MoJo Author Feeds: Maddie Oatman | Mother Jones http://www.motherjones.com/rss/authors/64597 http://www.motherjones.com/files/motherjonesLogo_google_206X40.png Mother Jones logo http://www.motherjones.com en Finally You Can See How Much Added Sugar Is Hidden in Your Food http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/05/new-food-labels-will-show-added-sugar <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>After years of delay, the Food and Drug Administration finalized <a href="http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm385663.htm" target="_blank">new nutrition facts labels</a> on Friday. The label you're used to seeing on processed foods was more than 20 years old; the government says the new one reflects updated scientific information and "will make it easier for consumers to make better informed food choices."</p> <p>The changes include a magnified calorie count and the addition of a line showing added sugar (highlighted below).</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/FDALabelComparison_0.jpg"><div class="caption">Food and Drug Administration</div> </div> <p>It's a big deal that companies will now have to identify the added sugar in their food. Once corn-syrup-filled sodas and cheap processed snacks started overtaking our supermarkets in the 1960s, added sweeteners infiltrated nearly every corner of the American diet. As I've <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2015/03/how-much-food-is-6-teaspoons-of-sugar" target="_blank">written</a> in the past:</p> <blockquote> <p>Naturally occurring sugars (the kind in fruit, for example) come with fiber, which helps us regulate the absorption of food. Without fiber, sugar can overwhelm your system, eventually <a href="http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/eating-too-much-added-sugar-increases-the-risk-of-dying-with-heart-disease-201402067021" target="_blank">leading to</a> obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems.</p> </blockquote> <p>Given these risks, experts <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2015/11/sugar-is-the-devil" target="_blank">have warned</a> that no more than ten percent of your daily calorie intake should come from added sugar, or around 12 teaspoons a day; Americans wolf down 30 teaspoons on average by some estimates. It doesn't help that three-quarters of processed snacks include such added sweeteners. But until now, consumers had no real way of knowing how much of the sugar in their food was naturally occurring, and how much was added in manufacturing. Adding to shoppers' confusion is how tricky it can be to determine whether sugar is an ingredient in a food: it goes by at least <a href="http://www.sugarscience.org/hidden-in-plain-sight/#.Vz-Cm2aDo9-" target="_blank">57 names</a>.</p> <p>With the new labels, manufacturers will have to reveal more about how they use this ubiquitous ingredient. Time will tell whether the transparency spurs big food companies to look past adding sugar and find new ways to make their food palatable.</p></body></html> Environment Food Fri, 20 May 2016 23:16:34 +0000 Maddie Oatman 304571 at http://www.motherjones.com This Is What Happens When Restaurants Ditch Tipping http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/04/tipping-over-saru-jayaraman-danny-meyer-restaurants-bite <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><em>We're excited to present another episode of Bite, our new food politics podcast. Listen to <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/category/secondary-tags/bite" target="_blank">all of our episodes here</a>, or by subscribing in <a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/bite/id1090260338?mt=2" target="_blank">iTunes</a>, <a href="http://app.stitcher.com/browse/feed/86694/details" target="_blank">Stitcher</a>, or via <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/bite-podcast" target="_blank">RSS</a>.</em></p> <p>Is this the end of tipping?</p> <p>When Danny Meyer, owner of revered eateries like Gramercy Tavern and The Modern in New York, <a href="http://www.ushgnyc.com/hospitalityincluded/" target="_blank">announced</a> last year that he'd abolish the practice at his businesses, he helped spark a national conversation about whether paying a gratuity at a restaurant still makes sense. Along with <a href="http://www.caminorestaurant.com/about" target="_blank">several</a> <a href="http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/the-inside-job/2009/03/16/alice-waters-why-her-waiters-dont-get-traditional-tips" target="_blank">other</a> <a href="http://www.eater.com/2014/7/18/6190833/amanda-cohen-on-why-tipping-is-a-devils-bargain" target="_blank">renowned</a> chefs, Meyer has revealed the ugly truth about the practice, which until recently was rarely talked about: that tips create a disparity between different employees, are fairly unregulated and easy to exploit, and are inconsistent and leave servers at the whims of customers rather than the employer.</p> <p>Oh, yeah&mdash;and <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/04/restaurants-end-tipping-racist-origins" target="_blank">tipping has roots in racism</a>.</p> <p>In this week's episode of <em>Bite</em>, <a href="https://www.forkedthebook.com/" target="_blank">author</a> and labor organizer <a href="http://laborcenter.berkeley.edu/author/saru-jayaraman/" target="_blank">Saru Jayaraman</a> tells to us more about tipping's disturbing origins. Jayaraman isn't against gratuities, per se, but she feels strongly that the "tipped minimum wage"&mdash;the lower wage that restaurant workers take home in all but nine states&mdash;has got to go. This lower wage hasn't increased since the early '90s&mdash;<em>the nineties</em>&mdash;and it forces a staggering number of the nation's 11 million restaurant workers to rely on food stamps.</p> <link href="https://d2nx6ydw3e5y5d.cloudfront.net/assets/current.css" media="screen" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css"><div class="art19-web-player awp-medium awp-theme-dark-orange" data-episode-id="b63974d0-2150-40b9-8ff8-fc13e139b6b5">&nbsp;</div> <script src="https://d2nx6ydw3e5y5d.cloudfront.net/assets/current.js" type="text/javascript"></script><p>California is one of the few states where tipped workers earn the full state minimum wage. But even so, some entrepreneurs there think tipping is unfair. Andrew Hoffman, co-owner of Berkeley's The Advocate and Comal restaurants, says the practice favors front-of-the-house employees.</p> <p>"There's nothing that we sell that isn't the product of all of that collective work," he says. "Yes, the bartender that night made the drink, but who stocked the liquor when it came in? Who washed the glasses when it was done? A restaurant is a collaboration. It's a team sport."</p> <p>Hoffman got rid of tipping and now includes a 20 percent automatic service charge on his customer's bills instead, which he uses to balance out the pay across the restaurant.</p> <p>But not everyone has been happy with their no-tipping experiments&mdash;in fact, some restaurateurs are returning to a traditional gratuity model. Tune in to our latest episode to hear more.</p></body></html> Environment Podcasts Economy Food Labor Race and Ethnicity Bite Fri, 22 Apr 2016 10:00:28 +0000 Maddie Oatman and Jenny Luna 302496 at http://www.motherjones.com The Racist, Twisted History of Tipping http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/04/restaurants-tipping-racist-origins-saru-jayaraman-forked <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/TippingPoint_630_0.jpg"><div class="caption">ILoveDust</div> </div> <p><span class="section-lead">Fresh out of college</span> and working as an unpaid intern for a San Francisco nonprofit, I paid the bills by moonlighting at an Indian restaurant in the Pacific Heights neighborhood. My hostess job entailed long stretches of boredom punctuated by a cacophonous frenzy. There were icy glares from impatient diners and reprimands from managers for drifting from my podium, but compared with most restaurant workers, I was sitting pretty: My hourly rate exceeded California's minimum wage, I was tipped out by the servers at the end of each shift, and I even received health care benefits&mdash;a city mandate.</p> <p>Very few of America's 11 million restaurant workers share my story. The federal minimum wage is a paltry $7.25 an hour, but in <a href="http://www.dol.gov/whd/state/tipped.htm" target="_blank">18 states</a> servers, bussers, and hosts are paid just $2.13&mdash;less than the price of a Big Mac. This is known as the federal "tipped minimum wage" because, in theory, these food workers will make up the difference in tips. Twenty-five states and DC have their own slightly higher tipped minimums. The remaining seven, including California, guarantee the full state minimum wage to all workers.</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="650" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" src="//datawrapper.dwcdn.net/TwaHD/5/" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="100%"></iframe></p> <p><em>*Some of the wages shown in the above map are only for large employers. </em></p> <p>On the surface, tipping seems little more than a reward for astute recommendations and polite, speedy service. But the practice has unsavory roots, as <a href="http://laborcenter.berkeley.edu/author/saru-jayaraman/" target="_blank">Saru Jayaraman</a>, a labor activist and author of <a href="https://www.forkedthebook.com/" target="_blank"><em>Forked: A New Standard for American Dining</em></a>, told me during a taping of <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/media/2016/03/bite-food-politics-podcast-trailer" target="_blank"><em>Bite</em></a>, the new food and politics podcast from <em>Mother Jones</em>. The origin of the word is unclear&mdash;one theory says "tip" is shorthand for "to insure promptness"; another suggests it's from 17th-century thief slang meaning "to give." In any case, European aristocrats popularized the habit of slipping gratuities to their hosts' servants, and by the mid-1800s rich Americans, hoping to flaunt their European sophistication, had brought the practice home.</p> <link href="https://d2nx6ydw3e5y5d.cloudfront.net/assets/current.css" media="screen" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css"><div class="art19-web-player awp-medium awp-theme-dark-orange" data-episode-id="b63974d0-2150-40b9-8ff8-fc13e139b6b5">&nbsp;</div> <script src="https://d2nx6ydw3e5y5d.cloudfront.net/assets/current.js" type="text/javascript"></script><p>Restaurants and rail operators, notably Pullman, embraced tipping primarily, Jayaraman says, because it enabled them to save money by hiring newly freed slaves to work for tips alone. Plenty of Americans frowned upon the practice, and a union-led movement begat bans on tipping in several states. The fervor spread to Europe, too, before fizzling in the United States&mdash;by 1926, the state tipping bans had been repealed.</p> <p>America's first minimum-wage law, passed by Congress in 1938, allowed states to set a lower wage for tipped workers, but it wasn't until the '60s that labor advocates persuaded Congress to adopt a federal tipped minimum wage that increased in tandem with the regular minimum wage. In 1996, former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain, who was then head of the National Restaurant Association, helped convince a Republican-led Congress to decouple the two wages. The tipped minimum has been stuck at $2.13 ever since.</p> <p>This is why restaurant workers today take home some of the lowest pay offered by any industry. Seven of the 10 worst-paying job categories tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) are in food services. Real median wages for waiters and waitresses are down 5 percent since 2009; cooks saw a decline of 9 percent.</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Tipping_Chart_0.png"></div> <p>Sure, we occasionally hear about waiters hauling in $80K at posh urban establishments. Those are the stories that corporate players such as Darden, the notoriously stingy owner of the Olive Garden chain, want you to remember. The restaurant association's <a href="http://www.restaurant.org/advocacy/Minimum-Wage" target="_blank">website</a> claims the national median take-home pay for tipped servers is $16 to $22 an hour. But those same workers, according to the BLS, made just $9.01 an hour in 2014&mdash;poverty wages for a family of four and nowhere near enough to cover rent on the average two-bedroom apartment. (The association says this figure is low because some restaurants report tips improperly.)</p> <p>America's two-tiered wage system is hardest on women, who make up 71 percent of tipped servers&mdash;waitresses are twice as likely to use food stamps as the general population. And while federal law requires employers to make sure their tipped workers earn at least minimum wage <em>after</em> tips, that rarely happens&mdash;from 2010 to 2012, according to the Department of Labor, 84 percent of restaurants were in violation of federal wage law, "which means the women who put food on the tables in America can't actually afford to feed themselves," Jayaraman says.</p> <p>The racist origins of tipping persist, meanwhile, in the take-home wages of nonwhite restaurant workers, who earn 56 percent less than their white colleagues. In one <a href="http://scholarship.sha.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1030&amp;context=articles" target="_blank">study</a>, researchers at Cornell University and Mississippi College found that customers at an unnamed national chain restaurant&mdash;even the black customers&mdash;tipped white servers better than black servers. This disparity, the researchers noted, could in theory render the tipped minimum wage unlawful.</p> <p>Jayaraman says she's not advocating the end of tipping, just that it take on a different form. Several celebrated restaurants, including Alice Waters' Chez Panisse and Danny Meyer's The Modern, have largely replaced tipping with higher menu prices or mandatory service charges. San Francisco's Bar Agricole tried it, too, <a href="http://www.sfchronicle.com/food/article/Eliminating-tips-brings-unintended-consequences-6731265.php" target="_blank">but reverted to tipping</a> after servers complained they were making less money. At least they're working in California, where they'll never take home less than the current $10-an-hour minimum wage, even if every last table stiffs them.</p></body></html> Environment Economy Econundrums Food Race and Ethnicity Sex and Gender Fri, 22 Apr 2016 10:00:22 +0000 Maddie Oatman 302086 at http://www.motherjones.com Stop Freaking Out About How Much Protein You're Getting http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/03/your-protein-obsession-isnt-helping-anyone <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p>Stroll through the aisles of your supermarket and you'll see advertisements left and right for snacks packed with the new magical nutrient: protein. Wheyhey ice cream&mdash;"20 grams of protein per pot"&mdash;promises to help you with "losing weight" and "skin anti aging," while P28 high protein sliced bread wants to be "part of your journey to a healthy lifestyle." Lenny &amp; Larry's protein-packed cookies <a href="https://www.lennylarry.com/sweet-dreams/">supposedly</a> help "chase away hunger." Artisanal <a href="https://www.epicbar.com/" target="_blank">bison jerky bars</a> line the Whole Foods' checkout aisle, and everyone at work is on a paleo diet.</p> <p>Do we really need this much protein? To maintain normal health, the average <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/06/12/look-at-how-much-weight-weve-gained-since-the-1960s/" target="_blank">sedentary adult woman</a> needs a daily dose of 60 grams and a man needs around 70. Yet <a href="http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-availability-%28per-capita%29-data-system/summary-findings.aspx" target="_blank">data</a> shows that Americans may consume around 120 grams daily. That means we're consuming twice as much as what's needed, likely without even trying. "If you have enough calories in your diet, not getting enough protein would be very, very hard," journalist and author Marta Zaraska told me in an interview for our latest episode of <em><a href="http://www.motherjones.com/category/secondary-tags/bite" target="_blank">Bite</a>, </em>"Zebra Meat and Vegan Butchers."</p> <link href="https://d2nx6ydw3e5y5d.cloudfront.net/assets/current.css" media="screen" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css"><div class="art19-web-player awp-medium awp-theme-dark-orange" data-episode-id="e9b3a6c8-395a-4b3d-9a81-6dd4d7e293ec">&nbsp;</div> <script src="https://d2nx6ydw3e5y5d.cloudfront.net/assets/current.js" type="text/javascript"></script><p>In her new book <em>Meathooked: The History and Science of Our 2.5-Million-Year Obsession With Meat, </em>Zaraska digs deep into the reasons behind this protein hunger. According to Zaraska's research, the craze goes much further back than the rise of the paleo diet and other protein-focused diets.<strong> </strong>In fact, one of the myths fueling this protein fixation has roots in a shaky finding from the 1800s. That's when German scientist Carl von Voit determined how much protein soldiers and hard laborers consumed each day, and then extrapolated that the average body required 150 grams a day. "The problem with his methodology is obvious," writes Zaraska: "It's a bit like observing children stuffing themselves with cookies and concluding that young humans require tons of sugar to grow." By 1944, the US Department of Agriculture had halved that recommendation, but the idea that we need lots of protein to be healthy lived on.</p> <p>Most of the protein we consume comes from animals: Americans eat roughly 270 pounds of meat a year. For years, many people thought that without animal flesh, our bodies don't get all of the essential amino acids they need. (Meat is considered a "complete" protein because it contains all of the acids.) Zaraska traces some of this misunderstanding back to, ironically, Frances Moore Lapp&eacute;, author of <em>Diet for a Small Planet</em>. In her seminal 1971 manual for embracing a low-impact life, Lapp&eacute; suggested that vegetarians should chart the amino acids in their plant foods and eat the foods together at the right times to make sure they could "complete" their plant-based proteins through the right combinations of amino acids from different sources, a task that required laborious planning and analysis.</p> <p>True, plant foods can lack enough essential amino acids; beans, for instance, are low in methionine. (Grains are high in methionine, hence the advice to enjoy rice and beans together.) But since the 1970s, we've learned that the body actually completes proteins&mdash;fills in the missing elements&mdash;on its own.&nbsp;"Now we know that the liver can store amino acids so we don't have to combine<strong> </strong>[the acids] in one meal," <a href="http://vegetariannutrition.net/docs/Protein-Vegetarian-Nutrition.pdf">states the</a> Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In the 20th-anniversary edition of her book, Lapp&eacute; acknowledged that when it came to amino acids, she had "reinforced another myth." Not only does the body complete proteins; there are several plant foods that have all of the essential amino acids that a person needs, writes Zaraska, such as buckwheat, quinoa, soy, and potatoes.</p> <p>The consensus among many doctors and dietitians these days seems to be that if you are eating a diverse array of foods, you don't need to stress about protein. The Institute of Medicine's recommended <a href="http://www.nationalacademies.org/hmd/Reports/2002/Dietary-Reference-Intakes-for-Energy-Carbohydrate-Fiber-Fat-Fatty-Acids-Cholesterol-Protein-and-Amino-Acids.aspx" target="_blank">daily allowance of protein</a> is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight (adjusted slightly if you're active, ill, or pregnant). I'd need about 42 grams to <a href="https://fnic.nal.usda.gov/fnic/interactiveDRI/" target="_blank">meet my requirement</a>; when I added up everything I ate earlier this week, I was startled to discover that I had eaten 66 grams without thinking twice&mdash;and I don't eat meat. Considering a single serving of chicken breast clocks in at 31 grams and a piece of skirt steak at 22, it's easy to see why Americans frequently double-dip on their protein allowances. (Calculate your own daily allowance <a href="https://fnic.nal.usda.gov/fnic/interactiveDRI/" target="_blank">here</a>.)</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="575" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" src="//datawrapper.dwcdn.net/KRrnK/3/" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>On its own, eating a lot of protein isn't actually that unhealthy. As Stanford medicine professor Christopher Gardner told me, for the most part our bodies can tolerate extra helpings of the nutrient, though excessive amounts have the potential to wreak havoc on the kidneys. It's what comes with the protein that puts us at risk, explains Gardner. When General Mills came out with its more expensive "Cheerios Protein," the brand boasted that the new cereal would provide the whole family with "long-lasting energy." But that energy likely had more to do with the nutty O's sugar content; as the Center for Science in the Public Interest pointed out <a href="http://cspinet.org/new/pdf/cheerios-protein-complaint-11-10-15.pdf">in a November class-action lawsuit</a>, Cheerios Protein contains 17 times the amount of added sugar as the original, and only a touch more of the protein. (General Mills tried to get the suit thrown out in January, to no avail so far.)</p> <p>Gardner also worries that in our hunger for protein, we've begun skipping real foods. We're saying, "'I'm not going to eat food, I'm going to have a bar as a meal'&mdash;which means that it's coming with fewer of the natural nutrients of food," he says.</p> <p>But Gardner's real concern has to do with the planet's health. Around 80 percent of the protein we consume comes from animals, he says, in the form of meat, eggs, or dairy. And those creatures need a lot of resources to become food. One-third of a pound of hamburger <a href="http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/freshwater/embedded-water/http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/freshwater/embedded-water/">requires</a> 660 gallons of water to produce, if you include the irrigation needed for the feed. Raising animals for people contributes to a bevy of environmental plagues, including deforestation, water contamination, loss of biodiversity, and desertification. Of the more than 25 percent of all greenhouse gases attributed to the food system, 80 percent comes from producing livestock.</p> <p>In early 2015, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a body of scientists who review nutrition advice for the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services, advised the government to encourage a shift to a more plant-based diet: "Consistent evidence indicates that, in general, a dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods&hellip;and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact than is the current average US diet," the committee <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2015/03/tom-vilsack-2015-dietary-guidelines-sustainability-environment">wrote</a>. Ultimately, this recommendation was left out of the 2016 Dietary Guidelines. But others are sounding a similar alarm. Earlier this week, Oxford researchers published <a href="http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2016/03/16/1523119113.full">a report</a> in the <em>Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</em> arguing that a global shift to a more plant-based diet could reduce global food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 29 to 70 percent by 2050 and save the planet up to $31 trillion US dollars, or 13 percent of the world's GDP.</p> <p>Protein-cramming probably won't hurt you, but it likely won't do you much good, either. And as the Oxford researchers note, the choices we make about food "have major ramifications for the state of the environment." For the sake of our crowded planet, maybe it's time to<strong> </strong>relax and stop trying to make protein part of every item on your plate.</p></body></html> Environment Podcasts Climate Change Food Science Bite Fri, 25 Mar 2016 10:00:13 +0000 Maddie Oatman 300231 at http://www.motherjones.com Introducing "Bite," Our New Podcast About Food Politics http://www.motherjones.com/media/2016/03/bite-food-politics-podcast-trailer <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p>Earlier this winter, <a href="http://firstwefeast.com/eat/problems-with-food-media/" target="_blank">an essay</a> on the food and culture website <em>First We Feast</em> laid out some complaints about contemporary food journalism: "Food media has felt, for lack of a better word, soft," editor Chris Schonberger wrote. To find investigative reporting on food issues, readers must look outside the "food media" bubble. As legendary culinary writer Ruth Reichl told Schonberger and company: "If you're interested in the politics of food, you can go to <em>Mother Jones</em> or something."</p> <p>Indeed, <em>Mother Jones </em>has delved into food and agriculture's thornier topics for decades. We've taken full advantage of our tagline of "smart, fearless journalism" to expose the <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2015/01/california-drought-almonds-water-use" target="_blank">nut industry's voracious thirst</a>, observe <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/05/my-trip-mcdonalds-sponsored-nutritionist-convention" target="_blank">fast-food's sway on nutrition policy</a>, illuminate the environmental toll of <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2014/03/coffee-k-cups-green-mountain-polystyrene-plastic" target="_blank">snacks' excessive packaging</a>, and examine the <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2012/10/sugar-industry-lies-campaign" target="_blank">industry cover-up of sugar's health risks</a>. And now, we're excited to take this knack for no-bullshit reporting to a brand new medium: <em>Bite</em> podcast.</p> <link href="https://d2nx6ydw3e5y5d.cloudfront.net/assets/current.css" media="screen" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css"><div class="art19-web-player awp-medium awp-theme-dark-orange" data-episode-id="6b18c81d-92d5-48f8-bd91-9d51f217dab9"></div> <script src="https://d2nx6ydw3e5y5d.cloudfront.net/assets/current.js" type="text/javascript"></script><p><em>Bite </em>is a podcast for people who think hard about their food. In each biweekly episode, my co-hosts <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott" target="_blank">Tom Philpott</a> and <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/authors/kiera-butler" target="_blank">Kiera Butler</a> and I will interview a writer, scientist, farmer, or chef to uncover the surprising stories behind what ends up on your plate. We'll help you digest the major food news of the week. We're interested in how your food intersects with other important topics like identity, social justice, health, corporate influence, and climate change.</p> <p>Don't worry&mdash;we'll have some fun, too. We're happy to indulge in some full-on foodie-ism from time to time. (Check out our recipes for <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2013/01/toms-kitchen-wine-braised-beef-short-ribs" target="_blank">wine-braised short ribs</a> and <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2011/11/salsa-cranberry-sauce-thanksgiving" target="_blank">cranberry salsa</a>.) We'll reflect on the weirdest things our guests have eaten as of late. And we'll try to solve your food mysteries&mdash;especially if you get in touch with us on <a href="https://twitter.com/bite_podcast" target="_blank">Twitter</a> or <a href="https://www.facebook.com/bitepodcast/" target="_blank">Facebook</a>, or by sending an email to bite@motherjones.com.</p> <p>Subscribe to <em>Bite </em><a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/bite/id1090260338?mt=2" target="_blank">on iTunes</a> or via <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/bite-podcast" target="_blank">our RSS</a>, and get ready for our first episode, which will drop very soon. We hope you're hungry.</p></body></html> Media Podcasts Food Health Media Science Bite Sun, 06 Mar 2016 11:00:17 +0000 Maddie Oatman 298626 at http://www.motherjones.com The Horrible Chemicals That Make Your Winter Gear Waterproof http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/02/ski-clothing-waterproof-pfoa-pfcs-perfluourochemicals-health-risks <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Ever since our early ancestors left the fertile sauna of Africa and headed North, we humans have been searching for ways to fend off sleet and snow and rain and cold. The Inuit <a href="http://angelasancartier.net/inuit-and-arctic-dress-materials-technology">once relied on</a> seal and whale intestines to get the job done. Nowadays, we rely on waterproof synthetics.</p> <p>These modern fabrics represent a certain kind of progress, but they also have a worrisome downside. Some of the fluorocarbon chemicals used in their manufacture are dangerous for our health, and are so stable that their residues will persist in the environment, quite literally, until the next Ice Age. What's more, there's no guarantee that the industry's latest alternatives, which are marketed as safer, are much of an improvement.</p> <p>To make their fabrics repel water&mdash;causing it to bead up and fall away rather than penetrate the material&mdash;most manufacturers rely on perfluorocarbons (PFCs), the same chemicals used to make nonstick cookware and cupcake wrappers. Some PFCs escape into the atmosphere and into wastewater during production&mdash;and small amounts can turn up as residue on the clothing itself.</p> <p>PFCs have been around since the 1950s, but we didn't know a lot about their effects until the early 2000s, when scientists began releasing data on PFC toxicity and their persistence in the environment. A particularly troublesome PFC is perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, a suspected human carcinogen that has been linked to cancer, kidney damage, and reproductive problems in rats. It may also pose human health risks if it accumulates in drinking water at levels as miniscule as one part per trillion&mdash;the <a href="http://www.ewg.org/release/tiny-concentrations-teflon-chemical-harmful-public-health" target="_blank">equivalent</a> of less than one teaspoon in 1,000 Olympic swimming pools' worth of water. <a href="jama.jamanetwork.com:article.aspx%3Fvolume=307&amp;issue=4&amp;page=391">One study</a> also associated elevated exposure to PFCs, including PFOA, with weakened immune responses in children.</p> <p>The makers of PFCs have been the subject of several <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/10/magazine/the-lawyer-who-became-duponts-worst-nightmare.html?_r=0">blockbuster</a> <a href="https://theintercept.com/2015/08/11/dupont-chemistry-deception/">expos&eacute;s</a>&mdash;PFOA most recently made headlines as the culprit <a href="http://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/welcome-to-beautiful-parkersburg/">poisoning residents</a> of Parkersberg, West Virginia. These compounds have a very long biological half-life&mdash;specifically, it takes our bodies more than four years to flush out half of the PFCs currently residing in our tissues. As such, the US Environmental Protection Agency <a href="http://www.epa.gov/assessing-and-managing-chemicals-under-tsca/long-chain-perfluorinated-chemicals-pfcs">warns</a> that "it can reasonably be anticipated that continued exposure could increase body burdens to levels that would result in adverse outcomes."</p> <p>Because PFOA and its precursors virtually never go away, they accumulate in nature and eventually find their way back to us. Researchers have found the chemical in remote parts of the Arctic, in soil and dust, in fish and meat, in human tissue, and in drinking water throughout the United States. (To find out if your county's water has tested positive for the chemical, see <a href="http://www.ewg.org/enviroblog/2015/08/your-drinking-water-contaminated-toxic-non-stick-chemicals">this map</a>).</p> <p>In 2006, the EPA asked major chemical manufacturers, including DuPont and 3M, to <a href="http://www.epa.gov/assessing-and-managing-chemicals-under-tsca/20102015-pfoa-stewardship-program">set a goal</a> of eliminating PFOA and its precursors from both emissions and products by January 31, 2015&mdash;their final reports are due by the end of this month. The European Union has also proposed restrictions on the substance. So problem solved, right? You no longer need to fret about the chemicals used to make your sweet new neon ski parka?</p> <p>Well, not exactly. There are reasons to stay worried. For one, the EPA's phaseout program was voluntary, and it includes no mandate that clothing manufacturers must also remove PFCs from their supply chains. (The EPA does say it is working on a rule that would require clothing companies that import fabrics made with PFOA to subject themselves to the agency's review.) Greenpeace <a href="http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/publications/detox/2016/Leaving-Traces.pdf">tested</a> 40 pieces of outdoor clothing and gear it had purchased in late 2015 and reported that PFOA is "still widely present" in name-brand products, including items from the North Face, Patagonia, and Mammut.</p> <p>Patagonia calls Greenpeace's assessment "not accurate" and says it has mostly phased out PFOA. Mammut says it has eliminated the chemical entirely&mdash;as does North Face, <a href="http://neverstopexploring.com/2016/01/22/the-north-face-remains-committed-to-creating-products-responsibly/" target="_blank">starting with its spring 2015 line</a>. Some of the products Greenpeace tested may have been manufactured before phaseout efforts were complete.</p> <p>Most of the sportswear manufacturers have replaced PFOA, which has an eight-carbon backbone, with six-carbon (C6) PFCs. Mammut, for example, <a href="http://www.mammut.ch/INT/en/cr/planet/pfc">says</a> it is provisionally using a "responsible" and "PFOA-free" C6 chemistry, while Marmot, another outdoor clothing brand, argues that C6 "is the safest alternative for the environment."</p> <p>It's true that these shorter PFCs don't remain in our bodies as long as PFOA does. Still, "the C6 chemicals don't seem to be the magic coating for your clothing that you're looking for," says Environmental Working Group senior scientist David Andrews. Like PFOA, the shorter compounds persist in the environment, which is one reason why Greenpeace, EWG, and plenty of <a href="http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1509934/#r7" target="_blank">other scientists around the globe</a> don't consider them safe alternatives. In addition, as Patagonia <a href="https://www.patagonia.com/pdf/en_US/pfoa_and_flourochemicals.pdf">explains</a>, "the shorter-chain structure also tends to perform less effectively in repellency tests," which means a larger quantity may be needed to achieve the same result.</p> <p>Manufacturers in the United States are not required to test chemicals for safety before using them in products, and the health effects of the shorter-chain PFCs are as yet a mystery. But "the short-chain chemicals show a lot of the same characteristics as their longer predecessors," EWG's Andrews told me.&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, as a class, PFCs raise all sorts of red flags. In 2014, 200 scientists from around the world signed the "<a href="http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1509934/">Madrid Statement</a>," a document calling for more research on PFC toxicology and urging governments around the world to restrict their use for nonessential purposes. "We should probably have more oversight into this whole class of chemicals," Andrews says. "It took decades to show how bad PFOA is."&nbsp;</p> <p>Outdoor clothing makers acknowledge these concerns&mdash;"it may be preferable to search for fluorocarbon-free water repellent as a long term solution," notes Patagonia&mdash;but they insist their hands are tied. The North Face's "<a href="http://www.thenorthface.co.uk/blog/eu/en/chemical-responsibility">chemical responsibility</a>" web page assures that the company hopes to phase out "fluorinated DWR" (that's durable water repellent) by 2020, but notes that "short-chain DWR is currently the best available viable alternative."</p> <p>Several clothing companies say the durability of their products&mdash;made possible by PFC chemistry&mdash;is key to their environmental friendliness. As Patagonia's spokesman put it, "abandoning PFCs and moving to currently available alternatives would have an even greater negative impact on the environment because the lifespan of our gear would be greatly reduced, requiring replacement far more quickly, which of course carries significant costs&mdash;carbon emissions, water usage, waste output, bigger landfills, and more." He added that the company is still committed to finding an alternative, and that it has partnered with a Swiss firm working at the "cutting edge of chemical treatments that don't harm the planet."</p> <p>There is at least one safer option currently floating around. A company called Nikwax sells a PFC-free waterproofing product akin to the rubber in the soles of your shoes: You cover your jacket with the Nikwax gel, toss it in the wash, and presto&mdash;it's coated with <a href="http://nikwax-usa.com/en-us/how_nikwax_works/introduction.php">a network</a> of elastic water-repellent molecules. The problem is that Nikwax is a direct-to-consumer product, meant to go on the jacket you've already bought. In that sense, it doesn't help solve the PFC conundrum.</p> <p>But that could change. In January, P&aacute;ramo, a small British brand partnering with Nikwax, became the <a href="http://myoutdoors.co.uk/news/industry-news/item/901-paramo-1st-outdoor-company-to-sign-up-to-greenpeace-detox-commitment">first company in the outdoor industry</a> to completely eliminate PFCs from its manufacturing process. Italian climber David Bacci wore P&aacute;ramo's threads as <a href="http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/makingwaves/detox-outdoors-high-performance-without-PFCs/blog/55419/" target="_blank">he scaled</a> the Patagonian peaks Fitz Roy and Cerro Torres, and he <a href="http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/makingwaves/patagonia-detox-expedition-extreme-climbing-cerro-torre-without-pfcs/blog/55289/" target="_blank">wrote that</a> the clothing "worked perfectly" and kept him "dry and warm in extreme conditions."</p> <p>Nikwax North America president Rick Meade says he thinks the publicity around fluorinated chemicals will lead to some "dramatic shifts of interests to consumers in the next one to three years." For now, until more clothing companies commit to ditching PFCs, your snow outfit will most likely be made with a PFOA cousin that's coated in mystery.</p></body></html> Environment Corporations Econundrums Health Science Sat, 13 Feb 2016 11:00:15 +0000 Maddie Oatman 296656 at http://www.motherjones.com The Feds Just Approved Offshore Fish Farming http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2016/01/feds-just-okayed-offshore-fish-farming <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>If you eat seafood, you've likely swallowed some farmed fish: These days, the whale's share of shrimp, tilapia, mussels, and increasingly salmon sold at American restaurants and seafood counters comes from the hands of aquaculturists rather than local fishermen.</p> <p>Yet while fish farmers have pretty much mastered the art of raising tilapia in ponds and shellfish next to coastlines, raising marine fin fish&mdash;think all the best kinds of sushi, like tuna, yellowtail, kampachi&mdash;presents some headaches. The closed saltwater tanks needed to house these species on-land are costly and energy intensive. When they're raised in nets right by the coasts, waste can build up and damage nearby ecosystems.</p> <p>That's why many seafood entrepreneurs are applauding this week's <a href="http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/stories/2016/01/offshore_aq_rule.html" target="_blank">announcement</a> by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: The agency will now allow the large-scale farming of fish in cages deep in the ocean, in waters regulated by the federal government.</p> <p>The <a href="https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2016/01/13/2016-00147/fisheries-of-the-caribbean-gulf-and-south-atlantic-aquaculture" target="_blank">new rule</a>, effective February 12, will allow American seafood farmers to apply for a permit to operate an offshore aquaculture farm in the Gulf of Mexico. According to NOAA, the move will help the US, which raises only 20 percent of its seafood in native waters, catch up with the rest of the world in terms of seafood output. Gulf offshore farms will produce up to 64 million pounds of seafood a year. "Marine aquaculture creates jobs, supports resilient working waterfronts and coastal communities, and provides international trade opportunities," NOAA stated in <a href="http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/stories/2016/01/offshore_aq_rule.html" target="_blank">a press release</a>.</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/e30f38_NXL4" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>But not everyone is excited about these future offshore operations.</p> <p>Gulf fishermen will have to compete with the new offshore ventures, and some worry that creatures that escape from deep underwater cages could breed or mess with their wild stocks. And while the farms will be several miles away from the coastline, some conservationists say that we still don't know the long term effect such outfits could have on marine ecosystems. According to <em>Politico</em>'s <em>Morning Agriculture</em> newsletter, several organizations, including the Center for Food Safety and Food and Water Watch, are "analyzing legal options" in regards to the new rule out of concern for the environment.</p> <p>The announcement paves the way for offshore ventures in other regions of the US to acquire permits. <a href="http://rosecanyonfisheries.com/" target="_blank">Rose Canyon Fisheries</a> has been waiting since 2014 for approval of its project, which will raise yellowtail jack, white bass, and striped bass in a massive farm miles off the coast of San Diego. Don Kent, head of Hubbs-Seaworld Research Institute, which is co-funding Rose Canyon, envisions the project as a way to correct America's seafood imbalance&mdash;the fact that we import roughly 90 percent of the seafood we consume. "The big advantage we'll have over those other supplies is the fact that we can grow it locally," he <a href="http://www.kpbs.org/news/2015/sep/02/massive-fish-farm-proposed-san-diegos-coast/" target="_blank">told</a> KPBS News.</p> <p>Renowned food journalist Paul Greenberg isn't convinced these ambitious aquaculture projects will solve America's seafood dilemma. Americans often eschew native fish species and import exotic varieties instead, he <a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/09/01/436414230/huge-fish-farm-planned-near-san-diego-aims-to-fix-seafood-imbalance" target="_blank">told</a> NPR's <em>The Salt</em>. "Rather than trying to start up new and complicated ventures, first let's try to eat the fish we've already got."</p></body></html> Blue Marble Food Regulatory Affairs Science Fri, 15 Jan 2016 01:06:40 +0000 Maddie Oatman 294061 at http://www.motherjones.com These 4 Foods Will Be All the Rage in 2016 http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2016/01/superfoods-hemp-crickets-seaweed-moringa <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Packed with protein, loaded with vitamin C, or <a href="http://thehealthyeatingsite.com/the-health-benefits-of-goji-berries/" target="_blank">boasting</a> "15 times the amount of iron in spinach," so-called superfoods continue to seduce health nuts and marketing gurus alike. You probably remember <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/05/are-superfoods-quinoa-chia-goji-good-for-you" target="_blank">the quinoa craze</a>, the hype surrounding <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/10/coconut-water-oil-flour-health" target="_blank">coconut oil</a>, the excitement about acai berries, or the hoopla about <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2010/11/kombucha-really-good-you" target="_blank">kombucha</a>. They're not <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/05/are-superfoods-quinoa-chia-goji-good-for-you" target="_blank">necessarily better for you</a> than more familiar fruits and veggies, but their exotic names and stories convince consumers to fork over extra for these supposed elixirs.</p> <p>So which superfoods will catch on in 2016? The good news is that this year's top trends combine appealing nutritional qualities with a lighter environmental footprint than the average provision. The only problem? They don't necessarily look or taste great, so companies are currently rushing to repackage them for mass appeal.</p> <p>A roundup of the most promising (but not necessarily appetizing) new superfoods:</p> <p><strong>Crickets: </strong>They thrive in hotter climates and survive off decaying waste and very little water and space, making them seem like the perfect protein for the warming, drought-stricken landscape we humans have engineered for ourselves. Starting in 2014, edible cricket farms have sprung up in Ohio and California; San Francisco's <a href="http://bittyfoods.com/" target="_blank">Bitty Foods</a> grinds the bugs into a baking flour, and Six Foods uses them in its "<a href="http://www.sixfoods.com/#products" target="_blank">chirps</a>." But Americans haven't seemed quite ready to embrace the <a href="http://www.fao.org/forestry/edibleinsects/en/" target="_blank">age of the edible insect</a>. Marketing research group Blueshift Ideas <a href="http://blueshiftideas.com/content/september-2015-trends-tracker/" target="_blank">revealed</a> in September that one in five of those surveyed were likely to buy a product with an insect-based ingredient, but that marked a 10 percent decrease in enthusiasm from six months ago. Maybe due to <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2015/06/future-food-has-robot-arms-and-smells-bacon" target="_blank">the bugs' subtle</a> aftertaste?</p> <p><strong>Hemp: </strong>Many consider hemp a wonder plant&mdash;it's naturally resistant to many pests, it can require <a href="http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-fine-hemp-marijuana-legalize-20140626-story.html" target="_blank">half the water wheat does</a>, it grows in tight spaces and in many climates, and it outcompetes other weeds. But laws prohibiting marijuana cultivation in the United States have meant that production of hemp, which contains miniscule amounts of THC, has also been off limits. As pot prohibition lifts in some states, people have been stockpiling seeds to plant more acres of hemp for use in textiles, building supplies, <a href="http://www.hcn.org/articles/colorados-first-legal-hemp-harvest-since-1957-is-underway" target="_blank">batteries,</a> and edibles (no, not that kind).</p> <p>According to <a href="http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/presspacs/2014/acs-presspac-january-29-2014/new-analysis-finds-hempseed-oil-packed-with-health-promoting-compounds.html" target="_blank">a study</a> in the <em>Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry</em>, hemp seed oil contains high levels of minerals, vitamins, and omega-3s. And move over, almond milk: Hemp milk offers <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2009/oct/19/health/he-milk19/3" target="_blank">way more</a> omega-3 fatty acids, thought to <a href="http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/omega-3-fats/" target="_blank">help prevent heart disease</a>. But online reviews of its flavor run the gamut, with some pointing out its "<a href="http://www.veganbaking.net/articles/guides/five-types-of-non-dairy-milk-reviewed" target="_blank">pleasant slight maltiness</a>" and others saying "<a href="http://www.seriouseats.com/2009/08/milk-taste-tests-soy-almond-rice-oat-goats-hemp.html" target="_blank">it tastes like rope</a>." Bitter notes mean hemp milk might not be the best cream substitute; the blogger behind <em>Veganbaking.net</em> <a href="http://www.veganbaking.net/articles/guides/five-types-of-non-dairy-milk-reviewed" target="_blank">writes</a> that it made her coffee "almost undrinkable."</p> <p><strong>Moringa: </strong>I <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2015/06/future-food-has-robot-arms-and-smells-bacon" target="_blank">wrote about this ingredient</a> after attending a San Francisco event called the Future of Food last summer:</p> <blockquote> <p>Over to the Kuli Kuli Foods table, where women in acid-green aprons peddle samples of bars made of moringa, a leafy plant that <em>Time</em> recently <a href="http://time.com/3544425/superfoods-moringa-tree-breadfruit-prickly-pear-cactus/" target="_blank">deemed the new kale</a>. Kuli Kuli is the first US company marketing moringa. Its founder, Lisa Curtis, first learned about the plant while in Peace Corps in Niger in 2010. Feeling malnourished on the local diet, she was urged to try the nutrient-dense moringa plant, which is high in calcium, protein, amino acids, and vitamin C. The plant grows super fast and thrives in hot, dry climates. Curtis realized that locals weren't marketing the superfood because they had no international market, so she set out to create one in the US by importing the plant in powder form. Aside from fueling her own fruit and nut bar company, she tells me that local juice joints around San Francisco are picking it up for use in smoothies. (Side note: Fidel Castro is <a href="http://en.cubadebate.cu/news/2012/10/24/fidel-castro-praises-nutritious-properties-moringa-and-mulberry/" target="_blank">a huge moringa fan</a>.)</p> <p>I want to love moringa. If the current California drought is any predictor, we're going to need plants that survive harsher conditions and provide such an impressive array of nutrients. But this one tastes rather grassy, and goes down like a shot of wheatgrass, which is to say, abruptly. So power to Kuli Kuli, but here's hoping its moringa recipes continue to evolve.</p> </blockquote> <p><strong>Seaweed: </strong><em>New Yorker </em>writer Dana Goodyear recently <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/11/02/a-new-leaf" target="_blank">deemed</a> seaweed one of the "world's most sustainable and nutritious crops." It requires neither fresh water nor fertilizer to thrive, and it grows at lightning speed. And rather than contributing to our carbon footprint, as many fertilizers and food sources do, seaweed cleanses the ocean of excess nitrogen and carbon dioxide. As far as its benefits on the dinner plate, certain types of the marine algae offer lots of protein and vitamin B12. That's all well and good, but remember, we're talking about a type of plant that tends to be dark green or brown, leafy, and slimy. As one of Goodyear's sources put it, seaweed is going to be "one of the toughest food types to convince Americans to eat."</p> <p>Then again, unpalatability hasn't stopped other obscure ingredients from zooming to the top of American shopping lists in short periods of time. Chia, slightly bland little seeds that puff up with moisture, gained massive momentum due largely to savvy marketing; the number of food products with chia seeds in them shot up more than 1,000 percent between 2009 and 2013, <a href="https://www.ama.org/publications/MarketingNews/Pages/chia.aspx" target="_blank">reports</a> Mintel. Many people stomach turmeric, an anti-inflammatory yellow spice that can be acrid on its own, in capsule form. If all else fails, there's always the blender. Cricket seaweed banana smoothie, anyone?</p></body></html> Blue Marble Econundrums Mon, 04 Jan 2016 11:00:43 +0000 Maddie Oatman 292731 at http://www.motherjones.com The Only Way to Save Your Beloved Bananas Might Be Genetic Engineering http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2015/12/hate-gmos-then-prepare-kiss-bananas-goodbye <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Bananas have reached such all-star status in the American diet that we now consume more of them than apples <a href="http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/chart-gallery/detail.aspx?chartId=30486">every year</a>. Yet you're probably used to seeing just one type of banana at your supermarket: the relatively bland yellow Cavendish. It has high yields, ships pretty well, and ripens slowly, making it appetizing to global food distributors.</p> <p>Unfortunately, the popularity of the Cavendish might also be its downfall. A nasty and incurable fungus known as Tropical Race 4 (TR4) has spread in Cavendish-producing countries around the world, and it could be making its way straight toward banana heartland: Latin America, which produces <a href="http://www.fao.org/docrep/019/i3627e/i3627e.pdf">80 percent</a> of the world's exports.</p> <p>For <a href="http://journals.plos.org/plospathogens/article?id=10.1371/journal.ppat.1005197">a paper</a> published in November in the journal <em>PLOS Pathogens</em>, researchers confirmed that the version of TR4 afflicting bananas in different countries around the globe&mdash;including China, the Philippines, Jordan, Oman, and Australia&mdash;appears to come from a single clone. Ever since the fungus migrated from Asia and Australia into Africa and the Middle East starting in 2013, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization has <a href="http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/223409/icode/" target="_blank">urged countries</a> to step up their quarantining of sick plants. Yet the <em>Pathogens</em> paper confirms that these quarantines, seemingly the only prevention against the spread of the fungus, which can live in soil for up to 50 years, have mostly failed. "It indicates pretty strongly that we've been moving this thing around," says professor James Dale, one of the world's experts on bananas and the director of the Queensland University of Technology's Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities. "It hasn't just popped up out of the blue."</p> <p>The finding seems to confirm every banana grower's worst fear: that the Cavendish will go down the same way our old favorite banana did. A century ago, Americans ate only Gros Michel bananas, said to have more complex flavor and a heartier composition than today's Cavendish variety. Then, the monoculture fell prey to the fungal disease Tropical Race 1, or "Panama disease," which wiped out the crop around the globe. There was nothing anything could do to stop it.</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/BananaSellerCrop.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>A farmer sells hill bananas in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. </strong>K.P. Sajith/NRCB/<a href="http://www.musarama.org/en/image/banana-seller-149.html" target="_blank">Musarama</a></div> </div> <p>So this time around, rather than attack the fungus, scientists have shifted their efforts into building a better banana to withstand it. Dale's research team, funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has spent 12 years working on TR4. Three years ago, it started a trial on two very promising ideas: (1) inserting a TR4-resistant gene from a different wild banana species from Malaysia and Indonesia, <em>musa acuminata malaccensis, </em>into the Cavendish to create a fungus-resistant version of the popular variety and (2) turning off a gene in the Cavendish that follows directions from the fungus to <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/01/10/we-have-no-bananas" target="_blank">kill its own cells</a>. Dale says it's too early to discuss the details of the trials, but the team is "very encouraged by the results" of the experiment with the wild <em>malaccensis</em> banana&mdash;which means the genetically engineered fruit seems to have successfully resisted TR4.</p> <p>GMO haters would not be too happy about a rejiggered&nbsp;banana plant. Dale's introduction of a different GM experiment in 2014, a vitamin-A-fortified banana meant to help deliver nutrients to impoverished Africans, was met with harsh criticism from the likes of Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva, Friends of the Earth Africa, and Food and Water Watch. "There is no consensus that GM crops are safe for human consumption," they wrote <a href="http://afsafrica.org/afsa-open-letter-opposing-human-feeding-trials-involving-gm-banana/">in a letter</a> to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/BananasChichiCrop.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Ruhuvia Chichi, or red bananas, grown on the Solomon Islands </strong>Gabriel Sachter-Smith/<a href="http://www.musarama.org/en/image/ruhuvai-chichi-bunch-113.html" target="_blank">Musarama</a></div> </div> <p>Regardless of where you land on GMOs, there is another option to consider: We could stop relying on Cavendish bananas. If you've ever tasted one of the dozens of small, sweet&nbsp;bananas that grow in regions like Central America and Southeast Asia, you probably aren't terribly impressed with the United States' doughy supermarket varieties. Belgium's Bioversity International estimates that there are at least 500, but possibly twice as many, banana cultivars in the world, and about 75 wild species. The Ruhuvia Chichi of the Solomon Islands is sunset red and cucumber shaped; Inabaniko bananas from the Philippines grow fused together, giving them the name "Praying Hands"; Micronesia's orange-fleshed Fe'i bananas are rich in beta-carotene. Elsewhere, you can find the Lady Finger banana, the Se&ntilde;orita, the Pink French, and the Blue Java.</p> <p>But Dale doubts the global food industry will suddenly switch to one of these tempting fruits. "To change over to another variety would be quite challenging, because the growers and shippers have really been set up to use [the Cavendish] around the world." And he points out, "Even if you did find a replacement, that's not to say that in 20 years another disease wouldn't come along and knock it over."</p></body></html> Blue Marble Food International Science Top Stories Mon, 21 Dec 2015 11:00:12 +0000 Maddie Oatman 292541 at http://www.motherjones.com Flavored E-Cigarettes May Be Worse for You Than Nicotine http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2015/12/flavors-e-cigarettes-popcorn-lung-vape-pens-nicotine <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>"An exotic fusion of pineapple and coconut with champagne infused blueberries."</p> <p>"Creamy milk chocolate and rich peanut butter flavors."</p> <p>No, these are not excerpts from the dessert menu at a fancy hotel. They're some of the latest offerings from the makers of vape pens and e-cigarettes&mdash;which are the same thing, more or less. As e-cigs gain traction (sales are expected to soar seventeenfold over the next 15 years), manufacturers are having a heyday concocting flavors that can be inhaled&mdash;an estimated 7,000 to date. Public health experts warn of the addictive nicotine in e-cigs and vaping fluids, and their potential <a href="http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?doi=10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.1742" target="_blank">to serve as a</a> "gateway" to tobacco, especially for teens. But a new <a href="http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/wp-content/uploads/advpub/2015/12/ehp.1510185.acco.pdf" target="_blank">Harvard study</a> instead took a hard look at those tantalizing flavors&mdash;and found that a majority, at least of the samples tested, contained chemicals linked to a dangerous lung disease.</p> <p>Researchers at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health analyzed various e-cig and vape pen liquids for the presence of three related chemicals&mdash;diacetyl, 2,3-pentanedione, and acetoin&mdash;that are also used in artificial butter flavorings. By the turn of the 21st century, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had deemed diacetyl safe to eat, but little was known about what happened when a person inhales it. Then, in the early 2000s, workers at several plants that manufacture microwave popcorn <a href="https://www.osha.gov/dts/shib/shib10142010.html" target="_blank">came down with a nasty lung disease</a> after prolonged exposure to the fake-butter fumes. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigated cases of this so-called popcorn lung and later released <a href="https://www.osha.gov/dsg/guidance/diacetyl-guidance.html" target="_blank">guidelines</a> for dealing with diacetyl in the workplace, along with <a href="https://www.osha.gov/dts/shib/shib10142010.html" target="_blank">a list of foods</a> that contain the chemical. "Current evidence points to diacetyl as one agent that can cause flavorings-related lung disease," <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/flavorings/exposure.html">notes</a> the CDC's National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. NIOSH says it is uncertain whether the other two compounds pose health risks, but it points out their chemical similarities to diacetyl.</p> <p>Now the popcorn-lung chemicals are turning up in vape pens. The Harvard researchers tested 51 e-cigarette flavorings they deemed appealing to youths&mdash;think "Cupcake" and "Alien Blood"&mdash;and found diacetyl in 37 of them. At least one of the three suspect chemicals was present in 47 of the 51 samples. The researchers could not determine conclusively that using an e-cig flavored with these chemicals is harmful. But they pointed out that "the heating, vaporization, and subsequent inhalation" creates "an exposure pathway" similar to that of the microwave popcorn workers. Two of the flavors tested&mdash;"<a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/11/tobacco-industry-lorillard-newport-menthol-black-smokers" target="_blank">menthol</a>" and "tobacco"&mdash;do not appear on the OSHA's list of flavors likely to contain diacetyl.</p> <p>Since they landed on the market in 2004, e-cigarettes and vape pens have been dogged by controversy. Fans claim they are far less toxic than <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/05/tobacco-book-golden-holocaust-robert-proctor" target="_blank">regular cigarettes</a> and might even help tobacco smokers quit. Public health officials counter that it's too early to know very much about e-cigs' health effects, especially on young people. (Their use among teens <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2015/p0416-e-cigarette-use.html">tripled</a> from 2013 to 2014.) At least 43 states <a href="http://publichealthlawcenter.org/resources/us-e-cigarette-regulations-50-state-review" target="_blank">have placed age restrictions</a> on the sale or possession of the products.</p> <p>The FDA <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/09/e-cigarettes-regulation-tobacco-warning-labels-menthol" target="_blank">does not currently</a> regulate e-cigarettes&mdash;it has stalled for years in proceeding with <a href="http://www.fda.gov/TobaccoProducts/Labeling/RulesRegulationsGuidance/ucm388395.htm">proposed rules </a>that would allow it to regulate the devices as tobacco products. But given the new findings, the agency may want to take a closer look at the sweet flavors that make the nicotine go down.</p></body></html> Blue Marble Wed, 09 Dec 2015 11:00:13 +0000 Maddie Oatman 291556 at http://www.motherjones.com