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”

Food Workers Scramble to Put Food on Their Tables

“The Plate,” National Geographic • Nov. 14, 2016

One in seven American workers is employed in some segment of the food chain, from apple pickers to packing-house workers, truckdrivers to supermarket clerks to fast food counter staff. And many of them increasingly struggle to put food on their own tables, according to a report released Monday from the Food Chain Workers Alliance, an advocacy group founded in 2009, and the Solidarity Research Center. What’s more, the problem is worse among women and people of color.

Eating China: Fast Food Surprises and Market Chaos

“The Plate,” National Geographic • Sept. 12, 2016

We’ve been subsisting a lot on hotel breakfast buffets, which the business joints we’ve been staying in offer routinely. (And do fairly well with, I might add. They’ve not yet resorted to the waffle-batter foil cups and cereal dispensers common in U.S. business motels.) But recently, for logistical reasons, we took an overnight train—which meant no breakfast on offer. And that meant our first stop was KFC for iced lattes—a treat the chain introduced in China just last year—and then to a popular Taiwanese fast food chain for a taste of domestic fast food. Continue reading “Eating China: Fast Food Surprises and Market Chaos”

Eating China: A Land of Many Grains

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

If you ask most Americans what grain Chinese people eat, I’m pretty sure they’d say rice.

Llike all countries, though China is not a dietary monolith. Diets here can still be deeply regional and seasonal, owing in part to the fact that most agriculture here is still quite small. In the south and northeast, water is relatively plentiful, encouraging crops like rice, that do well in that landscape. But in the drier central and western part of the country, rice doesn’t grow well at all. But wheat does. Continue reading “Eating China: A Land of Many Grains”

What Chili-Mango Ice Cream Says About Urban Renewal

“The Plate,” National Geographic • Aug. 24, 2016

If I ask you what Detroiters eat to cool off on hot summer days, chances are you think of two Midwestern staples: ice cream and pop. If you know Detroit you might even think Faygo or Vernors. (You may also, to be honest, think beer.)

But folks around Lawndale Street, on the city’s southwest side, have an option that might seem, to outsiders, an odd fit for Detroit: Mexican-style frozen sweets and snacks from a six-table, five-year-old shop called Mangonadas del Barrio. The shop’s namesake, a variation on a popsicle, is a godsend on a steamy August afternoon—and it’s so popular that owner Antonio Hernandez opened up a second shop in June. Continue reading “What Chili-Mango Ice Cream Says About Urban Renewal”

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?”