Sep 2, 2021 5 min read

#309: The Food Issue 🌽 🥭 🍗 🍜

#309: The Food Issue 🌽 🥭 🍗 🍜

Hello and happy Thursday, loyal readers. Thank you very much for opening The Highlighter. Last week’s Animal Issue was a big hit. And many of you have told me you appreciate the recent move to focus on themes that intersect with race, education, and culture. So let’s do more of that, shall we? (I sa

Hello and happy Thursday, loyal readers. Thank you very much for opening The Highlighter. Last week’s Animal Issue was a big hit. And many of you have told me you appreciate the recent move to focus on themes that intersect with race, education, and culture.

So let’s do more of that, shall we? (I say yes.)

To that end, this week, I’m highlighting four great articles about food. Food is culture, after all — and if I ever forget that, all I need to do is remember my grandmother’s pasta al pesto or my mom’s coniglio alla ligure. (They’re delicious.) In today’s issue, you’ll read about the cultural importance of corn, the exclusivity of Pakistani mangoes, the ramifications of cheap chicken, and the multiethnic popularity of garlic noodles. I hope you find at least one of the articles worth your time and attention. Please enjoy!

+ At Article Club this month, we’re reading and discussing “How to Name Your Black Son in a Racist Country,” by Tyrone Fleurizard. The essay is “a master class in content and technique,” says Article Clubber


, and I agree. Right from the beginning, Mr. Fleurizard hooks you and doesn’t let go. I encourage you to sign up for our conversation. All you need to do is hit reply and tell me you’re interested.

+ I’m also happy to announce that at long last, after 18 months of sadness and despair,

Highlighter Happy Hour

is back! We will be at Room 389 in Oakland on Thursday, September 23, beginning at 5:30 pm. I’ll share more details next Thursday, but in the meantime, if you want to secure your free ticket early, let me know!

Corn Tastes Better On The Honor System

Corn Tastes Better On The Honor System

For some people, corn is a great summer side to complement barbecue ribs or grilled chicken. But for Robin Wall Kimmerer, a member of Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and the author of Braiding Sweetgrass, corn is the “center of culture,” the “bringer of life,” and an opportunity for us to learn about reciprocity, rematriation, and the abundance of the land.

This well-written, well-researched essay is overflowing with knowledge and thought-provoking ideas. You’ll learn in depth the 9,000-year history of mahiz, the ways Indigenous peoples honored the grass, the marvelous science of the plant, and how colonization and capitalism threaten the cooperative mutual relationship humans have with corn, and vice versa.

Prof. Kimmerer writes, “With all those kernels packed tightly together and completely enclosed by the husk, the seeds are trapped. They can’t disseminate themselves. They need human hands to liberate them from the husk, to twist them from the cob and to sow them in fertile soil. They need us to poke them into the earth every spring. People and corn are linked in a circle of reciprocity; we cannot live without them and they cannot live without us.” (28 min)

The Secretive, Semi-Illicit, High Stakes World Of WhatsApp Mango Importing

Ahmed Ali Akbar loves mangoes, but he saves his energy for the best in the world: Pakistan’s Anwar Ratol and Chaunsa varieties. The experience of eating the explosively sweet fruit is “like drinking a juice box from nature,” he writes. The only problem: Because of USDA regulations, and slow-going “mango diplomacy,” it’s almost impossible to find Pakistani mangoes in the United States. Unless, of course, you know how to navigate WhatsApp suppliers and the Southwest Airlines cargo bay at your local airport. (27 min)

+ Americans doubled their mango consumption between 2000 and 2018. (I prefer peaches.)

Blue, who belongs to loyal reader Laura, loves playing with other pups, swimming, exploring, and generally spreading joy. Want your pet to appear in The Highlighter?

America’s Favorite Illogically Cheap, Ecologically Dubious Roasted Chicken

When I visit my mom, she asks, “What do you want for dinner?” as if she doesn’t know the answer. Her roasted chicken rivals fancy restaurants. But ever since Boston Market, and with the  proliferation of $4.99 rotisserie chickens from Costco, now everyone can take home a tasty bird, no problem. Except we know that there’s no good reason chicken should be that cheap. In this informative article, Cathy Erway explains the harmful consequences of paying too little for the food we put into our bodies. (15 min)

How Garlic Noodles Became One of the Bay Area’s Most Iconic Foods

They’re Vietnamese. They’re Filipino. They’re Burmese and Black, Korean and Japanese, Peruvian and Mexican. They’re garlic noodles, and no matter who makes them, they’re as Bay Area as Mission burritos and Dutch Crunch sandwiches. In this tribute, Luke Tsai honors the origins of the butter- and garlic-soaked dish, praising Chef Helene An and Thanh Long restaurant in the Outer Sunset. Then Mr. Tsai turns his attention to how the Black community contributed to the dish’s rise in popularity beginning in the 1990s. Chef Tiffany Carter says, “This is soul food for us. Our generation is not going to have a cookout without garlic noodles. Ten out of ten, that’s what they want.” (13 min)


Reader Annotations

: Loyal reader


appreciated last week’s Animal Issue. He wrote, “I found this to be a refreshing theme and timely. The week has been rough in the world of education. The animals are so therapeutic! Of course, I’m a bit biased as a dog owner and all.” Thank you for your kind words, Matt! If an issue or article resonates with you, please let me know by hitting reply or leaving a quick voice message.

Thank you

for reading this week’s issue of The Highlighter. Did you enjoy the theme? Or do you think we should go back to the regular format (less food, more race, education, and culture)? Let me know by clicking on “Yes” or ”No” below. I like hearing from you.

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