We’re betting our readers can relate to a problem your friendly neighborhood World Ark editors ran into for this issue: finding the time to read another book just wasn’t in the cards this time around. Luckily for all of us, podcasts are tailor-made for multitasking. The rising popularity of the podcast format means that whatever you’re interested in, there is very likely a podcast (or 10) about it.
Whether you listen while commuting, hitting the gym or cleaning the kitchen, podcasts are a great way to feed your curiosity and exercise your brain while plodding through your to-do list.
Here are our recommendations on some favorite subjects: food, culture and, of course, cows.
The Splendid Table
This classic is for listeners who want to get into the nitty gritty of food and cooking. Produced and distributed by American Public Radio, The Splendid Table is a proven favorite, having run for more than 20 years—they were talking about food culture before food culture was cool (in the U.S., at least).
The heart of the show has always been the beloved host, Lynne Rossetto Kasper, though in episode 624, “A New Chapter,” Kasper announced her intention to hand hosting duties over to food writer Francis Lam. Kasper and Lam have a chat at the beginning of the episode, and when asked what he finds special about the show, Lam says that it’s always been the curiosity and generosity of spirit exhibited by Kasper, and that he hopes to continue the show in that same spirit.
This hour-long program goes both broad and deep. The show features interviews with all the movers and shakers of today’s food culture, including filmmakers, chefs, food writers and fellow podcasters. Recipes are offered up after most segments, and tutorials range from complicated Thanksgiving dinners to how to keep your sponge clean. To contrast these broad takes, Kasper takes listener questions every episode and does not hesitate to delve into the more mundane cooking questions, like how best to make your brownies fudgy, with the same level of passion and interest with which she explores more far-reaching aspects of food culture. With such a wide range of topics, there’s probably something here for everyone here—after all, this is the show “for people who love to eat.”
The Food Chain
This weekly program produced by the BBC World Service takes on “The economics, science and culture of what we eat.” The Food Chain focuses on a different dish every episode, exploring not only what the dish is, but the history of how it came to be and what it can teach us about culture and society. The show zooms out to examine the role of food in society, taking on issues such as how politics affect diets and vice versa, or why hunger still exists even in wealthy areas.
The Food Chain is all about answering the who, what, where, why and how of whatever dish each episode serves up. This pick is going to be the most like getting a newspaper-style article in audio form: focused and well-paced (clocking in at exactly 26 and a half minutes), the show doesn’t lag or go in for the meandering that many podcasts tend to fall into.
The soft-spoken Dan Saladino is our only host; other voices come from on location: chefs, food journalists, cookers and eaters who know what’s what. It’s fun to travel with Dan and encounter the different characters who make our food or have the historical knowledge to answer the esoteric questions about what we eat that we didn’t even know to ask.
Beef and Dairy Network
This one’s all about our favorite subject, cows, but perhaps not in the way you’re thinking. Hosted by Ben Partridge, this surreal comedy declares itself “The number one podcast for those involved or just interested in the production of beef animals and dairy herds.” Delivered in a quintessentially British style, the characters on the Beef and Dairy Network follow the subject of cows down delightfully bizarre rabbit holes, all while playing it completely straight.
You might understandably be struggling to conceptualize what a comedy podcast about beef and dairy would even sound like. Here’s an example: in episode 19, Partridge is joined by Henry Parker playing the part of Michael Banyan, the newly appointed “Bovine Poet Laureate.” The interview includes discussion of his first commission (to rewrite the cow noise) and shares a few of his poems with such memorable lines as “Black as night and white as snow / you’re like an edible domino.” Like any good podcast, the interview is broken up with a listener response section in the middle. One recent question: “How does looking into a cow’s eyes make you feel?”
If you’re looking for actual information about beef and dairy, you probably want to look elsewhere. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy a weird and wonderful ride.
Top photo by Henry Be via Unsplash