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Eating in

The spy who fed me

CIA agents use Starbucks gift cards to communicate. Gabby Jones/Getty Images

Food and drink can make or break a spy, says Alexis Ferenczi in Vice. In 1940 a German agent called Karl Heinrich Meier ordered a pint of cider in an English village at 10am – forgetting or unaware that licensing laws forbade the sale of alcohol before noon. He was arrested, tried and hanged. The same year another German spy was rumbled after bratwurst was found in his bag. The British were just as clumsy: MI6 considered making chocolate bars laced with garlic so agents dispatched to the Mediterranean would smell like the locals. They didn’t get past the prototype stage.

More recently, a CIA instructor taught agents to communicate using Starbucks gift cards. A handler can check the balance of each card remotely, so an agent can request a meeting by buying a coffee and depleting the card’s balance. And the strawberries we eat today are descended from plants brought back from Chile by Amédée François Frézier, a spy sent by the French in 1712 to study defence fortifications. Instead he was distracted by the “fragrant fruit”. France’s spying loss is our culinary gain.