Monday, March 19, 2012

Do I Feel A Paradigm Shift?

Well, perhaps not a complete paradigm shift. But the beginnings of one, anyway. The past few weeks have shown us that consumers are taking a stand for better foods and our concerns are being respected. For example:

Tell USDA to STOP Using Pink Slime in School Food!
"Pink Slime"
Pink Slime in the Limelight

Bettina Siegel, over at The Lunch Tray, started a petition to keep "pink slime" out of the meat purchased for school lunches. Pink slime is a low-quality mix of the bits and pieces that are left over after slaughtering - a mix that includes connective tissue and beef trimmings that had previously been used for pet food. In record time, over 235,000 people signed the petition, causing the USDA, which had purchased ground beef that contained over 7 million pounds of pink slime for use in school lunches, to announce that schools will have a choice about whether or not to use meat with pink slime in it. Amazing. Social media is powerful stuff.

Caramel Coloring is Not So Sweet

In fact, it can cause cancer. Because the state of California mandates that products containing known carcinogens carry a warning label, Coca-Cola and Pepsi have decided to use a slightly different, slightly less carcinogenic caramel coloring in their formulations. Of course, it took the threat of having to carry a warning label on their products before the manufacturers decided to make the change, but it's a good example of how tough policies can protect consumers and force change.

Food Waste = Energy Waste

NPR had a nice story about food waste, similar to the message in the infographic that HealthTwisty recently showcased. A 2010 article published in Environmental Science & Technology calculated that the food wasted in the United States each year is equivalent to wasting approximately 350 million barrels of oil. Recognition is growing regarding how much energy we waste when we waste food.

All good stuff, no? Sometimes, progress happens so gradually that we don't recognize it is happening. Only after connecting the dots do we see that perhaps we are headed in the right direction. Granted, we're getting there slowly, but consciousness is rising and things are happening.


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Hunger Games

Like many people, I am looking forward to the film adaptation of The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins' post-apocalyptic book in which hunger, famine, and food security play starring roles.

While the narrative arc of the book focuses on the life-and-death competition between the teenagers representing the 12 districts in what was once the United States, the effects that food (in)security have had, and continue to have, on these young people is never far from the surface. When sizing up her competitors in the Hunger Games, the book's protagonist Katniss notes

"Almost all of the boys and least half of the girls are bigger than I am, even though many of the tributes [competitors] have never been fed properly. You can see it in their bones, their skin, the hollow look their eyes."

Like much science fiction, The Hunger Games is based on hard truths. Food inequality is a major theme in the book, as it is in our country and our world. So when I ran across a nifty infographic on the equally nifty Food and Tech web site with that same theme I wanted to share it (with permission, of course).

The graphic, which was assembled by the folks at  Public Health Degree, focuses on the issues of Want and Waste. As in The Hunger Games, many people worldwide are wanting for food, while a relative few have more than they need to the point of wastefulness. Here's the intro from Public Health Degree's site that explains the background, including the startling statistics that 1 in 7 people in the world are chronically malnourished and Americans (in the US) waste about 40% of their food.

I think it's a beautiful infographic, packed with accessible information. Importantly, it provides practical steps that individuals can take to address the problems. I love that. Too often, we get stuck and all bummed out about the problems in the world because they can seem so big. But change begins with that first step, and Public Health Degree gives us some baby steps to get started.

The Food Crisis


Friday, March 2, 2012

Pretty Things

Nikon Small World winners!

Operating under the premise that everything looks better blown up and in color, Nikon has sponsored a Small World contest annually since 1997.

Working scientists and armchair scientists alike submit their best images to this competition.

And the good news is that, even though it's March, it's not too late to snag a calendar with images like this beauty:

It's a blade of grass like I've never seen before. That's because it's taken at 200x magnification through a microscope.

The blade of grass was the 2nd place winner in 2011. The first place winner was this magnificent, but sort of creepy, view of a green lacewing larva at 20x magnification (below). Now we know where those science fiction movie directors get their ideas.

I'm liking this wreath-y view of mammalian cells stained for various proteins and organelles. 

current image

What a fun way to look at cells, bugs, and bacteria. Don't worry physicists, there is something for you, too: images of elements, materials, and surfaces. Check out this image of sand:

No wonder my feet get sore at the beach.

You can see the 2011 winners here, but if you've got a lot of time, you can see all of the winners since 1997 here.

I love the way the images on the web site are framed in slide casings. Remember when slides were the best medium for high-quality photos? Me, too.