Close that BBC Radio app, step away from the WNYC Studios for a minute: Canada produces some great podcasts too. Whether you’re in need of escapism or political analysis, financial advice or a spelt chocolate chip cookie recipe, this roundup will see you through the lockdown and after.
Hot Plate: A Post-Foodie Podcast
Beer expert and author Mirella Amato and chef-activist Joshna Maharaj take a skeptical look at food trends, discuss all aspects of food and beverage production, retail and consumption, and share personal stories of cooking and eating in this podcast. The show has found just the right formula of politics and pleasure. Pantry for the pandemic, Dollar store food, chocolate-brewing witchcraft in South America, no-waste menus, molecular coffee, zoonotic diseases in factory farming, kitchen hacks gone bad, and beer as comfort food are among the topics covered. Amato is the author of “Beerology: Everything You Need to Know to Enjoy Beer … Even More” and Maharaj continues her campaign for better hospital food in Ontario with the just released “Take Back the Tray: Revolutionizing Food in Hospitals, Schools, and Other Institutions.”
“Because Money” is a series of frank conversations on how to keep paying your bills — and perhaps even relax — through whatever challenges life throws at you. Financial planner Sandi Martin and DIY investing consultant John Robertson are joined by the musician-turned-financial planner Chris Enns, but the conversations are anything but dry. Sample “Transitions,” for example: the episode in which Robertson talks about taking a leave from work to spend time with his seriously ill father, and Enns on being on the cusp of moving out of Toronto and changing professions. Other recent topics include financial management of new parenthood, private expenses in a patchily public medicare and what exactly everybody means by “the economy.” Enns’ contributions usually focus on freelance workers with fluctuating income, which will be most of us soon, the way things are going.
There are not a lot of great book podcasts around, but Canada is home to at least one: the awkwardly named “The Spouter-Inn” (it’s a “Moby Dick” reference). Conceived by University of Toronto literature professor Suzanne Conklin Akbari with her friend, designer and podcaster Chris Piuma, the show grew out of Akbari’s popular course “Literary Tradition.” While it originally had a didactic purpose — getting students excited by the classical works of western literature — the Inn does not maintain a didactic tone. Akbari and Piuma are erudite and eloquent hosts who have decided not to script the podcast, so spontaneity and the flow are there. (Some of the good radio shows on the CBC never reach excellence for this very reason: they’re scripted into submission.) The hosts invite guests who are passionate about books discussed in specific episodes, and the reading list has expanded to include contemporary and lesser known works.
Canada’s only feminist alternative media outlet left standing has a podcast. Feminist Current’s owner and chief writer, Meghan Murphy, elicits protests wherever she goes, but she and the contributors at the FC have been covering women-centred topics that few take on, with an almost grad-school diligence and earnestness. Who else in the media is talking to migrant women NGOs about a global feminist perspective on the COVID-19 pandemic? Who else in Canadian media is interviewing Caroline Criado-Perez on her influential book on the male-size-fits-all approach to policy planning? Or speaking to the linguist Deborah Cameron, or philosopher of neuroscience Cordelia Fine, about their recent work? Who is still talking seriously about body image and eating disorders in teenage girls, or about the influence of porn on how men interact with women in real life? You may find yourself disagreeing with Murphy, you may find her doctrinaire on some issues, but Feminist Current is an achievement. It fills at least some of the void where consciously feminist news and analysis in the Canadian mediascape should be.
Truths Be Told
There’s something endearing about the host of “Truths Be Told,” comedian Lindsay Mullan. Is it her style of bratty self-deprecation? Is it that she comes across as a better functioning Maria Bamford, blindsided not by mental illness but by the absurdity and solitariness of modern life? “Guys, I’m losing it,” she opens one of the lockdown episodes. “I’m doing things I’m not proud of. I have had tubs of ice cream on separate occasions delivered to my apartment. I’m not even that far away from the Baskin Robbins. But I am sad. And frightened. And indulgent. So I have ice cream delivered to me, and I eat it very quickly and my skin breaks out.” There’s nothing cutesie in this comedy storytelling podcast and some wild raconteur rides with guest comedians.
Girls on Games
Even the non-gamers like myself will be drawn into the conversations on the “Girls on Games” podcast. The hosts are always good company and there’s something uniquely soothing about detailed exposés on, for example, how to acquire wealth via turnip trade in “Animal Crossing,” one of the most quietly satisfying games around (30 million units sold worldwide).
The non-woke left is making some of the best podcasts around today — and the woke left some of the worst — but not a lot of conservatives are making inroads into audio podcasting of any kind. “Kazingram Dialogue” could potentially become a go-to podcast for a conservative who is no stranger to arts and philosophy. The invited guests are for the most part traditionalist in some way or theologically informed conservatives. The podcast needs a jolt of energy — livelier interviewing, less deference, more disagreement, an incisive edit — but it shows promise.
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Somebody Date Us
Three young heterosexual middle-class women in a large city, dating. Not an original idea, granted, but dating has changed since Lena Dunham’s “Girls,” and very much so since “Sex and the City” or Sharon Horgan’s “Pulling.” Ours is the era of online dating apps and swiping fatigue. In “Somebody Date Us,” these young women talk about what it’s like to date in Toronto in 2020. We middle-aged and older will root for them, envy their youth and enjoy it vicariously — and probably are relieved that the digital dating marketplace is primarily a young person’s playing field.