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Melanie Dunea during her trip to the Middle East in 2015. 

For our episode How Far Will You Go? we collected stories about how far people will go in pursuit of their passion for food. Francis Lam talked with Melanie Dunea, a photographer and the person behind the My Last Supper website and books. In 2015, Melanie went on a risky journey, going undercover to Afghanistan to learn about saffron: how it’s harvested, how it’s produced, and what life is like for the people who are trying to make a living growing it in Taliban territory. Hear her story on the audio player above and see photos from her trip below.

Melanie Dunea’s latest project is a photographic series called Don’t Play with Your Food, which will be created and exhibited in cities across the US and Europe. And if you want to cook after hearing her story, try the recipe for Fregula with Clams and Saffron Broth from America's Test Kitchen.


Workers gather to pick flowers from a field of saffron crocus. Photo: Melanie Dunea


Saffron crocus flowers only blossom for two hours each day so workers have to work quickly and strategically within that small daily window. Photo: Melanie Dunea


Each saffron crocus flower contains only three stigma or threads. Photo: Melanie Dunea


Thin, small threads of saffron are separated from the saffron crocus flower. Photo: Melanie Dunea


The fine threads of saffron have famously rich color that impacts the appearance of any dish into which it is incorporated, often yielding a brilliantly golden-orange color. Photo: Melanie Dunea

Francis Lam

Francis Lam is the host of The Splendid Table. He is the former Eat columnist for The New York Times Magazine and is Editor-at-Large at Clarkson Potter. He graduated first in his class at the Culinary Institute of America and has written for numerous publications. Lam lives with his family in New York City.