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Soul Food, Caviar, Mezcal, and More Long Reads

Worthy weekend reading

John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/MCT via Getty Images

Doubling back on Southern food writing, Gullah basket weaving gets its day in the sun, cornbread breaks along racial lines, and panel of cultural experts weigh in on soul food. Safe food remains an urgent concern in a fast-growing society, and "Eating With Strangers Apps" are on the rise. One eager writer traverses Brooklyn to get to the scoop on Korean fruit vendors, another tracks the history of mezcal over the Mexico-California border, and a third dissects the luxury of roe. Here are eight great articles from the past week.

The Ancient Craft of Gullah Basket Weaving

Slaves farming rice in the Lowcountry fields of Charleston found the materials needed to make baskets, similar to those in West Africa. Those material—sweetgrass, bulrush, pine needles, and palmetto palm—are the same ones Dingle and other basket makers use today. When it comes to making them, Dingle says, "We just do a combination of how the basket talks to us."

Why does sugar in cornbread divide races in the South?
The Charlotte Observer

La'Wan's corn muffin and Lupie's cornbread are humble things. But they represent something deeper: The dividing line between black Southerners and white ones. As examples of one of the defining staples of Southern food, they also are a marker of food history that speaks volumes about origins and identity, about family and what we hold dear.

The State of Soul Food in America: Exploring the Past, Present, and Future
First We Feast

Thanks to successful civil-rights legislation and policy, African Americans can choose to live and eat outside of traditional black neighborhoods. But few soul-food restaurants have been able to survive the transition from being a neighborhood joint to becoming a destination spot. Even fewer have been able to survive in the suburbs.

A Safer Food Future, Now
Consumer Reports

To create a truly sustainable food system for the 21st century, we will have to address not only the well-publicized, harmful symptoms but also their underlying cause. Although it may be tempting to blame those problems on the workings of capitalism, the changes in food production during the past few decades have been largely driven by the elimination of free markets and real competition.

Why the Caviar-Producing American Paddlefish Is a Symbol of Luxury and Scarcity

While "snagging" is a practice of catching fish with an unbaited hook, many poachers would string nets across rivers to catch huge numbers of paddlefish. This practice threatened not only the paddlefish population but other fish as well. Poachers also killed the male and female paddlefish alike, en masse, looking for roe which they sold to caviar distributors on the black market.

Mezcal Sunrise
The New Yorker

With so much mezcal in the marketplace, seekers must work harder now. One evangelist, who travels back and forth from Mexico with a suitcase full of esoteric mezcals, told me that his favorite distiller works in a village three hours on a bad road from Oaxaca City. He gave me a phone number but warned me that probably no one would answer.

The Fruit Barons of Brooklyn
Lucky Peach

My favorite deal is loose green beans in a crate that you can grab by the handful and stuff in a plastic bag that you tear off from a roll suspended above you by a string, $1 for a pound. But make sure to get more than you think you'll need—because tomorrow they'll be gone. At Mr. CoCo, you never know what you're gonna get, and not knowing is half the fun.

Why No Dining App Is the ‘Airbnb of Food' (Yet)

With only a "couple of dinners a week and a bit of catering," he's making as much as when he was a head chef. Because of the abysmally low pay for most back of house staff, Schuder feels that a service that allows him to cut out the overhead, pay his staff better, and really focus on the food "pays off for the customer too."