Pencils aren't just for the SATs. It is the go-to drawing tool of the carpenter and the architect, the cartoonist and the painter. We used pencils when we learned math in elementary school, and a graphite-filled piece of wood remains the implement of choice for anyone who needs to make a mark that is not permanent.
The pencil's journey into your hand has been a 500-year process of discovery and invention. It began in the countryside of northern England, but a one-eyed balloonist from Napoleon Bonaparte's army, one of America's most famous philosophers, and some of the world's most successful scientists and industrialists all have had a hand in the creation and refinement of this humble writing implement.
Sharpen your trusty no. 2 and get ready to take some notes. This is the story of the pencil.
In the midst of this Instagram ennui, it happened: A friend tagged me in a post made by a food porn account. It was a photo of a deep-fried ball of mac n’ cheese mounted on a home-rolled ice cream cone and drizzled with ranch dressing. More joke than comestible, my friend’s find was a gastronomic outrage. Rather than laugh (or shudder) and move on, I was intrigued.
I followed the account that posted that image, but not before going back several months into its history, liking its photos and devouring the videos of fat, sugar, and bread being put through an Inquisition-style gauntlet of rendering: plunged into vats of oil and dipped into bowls of melted cheese, only to be frozen, breaded, and then dipped again. Of course, Instagram began to suggest similar accounts, and I followed more and more. With hundreds of thousands of followers (at the moment, the tag “food porn” itself is over 92 million strong), I was just one in a multitude of users who check in daily to see what’s new in the world of pornified food.
I’d never tried a banh mi before visiting Saigon two years ago. But I fell in love with the city and the sandwich and never left. When a local magazine asked me to find the best in town, my bond with the ubiquitous street staple was forever sealed. For an entire week in 2015, it was pretty much all I ate, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The floor of our apartment was covered in breadcrumbs, my notebook filled with flecks of coriander and errant tasting notes, the greasy smears of paté and mayonnaise still visible on its pages today. [...]
France brought all manner of new and exotic items to Vietnam during its colonization of the region, from beer to bread, carrots to coffee, but didn’t hand them over willingly. The story of how the modern banh mi came together, the sort of banh mi you can pick up today at a farmers’ market in London, or from a food truck in Los Angeles, recounts 160 years of Vietnam’s history in one single, fiery package.