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No Food Waste:The Frugal Housewife 200 Years Ago (EP 023)

Food Waste is a cause-du-jour, and for good reason. Up to 40% of the food produced in the U.S. is wasted or lost. Considering how constrained are our resources like fresh water, topsoil, and clean air, that is an excess we cannot afford. Waste and loss at the production and processing levels seem daunting to the average consumer, but we CAN make a difference starting in our own kitchens. This idea was championed 200 years ago by a determined young leader who was not afraid to take a stand...


Feedlots: Marbled Meat for the Masses (EP 022)

Prime? Choice? Moderately Abundantly Marbled???? Which beef would you rather eat: utility, cutter, or canner? Can you tell by looking at a steer what kind of meat it will yield? If you're a feedlot operator, you can. In 1935, 5% of beef cattle were fed in feedlots. By 1968, nearly three-quarters of the beef eaten by Americans came through industrialized feedlots. Led by California food disruptors like Dwight Cochran, feedlot operators in the 1940s and 1950s realized that they needed to...


Tragedy of the Commons: Overgrazing Our Home on the Range (EP021)

We killed all the buffalo to make room for cattle grazing on the American plains. In our very American desire to consume lots of beef, at a cheap price, we have ruined much of what once looked like an endless bounty of free feed for steer. In the 1870s, demand for beef was high, start-up investments for ranching were low, and feed looked free. Cattle ranchers pushed unsustainable numbers of cattle onto fragile open range land. In 1870, 5 acres of range land could support a steer; by 1880, it...


Allan Savory v The Scientific Method (EP020)

Allan Savory (1935-) a wildlife and land steward as well as a livestock manager, suggests that traditional methods of cattle grazing have turned broad swaths of grasslands throughout the world into deserts. His innovative solution to this problem is what he calls "holistic grazing" and what other people call AMP, or Adaptive Multi-Paddock grazing. This is the holistic grazing method used by Pomponio Ranch (listen to Episode 019). Savory's basic idea is that cattle are herd animals, and they...


Pomponio Ranch: Disrupting Industrial Meat

Signe Ostby, high-end brand manager cum cattle rancher, only markets products that qualify as best-in-class. She produces and sells organic, pasture-raised beef and pork. Signe owns a 2,700-acre ranch in the coastal hills of San Gregorio, California. At Pomponio Ranch, approximately 200-250 head of Angus and Angus-cross cattle are bred and raised for meat. The cattle spend their entire lives on the ranch, grazing on coastal grasses. They are "finished," i.e. fattened for slaughter, on...


Food System Fixes: Bottom Up or Top Down (EP018)

In previous episodes of The Food Disruptors, we've discussed how in the 18th and 19th centuries, Oliver Evans automated wheat milling, how Cyrus McCormick revolutionized wheat harvesting, and how Cadwallader Washburn made white flour cheap by "importing" a new milling technology and building the biggest mill in the world. Then, in the 20th century, Norman Borlaug developed a disease-resistant wheat hybrid that could be grown on an industrial scale in a wide range of challenging climates....


The Green Revolution — Norman Borlaug and the New Wheat (EP017)

Norman Borlaug (1914-2009) disrupted American foodways on an unprecedented scale. Unlike most profit-conscious Food Disruptors, Borlaug dedicated his life to agricultural research. He labored for decades with his hands in the soil. Borlaug experienced hunger first-hand. He witnessed bloody food riots during the Great Depression. Motivated to raise people up through improved grain yields, he fundamentally altered wheat crops. In 1944, Mexico was starving. In the same fields, under the same...


Who Is Ball, and Where Is My Mason Jar? (EP016)

Mason jars stand everywhere at-the-ready as stolid, gleaming icons of utility, transparency, and authenticity. But wait. Why is that name in glassy relief across the jar-front not "Mason?" Why "Ball?" Or "Kerr?" The answer lies in a classic encounter of a food system need with capitalistic machinations that were anything but straightforward. Was Mason, an inventive tinsmith, also a fraudster or just dumb about business? And how did the Ball Brothers -- all five of them -- segue from "wood...


Tinkering with Mason Jars (EP015)

Yes, they're everywhere. Even more ubiquitous than leopard print clothing and distressed jeans, Mason jars are oh-so 2013. For years, Millennials have been using these preservative containers as ironic cocktail and cold-pressed-coffee holders. The current generation of 30-somethings wasn't the first to get cheap utility by using Mason jars for drinks. Their Baby-boomer parents were well ahead of them in this fad (as they were with broken-in jeans, environmental activism, and alt music)....


Dare We Question Dairy? (EP014)

In the 1880s in New York City, a wealthy merchant named Nathan Straus (1848-1931) determined to put a stop to skyrocketing infant mortality (25%+ in urban centers). Many people were suspect of the new food technology, pasteurization. Straus and his wife, Lina, who had lost a baby and a toddler -- the baby most assuredly to tainted milk -- decided to offer pasteurized milk to poor families at "milk depots." Mothers and their children could stop in at these cool, clean, convenient places for...


Got Milk? Yes… But WHY? (EP013)

Milk and dairy products constitute a gigantic force in American foodways. But why? We do not need cows' milk to survive. Other mammals' milk in other cultures proves as effective for feeding babies who for one reason or another cannot access a human mother's breastmilk. And yet, the dairy lobby is one of the most forceful lobbies shaping U.S. food policy. Untold grazing acreage, transportation and refrigeration resources, packaging, marketing, and endless feet of refrigerated store shelving...


Meat Part 2: America’s Dressed Beef Destiny (EP012)

So far in the story of America's Food Culture, there has been no turning the majority of the population away from a gustatory lust for beef. In the 19th Century, that regard for locally butchered red meat created unhealthy cesspools in heavily trafficked urban areas and polluted drinking water. At the same time, it drove the creation of a hugely capital-intensive railroad system designed largely for the transport of beef-on-the-hoof. That culinary culture also gave us a distribution system...


Meat Part 1: From Colonists to Cowboys (EP011)

How did Americans come to regard abundant meat, especially fresh beef, as their right? It started when colonists arrived from a culture of protein privation in Europe to an ecosystem filled with animal protein for the taking, with no societal restrictions on who could eat what type of meat. At first, the processing of grain into protein via the husbandry of domesticated animals made sense as it was done household-by-remote-household. Land management in the sparsely populated regions of the...


Gail Borden: Serial Entrepreneur (EP010)

Gail Borden was a failed serial entrepreneur until finally he succeeded. His success was based on two strokes of good luck: 1) Jeremiah Millbank, a wealthy financier, took a shine to Borden and his passion for manufacturing condensed milk on a random train ride. Borden was down to his last nickel, and had lost everything in his repeated attempts to monetize his innovations; and 2) the Union Army decided Borden's struggling brand was exactly what it needed to get calories to troops on the...


Canning Part 1: Yes We Can! (EP009)

¡Sí se puede! Two hundred years before the first Obama presidential campaign, a determined French chef and confectioner, Nicolas Appert, might have been telling himself, I know there's a way to preserve food. It took him sixteen years, but with the lure of a heavy prize purse in the offing, he figured out, through countless trials, that hermetically sealed food submerged in a hot-water bath could be preserved. It was half-a-century later when Louis Pasteur figured out the bacterial science...


Claus Spreckels Part 2: Control and Corruption (EP008)

Claus Spreckels' appetite for business success grew in tandem with his ego. He liked to win, and did not respond benignly to opposition. This led him to seek control in every endeavor he undertook. He vertically integrated his West Coast sugar refining operations so that he could control his supply of raw materials -- first, in sugar cane, then in sugar beets. He bought and bribed his way to land and water rights in Hawaii so that he could control the inputs to his cane fields. He built his...


Claus Spreckels Part 1: Sweet Immigrant Success (EP007)

The first part of the Claus Spreckels story sounds like the quintessential American immigrant success story. He spent his entire career in foodways. In the 1840s, still a teenager, he left his family's poor farm in what is now northern Germany during the European Potato Failure. Scraping together a passage in steerage, he emigrated to the USA, and landed with no money and no ability to speak English. Within a few short years, he successively ran his own grocery in Charlottesville, and then...


Washburn Part II: Industrial Flour (EP006)

Cadwallader Washburn came a long way from Maine to Minnesota -- in miles, in prestige, and in wealth. He caught a lucky break in the form of the Civil War, which put dunning creditors on hold and allowed him to practice busting up river impediments on the Yazoo Pass. He marshaled the power of St. Anthony Falls near Minneapolis for milling, and figured out how to marry the wheat that would grow on the northern plains with what consumers desired: fine, white wheat that made bread rise high....


Washburn Part I: Making Mill City (EP005)

Cadwallader Washburn (1818-1882) was born one of seven kids on a hard-scrabble farm in Livermore, Maine. When he was ten, he was farmed-out to pay his family's way out of bankruptcy. Nevertheless OR therefore, he played a leading role in a remarkable family of American leaders -- Congressmen, a Secretary of State, ambassadors, governors -- and in C.C. Washburn's case, Food Disruptor. He had a penchant for big operations, big risks, and other people's money. Together with Oliver Evans and...


Cyrus McCormick: Scaling the Reaper Business (EP004)

Cyrus McCormick left a legacy as one of the most visible, vocal, forceful, and materially successful capitalists of the Industrial Revolution. Even though he fashioned a starring role for himself in the "McCormick legend" as the inventor of the mechanical reaper who rescued all of mankind from Malthusian starvation, he actually wasn't much of an inventor. McCormick was an INNOVATOR of the first order, and he had the outsized ego to match. Today, a reaper sounds so prosaic. But McCormick...