Harvest Desk

For almost a year, presidential candidates have been crisscrossing Iowa, wooing voters in a state that relies on agriculture for about one-third of its economy. But even here, most voters live in cities or suburbs and don’t have a first-hand connection to the farm.

Editor's note at 10:51 a.m. ET, Feb. 1: The original version of this post lacked a perspective from the food industry. That post also may have given the impression that NPR has a position on whether food ads should or should not be banned. A new version appears below and the original version follows.

Why is it that we haven't seen ads for cigarettes on television since the Nixon administration?

By now, you're probably tired of hearing about how virtual reality is the next big thing for movies and games. But here's one you may not have heard yet: that virtual reality could be the next big thing for culinary experiences.

Potentially, the technology could help us consume our favorite tastes while avoiding unwanted side effects – whether food allergens or just extra calories. As someone who has long had a fraught relationship with the rotation of wonders at my local doughnut shop (think seasonal confections like Pumpkin Fool), the idea holds an undeniable appeal.

Farm workers in two of the nation's most important agricultural counties joined other low-wage food sector workers on Wednesday, demanding better wages with a new Bill of Rights.

The thrust of the bill, which is aimed at workers in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in California, is to establish a "rule of law" in the fields, observers say.

When Chuck Williams, the founder of Williams-Sonoma, died in December at the age of 100, he left behind a vast collection of culinary artifacts.

It included everything from a copper pig mold (for serving suckling pig), terrines adorned with rabbit heads and pastry equipment from the early 1900s.

Flip through the pages of Mi Comida Latina and you may quickly fall under its spell. The pages of this cookbook beckon with vibrant watercolor illustrations and recipes written in the kind of delicate hand lettering that make us mourn penmanship as a dying art. The end result combines the charm of a children's book, the promise of a tasty meal and the intimacy of a journal.

In citrus-growing areas, you see lots of old converted school buses on the road; these are company buses, carrying the workers who will harvest oranges and grapefruit. And in the evening, some of those buses roll into a truck stop on a two-lane country road south of the town of LaBelle. Young men scramble out, trot into the store and line up at the taco counter.

This is where I met Esteban Gonzalez and his brother Isaac, from the Mexican state of Veracruz.

Oysters are the sea's version of fine wine: Their taste varies with the water they grow in. And slow-growing oysters from northern waters — like the briny Wellfleets of Massachusetts and the sweet, mild Kumamotos of the Pacific Northwest — are among the most coveted.

That may be changing now. An oyster renaissance in the Southeastern U.S. is underway — from Virginia all the way down to Florida's Apalachicola Bay. The region is adopting the aquaculture that restored a decimated oyster industry in the north, and it has led to a huge boost in oyster production.

The Price Of Almonds May Have Met A Slippery Slope

Jan 27, 2016

Drive anywhere in Central California and you'll find fields of almonds. So many new trees have been planted in recent years that people have begun to wonder whether the growth of the almond industry is unsustainable. It seems like the price of the nut may have met a slippery slope.

It started out with almonds getting a lot of bad press over the last few years. The nut was called out for soaking up too much water, while at the same time farmers were making bank on the tree crop. Meanwhile, the commodity slowly lost value.

It's a challenge making sure that low-income children who get free- and reduced-priced meals during the school year continue to get fed during the summer.

Government meal programs served 3.8 million children on an average summer day last year — far fewer than the 22 million children who got subsidized meals during the school year.

Standing on the bank of the Passaic River where it meets the Newark Bay in New Jersey, Oswaldo Avad reels in a small bluefish and a piece of a grocery bag.

"One piece plastic and one fish," Avad says in broken English.

According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, children, pregnant women and women who might one day want to be pregnant should not eat any fish from most of the waters in New Jersey. It's safe for men to eat a small amount: about one catfish or one eel per year.

Tea is often referred to one of the world's oldest beverages. But just how old is it?

A Chinese document from 59 B.C. refers to a drink that might be tea, but scholars cannot be certain. Now, a new analysis proves that plant remains found in tombs 2,100 years old – about 100 years before that document – definitely are tea, the oldest physical evidence for the drink. And the buried tea was high-quality stuff, fit for an emperor.

As a master of the eccentric metaphor, the great Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov used food to fine effect in his writing.

There was, for instance, that one word he used to capture the texture, tinge and luster of his watery green eyes — "oysterous." And that icky image in Lolita, of motel floors burnished with the "golden-brown glaze of fried-chicken bones," that somehow made those shiny floors complicit in the squalor of pedophilia.

But when it came to eating, he really couldn't be bothered.

Last summer, cases of particular strain of Listeria started popping up in six states in the Northeast and Midwest U.S.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says since July 2015, 12 people have been sickened and one person from Michigan has died in this outbreak. And the agency recently confirmed that five of the people who got sick reported eating packaged salad. Two of them specified that they ate Dole brand packaged salad.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Meet The Most Pampered Vegetables In America

Jan 25, 2016

There's a small corner of the restaurant world where food is art and the plate is just as exquisite as the mouthful.

In this world, chefs are constantly looking for new creative materials for the next stunning presentation.

The tiny community of farmers who grow vegetables for the elite chefs prize creativity, too, not just in what they grow but in how they grow it. They're seeking perfection, in vegetable form and flavor, like this tiny cucumber that looks like a watermelon — called a cucamelon.

North Carolina is one of the country's largest poultry producers — and getting bigger. Large-scale chicken farms are spreading across the state. Government regulations have allowed these farms to get much closer to where people live. That's not just a nuisance. Neighbors say it's also a potential health hazard.

Craig Watts is an industrial chicken farmer in Fairmont, N.C. He contracts with Perdue and has raised birds for more than 20 years. Still, he says sometimes it's a struggle to meet the demands of the industry.

There's a dietary disaster developing down under: Australia is running low on avocados.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

If you pictured a dancer, you probably wouldn't imagine someone with Parkinson's disease. Worldwide, there are 10 million people with the progressive movement disorder, and they struggle with stiff limbs, tremors and poor balance.

Editor's note: A version of this post first appeared in January 2015.

Many people will see the snow currently blanketing much of the U.S. Eastern Seaboard as a nuisance coating sidewalks and roads. Others are celebrating it as an excuse to spend the day swooshing down a hill.

As for me, I like to think of snow as food.

For many immigrants, coming to America is full of the unfamiliar — from the language to the food. In Philadelphia, a program aims to help these arrivals settle into their new country by folding English lessons into a cooking class.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, 20 recent immigrants and refugees to the United States streamed into a shiny commercial-size kitchen on the fourth floor of the Free Library of Philadelphia's central branch. They were here to partake in the library's take on teaching English as a second language.

As researchers have searched for ways to explain the childhood obesity epidemic in the U.S., many have posited that a child's race or ethnicity alone can put them at greater risk of becoming overweight or obese.

Kim Eagle, a professor of internal medicine and health management and policy at the University of Michigan, was skeptical of this thinking. His hunch was that poverty was a much more important part of the equation.

If you're a chili head, you may have more in common with Hillary Clinton than you knew.

The presidential hopeful has a serious jalapeño habit. She told All Things Considered host Ari Shapiro it started back in 1992, when it was her husband, Bill Clinton, who was running for the White House.

Danny Bowien, the founder of the Mission Chinese Food restaurants, didn't grow up cooking Chinese cuisine. Born in South Korea, then adopted by a family in Oklahoma, Bowien was already an adult living in San Francisco when he decided to learn how to cook Sichuanese fare, known for its bold, pungent, spicy flavors.

Pete Wells has a job that most people can only dream of. As restaurant critic for The New York Times, he gets paid to eat out four or five nights a week — often at quite pricey places — on someone else's dime.

But for Wells, going out for drinks and delectable meals is still work. He tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies that coming up with words to describe flavors is something he "wrestles with all the time."

For years, Americans cycled through one brand-name diet after another, each promising a sure method to lose weight. Along the way, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers and Lean Cuisine made fortunes off their low-calorie, low-fat diet programs and products.

The Senate Agriculture Committee has voted in support of a compromise plan that will preserve key school nutrition standards enacted after the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010.

Yep, that's the law that requires schools to serve up more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. It also paved the way for major reductions in salt.

Former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson showed up at the French Parliament Tuesday to speak out for animal rights. A French congresswoman is trying to put an end to what critics call a cruel practice to animals. It also happens to be central to one of France's most cherished culinary delicacies: foie gras.

Anderson said she was following the example of Brigitte Bardot, another sex-symbol-turned-animal-rights-activist. As a young girl, Anderson said, she was inspired when Bardot visited Canada in the '70s to condemn the slaughter-by-clubbing of baby seals.

Editor's note: It's National Popcorn Day! We're celebrating by bringing back this tale, first published in 2014, about the history of the beloved snack.

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