FERN’s Friday Feed: As California burns, the harvest goes on

Welcome to FERN’s Friday Feed (#FFF), where we share the stories from this week that made us stop and think.

Farmworkers face smoke, heat — and possible labor abuses

FERN and KQED’s WorldAffairs

“As California suffers through its worst wildfire season in modern history, agricultural workers are still going to work, risking heat, smoke, and Covid-19 to pick grapes and harvest strawberries,” writes Teresa Cotsirilos, [a]ctivists … worry that 2020’s historic combination of disasters is also fueling labor abuses.”

Nespresso changed coffee, but has its moment passed?

The Guardian

“Nespresso triumphed by selling itself as a sophisticated component of an elite, globalised lifestyle,” writes Ed Cumming. “Wherever you were in the world, you could be a Nespresso person, just as you could wear Nike trainers or use American Express. Now, as that lifestyle looks increasingly bankrupt, it is learning to be just another coffee company. Nespresso helped change the coffee world, but it seems as if the world has moved on.”

How Trump hollowed out the food system’s ‘brain trust’

The Counter

When the Trump administration forced the Economic Research Service, the research arm of USDA, to relocate from D.C. to Kansas City last year, it resulted in mass resignations that cost the agency “decades of expertise on a wide range of subjects, from climate change to antibiotic resistance, from rural economies to organic farming, leaving numerous projects in limbo and severely bottlenecking new research,” writes Jessica Fu.

History ignores the 1943 famine, but it echoes on in Bengali cuisine

Atlas Obscura

The Bengal Famine of 1943, one of the greatest tragedies to strike the Indian subcontinent, killed an estimated 2-3 million people. “Although the foods of the famine remain absent from accounts of the region’s … cuisine,” writes Sharanya Deepak, the famine continues to influence Bengali foodways — from a “mindset of scarcity” to the persistence of things like “googli,” small freshwater snails, “kochu shaak,” the fibrous leaves of the taro plant, and “muri, which was eaten as a replacement for rice” and still “scents every train ride through the region’s lush landscapes.”

Another novel virus, this one suspected in mussel die-offs

The New York Times

“Federal estimates suggest more than 70 percent of North America’s freshwater mussels have been driven to endangerment or extinction,” writes Marion Renault, mostly by man-made hazards such as pollution. But “the sudden die-offs have remained thoroughly unexplained … After years of searching for a potential explanation for the mysterious and massive die-offs that have suddenly killed thousands of mussels in streams from Washington to Virginia,” a team of biologists has “finally identified a potential ‘mussel-bola’ culprit.”