KUT podcast investigates food history, connection to capitalism

Elizabeth Huang

KUT’s new podcast, “The Secret Ingredient,” explores food and its connection to capitalism, colonialism and death. 

The bi-weekly podcast launched in September and is hosted by Raj Patel, research professor in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs; Rebecca McInroy, senior host and producer at KUT; and Tom Philpott, food correspondent for Mother Jones Magazine. 

Journalism professor Robert Jensen said he pitched the idea for the podcast to McInroy and recommended Patel and Philpott as hosts who could offer a critical viewpoint of the food system.

“It’s not just recipes …; it’s an examination of why we eat the things we eat,” Jensen said. “People are more aware than ever of the relationship between food and personal health, food and ecosystem health and the role of political and economic forces in what we eat.”

“The Secret Ingredient” episodes center around issues surrounding food, such as unequal access to food and oppression of those who produce the food we eat, McInroy said. This focus led to an episode about the inadequacy of prison food and another episode about the exploitation of women in banana factories. 

“Whatever food we look at, we try to take a holistic view and see what are the real problems,” McInroy said. “Who’s benefiting from this food being bad, from this food not being attainable? What are the larger issues that this is speaking to?”

The podcast also explores the problematic history behind common foods such as sugar, Patel said.

“Most people don’t know that sugar was the original plantation crop,” Patel said in an email. “When we talked to the late, great Sidney Mintz, he pointed out to us how our sweet tooths are enabled by a dark history of slavery, conquest and genocide.”

The goal of the podcast is to inform people of all of the hidden costs and violence associated with the things we consume and how we consume them. When people are aware of these problems, they can start to come up with solutions to prevent and correct the exploitation of those involved with their food, McInroy said.

“We need to be more involved in the idea of asking your politician, ‘What’s your position on feeding the world, on food equity, on sustainability?’” McInroy said. “Once we gain more of a dialogue and think more about it and make these issues more visible, I think people will take care of other people.”