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The Food Chain
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The Food Chain

Author: BBC World Service

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The Food Chain examines the business, science and cultural significance of food, and what it takes to put food on your plate.
264 Episodes
Some thought Covid-19 would give our planet a breather while many of our movements and industries were restricted, but there are worrying signs that in some parts of the world exactly the opposite is happening. Emily Thomas finds out how the pandemic has left many people hungry, desperate, and turning to rainforests and wild animals to feed themselves, whilst for others there's growing evidence the virus could be providing cover to make profit at the planet’s expense. We hear allegations of illegal slashing and burning of an Indonesian rainforest to make way for a palm oil plantation and ask Nestle, the world’s biggest food company, what it’s doing to make sure its products are deforestation free. The head of the UN’s Environment Programme explains why it’s more vital than ever for countries to put environmental protection at the heart of their economic recovery plans, and a conservation worker in Kenya shares fears that decades of animal and environmental preservation work is in danger of being undone. Contributors: Michael O'Brien-Onyeka, senior vice president for the Africa field division at Conservation International; Farwiza Farhan, founder of HAkA; Benjamin Ware, head of responsible sourcing, Nestlé; Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (Picture: Giraffe at Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Credit: Getty Images/BBC)
Emily Thomas asks whether the coronavirus pandemic will turn out to be the defining moment in the fight against obesity. Will we see governments take radical action, now that the pandemic has turned the spotlight on this growing global problem? And why hasn’t the pandemic made most of us eat more healthily? Even experts have been surprised by just how strong an impact obesity has been found to have on the risks of coronavirus. We hear from Professor Barry Popkin, of the University of North Carolina, who led a major study into the relationship between the two. He tells us he’s worried that food companies are using the pandemic to push ultra processed food on low-income populations. Professor Corinna Hawkes, of City, University of London, explains how obesity policy became personal in the UK after Boris Johnson caught the virus. And Jacqueline Bowman-Busato, Policy Lead for the European Association for the Study of Obesity, tells us how her own experience of living with obesity has led her to lobby for changes in how obesity is viewed and treated. She says the pandemic has provided a much needed wake up call on a neglected and misunderstood public health issue. If you would like to get in touch with the show please email (Picture: Fat cells, Credit: Getty Images/BBC)
Preppers have been preparing for a global emergency like coronavirus for years, stocking up supplies just in case society was ever brought to a standstill. So when our food systems began to buckle under the pressure of the pandemic, were they sitting pretty, and has this much ridiculed community now been vindicated? Emily Thomas revisits some preppers she first met three years ago to see how they’ve been coping since the crisis hit. Pete Stanford tells her he didn’t need to join the supermarket scramble for food in the first weeks of lockdown, but the crisis has made him rethink the way he preps and how much he’s willing to share. Lincoln Miles tells us he’s had a flood of new customers to his prepping shop, but that even he wasn’t prepared for the spike in demand. And we speak to a prepping newcomer, New York Times reporter Nellie Bowles, who’s gone from ridiculing this community to believing that being prepared is the socially responsible thing to do. (Picture: A man with a backpack and axe in the forest. Credit: Getty Images/BBC)
Following the Beirut explosion, we’re exploring the chemical that caused the blast - ammonium nitrate. It’s something many of us will have come across before, it’s in some of our antibiotics and used to feed yeast but it’s most commonly sold as a fertiliser. Graihagh Jackson examines how this substance has changed the world - feeding millions on the one hand, and fuelling warfare, pollution and biodiversity loss on the other. If you would like to get in touch, please email (Picture: Ammonium nitrate on petri dish. Credit: Getty Images/BBC)
She was born into one of the most prominent and wealthy families in the Philippines, but life has not been easy for Margarita Forés. She was forced to flee her country during President Ferdinand Marcos’ military dictatorship, she battled bulimia as a young woman and has overcome cancer twice. She tells Graihagh Jackson how cooking has helped her cope with some of her toughest challenges, offered a way to win her family’s approval, and helped her prove to herself that she could make it on her own. Now an award-winning chef and owner of Cibo, a successful chain of restaurants in her home country, she made her mark by blending Filipino ingredients with Italian cooking techniques, after falling in love with the country whilst at a cookery school there. And she has set her sights on pushing for Filipino food to be internationally recognised, whilst championing local farmers and their ingredients. (Photo: Margarita Forés. Credit: Margarita Forés/BBC)
After decades of racism, persecution and forced assimilation, Native Americans had lost many of their traditional foods and recipes. Award-winning chef Sean Sherman has made it his life’s mission to bring them back from the brink of extinction. He tells Graihagh Jackson about a “feral” childhood spent on a vast reservation in South Dakota, USA, and how his impoverished community was forced to rely on highly processed, government-supplied commodity foods, which he says have had serious and long-term health implications for his people. A successful but highly stressful career running restaurant kitchens pushed him to the point of burnout – he explains how a recuperation mission to Mexico led to an epiphany about his own food heritage and a meticulous effort to revive it and rid it of colonial influences. He’s since written an award-winning cookbook, set up a non-profit to educate others about North America’s native cuisines, plans to open a restaurant next year, and tells us he wants to make his indigenous food movement a global one. (Picture: Sean Sherman. Credit: Heidi Ehalt/BBC)
When a misguided halloween costume resurfaced on social media in June - no one could have predicted the events that ensued. It ignited a twitter storm about racism in food writing and led ultimately to the resignation of two food editors at major US publications. Graihagh Jackson hears from the whistleblower at the centre of the controversy and from critics of mainstream food media, who say myopic, white-washed and problematic representations of food are all-too-common. We hear from people trying to change the status quo and ask if this is the moment of reckoning the industry needs. If you would like to get in touch please email (Picture: Letters on a chopping board. Credit: Getty Images/BBC)
Meatpacking plants around the world are quickly becoming hotspots for Coronavirus outbreaks. In many rural parts of the United States, meat processing factories have now become the main source of Covid-19 infections. But why are other food factories not experiencing the same problem? And why is the US so adversely affected? Tamasin Ford takes a look at the unique conditions at meat processing factories that enable the virus to thrive and how the outbreaks have revealed some of the gruelling working conditions facing many workers around the world. In Denmark, Europe’s largest pig processor, we explore whether artificial intelligence and the use of robots could help prevent future outbreaks, or whether it’s simply about providing better working conditions for people working in the factories. If you'd like to get in touch with the team, please email (Picture: A man cuts meat for sausage. Credit: Lev Fedoseyev/TASS via Getty Images/BBC)
Money, time, and healthy choices can make mealtimes a challenge for many parents, but how do things change when sole responsibility falls on one adult's shoulders? In some parts of the world single parent families are now more common than ever before, but how does being a single parent influence your relationship with food, and also your child's? Tamasin Ford speaks to three lone-parents about their experiences: Salma Abdo, from Madrid, explains why mealtimes with her young son were the loneliest part of her day; Billy McGranaghan, founder of London charity Dads House, says he regularly had to skip meals so his child could eat; and Neferteri Plessy, who runs Single Mums Planet, in Santa Monica, California, talks about how food decisions can be tricky to negotiate with your ex. But all three describe how, despite the challenges, food can help create unique bonds in a single parent home through cooking and eating together. Producer: Simon Tulett Studio Manager: Hal Haines (Picture: Neferteri Plessy, Salma Abdo, and Billy McGranaghan. Credit: BBC)
Abandoned by her biological mother at six months old, a victim of sexual harassment and discrimination in the kitchen, and a recent breast cancer survivor – Dominique Crenn has faced her fair share of battles. The award-winning chef, author and campaigner – not to mention the first woman in the US to win three Michelin stars – tells Graihagh Jackson how sheer determination and a desire to make a difference have taken her to the top. She discusses the five key dishes that have shaped her life, from enjoying fresh oysters in a fish market with her father at 4am, to tomatoes – the ingredient that showed her the power of food and the importance of where it comes from. Dominique tells of her struggles in a male-dominated restaurant world, the heartache of her father’s death, and how she’s facing up to her latest challenge – Covid-19. Plus, she explains her recent decision to scrap land-based meat from all of her restaurants, and why cancer has prompted her to seek out her birth mother. Producer: Simon Tulett Studio manager: Annie Gardiner (Picture: Dominique Crenn. Credit: Jordan Wise/BBC)
It’s something many of us intuitively believe - certain foods have the power to make us feel better. But what’s the science behind this, why do we crave certain dishes, and do they provide solace for everyone? Graihagh Jackson explores what’s really happening when we turn to food for a pick-me-up: psychologist Shira Gabriel explains these foods’ links to memory and social connection; and psychiatrist Lukas Van Oudenhove reveals why so many comfort foods are high in fat or carbohydrates, and how this could be problematic in the long run. But comfort foods aren’t always comforting - we find out why an unhappy childhood can mean they provide little or no solace. And the concept is far from universal - food writer Jenny Linford says in some food cultures the idea is irrelevant. Plus, of all the millions of dishes out there, why do some rise to comfort food status? Food writer Kay Plunkett-Hogge explains why rice is the ultimate comfort food for many Thais. Producer: Simon Tulett Studio Manager: Hal Haines Let us know what you think about the show - email (Picture: A man hugging a giant ice cream. Credit: Getty Images/BBC)
When Asma Khan was born it was said her mother cried, but not tears of joy. As a second daughter born in 1960s India, Asma felt she was a disappointment, even a burden, because she could not inherit and would cost her family a fortune in dowries. But she went on to defy those low expectations and open one of London’s most sought-after restaurants. Asma tells us how she could barely boil an egg when she first got married and moved to England, about the intense loneliness she felt so far from home, and how the smell of paratha convinced her that the only way to recover was to learn how to cook. The Darjeeling Express founder describes the restaurant’s humble beginnings as a supper club in her London flat, why it has always had an all-female kitchen, and her plans to use food to empower female refugees and prostitutes. This programme was first broadcast in January 2020. Let us know what you think about the show - email (Picture: Asma Khan with a pakora and chutney. Credit: BBC)
Jacques Pépin is a household name across much of the US. He shot to fame starring alongside Julia Child on TV cookery shows in the 1990s, has written more than 30 books, and picked up multiple awards. He tells Graihagh Jackson about his precarious childhood dodging bombs in wartime France and the near-fatal car crash that ended his restaurant career, but set him on a path towards celebrity. Plus, the 84-year-old explains why he’s still sharing his cooking and recipes with the world through the coronavirus lockdown. Producer: Simon Tulett Studio Manager: Hal Haines Let us know what you think about the show - email (Picture: Jacques Pépin. Credit: Tom Hopkins/BBC)
Taste and smell loss are thought to be two of the most common symptoms of coronavirus, but some of the least understood, persisting long after the virus has gone. Scientists all over the world are racing to find out why Covid-19 is attacking these senses, and what this might teach us about the virus and how to track it – we hear about the latest theories from Turkey-based research scientist Maria Veldhuizen from The Global Consortium for Chemosensory Research. Meanwhile, thousands of coronavirus survivors are struggling to adapt to a life without taste and smell, including a young doctor who tested positive for the virus more than three months ago. She tells Graihagh Jackson how she’s been desperately trying to recover her sense of smell ever since, and how it has destroyed one of her great passions – food. We hear how smell is vital to the way we perceive flavour, but that it’s also important in other ways. Dr Rachel Herz, a neuroscientist and researcher on the psychology of smell at Brown University and Boston College in the US, explains that long-term smell loss is linked to depression because of the way the sense is plugged into the part of our brain that processes emotions and memories. But there is some hope - we speak to Chrissi Kelly, from the charity Abscent, who tells us how it’s possible to train your nose to smell again. Producer: Simon Tulett Studio Manager: Hal Haines Let us know what you think about the show - email (Picture: A woman staring at an apple on a plate. Credit: Getty Images/BBC)
The fishing industry has been brought to its knees in some countries, with Covid-19 forcing fishing to stop. Graihagh Jackson asks if the global slowdown could present an opportunity for beleaguered fish stocks to flourish once more and what would it mean for the fishing industry. If you would like to get in touch please email (Picture: Fisherman holds fish on trawler. Credit: Chris Furlong/Getty Images/BBC)
Antonio Carluccio describes his most memorable dishes in his last ever interview. The cook, restaurateur and writer, known as the 'Godfather of Italian cooking', died five days after this recording was made, aged 80. He tells Emily Thomas about his passion for simple, authentic Italian cuisine, and why he only began to pursue it professionally relatively late in life. He describes his horror at Britain's version of Italian food in the 1970s, his obsession with mushrooms, and reveals how much the late opera singer Luciano Pavarotti could devour in one sitting. Plus, hear about his struggles with fame and heartache, the tensions that came with expanding his eponymous chain of restaurants and delis, and the dish he would choose as his last. This interview was first broadcast on 16 November 2017. (Picture: Antonio Carluccio. Credit: Fred Duval/FilmMagic via Getty Images/BBC)
Food businesses have been some of the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Worldwide lockdowns have forced thousands of restaurants, bars and cafes to close, but many entrepreneurs have managed to keep their businesses afloat, forced to innovate to survive. We revisit some past Food Chain guests to find out how they’ve been coping and ask what they’ve learned about their business, their customers, and themselves. Tamasin Ford speaks to a chocolate maker in Ghana who hasn’t sold a single bar since the country locked down in March, and a fried chicken entrepreneur in South Africa who’s turned to feeding frontline workers to keep his kitchens and staff going. But business hasn’t been all bad - we hear from a baker in Montreal, Canada, who says he’s never sold more bread and has started selling bags of flour to meet a growing demand from home bakers. Plus, a restaurant critic from Melbourne, Australia, tells us what it was like going out for a meal for the first time in more than three months. Let us know what you think about the show by emailing or using #BBCFoodChain on social media. Presenter: Tamasin Ford Producers: Simon Tulett and Siobhan O’Connell Studio manager: Hal Haines (Picture: A woman picks up food and a drink from a restaurant during lockdown. Credit: Getty Images/BBC)
Have you noticed how there have been so many acts of kindness during the pandemic, especially when it comes to food? Graihagh Jackson hears how millions were raised in a matter of days to feed healthcare workers and how people have rallied to support food banks in the past few months. But what is behind this outpouring of generosity? And crucially, can it last? This week we delve into the psychology of why so many have felt compelled to help and ask whether COVID-19 could make us more generous. If you would like to get in touch, please email (Picture: woman carries box of food from food bank, Credit: REUTERS/ Lucy Nicholson/BBC)
Scientists are still trying to uncover exactly how COVID-19 emerged, although some evidence suggests the disease may have originated in bats and infected us via another animal host. Recently, we’ve seen the emergence of many such viruses - so-called zoonotic diseases - that jump from animals to humans; including Ebola, SARS and MERS. Some scientists believe they’re becoming increasingly common and that the primary driver is likely food and farming. So how have zoonotic diseases been dealt with in the past and can we learn any valuable lessons about our food chain there? Graihagh Jackson travels to Malaysia to uncover the story of Nipah virus that first emerged in 1999, killing up to 75% of those it infected. We hear how the virus emerged, how it changed the community there forever and how it was eventually curbed. Could the story of Nipah virus hold the key to how we protect ourselves from future pandemics like COVID-19? If you would like to get in touch, please email (Picture: Forest burning in the Amazon. Credit: Getty Images/BBC)
In an illustrious career spanning three decades, there’s little that booking-writing, seed-breading, ‘philosopher chef’ Dan Barber has not put his hands to. Celebrated as the poster child of the ‘farm to fork’ movement, he tells Graihagh Jackson how a visit to a wheat farm called into question everything he thought he knew about agriculture and changed his cooking and ethos forever. Surprisingly though, Dan started life wanting to be a writer not a chef. Through five dishes, we hear how a failed stint as a baker, a baptism of fire in french kitchens and running a company from a mice-infested kitchen eventually won him over to the cause. We learn that an obsession with simplicity and flavour has taken him on a farming odyssey around the world, what coronavirus can teach us about the future of food, and how it all started with a humble dish of scrambled eggs. If you would like to get in touch please email (Picture: Chef Dan Barber. Credit: Richard Bolls/BBC)
Comments (11)



Jun 28th

Carson Chiu

its different because farmer markets in the west don't sell live animals no wild animals are fine and all but live farm animals still carry disease

May 14th
Reply (1)

Scott McClure

Test comment

Jul 8th
Reply (1)

Carson Chiu

and from what I've heard, slaughterhouses are very much against filming their operations soooo

Jul 4th

Carson Chiu

man, this meat industry rep guy treats consumers as drooling idiots

Jul 4th
Reply (1)

Adrian Ambriz

keep it up guys. more podcast, more topics. good job.

Mar 10th

Fabio Abu-Chacra

One of the best channels of BBC

Jun 27th

Riccardo Widmer

a big fan of your channel 👌 funny and informative :)

Oct 23rd
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