Harvest Desk

"China, China, China," rants Donald Trump, the presidential hopeful who loses no opportunity to blame America's economic woes on China and its "unfair" trade policies. But how did the fortunes of the free world and the Middle Kingdom become so inextricably intertwined? What started it all?

The roots of U.S.-China trade can be boiled down to one fragrant little word: tea. The history of the tea trade is a fascinating story of wealth, adventure and cultural exchange, but also a tragic one of human suffering and cruelty.

Michael Solomonov has built a reputation for his unique take on the cuisine of Israel. He's won a James Beard Award for Best Chef for his restaurants in Philadelphia.

But he says awards aren't what inspire him to keep cooking.

"It's the pots of rice," he tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies. "It's the savory pastries that my grandmother made that if I can close my eyes right now I can still taste."

When my husband has a particularly tough workout (or workday), he comes home and says, "I have to roll."

He's talking about using a foam roller on body parts including the hips, quads and calves, using his own body weight to supply the force. You've probably seen people rolling in your gym; some facilities even offer classes. The rollers are available in various sizes and can cost as little as $10 — more for fancier ones with grooves intended for more targeted pressure.

But do rollers actually work?

You've heard it a million times: The hours we spend sitting in front of our computers, sitting in front of the TV and sitting just about everywhere else are adding up. We are sitting ourselves to death.

So it came as welcome news when we read last week that just 10 minutes — 10 minutes! — of walking after sitting for a long period of time can restore the damage to our vascular system.

Customers crowd into a bustling Budapest restaurant for dinner. They open their menus, expecting to read about stuffed paprikas and Hungarian goulash.

But instead they find ... Eritrean sourdough pancake bread. Afghan pie. Syrian sweets.

Throughout the cropland of the Midwest, farmers use chemicals on their fields to nourish the plants and the soil. But excess nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients can wash off the fields and into streams, rivers and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.

New tools can help farmers monitor their soil and water so they can become part of the solution to this widespread problem.

In ancient China, black rice was considered so superior and rare, it was reserved exclusively for the emperor and royalty. These days the grain, also known as forbidden rice, has become the darling of gourmets and people seeking superior nutrition.

When Virginia farmer Charles Martin first got into the pumpkin game a decade ago, he started small, with a half-acre plot of traditional round, orange jack-o-lanterns. Today he grows 55 varieties of gourds, squash and pumpkins, and he's always looking for something new.

Food has become a serious issue over the past decade or so — how it's prepared, where it comes from, even how it's grown or raised.

It's gotten that way in no small part due to Mark Bittman. In cookbooks, newspaper columns and online videos, Bittman has become a national advocate for simple, healthful, environmentally responsible food.

Jacques Pépin says his new cookbook, Jacques Pépin: Heart and Soul in the Kitchen, is an invitation to join him for dinner at his house. Of course, you'll have to do all the cooking — but you can use his recipes.

Pépin will turn 80 years old this year. He says this is one of his last cookbooks, and it's timed to coincide what he says is his final PBS show, airing this fall: Jacques Pépin: Heart and Soul.

Women have historically been told their place is in the kitchen — but not as chefs: According to statistics from the U.S. Labor Department, to this day, only about 20 percent of chefs are women.

It all harks back to the fact that being a chef was not as glamorous as it is today, says Deborah Harris, a sociology professor at Texas State University whose new book, Taking The Heat, explores the issue.

Fancy A Fig? California's Growers Desperately Hope You Do

Oct 1, 2015

For many Americans, their only association with figs comes in the form of a Fig Newton. And indeed, once upon a time, most of the figs grown in California ended up in fig pastes and cookies like those familiar chewy squares.

But tastes change, and the fig industry has gone through tough times. Lack of demand and the state's ongoing drought has pushed some growers to other crops. Others went out of business.

While it's hard to find a person who doesn't at least like tacos, they don't always get the respect they deserve.

According to Déborah Holtz and Juan Carlos Mena, authors of Tacopedia, an impressive new tome, the taco is a focal point not just of Mexico's cuisine but of its culture, too.

Whole Foods Market has announced that by April of next year it will stop sourcing foods that are produced using prison labor.

The move comes on the heels of a demonstration in Houston where the company was chastised for employing inmates through prison-work programs.

Michael Allen, founder of End Mass Incarceration Houston, organized the protest. He says Whole Foods was engaging in exploitation since inmates are typically paid very low wages.

To make wine, you've got to have patience and passion – a lot of it. Cathy Huyghe, who is a wine columnist at Forbes.com and Food52, wanted to understand how and why and where passion for wine runs deep. So she traveled around the world – from Patagonia to New Zealand to South Africa — to document producers for her new book, Hungry for Wine: Seeing the World Through A Glass of Wine.

Sugar and tea have a love story that goes way back.

As The Salt's Maria Godoy has written, they are a "power couple that altered the course of history. It was a marriage shaped by fashion, health fads and global economics," and, of course, the slave trade.

Tea, especially black tea, is bitter. A lot of people decided it tasted better with sugar and made a habit out of adding it.

We might not be able to remember every stressful episode of our childhood.

But the emotional upheaval we experience as kids — whether it's the loss of a loved one, the chronic stress of economic insecurity, or social interactions that leave us tearful or anxious — may have a lifelong impact on our health.

Guy Sternberg

In the 1800s, Illinois’ oak forests once accounted for 60 percent of the state’s tree population. Today, they comprise only 5 percent and are being supplanted by native maple trees and several invasive species.

For several years now, a popular purveyor of tacos has suggested that Americans who get the munchies late at night are participating in a contemporary dining ritual called "Fourthmeal."

The drought in California over the past four years has hit the agriculture industry hard, especially one of the smallest farm creatures: honeybees. A lack of crops for bees to pollinate has California's beekeeping industry on edge.

Gene Brandi is one of those beekeepers. He has a colony of bees near a field of blooming alfalfa just outside the Central California town of Los Banos. He uses smoke from a canister of burning burlap to calm the bees.

The Environmental Protection Agency has released a final version of updated rules intended to keep farmworkers from being poisoned by pesticides. The previous "worker protection standard" for farms has been in effect since 1992.

Back in the 1800s, sour and sweet were a hot item. Americans drank shrubs and switchels — refreshing mixes of vinegar, water, spices lightly sweetened with honey, sugar or molasses. Southern households preserved their fruits in vinegar. And some of the nation's most popular berries were tangy — like the famed Klondike strawberry and tart cherries that came in eight different varieties. But by the middle of the 20th century, these tart-sweet delights had all but vanished.

Even Poor Countries End Up Wasting Tons Of Food

Sep 28, 2015

The fact that a huge amount of food is wasted each year will be no surprise to anybody in the West. What might come as a surprise is that a large percentage of global food waste occurs in developing countries — primarily because of poor infrastructure and dysfunctional distribution networks.

As much as half of the food grown or produced in the developing world simply never makes it to market. And that loss is costing billions of dollars and blighting countless lives.

Ruth Reichl is in her green-tiled kitchen on the Upper West Side, stirring pungent fish sauce into a wok of sizzling pork. Perhaps you remember her as a highly influential restaurant critic for the LA Times and the New York Times (15 years), or from her best-selling books about food (three, including her memoir Tender At The Bone) or that she ran Gourmet magazine for 10 years.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

The U.S. is in a frenzy over Pope Francis. And with the pontiff visiting Philadelphia on Saturday, vendors there are ready with commemorative memorabilia – including, as we've reported, a toaster that burns the pontiff's image onto bread.

Turned off by a slightly smelly fillet of halibut? Don't think that grilled salmon will be any good tomorrow?

Such mealtime decisions may seem innocent enough, but when they're made by people all over the country, they add up to a staggering amount of waste. Nearly half the U.S. seafood supply winds up uneaten, according to researchers from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

From 2009 to 2013, 2.3 billion pounds of seafood on average in the U.S. was wasted annually. That's 208 billion grams of protein a year that no one got to eat.

We may eat a lot of food additives, but most consumers know very little about them. These often misunderstood substances go by unwieldy names like "diacetyl" or "azodicarbonamide." They are in everything from salad dressings to Twinkies. But how many of us actually know what they look like or, more important, what they're doing in our food?

Most of the kids in the U.S. don't get much time to eat lunch. And by the time those kids wait in line and settle down to eat, many of them feel rushed.

And a recent study suggests that this time crunch may be undermining good nutrition at school.

A Visit To The World's First Boozy Taco Bell

Sep 24, 2015

"DO NOT LEAVE THE PREMISES WITH YOUR DRINK," says the woman behind the counter at the Taco Bell Cantina in Chicago. I can tell by the way she looks me in the eye that what she means is this: We finally have booze at Taco Bell. Don't be the guy who ruins it for everybody.

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