Harvest Desk

Miss Manners and skilled prep cooks should be pleased: Our early human ancestors likely mastered the art of chopping and slicing more than 2 million years ago. Not only did this yield daintier pieces of meat and vegetables that were much easier to digest raw, with less chewing — it also helped us along the road to becoming modern humans, researchers reported Wednesday.

And our ancestors picked up these skills at least 1.5 million years before cooking took off as a common way to prepare food, the researchers say.

Our resumes are grounded in assumptions. Want a job? Assume it's best to exaggerate your leadership experience. Assume you should build up your image as a self-starter and team-player. And, unless you want to be a chef, assume that your kitchen-prep experience is as irrelevant to your success as your summer camp counselor gig when you were 16.

I don't buy it. There's plenty to be learned from the kitchen (and also your summer camp counselor gig).

Bluefin tuna have been severely depleted by fishermen, and the fish have become a globally recognized poster child for the impacts of overfishing. Many chefs refuse to serve its rich, buttery flesh; many retailers no longer carry it; and consumers have become increasingly aware of the environmental costs associated with the bluefin fishery.

The once routine practice of getting a glass of water before a restaurant meal in Flint, Mich., is now fraught with apprehension, since lead pipes started leaching into the drinking water after officials switched to the highly corrosive Flint River as the city's water supply.

Nancy Reagan, the influential and stylish former first lady who died on Sunday at 94, was fond of saying: "A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong it is until it's in hot water."

Reagan was merely quoting a line attributed to another first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt (though historians have never confirmed whether Roosevelt said it).

Reagan got a chance to test that quip at the 1985 Geneva Summit, when she met the first lady of the Soviet Union, Raisa Gorbachev, over tea, at two tensely choreographed tête-à-têtes.

Last week, the Twitterverse became enraged after advertising copywriter Nathalie Gordon posted a photo of pre-peeled, plastic-packaged oranges.

"If only nature would find a way to cover these oranges so we didn't need to waste so much plastic on them," tweeted Gordon in a post that soon went viral. To make matters worse, these decidedly unwhole fruits were being sold by the grocery chain Whole Foods.

Urban Farms Fuel Idealism. Profits? Not So Much

Mar 7, 2016

Pick a farm trend in the past decade and urban agriculture is likely to top the list. But for all the timely appeal of having a little house on the urban prairie, the practice often raises a simple question: Can anyone earn a living doing it?

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

Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Some of the best coffee beans in the world are grown in Africa, and while the number of coffee consumers there is growing, most Africans still don't drink it. That's something Rwanda's government would like to change.

The country's coffee industry, which nearly collapsed after the genocide in 1994, has gradually become one of its largest and most profitable agricultural exports. Rwanda exports 99 percent of its coffee.

Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

A major player in the U.S. ethanol market is filing for bankruptcy, following pressure from Midwest corn suppliers who say they're owed millions of dollars. 

Abengoa produces grain ethanol here in the Midwest and it also built a cellulosic ethanol plant in Kansas to make fuel from grasses and other bio-products. So-called advanced biofuel hasn’t truly hit the market and Abengoa’s financial trouble further stalls cellulosic fuel’s potential.

Cancer dogma holds that most malignancies are caused by DNA mutations inside the nuclei of cells, mutations that ultimately lead to runaway cellular proliferation. Given the countless genetic blips that have been associated with various cancers, the illness has actually come to be seen as a complex of diseases for which personalized treatments might offer the best chances of success.

With a July 1 deadline looming, Congress was scrambling this week to quickly set a national standard for labeling food products that contain genetically modified ingredients.

Parenting can be an angst-ridden journey.

And one bump along the road is that horrible feeling that comes over you when you see your baby break out in hives after eating a particular food – say, peanuts — for the first time. (One of my three kids gave me that kind of scare.)

The concern is real. Between 1997 and 2008, the incidence of peanut and tree nut allergies nearly tripled, according to one published study.

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

For the past several years, a scientist in Brookings, S.D., has been engaged in an escalating struggle with his employer, the USDA's Agricultural Research Service. The scientist, Jonathan Lundgren, says that he has been persecuted because his research points out problems — including harm to bees — with a popular class of pesticides called neonicotinoids.

Nearly one-third of households on SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, still have to visit a food pantry to keep themselves fed, according to data highlighted this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

At the Lee Valley consignment sale near Tekamah, Neb., dozens of used tractors, planters and other equipment were on the auction block for farmers trying to save a few extra dollars. It was a muddy day, with trucks and four-wheelers leaving deep black ruts — fitting conditions for an industry wallowing in bad news.

There's lots of evidence that getting too little sleep is associated with overeating and an increased body weight.

The question is, why? Part of the answer seems to be that skimping on sleep can disrupt our circadian rhythms. Lack of sleep can also alter hunger and satiety hormones.

Slice The Price Of Fruits And Veggies, Save 200,000 Lives?

Mar 2, 2016

Lowering the price of fruits and vegetables by 30 percent can save nearly 200,000 lives over 15 years — roughly the population of Des Moines, Iowa. That's the message being touted by researchers this week at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology meeting in Phoenix.

A bright red tablecloth adds a pop of color to Ashara Manns' kitchen at her home in Flint, Mich.

The substitute teacher is at the stove, where she pours two bottles of water into a stockpot before dumping in big bags of mixed greens.

"Normally, I would rinse these with the running water, so hopefully they're still safe," Manns says.

Flint residents have been told not to drink or cook with the city's lead-tainted tap water, so Manns and her husband, Bennie, rely on bottled water to prepare their meals.

Chances are, you've never heard of flubendiamide. It's not among the most toxic insecticides, and it's not among the widely used chemicals, either. In recent years, it has been used on about a quarter of the nation's tobacco and 14 percent of almonds, peppers and watermelons.

Here's an exercise in deductive logic, with implications for our food supply.

Fact: Insects such as bees and butterflies are helpful, and sometimes essential, for producing much of our food, including a majority of our fruits, vegetables and nuts.

While a caffeinated workforce is generally a happy one, it may not be an efficient one — at least, not from a planetary point of view, according to the German city of Hamburg. As part of a wider effort to reduce waste and energy consumption, Hamburg has banned the use of coffee pods in government-run buildings, offices and institutions like schools and universities.

Denmark is once again distinguishing itself in the race against food waste — this time, with a supermarket hawking items once destined for the trash bin.

Those items might include treats for a holiday that happened last week, a ripped box of cornflakes, plain white rice mislabeled as basmati, or anything nearing its expiration date. In other words, perfectly edible items that are nonetheless considered unfit for sale by the retailers and manufacturers who donate them.

Saying that it will finally do business in the country that helped inspire its approach to coffee, Starbucks has announced plans to open its first store in Italy early next year, venturing into the cradle of espresso.

Saying that it is making the move "with humility and respect," Starbucks announced that its first store in Italy will be in Milan.

From Rome, NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports:

Every winter, a small fleet of commercial fishing boats sets gillnets in the San Francisco Bay. Their target: Pacific herring, which enter the estuary in huge numbers to spawn and are easily caught by the millions. The fishermen fill their holds with herring just yards from the waterfront of downtown San Francisco, where many restaurants serve fresh, locally caught seafood.

With apologies to Andy Williams, now is the most wonderful time of the year ... for it is Girl Scout cookie season.

But after plowing through several sleeves of Thin Mints, fatigue can set in. So we wondered, when you're starting to feel sick of Girl Scout cookies, is there a way to rekindle the love?

Keeping Up With The Joneses' Latest Medical Procedure

Feb 27, 2016

My father is approaching his 78th birthday, blessed with health good enough to still be an avid golfer and tennis player.

His regular group of tennis buddies changes from time to time. The lineup depends on how they're feeling.

I remember when one of the gents renowned for his fitness and fastidious diet underwent a quadruple-bypass heart operation. The other guys were in shock. If Mr. Fit had a bum ticker, they all figured they better get to their doctors pronto.

"Don't I need an operation or something to clean out my arteries?" Dad asked me.

It doesn't taste like chicken and it's definitely not a fish, but some people in St. Louis are eating beaver for Lent.

Many Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays in observance of Lent, the season of penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter. The church has made exceptions — at times, in some places — for aquatic mammals such as beavers, muskrats and capybara.

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