What’s in a super hero?
Growing up, my dad had the classic Marvel comic heroes like Spiderman and Captain America whereas my brother and I watched and played Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers. These days I ask a little more from my heroes. I want them to increase energy efficiency, vanquish upper respiratory diseases like asthma, stop world hunger, and -- Wait! What?? Who’s this?! Gaba-gaba and Plumpy’nut to the rescue! -- Strangely named heroes they may be, but these are among the super foods fighting global malnutrition.
Food insecurity and hunger is a big deal. It affects about 200,000 households in Minnesota, about 13 million households in the United States, and 925 million people (more than the population of the U.S., Canada, and European Union combined!) worldwide. You are more likely to be among these effected populations if you live in a developing country, are female, and/or are a child. With a global population racing towards 9 billion (that’s 9,000,000,000) people, worldwide food insecurity and hunger is increasing rather than decreasing. As we say here in Minnesoooota, “Uff-da! Dat’s a big problem dere.”
Gaba-gaba and Plumpy’nut are being deployed around the world to fill bellies.
Courtesy Wally Hartshorn
Essentially, gaba-gaba is a naturally bred (read: not genetically engineered) variety of sweet potato containing an insane amount of essential vitamins and minerals like vitamins A, C, and E, calcium, iron, and folic acid (needed for healthy red blood cells). These nutrients build immunity, improve digestion, strengthen the heart, hydrate the body, improve eyes, and provide energy. But wait! There’s more!! Not only does it do all that, but gaba-gaba is fast growing as well as drought and disease resistant making it ideal for tough climates in places like Mozambique, Africa. Mega-extra bonus: I’ve heard gaba-gaba can be eaten raw or cooked and can even be squeezed for juice or ground into flour! Talk about a versatile veggie.
According to the International Potato Center -- Pause. Did you even know there is an International Potato Center? It’s totally legit. Bono went there with some of his U2 band members! Play. -- As I was saying, the IPC reports that Bono has eaten gaba-gaba to get in shape. “Gabba Gabba Hey!” is also a lyric to “Pinhead” by the Ramones. Clearly, this means that gaba-gaba is pop star endorsed. Coolness.
Meanwhile, Plumpy’nut is a “ready-to-use therapeutic food,” which, to my notion, looks like the kind of food astronauts eat in outer space. Also cool, right?
I imagine the Plumpy’nut recipe card to read something like, “ Step 1: Gather your peanuts, sugar, vegetable fat, milk powder, vitamins, and minerals. Step 2: Pulverize into a smooth paste. Step 3: Enjoy!” Ridiculously simple for a paste that can provide 500,000 calories per 92 gram (about 3.25 ounces) serving, and can be used at home, making it possible to treat severe acute malnutrition without hospitalization. Nutriset, the makers of Plumpy’nut, thought of everything! They even made sure the nutritious paste can last up to two years without refrigeration. Neat, huh?
It’s pretty amazing what science and technology can do to make the world a better place to live. We’ve written about food security, rising global population, and hunger before on the Buzz. I wrote this post a little over a year ago on the subject. It highlights the role of the Institute on the Environment’s Global Landscapes Initiative’s efforts to stretch our agriculture resources and feed a growing population.
I’ll be keeping my eyes out for more super foods and modern day heroes. If you know of any, share them in the comment box below!
You may have heard about nanotechnology enhanced pants that keep that wine stay away or even a nanotech tennis racket. But if nanotechnology is truly set to revolutionize the world we live in what benefits can the poorest people of the world expect to see?
According to a 2005 study these are the areas we should focus on first:
Not surprisingly energy tops the list. According to Singer easy access to cheap energy will lead to a great deal of economic growth in the developing world. Here at the Buzz we have covered several nanotechnology energy advances that might come to market in the future. super cheap solar cells, nano ultracapacitors from MIT, nano products now.
Look for more info on some exhibits we will be rolling out soon on nanotech's impact on energy and the environment.
One of the greatest threats to public health these days, especially in developing countries, is poor water quality. Everyone needs water to live, right? But if that water isn’t clean, it can lead to a ton of health problems. Some estimates figure that 6,000 people die each day due to health complications from drinking poor water.
Solving big problems usually takes big solutions. But a Swiss weaving company have developed an easy, low-cost way to get around the problems of drinking impure water. It’s developed a device called LifeStraw.
It’s a portable water purifying system. People can wear a LifeStraw around their neck and use it to safely slurp up surface water from just about any natural location. The ten-inch-long tube contains a series of fabric filters inside. Those filters can screen out nearly all micro organisms that carry water-borne diseases, including diarrhea, dysentery, typhoid and choler. The filters are fine enough to screen out particles that are up to 15 micorns small.
The makers of LifeStraw say their product can last for about a year until it needs to be replaced, processing about 700 liters of water in its life time. That averages out to about two liters a day, the size of a large soda pop bottle.
There is some minimal maintenance required with a LifeStraw. Users occasionally need to blow out their last gulp of water plus some air through the straw to clean out the filters and any silt or mud that may get drawn into the straw.
What’s really remarkable about this is the price tag for LifeStraw. Each device costs $3. But you’re not going to find them on the shelves of Wal-Mart, Target or a grocery store.
LifeStraw’s parent company, Vestergaard Frandsen sells LifeStraws in bulk quantities to charitable groups who then get them to needy areas of the world through service projects. Rotary Clubs in Great Britain are among the biggest participants in the LifeStraw distribution effort.
More information on how to get involved in distributing LifeStraws is available at the organization’s website: www.lifestraw.com