A few months ago, I met Caleb Johnson for a drink at a bar in New Orleans, while he was in town, visiting. Caleb and his partner Irina had produced an episode of Gravy last year about salt in West Virginia, but when he first started talking about coal mines in his home state of Alabama, I didn’t immediately realize that we were headed towards working on a second episode of Gravy together. After all, what does coal have to do with food?
As Caleb revealed, the subterranean world of the coal miner involves complicated logistics for eating lunch. He should know: Caleb’s dad, Ronnie, worked in those mines for more than thirty years. From that initial conversation over a cocktail, this story evolved—one that is both personal to Caleb and touches on larger trends of labor, the economy, and energy use, with a miner’s lunchbox as the common thread.