ON MAY 20, 1895, 16-YEAR-OLD Susie Johnson, wearing nothing but gauze and haloed by a flock of live canaries, burst through the crust of a giant pie. It was polo player John Ellliot Cowdin’s 10th wedding anniversary, and the dinner was lavish: 16 courses from clams to coffee, each punctuated by champagne. Two models entertained the male guests. There was a later rumor—likely apocryphal—that their hair color was coordinated with the wine, the brunettes pouring red, the blondes pouring white. Susie Johnson, dancing out of double-crust pastry, served herself.
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ELIZABETH HORTON NEVER INTENDED FOR Plum Bayou to become a testing site for recovering lost crops. By planting historical staples such as Chenopodium berlandieri, a type of goosefoot and a cousin of modern-day quinoa, she sought to teach visitors about the agriculture of the Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park’s original inhabitants. Yet Horton’s plants aren’t originals—they’re wild cousins of the crops that fed North America since at least 3900 BC.
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JUST OUTSIDE ST. LOUIS, VISITORS can witness the monumental earthen mounds that mark Cahokia, the largest indigenous city north of Mexico. There’s a persistent myth that the original inhabitants of what is now the United States were all hunter-gatherers living in small communities. Yet these mounds—likely used for ceremonial and housing purposes by people of the Mississippian Culture—reveal an often-neglected history: an organized, socially diverse, Pre-Columbian city.
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ALANA DAO COULDN’T FIGURE OUT which was worse: going to school with a lunch box full of hummus, or pulling out Chinese pork floss buns in front of her classmates. In the 1990s, Sugar Land, Texas, was a steak and potatoes kind of place.
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AS IT GLINTS IN THE afternoon sunlight, Newark, New Jersey’s Passaic River looks peaceful. But a plaque along the boardwalk has a warning for visitors. “The river remains full of life,” it reads. “Try to spot these creatures, but until the pollution is removed from the river, be careful NEVER to catch or eat any of them.”
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WHEN RELATIVES VISITED BRIGHTON KAOMA’S childhood home in the Copperbelt Province of central Zambia, they’d come bearing gifts: oblong brown chikanda, freshly dug from the earth of the family’s ancestral village.
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IN THE QUEST TO COMMUNICATE with life beyond our tiny blue planet, human beings have sent records of our most meaningful cultural expressions into space: Beethoven’s Fifth, a mother’s kiss, and now, queso.
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ALBERT AYENI WAS DISAPPOINTED. It was 1976, and he had just moved to the United States to pursue his PhD in agronomy at Cornell. Yet something was missing from his new country’s cuisine: “No hot pepper in the diet,” Ayeni says.
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DAVID DENKENBERGER WANTS TO BUILD a system to feed eight billion people in a world without sunlight. His inspiration: the humble mushroom. In 2011, Denkenberger was reading a scientific paper that suggested that after such a catastrophe, humans would die out, while mushrooms would thrive in the dark. According to Denkenberger, his reaction was, “Well, why don’t we just eat the mushrooms and not go extinct?”
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It started with suet. Some say camp administrators decided that Italian internees should cook with suet instead of olive oil to cut costs. Others say lower ranking internees, who had been crew members on the ships they were taken from, suspected that former officers were getting olive oil while they were stuck with beef fat. Either way, tensions hit a breaking point when a group of angry internees charged into the kitchen.
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