Many people recommend podcasts to me, but I suspect that the majority of the time, they’re just parroting back what’s popular or they’ve heard about recently. Listening to podcasts is often work and takes some effort in investing one’s time. As a result, just knowing what podcasts people have actually listened to is very valuable. If it wasn’t good, interesting, or entertaining, they’d have switched the channel. If they listened and actively chose to share it, it must be even better.
If anyone is interesting in building and sharing their own faux-cast, I’m happy to help them do something similar on their own website.
Of course if you want the more “traditional” answer, there are lots of awesome podcasts about which I think, “Everyone should listen to this!” John Biewen’s Seeing White is one of my favorites.
Drop what you’re doing and immediately go out to subscribe to Our Daily Bread: A history of wheat and bread in very short episodes!
The illustrious and inimitable Jeremy Cherfas is producing a whole new form of beauty by talking about wheat and bread in a podcast for thirty days.
It’s bundled up as part of his longer-running Eat This Podcast series, which I’ve been savoring for years.
Now that you’re subscribed and your life will certainly be immeasurably better, a few thoughts about how awesome this all is…
Last December I excitedly ran across the all-too-well-funded podcast Modernist Breadcrumbs. While interesting and vaguely entertaining, it was an attempt to be a paean to bread while subtly masking the fact that it was an extended commercial for the book series Modernist Bread by Nathan Myhrvold and Francisco Migoya which had been released the month prior.
I trudged through the entire series (often listening at 1.5-2x speed) to pick up the worthwhile tidbits, but mostly being disappointed. As I finished listening to the series, I commented:
Too often I found myself wishing that Jeremy Cherfas had been picked up to give the subject a proper 10+ episode treatment. I suspect he’d have done a more interesting in-depth bunch of interviews and managed to weave a more coherent story out of the whole. Alas, twas never thus.
A bit later Jeremy took the time to respond to my comment:
I’ve no idea how the series actually came about, or what anyone aside from Chris really thought about it. It would be nice to see any kind of listener engagement, but it’s hard to find anything. There are three tweets over the entire series that use the show’s official tags.
Still, what’s done is done, and I doubt anyone would want to support another series all about bread. Or would they … ?
I’ll admit I did spend a few long and desperate weeks salivating with \hope over that ominously hanging “Or would they…?” statement. Ultimately, I let it pass distracted by listening to Jeremy’s regular Eat This Podcast episodes. Then this past week I’ve been bowled over by discovering what has obviously been fermenting since.
I’d love to take credit for “planting the seed” as it were for this new endeavour, but I suspect that the thousands upon thousands of adoring listening fans that Mssr. Cherfas’ podcast has, he’s heard dozens of similar requests every day over the years. Even more likely, it’s his very own love of bread that spawned the urge (he does, after all, have a bread blog named Fornacalia!), but I’ll quietly bask as if I had my very own personal suggestion box to have a first-class production staff at my beck and call to make me custom podcast content about food, science, and culture.
It’s always amazing to me how scintillating Jeremy Cherfas’ work manages to be in these. What is not to love about his editorial eye, interview skills, his writing, his production abilities? I’m ever astounded by the fact that his work is a simple one man show and not a 20 person production team.
I’m waiting for the day that the Food Network, The Cooking Channel, HGTV, or a network of their stripe (or perhaps NPR or PBS) discovers his supreme talent and steals him away from us to better fund and extend the reach of the culinary talent and story-telling he’s been churning out flawlessly for years now. (I’m selfishly hoping one of them snaps him up before some other smart, well-funded corporation steals him away from us for his spectacular communication abilities to dominate all his free time away from these food-related endeavors.)
Of course, if you’re a bit paranoid like me, perhaps you’d find his fantastic work is a worthwhile cause to donate to? Supporting his work means there’s more for everyone.
Now, to spend a moment writing up a few award nominations… perhaps the Beard first?
I’m now so many wonderful episodes in, that it was far past time to give something back to Jeremy for the hours of work he’s put in to give me so much entertainment, enjoyment, and even knowledge. So I just made a pledge to support him on Patreon.
If you haven’t been paying attention, Eat This Podcast is a fantastic series on food, but it it uses the “foods we eat to examine and shed light on the lives we lead, from authenticity to zoology”. Food becomes his “vehicle to explore the byways of taste, economics and trade, culture, science, history, archaeology, geography and just about anything else.”
It’s unlike much of anything I’ve seen or followed in the food space for some time. As someone who is a fan of the science of food and fantastic writers like Harold McGee, Herve This, Alton Brown, Tom Standage, Michael Pollan, Nathan Myhrvold, Maxime Bilet, Matt Gross, and Michael Ruhlman (to name only a few), Eat This Podcast is now a must listen for me.
Not only are the episodes always interesting and unique, they’re phenomenally well researched and produced. You’d think he had a massive staff and production support at the level of a news organization like NPR. By way of mentioning NPR, I wanted to highlight the thought, care, and skill he puts into not only the stunning audio quality, but into the selection of underlying photos, musical bumpers, and the links to additional resources he finds along the way.
And if my recommendation isn’t enough, then perhaps knowing that this one person effort has been nominated for the James Beard Award in both 2015 and 2016 may tip the scales?
If you haven’t listened to any of them yet, I highly recommend you take a peek at what he has to offer. You can subscribe, download, and listen to them all for free. If you’re so inclined, I hope you’ll follow my lead and make a pledge to support his work on Patreon as well.
The Learning Company Improves My Commute
For quite a while, primarily because of lengthy commute times in Los Angeles, I’ve been regularly listening to audio lectures from The Learning Company in their Great Courses series. Last fall I came across a four volume collection entitled How to Listen to and Understand Great Music taught by the dynamic and engaging professor Robert Greenberg. I was immediately entranced and have vowed to work my way through his entire opus of lectures. At the time I wasn’t quite sure how many there actually were, though I was aware of at least four others I’d come across on library shelves, and I prayed that there would be one or two more to carry me through a couple of years. If I needed to, I was fully prepared to listen to everything two or three times to really soak it all in the way I’ve done with repeated viewings of television shows like The West Wing.
When I was partway through the series, I made an update to my Goodreads.com reading list with a short snippet about my progress. This progress update fed through to Twitter whereupon I was pleasantly surprised to receive an encouraging comment by Professor Greenberg, who apparently takes the time to search social media for mentions of his work and to respond to students. A brief correspondence with him revealed that he’s recorded far more lectures than I could have dreamed – an astounding 26!
Robert Greenberg’s Curriculum Recommendation
Of course with such a fantastic and tremendously large list of what is sure to be brilliant material, the real question becomes: “How do I create a curriculum to wend my way through it all in the most logical manner!”
Via a most helpful Twitter conversation, Professor Greenberg recommended a curriculum for plowing through his material. For posterity, I’ll repeat it below for those who are interested in charting his recommended course of courses:
- How to Listen to & Understand Great Music
- The Fundamentals of Music
- How to Listen to Opera
- Bach & the High Baroque
- The Concerto
- The Symphony
- Great Masters: Haydn
- Great Masters: Mozart
- Operas of Mozart
- Chamber Music of Mozart
- Great Masters: Beethoven
- Symphonies of Beethoven
- Piano Sonatas of Beethoven
- Piano Sonatas of Beethoven
- Great Masters: Schumanns
- Great Masters: Liszt
- Great Masters: Brahms
- Music of Richard Wagner
- Life & Music of Verdi
- Great Masters: Tchaikovsky
- Great Masters: Mahler
- Great Masters: Stravinsky
- Great Masters: Shostakovich
- The 30 Greatest Orchestral Works
- The 23 Greatest Solo Piano Works (October 2013)
- Concert Masterworks
Given the magnitude of his opus, this obviously may not be everything, but will provide the tyro as well as the expert a clearer path through some fascinating work. I’ve presently worked my way through 3 of his courses (72 lectures comprising 54 hours of material), so I’ve only barely scratched the surface, but I couldn’t be more enticed and satisfied with what I’ve consumed so far. His engaging lecturing style, the melodic quality of his voice (not too far from that of renowned announcer and voice artist Casey Casem – though with out the “big bottom” common to radio personalities of this type), and the dynamic range of his emotion make these series more entertaining that most of what is on television these days (and keep in mind I consume a lot of television). Even better, I’m always learning something while I’m listening. I would dare to say that even if he “phoned in” the remaining lectures, they’d still be at an absurdly high quality level, and I would still want to devour them all.