Peter Smith's Top 5 Longreads of 2011

Peter Smith has written about food and science for GOOD, Wired, and Gastronomica. He’s based in Maine, and, in 2011, he covered pickle juice, patented sandwiches, and the last sardine cannery in North America. This is his first attempt at Top Five Longreads.    

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Here are my (somewhat arbitrarily selected) #longreads that, er, explore unexpected, underexplored, and purposely obfuscated aspects of the world—sometimes involving the curious things we put in our mouths. 

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1. “The Mystery of the Canadian Whiskey Fungus,” Adam Rogers, Wired

Mycology hardly gets the kind of attention we reserve for charismatic megafauna—whales and wolves and wooly mammoths—but Adam Rogers explains how a conspicuous black growth in distillery in Lakeshore,  Ontario led to the discovery of a previously undiscovered fungal microparadise.

2. “Here Be Monsters,” Michael Finkel, GQ 

I read very few stories on my phone, but I started reading this adventure story and could not put it down. Michael Finkel tells the tale of three boys who make a drunken escape off a tiny, isolated island and end up lost at sea, starving and trying to catch fish with the innards of their boat’s engine.

3. “Planet in a Bottle,” Christopher Turner, Cabinet 

Diets are a dime a dozen—the Atkins Diet, the Blood Type Diet, the More-of-Jesus-Less-of-Me Diet, the Paleo Diet—but the CRON-diet was not one that I had ever even heard about. Christopher Turner delves into its origins in the failed experiment in the Arizona desert known as Biosphere.

4. “India’s Vanishing Vultures,” Meera Subramanian, The Virginia Quarterly Review

Subramanian’s essay on the devastating unintended consequences of a veterinary drug on India’s vultures, along with one man’s efforts to restore the birds with “vulture restaurants,” elicits a rare enthusiasm for both environmental toxicology and the scavenging creatures who eat the dead.

5. “Unnamed Caves,” John Jeremiah Sullivan, The Paris Review

Sullivan’s most recent collection—as Wells Tower put it recently—makes you want to barf with envy. After reading this extensively researched story about spelunking in Tennessee, wherein the author tries to find the meaning of 6,000-year old cave paintings, I’ll admit, I also had to pick my jaw up off the floor. (It’s only excerpted online; you’ll have to buy the paperback.)

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