Harvest Desk

By now, you probably know that Americans waste a lot of food.

Each year, an estimated 133 billion pounds of food that farmers grow never makes it to our plates. That's enough to fill 44 skyscrapers. And tons of it ends up in landfills, where it emits methane, a greenhouse gas.

The poet John Berryman once wrote, "My mother told me as a boy (repeatingly) 'Ever to confess you're bored means you have no inner resources.' I conclude now I have no inner resources, because I am heavy bored."

We've all been there: bored in class, bored at work, bored in stand still traffic. But why do we find boredom so unbearable? And, if we hate boredom so much, why do we still take boring jobs? This week on Hidden Brain, we try to answer these questions and more – hopefully, without boring you.

Bored at Work

You can't find a more intimate relationship between humans, food and nature than fishing, says Michele Mesmain, international coordinator of Slow Fish, a seafood spinoff of the Italy-based Slow Food movement. Think of all the thousands of boats at sea, catching wild creatures to haul back to shore and eat. "It's our last source of widely eaten, truly wild food," she says.

Editor's note: Last fall, NPR's Maanvi Singh embarked on a months-long quest to find her ideal pumpkin pie recipe. As she discovered, there's a lot of science involved in getting the crust and filling just the way you like it. To celebrate Pi Day, we reprise this story, first published last December.

It was the best of pies, it was the worst of pies. I have baked many, many, many pies.

And when I first began making pumpkin pies this autumn, my results were at best inconsistent and, at worst, disastrous.

We here at The Salt like to bring you serious journalistic tails from the world of food. But hey, we like to unleash our silly side, too — and like the rest of the world, we've got a soft spot for man's (and woman's) best friend.

So of course, we're howling with delight at the latest food images charming the Internet: Meme-meister Karen Zack's clever Twitter photos highlighting the eerie resemblance between mutts and meals. In some cases, it takes dogged determination to separate the canines from the cuisine.

Genius and food have a lot in common. Both nurture, inspire and occasionally intimidate. Some appeal to almost everyone instantly. Others are acquired tastes. So perhaps it's not surprising that, scanning history's greatest minds, we find many were inspired by certain food or drink, repulsed by others —or had some very peculiar dining habits.

Plastic makes great food packaging. It's waterproof and flexible. And best of all, it's impervious to all known bacteria — until now. Researchers have found a bacterium in the debris fields around a recycling plant in Japan that can feed off a common type of plastic used in clothing, plastic bottles and food packaging.

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

Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The fight to improve wages for Florida's tomato pickers hit the national stage over the past week, as part of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The Forgotten History Of Fat Men's Clubs

Mar 10, 2016

In 1903, in a cheery local tavern tucked away in Wells River, Vt., one of America's most successful fat men's clubs was launched.

Eric O'Grey knew he was in trouble. His weight had ballooned to 320 pounds, and he was spending more than $1,000 a month on medications for high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol.

In 2010, a physician told him to buy a funeral plot, because he would need it in five years. He was 51 years old.

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.

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