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What We’re Reading This Week: James Beard Media Award Winners!

The annual James Beard Award gala for chefs and restaurants was on May 7, so this week we’re celebrating some of the JBFA winners outside of the kitchen. The Media Awards, disseminated at the end of April, celebrate the best of food media, broadcasts, and journalism. We picked out some of our favorites for a “feeder’s digest.” Happy reading!

M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Award

“Who Owns Uncle Ben?

Bitter Southerner, Shane Mitchell

Mitchell stirs the proverbial and literal pot as he digs back 300 years into his family’s Charleston roots and the controversial origins of Lowcountry rice.

Rice is fundamental to the Carolina Lowcountry kitchen, where the pot contains ingredients introduced from West African, French Huguenot, and Caribbean Creole cultures, where Senegambian jollof turned into red rice and Parisian beignets de riz became calas and johnny cake. While imported grain established rice as a cash crop on the southern Atlantic coast as early as the late 1600s, a farmer named Hezekiah Mayham in 1786 planted the first documented field of the subtropical japonica that would eventually be called Carolina Gold.


Food and Health

“The Great Nutrient Collapse” 

Politico, Helene Bottemiller Evich

Atmospheric change isn’t just causing global warming — it’s resulting in a biological change to the food we eat.

…the problem isn’t that plants are suddenly getting more light: It’s that for years, they’ve been getting more carbon dioxide. Plants rely on both light and carbon dioxide to grow. If shining more light results in faster-growing, less nutritious algae—junk-food algae whose ratio of sugar to nutrients was out of whack—then it seemed logical to assume that ramping up carbon dioxide might do the same. And it could also be playing out in plants all over the planet. What might that mean for the plants that people eat?


Profile

“She Was A Soul Food Sensation. Then 19 Years Ago, She Disappeared.” 

Food52, Mayukh Sen

Pamela Strobel, a.k.a. “Princess Pamela,” ran a Soul food restaurant out of her 120-square-foot apartment in Alphabet City for 30 years before she vanished at the age of 70.

You weren’t a customer at her restaurant; you were a guest in her home. She certainly expected you to behave as such. If you went up to use the bathroom without asking, she’d walk right into the stall and drag your ass out. Did you think the chairs were wobbly? If you complained, Princess Pamela, firm and irate, would hiss to Ada, instructing her to feed you and get you out immediately. If you gave Princess Pamela lip, she’d banish you entirely.


Local Impact

“How A Secular Jewish Baker Became Miami’s Kosher King”

The Miami Herald, Carlos Frías

Baker Zak Stern pays homage to his Ashkenazi roots through dishes like corn rye bread, pickled cabbage, corn beef, and bialy.

Zak Stern keeps a kosher home, a kosher bakery and an ultra-kosher deli. He has been married for more than three years to an Orthodox Jewish Israeli with whom he has two daughters being raised in the faith. But it’s on the plate, not in a synagogue, where Stern keeps his Jewish traditions alive.


Humor

“I used every pumpkin spice product I could find for a week. Now my armpits smell like nutmeg.” 

The Washington Post, Maura Judkis

Judkis chronicles the almost-evangelical draw of pumpkin spice everything and her recent autumn commitment to “the pumpkin spice lifestyle.”

It started with a trip to my local Giant on Labor Day, the day before the PSL, as it’s called, hit Starbucks for the season. It was 85 degrees and sunny outside, but I was stocking up on autumn: pumpkin spice Chobani yogurt, Pillsbury pumpkin spice Cinnabon cinnamon rolls, Land O’ Lakes pumpkin spice “butter spread,” Belvita pumpkin spice breakfast biscuits. That night, I watched as Starbucks completed an 80-hour Facebook broadcast with the “hatching” of the season’s first PSL, named “Fall’icia.” Fans were commenting furiously.


Wine, Spirits, and Other Beverages

“Pu-Erh, The World’s Most Coveted Chinese Tea”

SAVEUR, Max Falkowitz

The “Helen of Troy” of tea is a high-elevation rarity with a secret growing location in the mountains of China.

If you’re hardcore about pu-erh, soon enough you’ll hear about Paul [Murray]. To some he’s an enigmatic ambassador for a community of Western tea enthusiasts that trade brews and bravura in chat rooms and forums. To others he’s a recalcitrant asshole who refuses to release enough details about his products and charges too much for them. In the world of pu-erh, such lacunae are more common than you’d think. Because while tea has drinkers, pu-erh has addicts. And here, in this magical grove on a mountain in Yunnan I’m not allowed to name, is a taste of the lengths those addicts will go to get their fix.


Feature Reporting

The NBA’s Secret Addiction 

ESPN Magazine, Baxter Holmes

The peanut butter and jelly sandwich pre-game ritual is a thing of lore…until now.

No matter how you slice it, it’s hard to swallow: The NBA is covered in experts, obsessed with peak performance — and still this pillar of grade-school cafeteria lunches is the staple snack of the league. An exorbitantly wealthy microclique, backed by an army of personal chefs, swears by a sandwich whose standard ingredients boast a street value of roughly 69 cents.


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