Physicist Albert-László Barabási likes making connections. By studying networks, Barabási and his Northeastern University research group improve our understanding of everything from the internet to human disease.
Now Barabási and colleagues are using networks to learn more about the way we eat. Read more…
This is what everything tastes like. Very cool work.
Sculpting a Catalogue of Apples
Apples, at least as we know them, are a freakshow born of agricultural genetics. While wild apples readily grow from seeds, perhaps every single variety we buy in stores is produced by grafting.
With more than 7,500 wild varieties, apples have incredible genetic diversity. This is how we’ve been able to develop so many variations of size, sweetness, texture and color. The side effect is that many apple varieties are such Frankenstein monsters that they literally can’t grow from seeds. Combine that with the complicated way that apples pollinate, and you’ve got a recipe for a clone army in an orchard.
This is great for farmers, because you get a consistent product, but bad for apples, because many of the wild varieties could be lost or forgotten. And should some pest, parasite or blight start attacking our genetically-engineered superfruits, we’re going to want those wild genes around to call on to save the day. It’s diversity that makes a population strong.
That’s why I love this project so much. It’s an archive of apple varieties using ceramic sculpture! So cool.
If you’d like to learn more about the history of the humble apple, read The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan. Great book for foodies and science fans alike. If you want to get super-sciencey, here’s a cool paper in PLOS Genetics.
More via theatlantic:
In its original home, near Almaty in Kazakhstan, the apple can be the size of a cherry or a grapefruit. It can be mushy or so hard it will chip teeth. It can be purple- or pink-fleshed with green, orange, or white skin. It can be sickly sweet, battery-acid sour, or taste like a banana. Preserving this biodiversity can become a massive project, in life and art.
See more. [Images: Jessica Rath]
The public and the food companies have known for decades now — or at the very least since this meeting — that sugary, salty, fatty foods are not good for us in the quantities that we consume them. So why are the diabetes and obesity and hypertension numbers still spiraling out of control? It’s not just a matter of poor willpower on the part of the consumer and a give-the-people-what-they-want attitude on the part of the food manufacturers. What I found, over four years of research and reporting, was a conscious effort — taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles — to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive. I talked to more than 300 people in or formerly employed by the processed-food industry, from scientists to marketers to C.E.O.’s. Some were willing whistle-blowers, while others spoke reluctantly when presented with some of the thousands of pages of secret memos that I obtained from inside the food industry’s operations. What follows is a series of small case studies of a handful of characters whose work then, and perspective now, sheds light on how the foods are created and sold to people who, while not powerless, are extremely vulnerable to the intensity of these companies’ industrial formulations and selling campaigns.
This is the most interesting thing I’ve read all week. Head over the the NY Times for the full story and educate yourself about the warfare between business and biology that has been taking place in America’s board rooms, grocery aisles and food labs. These companies are faced with having to formulate a product that you’ll want more of, and then trying to sleep at night knowing what it’s doing to the customers’ health. It doesn’t paint them as angels, certainly, but it’s a complicated situation.
Also I learned that Go-Gurt > Lucky Charms when it comes to added sugar, so just keep that in mind, parents.
Nothing affects public health in the United States more than food. Gun violence kills tens of thousands of Americans a year. Heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes kill more than a million people a year — nearly half of all deaths — and diet is a root cause of many of those diseases.
And the root of that dangerous diet is our system of hyper-industrial agriculture, the kind that uses 10 times as much energy as it produces.
We must figure out a way to un-invent this food system. It’s been a major contributor to climate change, spawned the obesity crisis, poisoned countless volumes of land and water, wasted energy, tortured billions of animals… I could go on. The point is that “sustainability” is not only possible but essential: only by saving the earth can we save ourselves, and vice versa.
How do we do that?
This seems like a good day to step back a bit and suggest something that’s sometimes difficult to accept.
We can only dismantle this system little by little, and slowly. Change takes time. Often — usually — that time exceeds the life span of its pioneers.
Mark Bittman on fixing our food problem – fantastic NYT op-ed.
Complement with the most ambitious food politics manifesto of the past half-century.(via explore-blog)
One Cubic Foot
How humans’ choice to grow just one crop can affect nature’s balance.
A typical terrestrial ecosystem is a living mosaic of hundreds or even thousands of species, balanced on one another’s existence like a biological house of cards. From plants and bugs down to microscopic fungi and bacteria, there’s a world of life in just a cubic meter.
That’s what David Liitschwager’s new book One Cubic Foot set out to capture. Anything that came through a plastic cube one foot on each side was photographed and catalogued. It’s stunning just how much life there is right under our feet, or above our heads, at any moment. Move the cube just a few feet away? You may see a completely different slice of the biodiversity pie.
However, there are tales of caution within those pages. See those two photos at top? The top photo shows the biodiversity present in a typical slice of shrub land. Cooperative populations of over 100 plants and insects. The bottom? It’s from an Iowa cornfield, home to less than an actual handful.
That cornfield is the victim of the modern agricultural practice of monoculture.
Where there were once hundreds of species, living together on the richest soil in the midwest, there remain a sparse few. In manipulating nature to grow only one crop on a piece of land, we have created an almost alien world. It’s beyond a debate between organic vs. conventional (neither of which are perfect). It’s a question of simple biology, and I don’t like the answer.
Be sure to read Robert Krulwich’s review of One Cubic Foot. And then check out Michael Pollan talking about the danger of monocultures to nature and our diets.
Paying VERY Close Attention To What You Eat
Carin Alpert uses a scanning electron microscope to take a very close look at the foods we consume. Turns out that delicious things are rather extraterrestrial and terrifying when viewed on the microscopic scale.
Co.Design has a food microscopy gallery you don’t want to miss.
Oh, and those are cake sprinkles.
Is that an Arthur C. Clarke bar?
Real, honest to goodness science confirms our worst fears about why kids are getting fat
People like to throw out claims of “fast food culture” and “sedentary lifestyles” and “video games” and “not getting off my lawn” to explain the fact that our children, at disturbingly high rates, are overweight and obese. On one hand there’s a glaringly obvious connection between fast food intake and the increase in obesity among young people, but on the other hand it’s been really hard to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Now there’s a comprehensive study to back up the idea that Fast Food, Inc.™ is basically the worst thing to ever happen to the adolescent waistline. A study of almost 10,000 kids and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 19 compared what happens when kids eat at home (including take-out) versus eating fast food or full service restaurants.
- Kids in this country eat out ALL THE TIME. About one third of kids ages 2—11 consume fast food on any given day. If you look just at adolescents, that number jumps to over 40%.
- Nutrient intake in kids falls to shit when eating outside the house. Overall consumption of sugar, total fat, saturated fat and sodium were all shown to be significantly higher at fast food and full service restaurants alike than meals eaten at home.
- Want specifics? On days that adolescents consumed fast food, they took in an additional 309 calories, while 2 through 11-year-olds took in an additional 126. Full-service dining led to a daily caloric surplus of 267 in teens and 160 in children.
- Just being out of the house is bad for you. Kids who picked up food to go and ate it at home were found to consume half as much soda as those who opted to eat at the restaurant. “We attribute that to the free refills,” said [researcher Lisa] Powell in a statement.
Such an obvious problem, and one that disproportionately affects poor populations. It’s been staring us in the face. Now that we are staring back at solid science, are we willing to do something about it?