Hello all,

Four weeks ago I set out on a journey to document the history of MSG, an ingredient I dubbed “the most underrated substance on earth”. Our trip started in Japan at the turn of the twentieth century, took us throughout Asia to America and Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, before encountering controversy and scandal in the 1960s. In our last instalment, we left humble monosodium glutamate in a precarious position, buffeted by misinformation and controversy.

This week, the final stage in our journey takes us to a happier place: the renaissance and revitalisation that MSG has been undergoing in recent years. But how did it go from zero back to to hero? What caused people to reconsider it? Are there lessons to be learned in combatting other types of misinformation or folk beliefs?

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the story as much as I’ve enjoyed researching it and writing it. I can only hope that it inspires you to incorporate some MSG into your own cooking, especially if you were one of the many people who previously thought it wasn’t good for you. It’s really tasty.


This week’s article

The Story of MSG: Redemption

The scare around MSG began in 1968. Nearly sixty years on, there are signs of a renaissance, a reconsideration of it as an ingredient.

Click here to read the article »

This week’s two interesting links

A not at all brief history of tinned fish

Since I’m basically becoming a “history of food” blog (sorry about that), here’s a fascinating article on the history of tinned fish, including the recent hipsterification and renaissance of the stuff:

“Today’s tinned fish purveyors have updated the romantic aesthetic in keeping with more contemporary tastes, whilst simultaneously keeping alive one of the longest-running storytelling traditions in food commerce and consumer design. The miniature canvases decorating our Insta-worthy tinned gourmet snacks still spin tales of European vacations, handcrafted delicacies and nostalgic coastal grandeur, can by charismatic can. Which is wonderful.”

(Thanks to Joel Stein for the tip.) #

Zach Seward on the role of AI in journalism

I wrote a few weeks ago about use cases for AI. In a similar vein is this thoughtful piece from the New York Times’ Zach Seward on the role of AI in responsible, thoughtful journalism.

I love the sentiment that AIs are actually often more useful when they’re not being creative, but instead are interpreting creativity and translating it into something more rigid:

“People look at tools like ChatGPT and think their greatest trick is writing for you. But, in fact, the most powerful use case for LLMs is the opposite: creating structure out of unstructured prose. [This gives] us a sense of the technology’s greatest promise for journalism (and, I’d argue, lots of other fields). Faced with the chaotic, messy reality of everyday life, LLMs are useful tools for summarizing text, fetching information, understanding data, and creating structure.”