How China Plans to Feed 1.4 Billion Growing Appetites

National Geographic magazine • February 2018

Watching Jiang Wannian and Ping Cuixiang harvest a sixth of an acre of daikon seed in the north-central province of Gansu feels a little like traveling back in time.

In a dry valley ringed by dusky mountains, on a brick-paved lot, Jiang drives a rusted tractor over a hip-deep mound of dried plants. As they crush down, Ping, Jiang’s wife, plunges a homemade pitchfork into the straw and arranges it for another pass. Eventually Jiang and Ping work side by side, wiry figures with tawny skin. It’s hot, but they are swaddled in clothes to protect themselves from the dust and the sun. They have handsome faces, taut and lined from years of laboring outdoors, and they turn them skyward as they throw fine chaff up and watch ruddy seed rain down. This rhythm continues for hours. In a singsong voice Ping encourages the wind, murmuring, “Blow, blow!” Machines can do this work in minutes, but they are too expensive for Jiang and Ping. Instead they still thresh the daikon by hand, just as farmers did centuries ago. Continue reading “How China Plans to Feed 1.4 Billion Growing Appetites”

Eating China: 4 Ways the Locavore Movement Is Taking Root Here

“The Plate,” National Geographic • Oct. 7, 2016

The absolute last interview I did in China convinced me: The country has a burgeoning locavore movement, complete with farm-to-table fast(ish) food and home delivery of small-farm produce.

Do Corn Subsidies Really Make Us Fat?

“The Plate,” National Geographic • July 12, 2016

Bad health can be linked to wheat, corn, dairy and meat—and a range of foods currently subsidized by the government. That was the catchy finding that researchers announced last week with a study showing a correlation between an increased consumption of subsidized foods and health problems like obesity and high cholesterol. But is it actually the farm subsidies that make people eat those foods?

Continue reading “Do Corn Subsidies Really Make Us Fat?”

World Food Prize Winners: Why Sweet Potato Color Matters

“The Plate,” National Geographic • June 28, 2016

A handful of scientists have spent the last 15 years convincing Africans to swap white sweet potatoes for their more colorful and vitamin-packed cousins, orange sweet potatoes. But if a tuber associated with holiday excess in the U.S. sounds like a strange focus for science, consider this: Those scientists are receiving the world’s most prestigious prize for agricultural research, the $250,000 World Food Prize, which celebrates agricultural efforts that combat food insecurity.

Continue reading “World Food Prize Winners: Why Sweet Potato Color Matters”

6 Ways Food Is Immigration’s Biggest Success Story

“The Plate,” National Geographic • June 9, 2016

Anyone who’s pondered the fact that Italian tomato sauce owes a botanical debt to Central America, where the fruits first evolved, knows that foods, like humans, do travel. Many foods have traveled because intrepid humans made it their mission to seek and return with the most delicious foods around the globe; witness the introduction of Corsican lemons and Chilean avocados to American soil, thanks to explorer David Fairchild.

Continue reading “6 Ways Food Is Immigration’s Biggest Success Story”

Supermarket Beef Is Battleground for Deforestation Debate

“The Plate,” National Geographic • May 2, 2016

One of Brazil’s largest supermarkets, Pão de Açúcar, has agreed to stop selling beef produced on deforested land or with forced labor by June 1. But while advocates hailed the announcement, they also questioned whether the retailer was being realistic about the promises it’s making. Continue reading “Supermarket Beef Is Battleground for Deforestation Debate”

African Diet, Jobs Will Be Hit Hard by Climate Change

“The Plate,” National Geographic • March 11, 2016

Corn, beans and bananas could start to disappear from sub-Saharan Africa—where those crops are among the most important for local consumption—by century’s end. The culprit? Climate change. Continue reading “African Diet, Jobs Will Be Hit Hard by Climate Change”

Farmers Work a Second Shift to Supplement Income

“The Plate,” National Geographic • Feb. 25, 2016

The “average” American farmer earns an income above most Americans—but that’s often because they’re hustling in a second-job off the farm, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture last week. Continue reading “Farmers Work a Second Shift to Supplement Income”

The U.S. Doesn’t Have Enough Of The Vegetables We’re Supposed To Eat

“The Salt,” National Public Radio • Sept. 19, 2015

If you are looking for proof that Americans’ vegetable habits lean towards french fries and ketchup, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has it: Nearly 50 percent of vegetables and legumes available in the U.S. in 2013 were either tomatoes or potatoes. Lettuce came in third as the most available vegetable, according to new data out this week. Continue reading “The U.S. Doesn’t Have Enough Of The Vegetables We’re Supposed To Eat”

Beyond Brothels: Farms And Fisheries Are Frontier Of Human Trafficking

“The Salt,” National Public Radio • July 28, 2015

When the U.S. State Department released its annual human trafficking report on Monday, it told distressingly familiar tales of forced sex work and housekeepers kept against their will. But this year, one area got special attention: Slavery in the global supply chains of agriculture, fishing and aquaculture. Continue reading “Beyond Brothels: Farms And Fisheries Are Frontier Of Human Trafficking”