The Salt

When it comes to eating well, should we consider both the health of our bodies and of the planet?

"China, China, China," rants Donald Trump, the presidential hopeful who loses no opportunity to blame America's economic woes on China and its "unfair" trade policies. But how did the fortunes of the free world and the Middle Kingdom become so inextricably intertwined? What started it all?

The roots of U.S.-China trade can be boiled down to one fragrant little word: tea. The history of the tea trade is a fascinating story of wealth, adventure and cultural exchange, but also a tragic one of human suffering and cruelty.

Michael Solomonov has built a reputation for his unique take on the cuisine of Israel. He's won a James Beard Award for Best Chef for his restaurants in Philadelphia.

But he says awards aren't what inspire him to keep cooking.

"It's the pots of rice," he tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies. "It's the savory pastries that my grandmother made that if I can close my eyes right now I can still taste."

Customers crowd into a bustling Budapest restaurant for dinner. They open their menus, expecting to read about stuffed paprikas and Hungarian goulash.

But instead they find ... Eritrean sourdough pancake bread. Afghan pie. Syrian sweets.

In ancient China, black rice was considered so superior and rare, it was reserved exclusively for the emperor and royalty. These days the grain, also known as forbidden rice, has become the darling of gourmets and people seeking superior nutrition.

When Virginia farmer Charles Martin first got into the pumpkin game a decade ago, he started small, with a half-acre plot of traditional round, orange jack-o-lanterns. Today he grows 55 varieties of gourds, squash and pumpkins, and he's always looking for something new.

Food has become a serious issue over the past decade or so — how it's prepared, where it comes from, even how it's grown or raised.

It's gotten that way in no small part due to Mark Bittman. In cookbooks, newspaper columns and online videos, Bittman has become a national advocate for simple, healthful, environmentally responsible food.

Jacques Pépin says his new cookbook, Jacques Pépin: Heart and Soul in the Kitchen, is an invitation to join him for dinner at his house. Of course, you'll have to do all the cooking — but you can use his recipes.

Pépin will turn 80 years old this year. He says this is one of his last cookbooks, and it's timed to coincide what he says is his final PBS show, airing this fall: Jacques Pépin: Heart and Soul.

Women have historically been told their place is in the kitchen — but not as chefs: According to statistics from the U.S. Labor Department, to this day, only about 20 percent of chefs are women.

It all harks back to the fact that being a chef was not as glamorous as it is today, says Deborah Harris, a sociology professor at Texas State University whose new book, Taking The Heat, explores the issue.

Fancy A Fig? California's Growers Desperately Hope You Do

Oct 1, 2015

For many Americans, their only association with figs comes in the form of a Fig Newton. And indeed, once upon a time, most of the figs grown in California ended up in fig pastes and cookies like those familiar chewy squares.

But tastes change, and the fig industry has gone through tough times. Lack of demand and the state's ongoing drought has pushed some growers to other crops. Others went out of business.

While it's hard to find a person who doesn't at least like tacos, they don't always get the respect they deserve.

According to Déborah Holtz and Juan Carlos Mena, authors of Tacopedia, an impressive new tome, the taco is a focal point not just of Mexico's cuisine but of its culture, too.

Whole Foods Market has announced that by April of next year it will stop sourcing foods that are produced using prison labor.

The move comes on the heels of a demonstration in Houston where the company was chastised for employing inmates through prison-work programs.

Michael Allen, founder of End Mass Incarceration Houston, organized the protest. He says Whole Foods was engaging in exploitation since inmates are typically paid very low wages.

To make wine, you've got to have patience and passion – a lot of it. Cathy Huyghe, who is a wine columnist at and Food52, wanted to understand how and why and where passion for wine runs deep. So she traveled around the world – from Patagonia to New Zealand to South Africa — to document producers for her new book, Hungry for Wine: Seeing the World Through A Glass of Wine.

Sugar and tea have a love story that goes way back.

As The Salt's Maria Godoy has written, they are a "power couple that altered the course of history. It was a marriage shaped by fashion, health fads and global economics," and, of course, the slave trade.

Tea, especially black tea, is bitter. A lot of people decided it tasted better with sugar and made a habit out of adding it.

The drought in California over the past four years has hit the agriculture industry hard, especially one of the smallest farm creatures: honeybees. A lack of crops for bees to pollinate has California's beekeeping industry on edge.

Gene Brandi is one of those beekeepers. He has a colony of bees near a field of blooming alfalfa just outside the Central California town of Los Banos. He uses smoke from a canister of burning burlap to calm the bees.