Every week, we highlight new and returning podcasts we couldn’t put down. Whether you’re looking for the latest and greatest or you’re just dipping your toe into the vast ocean of podcasts, we’ll find you something worth listening to. This week, we’ve got podcasts about stabilizing ships, celebrity crushes, the opioid crisis, Smithsonian artifacts, and food from all over the world.
It seems like a prototypical rom-com trope that canoes are tippy and, if not balanced correctly, the protagonists will fall in the water. Exhibit A: What a Girl Wants. But for those times when you’re gonna need a bigger boat, stability is still important, and that’s where ballast comes in.
Ballast is all the stuff that fills the lower parts of ships, keeping the vessels on an even keel and afloat. If you’re using cargo to stabilize the ship on its outgoing trip, you’ll need to refill the bilge with tons (literally) of something. In the first episode of Ballast, host Elin Kelsey gives one example of how geopolitics has dictated what ends up in ships: During World War II, the U.S. was sending supplies to Bristol, England. The only thing the devastated city could send back was its rubble. The crushed remains of bombed buildings traveled across the ocean to land on New York’s shore, where it remains today. In the second episode, Kelsey explains how similar rubble brought earthworms back to Canada.
In the era of a zillionteen streaming platforms, we’re now used to TV shows getting a second chance from a network after getting canceled by another. Now it’s starting to happen with podcasts, too.
Thirst Aid Kit began on Buzzfeed and ended its run there in January. Now hosts Bim Adewunmi and Nichole Perkins are back, this time discussing their celebrity crushes on Slate. In their renew debut, the women catch up on all the pop culture they missed, like the many attractive actors in Crazy Rich Asians and Always Be My Maybe. (Obviously, they had to check in on their patron saint, Keanu Reeves.) Then they dive into Dan Levy, the “smokeshow” star of Schitt’s Creek. While Adewunmi and Perkins of course rhapsodize over his eyebrows, they also detail in their fan fiction about his gentleness and intuition. Welcome back, ladies.
“Abusers aren’t victims; they are the victimizers,” Richard Sackler allegedly wrote in an email in 2001. He’s the former chairman of Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, which recently filed for bankruptcy amid thousands of lawsuits accusing the company of fueling the opioid crisis. “In 2017, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids and illegal opioids like heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl) was 6 times higher than in 1999,” according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The numbers can feel overwhelming, but each of the hundreds of thousands who died represents a person, someone who struggled, who maybe got better for a while, then relapsed. No one knows this better than Stephanie Wittels Wachs, host of Last Day. In 2015, her brother, comedian Harris Wittels, died of a heroin overdose. Like the majority of heroin users, Harris started with prescription drugs; he’d gotten an opioid for back pain. In the first episode of the podcast, Wachs lets listeners get to know her brother through stories and interviews with his friends Sarah Silverman and Aziz Ansari. Future episodes will feature other people caught up in the epidemic, as well as possible solutions to ending it.
Lost at the Smithsonian with Aasif Mandvi
For the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 this summer, I wrote a story about how the Smithsonian museum preserved Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit. For many years, the suit had to be stored out of sight, so visitors didn’t actually get to see the historic ensemble in person.
When it comes to the museum’s collection, what’s in storage may, in some cases, be cooler than what’s on display. Case in point: Fonzie’s jacket. It’s one of the 10 items Aasif Mandvi chooses to focus on in Lost at the Smithsonian. In the first episode, he goes to check out the jacket and muses over how the Fonz epitomized cool in Happy Days. But because of how Henry Winkler — the 5-foot, 6-inch son of Jewish immigrants — portrayed him, the definition of cool seemed attainable to Mandvi, who was a skinny British-Indian kid at the time. Then Mandvi talks to Winkler, and it’s easy to see why the actor is frequently deemed one of the nicest guys in Hollywood.
Whenever I’m lucky enough to travel somewhere new, I like to go on a food tour. The good ones take you away from the tourist spots to places where locals get their staples, hopefully letting you try something completely new and delightful.
That’s what the Iceland episode of Point of Origin reminded me of. Host Stephen Satterfield speaks with a skyr-making farmer about the process of creating the yogurt-esque dairy product. Though you can find it in U.S. grocery stores now, there’s still a bit of mystery around it. (Until you listen to this episode, that is.) In another episode, Satterfield talks to two winemakers who had big impacts on his career, Ntsiki Biyela, the first black woman in South Africa to become a winemaker, and André Mack, the first African-American to win the Best Young Sommelier in America title. Gotta love a podcast that inspires both wanderlust and hunger pangs.
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