Harvest Desk

About a decade ago, food writer Michael Pollan issued a call to action: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. As 2016 opens, it looks like many American cooks and diners are heeding that call.

Vegetables have moved from the side to the center of the plate. And as another year begins, it appears that plants are the new meat.

Talking about grief and the loss of a loved one isn't typically dinner conversation. Many people, even those struggling to cope with loss, will avoid talking about such heavy topics, especially over supper.

But a fledgling nonprofit designs dinners specifically for young adults to get together and talk about their experiences with loss.

In cities across the country, the group The Dinner Party advises 20- and 30-somethings on how to arrange these gatherings.

I'm often asked for medical advice by friends, family members, even new acquaintances: What about this diet? What should I do about this symptom? What about this medication?

Encore: One-Hour Faux Cheddar

Jan 1, 2016
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Episode 674: We Cooked A Peacock

Jan 1, 2016

In the 17th century, a good spice rub was the ultimate display of wealth. Back then, people would risk their lives for a sack of cloves. Today on the show: We cook a peacock pie recipe published in 1612, in the Netherlands. We try to re-create the taste that changed the world. Also, we make claret, an after-dinner drink.

If you want to try the food and drink of seventeenth century spice barons, the recipes are below, translated from Dutch by Christianne Muusers.

NPR's Robert Siegel interviews Emma Allen about her article in The New Yorker called "The Best Drinks of 2015." She walks us through mixing a drink from her list, which anyone can make at home.

Bingeing has become many people's favorite way to consume television. But marathon-viewing doesn't just change how we watch, it also affects how we eat.

While the culture of the Netflix all-nighter is relatively recent, researchers have been studying the links between TV viewing and mindless eating for years. And the news isn't good for our waistlines.

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Editor's note: This story was first published in December 2014.

The first time I ever got tipsy was during a champagne toast at a cousin's wedding reception.

All was good, until the room started spinning — and the sight of my cousin's bride dancing in her wedding dress was just a whirl of lace.

Of course, if you're an uninitiated teenager, any amount of alcohol can go straight to your head. But, decades later, bubbly wine still seems to hit me faster than, say, beer. It turns out there's a reason.

Every now and then, a Julia Child or Michael Pollan come along and changes the way we eat.

Could Jean Kristeller, America's leading mindful eating researcher and the author of a new self-help book, The Joy of Half a Cookie, published Tuesday, be next? I'm of a mind to say maybe.

Animal welfare advocates got major traction this year pushing for cage-free eggs.

In September, McDonald's pledged it would move to 100-percent cage-free eggs in its supply chain. And while the movement was already underway, this announcement seemed to really set off a domino effect.

Some of the biggest egg producers in the U.S., including Rembrandt Foods, pledged allegiance to cage-free. Packaged good behemoths like Nestle and fast food chains like Subway did as well. (See the list of companies below.)

Early this month, House Speaker Paul Ryan asked a crowd in Washington, D.C., "What kind of country do we want to be?" As he unfurled his sweeping 2016 agenda, he returned to one of his signature issues: public benefit programs. There are just too many, and they don't work, he said: "We are trapping people in poverty."

Cage-free, antibiotic-free, artificial-free. Sound familiar?

Many of the world's biggest food companies announced major changes this year — in what they purchase and how they manufacture their food.

As soon as the pink-clad Ayesha Mumtaz steps out of her car, word of her arrival spreads along the street like a forest fire. Storekeepers begin shooing away customers, hauling down the shutters, and heading into the shadows in the hope that Mumtaz's scrutinizing eye will not fall on them.

These traders would sooner lose business than risk a visit from a woman whose campaign to clean up the kitchens and food factories of Pakistan has made her a national celebrity, nicknamed "The Fearless One."

José Anzaldo is a bright, cheerful third-grader in Salinas, Calif. He loves school, he's a whiz at math, and, like lots of little boys his age, he wants to be a firefighter when he grows up. He also entered the country illegally, and his parents are migrant farmworkers who harvest lettuce.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Is your doctor your go-to for nutrition advice? Neither is mine. And why would I expect that?

Found Recipes: 'Wurst Cakes'

Dec 25, 2015
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

We have a story now about conflict and cookies. It's told by writer Diana Abu-Jaber for our Found Recipes series. We'll get to the conflict in a minute. The cookies come first. Abu-Jaber's German-American grandmother would make them every year.

The special holiday version of Hershey's Kisses, now on sale nationwide, is an icon of the food industry's past, and perhaps also a harbinger of its future.

Back when Milton Hershey started making this product, more than a century ago, it was a simpler time. He ran the factory and the sales campaigns — although, for decades, he refused to advertise.

Today, The Hershey Company is a giant enterprise with factories around the globe. It owns food companies in China, Brazil and India.

Blending up eggs, milk, sugar, booze and with a bit of spice grated on top — sounds like eggnog, right? But use pisco instead of rum; sweetened, condensed milk in place of fresh milk and cream and a special ingredient — and you've got a cocktail de algarrobina. In Peru, it wouldn't be Christmas without it.

In Charles Dickens' famous tale A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge's spectral-induced transformation leaves him with a longing for an old-fashioned Christmas drink.

"I'll raise your salary and endeavor to assist your struggling family," Scrooge promises his much-abused employee, Bob Cratchit, "and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of Smoking Bishop, Bob!"

In 2008, Canadian student Christopher Charles was working in rural Cambodia, living in a typical Cambodian house on stilts. He had no electricity, no running water and, he says, a lot of time to sit around and think.

"I was looking at the prevalence of anemia and parasite infection in the region and began to uncover this huge problem that no one was doing anything about," in Cambodia. Anemia is a disease that's linked to low levels of iron in the blood, and almost half of Cambodia's population suffers from it.

In Latin American cultures, Christmas Eve is Noche Buena and time for a big family celebration, often featuring a pig roast. There are lots of ways to cook a whole pig. But at Noche Buena parties in South Florida and, increasingly, around the country, the preferred method for roasting a pig involves something known as a "China box."

In October, Hilda Mascarenhas, who writes a popular food blog in Pune, India, began her Christmas preparations with an unusual request to her fruit seller.

After buying a pineapple, she asked the vendor to separately pack the peel and eyes that he had skillfully removed with his long knife.

Alaska is about to become the first state to have pot cafes where people can buy and consume marijuana, similar to Amsterdam.

Right now, that's not legal in other states that have recreational marijuana.

Brothers James and Giono Barrett, who own a marijuana business, Rainforest Farms, in Juneau, also plan to produce a line of chocolate bars infused with pot. They'll be an alternative to the sugary, processed edibles Giono says he has eaten recently in Colorado.

Cooking gadgets seem to be a solid go-to when you're not sure what to give someone. Who wouldn't be charmed with a laser-guided pizza cutter? A one-click butter dispenser? An electric bacon-bowl maker?

If you are eating turkey this Christmas out of some sense of tradition, food historian Ivan Day says, put down that drumstick. After studying English cookbooks hundreds of years old, Day says the giant bird isn't even that traditional. Besides, he says, "It's a dry wasteland of flavorless meat."

Sure, the first turkey came to England in the 1600s. It was an exotic "treat" from the New World. But a time traveler from Shakespeare's time wouldn't understand why everyone in the modern world was having the same dull bird on Christmas night.

Back in 2006, before Brooklyn had its own artisanal mayonnaise store and craft beef jerky company, there was Mast Brothers chocolate.

With their impressive beards and lumberjack aesthetic, the Mast Brothers were the epitome of Brooklyn hipsters, part ZZ Top and part Brawny paper towel guy. Their chocolate was quintessentially New Brooklyn, made with a small-batch process called bean-to-bar, in which the chocolate maker oversees every aspect of the production process.

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