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In today’s edition:

  • An investigation into the dangerous work conditions of marine observers.
  • A review of two new books on cars and contemporary society.
  • An essay on the international laws that govern the world’s oceans.
  • Personal reflections on a mysterious teepee and one’s connections to nature.
  • An oral history of Top Chef.

1. The True Cost of Tuna: Marine Observers Dying at Sea

Lee van der Voo | Civil Eats | May 23, 2023 | 5,262 words

Marine observers collect data about the fish caught at sea and monitor the practices of crews aboard commercial fishing vessels. They are the eyes and ears on the water: the people that ensure safe and responsible fishing. But the canned tuna you eat may not be as safely caught as you think. As Lee van der Voo reports in this excellent investigation, the people tasked with upholding sustainable seafood standards face dangerous situations. Many of them, like Fijian observer Simi Cagilaba, experience harassment and abuse, while others have disappeared or been murdered at sea. Stronger safety measures, action from major retailers to push for better practices, and more robust technology to track illegal activities would help to improve observers’ work conditions. Van der Voo exposes the dark underbelly of Big Tuna, and will make you think twice about the origins of those tins of tuna in your pantry. —CLR

2. How to Quit Cars

Adam Gopnik | The New Yorker | May 15, 2023 | 3,792 words

I recently spent a month living and working in a different Canadian city, walking distance to a couple of grocery stores, a hardware and a pet store, and a few local pubs. How wonderfully liberating it was not to need a vehicle to pick up some bread, fruit, and oatmeal. How lovely to be able to wander down to the pub for a pint in the evening and then walk home. We put miles and miles on ourselves that month, enjoying the outdoors. This luxury is one I would love to have where I live, but alas, transit service is infrequent and we must rely on a car to get around. It’s with this recent experience in mind that I enjoyed Adam Gopnik’s review of two new books about cars and society. Daniel Knowles’ Carmageddon decries cars as “agents of social oppression, international inequality, and ecological disaster.” Henry Grabar’s Paved Paradise says that parking is a scourge, one that has compromised the quality of life in urban centers: “The American town lost its heart, became strip-malled and overrun, because the street front had been consumed by places to put the cars that brought you there,” writes Grabar. According to Gopnik, understanding that cars cause problems ignores the allure to own them. “Nonetheless, the argument for the car, like the argument for homeownership, resides simply in its appeal, an appeal already apparent to the majority of people on the planet,” writes Gopnik. “It is not only that the car provides autonomy; it provides privacy. Cars are confession booths, music studios, bedrooms.” —KS

3. The Law of the Sea

Surabhi Ranganathan | The Dial | May 9, 2023 | 5,038 words

Most of us have an old-fashioned cartographic mentality of the earth. And that’s not our fault: Conflicts between nations over time have formed the lines that make up the world as we know it. But as waters rise, the boundaries between land and sea shift. What is the ocean? Who has freedom on the sea? These are the types of questions that Surabhi Ranganathan, a University of Cambridge professor focused on international law, history, and the ocean, poses in this essay. With Ranganathan as our guide, we’re taken on a delightful journey across the surface and into the depths of the sea, as she examines and predicts challenges that will emerge due to climate change. When a sovereign island nation sinks, what happens? What issues arise from an ever-expanding continental shelf? Could seasteading reimagine civilization? Ranganathan presents an elegant narrative of the world’s oceans that is at once curious and imaginative yet grounded. She considers the international laws and politics that govern and control the sea, and opens our eyes to new ways to remake the world. —CLR

4. Mystery of the Disappearing Teepee

Masha Udensiva-Brenner | The Delacorte Review | May 23, 2023 | 8,016 words

I grew up in a ramshackle house across from some woods. Many a day, I would trot over the grass and disappear into those trees — dragging the family dog behind me — on an adventure dependent on the book I was reading (searching for pirates during my Swallows and Amazons era, looking for magic trees amidst The Faraway Tree phase). These memories enveloped me as I read Masha Udensiva-Brenner’s beautiful essay about Manhattan’s only natural forest, Inwood Hill Park. As a child, Udensiva-Brenner also found wonder in trees, spending hours playing at Inwood Hill and taking particular delight in a clearing holding a mysterious teepee and flower circle (I would have been thrilled by such a discovery). Udensiva-Brenner now recognizes her childhood memories may be hazy: The woman who made the teepee, Isabel Amarante, thinks she first built it much later. But facts and dates are irrelevant — everyone remembers something different about the teepee. What is important is that it is a place of solace for the many people who go there. For Udensiva-Brenner and Amarante, both immigrants, it is a place to feel a connection: to place, to the past, to nature. The parks department has a less romantic notion of this unlicensed structure. Udensiva-Brenner attempts to stay neutral in her reporting of the battle between Amarante and the park rangers to keep the teepee down, but I suspect she would be delighted if it popped up once again. —CW

5. The “Top Chef” Oral History: “How Is This Going Off the Rails on Day One?”

Mikey O’Connell | The Hollywood Reporter | May 18, 2023 | 5,573 words

In our 14 years as a couple, there is only one TV show that my husband and I have watched together consistently, and it’s Top Chef. (He leaves Outlander to me; I pass on Painting with John.) We’re not rabid fans like the people who, as this oral history of the series details, paid to go on a cruise with the hosts and several popular contestants and judges. “What really stayed with me is a lady, incredibly inebriated, running down the hallway to me,” season 10 winner Kristen Kish recalls. “I assume she was going to hug me but ended up fully licking my right cheek.” However, we never miss an episode of the show, which offers a window into the diversity and difficulties of the culinary world. Top Chef prompted me to master the art of risotto — a work in progress — and I’ve never been so excited to tell my husband, well, pretty much anything as I was to announce that I’d seen Padma working out at our gym while she was filming the Washington, D.C., season. This is all to say that I loved THR’s oral history, which is making the rounds online as the show’s 20th season wraps up. The season, which features contestants plucked from Top Chef‘s various international productions, is a testament to the show’s cultural impact. In related news, thank goodness producers didn’t go with the alternate title Grillers in the Mist.SD

Audience Award

This editor’s pick was the most popular among our readers this week:

I Asked ChatGPT To Control My Life, and It Immediately Fell Apart

Maxwell Strachan | Vice | May 17, 2023 | 6,339 words

As an experiment in work-life balance and personal productivity, Maxwell Strachan gave ChatGPT complete control over scheduling his day-to-day household, personal, and work tasks. At first, the bot’s cheery veneer seemed to help take the guesswork out of creating a personal schedule; however, its complete lack of emotional intelligence made for some awkward — if not potentially damaging — interactions with Strachan’s wife, Jessica. —KS