Introducing a blog post with the words “The European Commisssion recently decided …” is possibly a guaranteed turn-off, unless the decision concerns something really important like straight cucumbers. Illegal seeds, though, that might just stir some interest. And so it was, three weeks ago, with a proposal for a new draft of the laws that govern the marketing of plant reproductive material – seeds, among other things – in the European Union. I wrote about this over at the other place, but I also thought it would be worth doing something here, because for much of the food we eat, everything starts with the seed. You can’t have a really sustainable, locally-adapted and diverse diet if you can’t have a diversity of seeds. Bottom line: the new EU proposal is an improvement, and is not nearly as bad as some people seem to think, but it could be better still.
Not everybody is as interested in the arcana of seed law as I am, so I may have taken too much for granted in the podcast. There’s more information at a couple of the links below, which would be a good place to start if you want to explore further.
I’m in the same boat as Jeremy and think that seed law is a really important but highly overlooked area. Some of the first seed laws were written about in the old testament, sadly we’re not doing a very good job of keeping pace with the changes and the morality of these laws in the present day. One might even argue that far before there was free speech, there were free seeds…
We know about the power of clothes to affect how others see us. But does clothing have the power to actually change us on the inside? To boost our intellectual skills or melt our fear? Co-hosts Hanna Rosin and Lulu Miller, along with new contributors, explore the invisible ways clothes can seep into our skin and change us in surprising ways. This hour, stories about a guy who uses sunglasses to fight off bullies, the science of how wearing a doctor's coat can make you smarter, a tailor who may or may not have survived the Holocaust by wearing a Nazi officer's shirt, a family for whom what outfit to wear is a life or death decision, and why shoes may be the root of all human evil. Maybe.
The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service runs a program for Women, Infants and Children that subsidises specific foods for eligible women and their children. Back when it started, the WIC program excluded potatoes, on the grounds that “Americans already eat enough potatoes”. Potato growers – and their representatives – don’t like that. For one, they think it sends the wrong message about the nutritional value of potatoes. And so, in 2010, the Executive Director of the Washington State Potato Commission, Chris Voigt, launched a protest. He decided to eat nothing but potatoes for 60 days, gaining massive amounts of publicity but not – yet – a change in the WIC list of approved foods. However, while the world marvelled at Voigt’s dedication to the people who pay his salary, one grower in neighbouring Oregon said “Hey, what’s so hard about that? Last winter, I ate pretty nearly all potatoes for about six months. It was a feast all winter!”
Carol Deppe – author of Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties and The Resilient Gardener – ate almost nothing but potatoes because that’s what she had, and because she really understands the nutritional value of potatoes. She points out that potatoes contain more than 2% protein, which doesn’t sound like much when you compare it to the 9% in rice or the 12% and more in wheat. But those are dry-weight values. On that basis, potato comes in at better than 10% protein, and that protein is both more balanced and better absorbed that wheat protein. This isn’t exactly news. It’s been known since the late 19th century that if you’re getting all your calories from potatoes, then you’re probably getting all the protein you need too. But that knowledge seems to have been forgotten, and Deppe thinks she knows why:
When the USDA denies WIC-program women, infants, and children their potatoes, in spite of the potato’s known excellence as a food, in spite of how much we all like it, I think I detect a subtly Euro-centric as well as classist message: “The right way to eat is like upper-class Europeans, not like New Worlders or peasants.” The problem is bigger than failing to recognize that Americans are not all Europeans, that even most European-Americans now embrace food traditions from many lands and cultures, and that most of us are closer to being peasants than to being medieval European royalty. To reject the potato is to be several hundred years out of date. Rejecting the potato represents a failure to learn some of the most important climate-change lessons of the Little Ice Age. I think the USDA should revisit its potato policy.
So do lots of other people, including potato growers, and although potatoes are again up for consideration, it isn’t clear whether this time they will make it onto the hallowed WIC list. In the meantime, they remain an excellent and nutritious food.potato
The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service runs a program for Women, Infants and Children that subsidises specif...
I remember hearing about the USDA potato controversy at the time, but never dug into the details. Jeremy Cherfas kindly lays out lots of interesting potato information in his interview here.
Neanderthals did not descale their teeth regularly, for which modern scientists can be very thankful. Embedded in the fossilized calculus, or tartar, on teeth from the Shanidar cave, in Iraqi Kurdistan, and elsewhere are some remarkable remains that are beginning to shed far more light on what Neanderthals ate. I don’t want to give too much away just yet. Let’s just say that if, like me, when you think of the Neanderthal diet you think of a bunch of cavemen and women sitting around chewing their way through a woolly mammoth, you’re in for a surprise.
My guide through the recent discoveries on Neanderthal diet is John Speth, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan.
Amanda Henry’s research clearly points to moist-cooked starch grains in the mouths of Neanderthals (but did they swallow?). Archaeologists, however, have found almost no evidence of Neanderthals using the hot-rocks boil-in-a-bag method of modern people who lack fire-proof containers. And surprisingly, they didn’t know what John Speth discovered while watching TV in a motel room: that it is perfectly possible to boil water in a flimsy container over a direct fire. In the interests of time I had to cut his fascinating description of an experiment to make maple syrup by boiling the sap in a birch-bark tray over an open fire, which concluded that it was “both efficient and worthwhile”. So, now that they know it can be done, how long before they discover it was done?
There is evidence that Neanderthals ate moist-cooked starch. There is evidence that one can moist-cook without fire-proof containers and hot rocks. All we need now is evidence that Neanderthals used similar techniques, and the palaeo-dieters can add a nice mess of potage to their daily fare.Mandible small
Neanderthals did not descale their teeth regularly, for which modern scientists can be very th...
While I’ve read lots of research surrounding this area, this is the kind of area which more mainstream food journalists, entertainers, and educators could and should be covering. Aside from a semi-regular appearance of Deb Duchon, a nutritional anthropologist, appearing on Alton Brown‘s Good Eats, this may be one of the few places I’ve seen such an interesting interview of this type.
Among the more miraculous edible transformations is the one that turns raw meat, salt and a few basic spices into some of the most delicious foods around.
Time was when curing meat, especially stuffed into a casing to make a sausage, was the only way both to use every part of an animal and to help make it last longer than raw meat. Done right, a sausage would stay good to the next slaughtering season and beyond.
The process relied on the skill of the sausage-maker, the help of beneficial bacteria and moulds, the right conditions, a great deal of patience, and sometimes luck. Luck is less of a factor now, because to keep up with demand the vast majority of cured meats are produced in artificial conditions of controlled precision. Here and there, though, the old ways survive. Jan Davison spent months touring the sausage high-spots of Europe looking for the genuine article, and shared some of her favourites at the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cooking last year.Time was when curing meat, especially stuffed into a casing to make a sausage, was the only way both to use every part of an animal and ...
This tempts me greatly to consider decommissioning an incubator from science related use to food related use…
Bog Butter by Jeremy Cherfas from Eat This Podcast
Peat diggers in Ireland and elsewhere have occasionally unearthed objects, usually made of wood, that contained some kind of greasy, fatty material with a “distinctive, pungent and slightly offensive smell”.
Butter. Centuries-old butter.
Who buried it, and why, remain mysteries that motivated Ben Reade, an experimental chef at the Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen, to make some himself. He brought some of his modern-day bog butter, still nestled in moss and wrapped in its birch-bark barrel, to share with the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery last year.Ben ReadePeat diggers in Ireland and elsewhere have occasionally unearthed objects, usually made of wood, that contai...
An awesome little podcast I found recently, so I’m going back to the beginning to catch up on all the past episodes. Science, food, heaps of technical expertise, great interviews, and spectacular production quality. Highly recommend it to everyone.
In this episode we find that the solution can be the problem. The hour begins with a charming couple from Utah who stumble across a clever fix to their clogged drain problem one day while they are showering together. For them, the impulse to fix the problem leads to a happy adventure into the world of patenting and manufacturing a new product. From there, the hour takes a turn to explore how this very same impulse to fix a problem — the impulse that has led the human species to invent telephones and bicycles and rocket ships — has surprising consequences when it comes to the problem of mental illness.
A stunning idea, and one that could do well not only for the mentally ill among our friends and families, but some interesting psychology for parenting and expectations of parents for their children.
In America personality is often seen as destiny. Whether you're a famous CEO like Steve Jobs or a serial criminal like Hannibal Lecter, most of us think that our position in life has a lot to do with our personality. This episode looks more closely at this belief. We start at a Court House where lines of people who are getting married describe the personality of the person with whom they are to be joined for life. Then travel to a prison in Ohio where a woman has struck up a work relationship with a prisoner who it turns out did something far worse than she imagined. Finally Lulu talks to a scientist to come up with a complete catalogue of all the things about us that actually do stay stable over the course of our lives. They look at everything from cells to memories until ultimately they come up with a list — but it's a really short list.
Not explicitly said, but this episode points out the heavy nurture side of the nature/nurture question in relation to the stability of one’s personality over time. In some sense, you are who those around you expect you to be. This also makes me think I ought to go back to working for a larger company with more people around me.
Yet another great episode, though to me not as intriguing as some of their other prior efforts. Still overall, a stellar podcast series.
You probably don't even notice them, but social norms determine so much of your behavior - how you dress, talk, eat and even what you allow yourself to feel. These norms are so entrenched we never imagine they can shift. But Alix Spiegel and new co-host, Hanna Rosin, examine two grand social experiments that attempt to do just that: teach McDonald's employees in Russia to smile, and workers on an oil rig how to cry.
This is a fantastic episode that fits right into the heart of their running theme. The psychology of the smile isn’t something one thinks about often, but it has such a profound effect on our daily lives.
In Our Computers, Ourselves, a look at the ways technology affects us, and the main question is : Are computers changing human character? You'll hear from cyborgs, bullies, neuroscientists and police chiefs about whether our closeness with computers is changing us as a species.
Possibly not as interesting to me because I’ve watched this space more closely over the past 20 years or so. Still it’s an interesting episode asking some great questions.
I can’t believe I flew through season one so quickly.
The Power Of Categories examines how categories define us — how, if given a chance, humans will jump into one category or another. People need them, want them. The show looks at what categories provide for us, and you'll hear about a person caught between categories in a way that will surprise you. Plus, a trip to a retirement community designed to help seniors revisit a long-missed category.
The transgender/sexual dysphoria story here is exceedingly interesting because it could potentially have some clues to how those pieces of biology work and what shifts things in one direction or another. How is that spectrum created/defined? A few dozen individuals like that could help provide an answer.
The story about the Indian retirement community in Florida is interesting, but it also raises the (unasked, in the episode at least) question of the detriment it can do to a group of people to be lead by some the oldest members of their community. The Latin words senīlis (“of or pertaining to old age”) and senex (“old”) are the roots of words like senate, senescence, senility, senior, and seniority, and though it’s nice to take care of our elders, the younger generations should take a hard look at the unintended consequences which may stem from this.
In some sense I’m also reminded about Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and why progress in science (and yes, society) is held back by the older generations who are still holding onto outdated models. Though simultaneously, they do provide some useful “brakes” on both velocity of change as well as potential ill effects which could be damaging in short timeframes.
Entanglement by Alix Spiegel and Hanna Rosin from Invisibilia | NPR
In Entanglement, you'll meet a woman with Mirror Touch Synesthesia who can physically feel what she sees others feeling. And an exploration of the ways in which all of us are connected — more literally than you might realize. The hour will start with physics and end with a conversation with comedian Maria Bamford and her mother. They discuss what it's like to be entangled through impersonation.
I can think of a few specific quirks I’ve got that touch tangentially on mirror synethesia. This story and some of the research behind it is truly fascinating. Particularly interesting are the ideas of the contagion of emotion. It would be interesting to take some complexity and network theory and add some mathematical models to see how this might look. In particular the recent political protests in the U.S. might make great models. This also makes me wonder where Donald Trump sits on this emotional empathy spectrum, if at all.
One of the more interesting take-aways: the thoughts and emotions of those around you can affect you far more than you imagine.
Four episodes in and this podcast is still impossibly awesome. I don’t know if I’ve had so many thought changing ideas since I read David Christian’s book Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History.  The sad problem is that I’m listening to them at a far faster pace than they could ever continue to produce them.
D. Christian, Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History. Univ of California Press, 2004.
In "How to Become Batman," Alix and Lulu examine the surprising effect that our expectations can have on the people around us. You'll hear how people's expectations can influence how well a rat runs a maze. Plus, the story of a man who is blind and says expectations have helped him see. Yes. See. This journey is not without skeptics.
Expectations are much more important than we think.
Is it possible that this podcast is getting more interesting as it continues along?! In three episodes, I’ve gone from fan to fanboy.
Fearless by Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller from Invisibilia | NPR
In "Fearless," co-hosts Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller explore what would happen if you could disappear fear. A group of scientists believe that people no longer need fear — at least not the kind we live with — to navigate the modern world. We'll hear about the striking (and rare) case of a woman with no fear. The second half of the show explores how the rest of us might "turn off" fear.
Our evolution certainly hasn’t been keeping up with our level of fear in the modern world. Even simple things like kids playing around their own neighborhood like I did as a kid in the 70’s and 80’s has changed drastically. How can we keep ourselves from being held back unnecessarily?