Harvest Desk

Throughout the week, Russians have been watching scenes of destruction on the evening news.

It's part of Russia's war against so-called contraband foods, as authorities crush, burn and bury Western food products.

Russian authorities are enforcing a ban on many foods from the European Union, the United States and other nations that have sanctioned Moscow for its aggression in Ukraine.

To say I was not excited about this assignment would be an understatement. An NPR piece about vegetable broth? It seems like a parody — like an NPR piece about Birkenstocks or lattes or, um, knitting. But then Bren Herrera threw open the door to her house in suburban Virginia, and suddenly a radio story seemed possible.

Trying to find healthy food at a state fair awash with deep-fried Oreos and foot-long corn dogs is no easy task.

At the Iowa State Fair, one of the rites of passage is trying food on a stick.

But dietitian Nikki Stahr, who works for the Iowa-based Hy-Vee grocery chain, is running a booth at the fair promoting healthy eating and portion control.

She has her work cut out for her.

There's an old fashioned hand-dipped ice cream stand and a cookie booth right across from her, so she's got some competition for her message of healthy eating.

We've all heard the advice about the importance of filling our bellies in the morning. It's a notion that's based on a blend of intuition, cultural tradition and science.

Some of the earliest evidence goes back to the 1960s when pioneering researchers in Alameda County, Calif., began documenting the effects of everyday habits. Their long-term study linked eating breakfast — along with a host of other lifestyle choices — to good health and longevity.

Food Waste And Beef Fat Will Be Making Airplanes Soar

Aug 20, 2015

What do beef tallow and manure have in common with t-shirts and pine needles? Turns out you can make high-quality, low-carbon transportation fuel with all of them. A growing number of biofuel producers are teaming up with farms, meatpackers and waste management companies to tap gassy waste to meet new demand for renewable jet fuel and diesel for vehicles.

In a grassy Vermont field as a horse skitters in the distance, dancer Chatch Pregger is scaling a makeshift barn. He stretches his arms outward, holding an E for East in his hand. As the chicken feathers on his head flutter in the breeze, it's easy indeed to imagine him as a graceful weathervane rooster.

Does This Phylum Make Me Look Fat?

Aug 20, 2015

We would all love a simple weight-loss plan. Beyond carbs and fats, some studies have hinted that a key group of gut microbes — from the phylum Firmicutes — might be more common among people who are overweight.

Thinner people, these studies suggest, might have more bacteria from the phylum known as Bacteroidetes. Maybe we just need to reestablish a Bacteroidetes-favoring gut to more easily lose weight, some people have said. A stack of diet books has already jumped on the notion.

One of the most prestigious names in health care is taking a stand on food.

This week, Cleveland Clinic announced it would sever ties with McDonald's. As of Sept. 18, the McDonald's branch located in the Cleveland Clinic cafeteria will turn off its fryers and close its doors for good. Its lease will not be renewed.

Judging by some of the most pessimistic reports from California these days, the place is doomed. You can read all about the folly of trying to build cities in a desert.

Just this week, economists at the University of California, Davis, estimated that water shortages will cost the state's economy $2.7 billion this year. Many farmers are limiting the economic damage by ransacking the environment instead, draining underground aquifers.

Across the U.S., small farmers have been struggling for years with low commodity prices and rising production costs. Even for organic farmers, who can justify higher prices, making a profit is tough.

But throughout the Midwest, a new farm-to-table strategy is giving a boost to some farmers.

The Chipotle Cultivate Festival in Kansas City, Mo., on July 18 had it all: an indie pop band onstage, long lines at the beer booths. It was like a Grateful Dead concert, only with free burritos.

But this and the three other Chipotle Cultivate events held across the country this summer were more than just a classic summertime music festival. Billed as offering "food, ideas and music," the festival offers a chance to "learn a free burrito," by going through four exhibits.

Fortunately for those of us who are suckers for novelty, every year fruits and vegetables seem to come in more bewitching colors, shapes and flavors. In recent years, we've been transfixed by Glass Gem Corn and the vibrant orange Turkish eggplant.

Strange, isn't it, we remark to Sandra L. Oliver — founder and editor of Food History News — that Americans in the 19th century ate foods such as robins and calf's foot jelly and boiled eels.

She cautions against criticism of previous generations or other cultures. "You are safer not talking 'strange' but rather, perhaps, neglected or abandoned eating habits," she says. "That would include almost any offal — that is, livers, spleen, kidneys, heart, brains, sweetbreads, et cetera."

Long ago, when settling the Great Lakes, Scandinavian immigrants brought with them an ingenious method of feeding lots of people, on the cheap.

A century later, coastal communities dotting the Midwest carry on what has become a tradition that is part meal, part spectacle. It's called the "fish boil."

Mark Weborg, whose family immigrated to the area in the 1800s, says his family has been doing fish boils for generations.

Carbohydrates are a rich source of energy. That's exactly why some of us may feel a bit conflicted about them, since several recent studies and diets have suggested we should cut them to lose weight. (The latest study concluded that total calories matter most if you want to shed pounds.)

In ancient times, farmers worried about losing precious grain to spoilage during wet winters. So they figured out how to malt grain and brew it into beer, thus preserving a nutritious source of calories. In The Comic Book Story of Beer, due out in September, we get a graphical tour of such pivotal moments — from the cradle of agriculture to the modern-day craft beer heyday.

Cara Nicoletti loves food almost as much as she loves books. Over the years she has found herself thinking about the delicious dishes woven into the stories she loved as a child. In fact, she tells NPR's Rachel Martin that when she re-read her old books, she found underlines that she didn't remember making in the sections about food.

A server at Boralia lifts the foggy glass dome over a dish of briny mussels, releasing the smoky essence of pine and campfire. According to Evelyn Wu, co-owner of this Toronto restaurant, the dish dates back to 1605, and is based on a recipe that French-born explorer Samuel de Champlain made for his men while traveling in Canada.

In the coming months, a few shoppers will encounter a new and unfamiliar phrase when looking at packages of pork: "Produced without the use of ractopamine."

It's the brainchild of David Maren, founder of Tendergrass Farms, which sells pork products from pigs raised the "all-natural" way, on pasture.

Maren first heard about ractopamine years ago, when he was just getting into this business. Maren was talking with his cousin, who raises pigs the conventional way, in big hog houses.

Baskets of perfectly seasoned deep-fried chicken sizzle during lunch hour at Dooky Chase Restaurant in New Orleans, a city famous for its food. But the real magic happens early in the morning, when Leah Chase, 92, arrives to prepare the day's specials.

"I made meatloaf today. Smothered pork chops. I did oyster and artichoke soup," says Chase.

Dooky Chase is a landmark in the city's historically African-American Treme neighborhood.

Epicurus, the ancient Greek philosopher, once likened eating alone to "leading the life of a lion or wolf." This philosopher of pleasures, it seems, was a big fan of companionship. Communal meals are woven into our DNA.

But a lot of us are lone wolves these days when it comes to dining. New research finds 46 percent of adult eating occasions — that's meals and snacks — are undertaken alone.

If you've ever tried to lose weight, you've probably gotten drawn into the argument over whether it's better to cut carbs or fat from your diet. A new study doesn't completely resolve that question, but it does provide an important insight.

Some proponents of the low-carb diet insist that you must cut carbs to burn off body fat. Their reasoning goes that when you cut carbs, your body's insulin levels drop, and that's essential in order to burn fat.

It had to happen. For years, the Wheaties slogan – "breakfast of champions" — has been invoked by beer lovers who pop open an adult beverage before noon. Now the cereal company is putting its name and logo on a beer.

That beer is called HefeWheaties, the result of a collaboration between two Minneapolis companies: cereal-maker General Mills and brewer Fulton Beer. As the name implies, the beer is a hefeweizen, the German style that relies on wheat for its base.

At a Basque restaurant nestled in the green hills just outside the Spanish city of Bilbao, head cook Itziar Eguileor gestures toward a dumpster out back.

"This all used to go into the garbage," she says, lugging a huge pot of leftover boiled artichokes. "But now, these artichokes, we pack them in Tupperware, load them into our old Land Rover and drive them over to Solidarity Fridge."

If you want to hang out with a bunch of bees, you'd better be prepared for a little pain.

Mario Padilla, a honeybee researcher at Penn State University, can usually tell when his hives are getting agitated. But he's already been stung three times today. And he's about to get it again.

"I got stung!" Padilla says, half-laughing. "And that was a sting that was not even an invited sting. That was an I-was-minding-my-own-business sting."

Scientists are a driven bunch, dedicated and passionate about understanding the inner workings of the world. You must be focused, willing to work strange hours in every kind of weather. Willing to go beyond the known and be constantly inspired by your curiosity.

It takes guts to be a scientist. And a strong stomach doesn't hurt, either.

The Matthew family farm, M&M&m Farms, outside of La Harpe, Ill., looks different from the farms surrounding it. It’s not filled with neat rows of soybeans or lines of corn that’s over-my-head high in late July. The Matthew’s place is a bit more disorganized and far more diverse.

“A lot of people grow corn or beans,” Mitchell Matthew tells me as we take an afternoon stroll around his parent’s hilltop property. “Here, we grow everything. Everything you can think of.”

Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, is attempting to swallow up the chemical operations of Syngenta, the world’s largest producer of pesticides and other farm inputs. The proposed deal signals a change in focus for the agricultural giant, and could have ripple effects across farm country.

By its own admission, Monsanto lags behind in chemistry research. To boost its research in chemistry, and possibly find new ways to combine chemicals and biotech crops, Monsanto wants to buy the Swiss chemical company.

Unfolding The History Of Napkin Art

Aug 12, 2015

Napkins today are mundane and practical, made from paper or cheap factory cloth and folded, if at all, hastily into a rectangle. In the past, napkins weren't just for wiping hands or protecting clothing — they were works of art.

Could the next big thing in alternative proteins be a something tiny and green?