Harvest Desk

Last month's dramatic arrest of El Chapo, the world's most powerful drug trafficker, brought to mind one of the most gruesome stories in the history of smuggling — one that involved not cocaine, but a substance equally light and easy to transport: tea.

Saru Jayaraman may be restaurant obsessed, but don't call her a foodie. She's the founding director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a national organization that advocates for better wages and working conditions for restaurant workers. She's also published several studies in legal and policy journals as director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California-Berkeley.

A few weeks ago, I ate three pieces of cake on a single day. All in the name of research, of course.

Farm subsidies don't lack for critics. Free-market conservatives and welfare state-defending liberals alike have called for deep cuts in these payments to farmers. After all, farmers, as a group, are wealthier than the average American. Why should they get tens of billions of dollars each year in federal aid?

Two E. coli outbreaks linked to Chipotle restaurants "appear to be over," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

The first, larger outbreak hit 55 people in 11 states, with Washington having the most cases, the CDC says. The second outbreak, which was caused by a different strain of E. coli, infected five people in Oklahoma, Kansas and North Dakota.

The CDC says it last received a report of an illness related to the outbreaks on Dec. 1, 2015.

Over the holidays, my family drove across the beautiful voids of West Texas and New Mexico and stopped at a lot of convenience stores for gas. Every time I went inside to use the loo, I saw them: giant displays of dried meat in every size and flavor.

I remember jerky almost ripping my molars out on car trips when I was kid. It's been around forever. So why the comeback?

Benoit Violier, the renowned 44-year-old chef of Restaurant de l'Hôtel de Ville in Crissier, Switzerland, has died in what police say has the look of a suicide. The authorities say they found Violier's body next to a gun in his home.

For years now, the Restaurant de l'Hôtel de Ville has won the coveted three stars in the annual Michelin restaurant guide. In December, it was named No. 1 on La Liste, a French survey of the best restaurants worldwide.

Taco Literacy Class; Sake-Flavored KitKats

Feb 1, 2016
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If the advice to eat more fiber seems easy to ignore, you're not alone. Most Americans don't get the 25 to 38 grams a day that's recommended, depending on age and gender.

But if you're skimping on fiber, the health stakes are high, especially if you're a teenage girl.

A study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics concludes that eating lots of fiber-rich foods during high school years may significantly reduce a woman's risk of developing breast cancer.

Any day now, Ben Lecomte will plunge into the Pacific Ocean off a Tokyo beach toward San Francisco. He wants to become the first person to swim across the Pacific. He's already the first person to free swim across the Atlantic Ocean, without a kickboard.

No one knows how the physical feat of swimming 5,500 miles will affect Lecomte's heart, but cardiologists are anxious to find out. His swim offers a rare opportunity to study whether extreme athletic performance has a harmful effect on the heart.

One month down, two to go.

For unemployed adults in 22 states, that's how long they can count on help with the grocery bills: Starting this January, they have three months to find a job or lose their food assistance.

SNAP benefits — formerly known as food stamps — have been tied to employment for two decades. Unless they are caring for children or unable to work, adults need to have a job to receive more than three months of benefits.

For almost a year, presidential candidates have been crisscrossing Iowa, wooing voters in a state that relies on agriculture for about one-third of its economy. But even here, most voters live in cities or suburbs and don’t have a first-hand connection to the farm.

Editor's note at 10:51 a.m. ET, Feb. 1: The original version of this post lacked a perspective from the food industry. That post also may have given the impression that NPR has a position on whether food ads should or should not be banned. A new version appears below and the original version follows.

Why is it that we haven't seen ads for cigarettes on television since the Nixon administration?

By now, you're probably tired of hearing about how virtual reality is the next big thing for movies and games. But here's one you may not have heard yet: that virtual reality could be the next big thing for culinary experiences.

Potentially, the technology could help us consume our favorite tastes while avoiding unwanted side effects – whether food allergens or just extra calories. As someone who has long had a fraught relationship with the rotation of wonders at my local doughnut shop (think seasonal confections like Pumpkin Fool), the idea holds an undeniable appeal.

Farm workers in two of the nation's most important agricultural counties joined other low-wage food sector workers on Wednesday, demanding better wages with a new Bill of Rights.

The thrust of the bill, which is aimed at workers in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in California, is to establish a "rule of law" in the fields, observers say.

When Chuck Williams, the founder of Williams-Sonoma, died in December at the age of 100, he left behind a vast collection of culinary artifacts.

It included everything from a copper pig mold (for serving suckling pig), terrines adorned with rabbit heads and pastry equipment from the early 1900s.

Flip through the pages of Mi Comida Latina and you may quickly fall under its spell. The pages of this cookbook beckon with vibrant watercolor illustrations and recipes written in the kind of delicate hand lettering that make us mourn penmanship as a dying art. The end result combines the charm of a children's book, the promise of a tasty meal and the intimacy of a journal.

In citrus-growing areas, you see lots of old converted school buses on the road; these are company buses, carrying the workers who will harvest oranges and grapefruit. And in the evening, some of those buses roll into a truck stop on a two-lane country road south of the town of LaBelle. Young men scramble out, trot into the store and line up at the taco counter.

This is where I met Esteban Gonzalez and his brother Isaac, from the Mexican state of Veracruz.

Oysters are the sea's version of fine wine: Their taste varies with the water they grow in. And slow-growing oysters from northern waters — like the briny Wellfleets of Massachusetts and the sweet, mild Kumamotos of the Pacific Northwest — are among the most coveted.

That may be changing now. An oyster renaissance in the Southeastern U.S. is underway — from Virginia all the way down to Florida's Apalachicola Bay. The region is adopting the aquaculture that restored a decimated oyster industry in the north, and it has led to a huge boost in oyster production.

The Price Of Almonds May Have Met A Slippery Slope

Jan 27, 2016

Drive anywhere in Central California and you'll find fields of almonds. So many new trees have been planted in recent years that people have begun to wonder whether the growth of the almond industry is unsustainable. It seems like the price of the nut may have met a slippery slope.

It started out with almonds getting a lot of bad press over the last few years. The nut was called out for soaking up too much water, while at the same time farmers were making bank on the tree crop. Meanwhile, the commodity slowly lost value.

It's a challenge making sure that low-income children who get free- and reduced-priced meals during the school year continue to get fed during the summer.

Government meal programs served 3.8 million children on an average summer day last year — far fewer than the 22 million children who got subsidized meals during the school year.

Standing on the bank of the Passaic River where it meets the Newark Bay in New Jersey, Oswaldo Avad reels in a small bluefish and a piece of a grocery bag.

"One piece plastic and one fish," Avad says in broken English.

According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, children, pregnant women and women who might one day want to be pregnant should not eat any fish from most of the waters in New Jersey. It's safe for men to eat a small amount: about one catfish or one eel per year.

Tea is often referred to one of the world's oldest beverages. But just how old is it?

A Chinese document from 59 B.C. refers to a drink that might be tea, but scholars cannot be certain. Now, a new analysis proves that plant remains found in tombs 2,100 years old – about 100 years before that document – definitely are tea, the oldest physical evidence for the drink. And the buried tea was high-quality stuff, fit for an emperor.

As a master of the eccentric metaphor, the great Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov used food to fine effect in his writing.

There was, for instance, that one word he used to capture the texture, tinge and luster of his watery green eyes — "oysterous." And that icky image in Lolita, of motel floors burnished with the "golden-brown glaze of fried-chicken bones," that somehow made those shiny floors complicit in the squalor of pedophilia.

But when it came to eating, he really couldn't be bothered.

Last summer, cases of particular strain of Listeria started popping up in six states in the Northeast and Midwest U.S.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says since July 2015, 12 people have been sickened and one person from Michigan has died in this outbreak. And the agency recently confirmed that five of the people who got sick reported eating packaged salad. Two of them specified that they ate Dole brand packaged salad.

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

Meet The Most Pampered Vegetables In America

Jan 25, 2016

There's a small corner of the restaurant world where food is art and the plate is just as exquisite as the mouthful.

In this world, chefs are constantly looking for new creative materials for the next stunning presentation.

The tiny community of farmers who grow vegetables for the elite chefs prize creativity, too, not just in what they grow but in how they grow it. They're seeking perfection, in vegetable form and flavor, like this tiny cucumber that looks like a watermelon — called a cucamelon.

North Carolina is one of the country's largest poultry producers — and getting bigger. Large-scale chicken farms are spreading across the state. Government regulations have allowed these farms to get much closer to where people live. That's not just a nuisance. Neighbors say it's also a potential health hazard.

Craig Watts is an industrial chicken farmer in Fairmont, N.C. He contracts with Perdue and has raised birds for more than 20 years. Still, he says sometimes it's a struggle to meet the demands of the industry.

There's a dietary disaster developing down under: Australia is running low on avocados.

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