Stories tagged food


Demand for ethanol is pushing up the price of corn: Some poor countries are facing food shortages.
Demand for ethanol is pushing up the price of corn: Some poor countries are facing food shortages.Courtesy swankslot

(With the Republican National Convention literally across the street, the Science Museum of Minnesota will be closed starting Friday, August 29. But Science Buzz marches on! To honor our convention guests, I’ll be posting entries focusing on issues where science and politics overlap. Hopefully this will spur some discussion. Or at least tick some people off. Previous entries here, here, here, here and here.)

In 2005, Congress passed a law requiring that set levels of renewable fuels, such as ethanol, be blended into gasoline, with the amount rising every year. Ethanol is usually made from corn, and increasing the demand for ethanol has pushed up the price of food.

(We have touched on this topic a time or two before. Researchers are working on making ethanol from non-food sources.)

In August, the state of Texas asked the Environmental Protection Agency for a waiver from the requirements, claiming that higher corn prices were making cattle farming unprofitable. And, ironically, making ethanol production unprofitable, too. The EPA reused.

Some bloggers argue that this refusal puts upward pressure on food prices—a fact that is beginning to hurt poor people the world over. Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, has argued for a “safety-valve” that would let refiners miss their targets if food prices rise too high.

Subsidies and tariffs also keep the price of ethanol artificially high. If these wee dropped, the incentives to turn corn into fuel would lessen, and food prices would stabilize.


"He wouldn't make a mouthful": said William, who had already had a fine supper, "not when he was skinned and boned."
"He wouldn't make a mouthful": said William, who had already had a fine supper, "not when he was skinned and boned."Courtesy Radha Blossom
Hey, everybody! Remember yesterday?

I sure don’t. The last thing I remember is TGIF programming, and feeling really angry about something (it wasn’t the TV I was upset with, that much I know), and the next thing I’m aware of is waking up under the sink…in the yard! It was my yard, but not my sink. Weird.

Anyway, the last week is a little blurry, to say the least. What happened in this week? I only have a few clues to go on: new tattoos (did I get my own name tattooed on me, or the name of someone else called JGordon?), a new t-shirt (it smells like burned hair, and it says “Try me, Lincoln!”), and some Science Buzz blog entries.

Bloody noses? Bigfoot? I thought this was supposed to be a science blog! I was clearly out of my gourd—there’s not a test tube or a lab coat to be seen in those posts.

And then there’s the kangaroo meat post. I might have been on to something there: it’s about the environment, and animals, and Paul Hogan. Whatever was going on in my head, I seem to have momentarily surfaced near enough to lucidity to string several paragraphs of real words together. Words about eating animals and environmental impact. And stuff.

Wherever I was (geographically) yesterday, I like where I was going (mentally), and I have decided to pursue that train of thought.

The word, then, is “patal-bageri.” I mean “words.” Words.

The Indian state of Bihar, unwilling to be out-crazied by Australia, may be pursuing a new meat industry of its own: rat, or “patal-bageri.”

Like the Aussies, the welfare ministry of this state is hoping to kill two birds with one stone (except one of the birds will actually be a rat, and they probably won’t use a stone—maybe a hammer instead). Hunting rats would reduce the amount of grain lost to the rodents (naturally) as well as provide a cheap and plentiful supply of meat. Rat meat.

The minister of welfare has pointed out that the Musahar caste, of which there are 2.4 million members, have traditionally eaten rats for a very long time (“Musahar” roughly translates to “rat eaters” in Hindi), hunting them in their rice fields. If the Musuhars—one of the poorest castes in the country—can eat rats, says the minister, why can’t everybody else?

Someone got to this rat already!: Nuts.
Someone got to this rat already!: Nuts.Courtesy erik langner
The ministry plans to set up rat meat stalls in rural fairs, to give people a taste of the protein-rich meat, and hopes to eventually have “rat meat centers” in urban areas. The Musahars could be engaged to start rat farms, hopefully empowering them socially and economically (I have a feeling, though, that some people might still look down on rat farmers).

The eating of rats obviously has kind of a stigma to it, but it’s certainly not unheard of—in cultures that don’t specifically forbid eating them (Islam and Judaism, for instance, have strict taboos against consuming rat meat), rats may be eaten as a crisis food, or regularly with other bush meats. Cane rats make up fully half of the locally produced meat in Ghana (check out this picture of a soon to be delicious cane rat).

I might eat rat meat, but it’s good that I don’t have to eat rat meat (it’s nice to have control over that decision). Should anyone be unable to wait for the patal-bageri industry to arrive on American shores, however, here are some recipes for rats (and mice):

Something Thai

Rat and mouse recipes

And some more


Broccoli: The Super Food
Broccoli: The Super FoodCourtesy FIR0002
New research coming out of Britain shows eating broccoli may reverse damage done by diabetes to heart and blood vessels. I’m always glad to hear anything new about the benefits of broccoli. Not that I have diabetes – I don’t. But broccoli is my favorite vegetable, and besides its potentially new vascular benefits, the leafy vegetable is high in fiber, full of vitamins C and K, and nutrients that have been found to reduce the risk of some cancers. A member of the cabbage family (Brassica), broccoli, along with other vegetables in the genus (including brussel sprouts, cauliflower, turnips, kohlrabi, and mustard seed) has been linked to the reduction of strokes and heart attacks.

Diabetes is a serious metabolic disorder resulting in abnormally high levels of blood sugar (hyperglycemia). The disease can affect nearly every part of the body, and left untreated can lead to blindness, kidney failure, nerve damage, and loss of limb. Diabetics have up to 5 times the risk of suffering from vascular diseases such as heart attacks, strokes because of damaged blood vessels.

The current research involves the anti-cancer compound sulforaphane, a product of another compound found in broccoli called glucoraphanin. Sulforaphane encourages production of enzymes that protect blood vessels, and reduce levels of cell-damaging molecules. When researchers at the University of Warwick tested the effects of sulforaphane on blood vessels damaged by hyperglycemia (high sugar levels), they noticed a nearly 75% reduction of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) molecules in the body. High levels of ROS -the result of increased blood sugar- can damage cells. The researchers noted sulforaphane also protected cells by triggering a protein that activated antioxidant enzymes.

“Our study suggests that compounds such as sulforaphane from broccoli may help counter processes linked to the development of vascular disease in diabetes,” said Professor Paul Thornalley of the University of Warwick. His team’s appears in the journal Diabetes. Thornalley added that he expects future tests of a brassica vegetable-rich diet could yield further health benefits for diabetic patients.

"It is encouraging to see that Professor Thornalley and his team have identified a potentially important substance that may protect and repair blood vessels from the damaging effects of diabetes,” said Dr Iain Frame, director of research at the charity Diabetes UK. "It also may help add some scientific weight to the argument that eating broccoli is good for you."

That brings to mind the time when the first president Bush said since he was president he didn’t have to eat broccoli anymore. (I think the quote was “Read my lips: no more broccoli”) Well, good for him. It just means more of the natural, leafy panacea for the rest of us.

BBC website story
American Diabetes Association
More on broccoli


Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled salmonella
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled salmonellaCourtesy lucianvenutian
But did anybody listen?
According to a Star and Tribune article MN’s own “Team Diarrhea” figured out jalapeño peppers were to blame for the MN Salmonella cases and told the FDA and CDC to look at jalapeño peppers as the culprit for cases nationwide instead of tomatoes. The DNA of the strains in MN matched the cases elsewhere. To learn more about this story check out a previous Buzz Blog.

I’m happy to report that these super sleuths were advisors and content experts in the development of Disease Detectives which is currently in the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Human Body Gallery. You can learn more about some of these disease detectives here.

So check out today’s Star and Tribune article and give thanks to Kirk Smith and the rest of his team at the Minnesota Department of Health for doing their best to keep us safe!

Science stares inside
Science stares insideCourtesy Nevena
Researchers in Belgium have figured out why apples stay crunchier, after being picked, than pears. Micro structures through out the fruit of an apple are able to deliver oxygen to the cells while the structures in pears are dense and closed off which prevents oxygen flow. These scientists determined this by using a high tech radiation facility to create images of the internal structure of the fruit. But, you can get a sense for their findings yourself at home. Drop and apple and a pear in a jug of water. Find out which on sinks? Can you think why?


Ice cream is a delicious treat on a hot day: provided you DON'T SOAK IT IN ANTIFREEZE!!!
Ice cream is a delicious treat on a hot day: provided you DON'T SOAK IT IN ANTIFREEZE!!!Courtesy Clover_1

Let me start by stating this as clearly as I can:


There, are we all clear on that? Good.

A scientist in Wisconsin has developed an edible antifreeze that will prevent ice crystals from forming in that block of old ice cream you forgot about in the back of your freezer.


The edible antifreeze is made from a fruit enzyme that cuts proteins into smaller pieces and keeps them from freezing. It might also be used to protect meats from “freezer burn.”


We hope you have enjoyed our little discourse on the wonders of food processing.


You're being a little dramatic: That's what I think, anyway.
You're being a little dramatic: That's what I think, anyway.Courtesy pjryan3
“I don’t know, mate. I was just walking down the street thinking ‘Oy! It’s been a long time since I’ve had burning diarrhea!’ And then I saw the sign at the Cinnamon Club: hottest curry in the world. It was like God gave me a gift card for free burning diarrhea!”

“I had some bad chicken in Bath last week, and was fortunate enough to end up with sever stomach pain and vomiting. But with five days left in my vacation, it seemed like I was done with the puking. What a rip off! I’ve been planning this trip for years, and I didn’t come to England not to be physically ill the whole time. Thank goodness for naga peppers!”

“‘Grossly visible gastric bleeding’? Where’s the queue?!”

Brits and tourists alike were thrilled last week by the opportunity to try a London restaurant’s Bollywood Burner curry, a dish that will likely be named by the Guinness Book of World Records as the planet’s hottest curry.

(The meal, apparently, isn’t in quite the same league as Venutian gonad-exploding curry.)

The curry (which is “too extreme to keep on the menu”) gets its heat from the naga jolokia pepper, which was recently declared to be the hottest pepper in town (that is to say, again, on the planet). The naga has a maximumScoville rating of over one million—more than one hundred times hotter than the jalapeño pepper.

Capsaicin, the chemical that gives peppers their spicy dreams and hot flashes, has been explored as a treatment for chronic pain, and has been shown to kill cancer cells in lab rats. Ironically, capsaicin also causes severe pain, and has been shown to be associated with stomach cancer.

Studies have shown that, contrary to popular belief, mayonnaise actually inhibits the growth of bacteria and thus reduces the risk of food poisoning.

Farm animals often carry germs that can get into our food supply. And pumping the animals full of antibiotics can cause other problems, such as breeding super bugs that are immune to the drugs. But researchers in South Carolina are taking a new approach. They are adding nanoparticles to chicken feed. The particles imitate chicken cells and attract the germs. The germs get stuck to the particles, and then get expelled harmlessly the next time the chicken poops.