's food writing survey takes in coffee rituals, meditations on bread and the art of toasting marshmallows

Porridge Wars & Other News – In this week's food writing survey: gluttonous lunches, expensive melons and the culinary diversity of Los Angeles