Photographer Melanie Dunea undercover in search of saffron in Afghanistan

Jan 10, 2020

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