What did you do last week?

In my case, there was a the usual – I ordered DNA primers, sequenced some DNA, went through that sequence and assembled it into my model… I cooked some dinner, slept some. But last week was punctuated with something a little different.

Monday morning, the first new episode of my old radio show The Inoculated Mind Radio and Mindcast, aired on the local Madison student station, WSUM.  The show was pre-recorded the week before, because I was not going to be in Madison to do it live.

The same day, I was visiting the San Francisco Bay Area with Anastasia, zooming around the City, meeting up with PZ Myers, and oh yeah – having dinner with Michael Pollan at Chez Panisse! My review is up, as well as Anastasia’s.

As for the show, I used to host the Mindcast here on this blog, however, I have built a completely new site called Inoculated Media dedicated to hosting the show. Continue reading What did you do last week?

Advertisements

Michael Pollan in Madison

The Big Event that everyone has been waiting for is here: Michael Pollan is going to be in Madison, Wisconsin, speaking about food and diet and word has it he will be bringing his rose-colored glasses!

There are several events where Pollan will be the big cheese:

Thursday at 7 pm at the Kohl Center, he will be giving a talk to what will likely be a packed auditorium. His talk is called The Omnivore’s Solution. I’ve been dying to find out what Omnivores can be dissolved in.

His talk is part of a campus-wide project called Go Big Read. I know, the name is lame. But they put thousands of copies of Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food, in the hands of students in many disciplines. From sociology to nutrition and political science, the idea is to get students in many different fields talking about the same thing from different angles.

There is a blog on the Go Big Read site, and they were taking question submissions for Pollan, a handful of which will be selected. I submitted a question, along with Ariela. Continue reading Michael Pollan in Madison

The anti-HFCS campaign in Slate

(Hat tip to the Ethicurean.)

Daniel Engber writes in Slate about the campaign against High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Delving deep into not only the science of sweeteners, but also the sociology of foodies, he concludes that HFCS is on the decline not because of what it is, but what meanings are imparted upon it.

Read Dark Sugar.

Here are some of my favorite parts:

There may be other reasons to blame obesity in the United States on high-fructose corn syrup. According to a critique popularized by Michael Pollan, the development of HFCS allowed cheap, subsidized corn to be converted into cheap, subsidized sugar. Food processors plumped up with empty calories, and America got fat. But it’s not clear we’d be consuming any less sweetener if corn weren’t so cheap and plentiful. Since the corn content of HFCS contributes less than 2 percent (PDF) to the cost of producing a can of soda, the effect of the subsidies amounts to just a few pennies in the retail price. And while the price of corn syrup is kept artificially low by farm subsidies, the prices of other sweeteners are artificially inflated by tariffs and quotas on imported raw cane sugar and refined sugar. In other words, if we wiped out all of our subsidies and trade restrictions, we’d still have plenty of cheap sugar around, and processed foods would be just as caloric. As Tom Philpott points out in Grist, you don’t need high-fructose corn syrup to rack up American-style obesity rates: Australia manages similar numbers with a food industry based largely on cane sugar.

And the following paragraph:

The unwholesome reputation of HFCS has no doubt been exacerbated by the general view that it’s less “natural” than other forms of sugar. The notion that anything natural is healthy—and anything artificial is not—seems especially silly when it comes to added sweeteners. If fructose is indeed the problem, we’d do well to avoid the all-natural sweeteners in health-food products and fruit drinks, which often include concentrated apple or pear juices. These are almost two-thirds fructose—and might be significantly worse for your health than HFCS. (Organic, raw agave nectar could be even more dangerous, containing 90 percent fructose.)

That’s one of the things that I’ve been telling people – if the fructose content of HFCS is a problem, then look out for the fruit juices sweetened by concentrates made from apple, grape, and apparently pear. Continue reading The anti-HFCS campaign in Slate

So much science

I’m back in Madison from the 51st Maize Genetics Conference, which was full of wholesome scientific goodness. It was also a great opportunity to finally meet Anastasia Bodnar from Genetic Maize, and discuss everything about communicating plant genetics, from common arguments to the cool nitty gritty scientific details that make this topic something really fun to learn about by itself. Anastasia is great and it was a delight to spend the conference with her – here’s to a long and productive future of cooperative blogging!

We also met another blogger at the conference, James Schnable from James and the Giant Corn. Here are the three of us hanging out near the posters.

Hey who’s that little guy with us? And what cool stuff did we learn and talk about at the meeting? What video interviews, audio conversations, and pictures did we bring back? Keep an eye on Biofortified for details.

What’s in your Honey Jar?

I don’t know about you, but the stuff in my honey jar is a mixture of fructose, glucose, and sucrose with a scant bit of protein, some minerals, pollen grains, and oh yeah, volatile compounds from plants that give it its unique flavor.

So I just came across this article in the Seattle P.I. called Don’t let claims on honey labels dupe you. It’s good, and it points out how some of the things that are on honey labels do not correspond with any sort of significant difference from label-less honey. They mention “Grade A”, Country Of Origin Labels, and Organic.

Now Grade A, according to The Hive and the Honey Bee, refers to honey that is clear of any debris, crystals, etc, so if you filter it well enough you’re good. I think of it as somewhat meaningless, not a big deal one way or another. (Grade A vs Grade B for Maple Syrup, however – there’s a difference. Grade B is thicker and yummier!) But there is a defined standard.

Country of Origin Labels (COOL) are a good idea. I would like to know that my food is coming from somewhere nearby, in general, rather than far away. But something that the COOL labeling folks need to realize, before it loses its value, is that you have to have some way to determine where it actually came from. In the case of honey, your guess is as good as mine, and few labs in the world can even take a stab at tracing the source of a sample of liquid gold.

Finally, there’s Organic honey. Let me clear my throat for a second, because this is important. Continue reading What’s in your Honey Jar?

Happy Knew Year!

Not six, or twelve, or eighteen hours later due to the non-leap year years. Midnight, the New Year is upon us. Sure, we had a leap second added right before midnight, but all is well with celebrating the new year at the proper Sidereal timepoint. Y’all knew that part, didn’t you?

Resolutions for me? Write more, record again. Pretty simple. But resolutions are hackneyed. Instead, I would like to express a few New Year’s Wishes:

This year, I will pin down, clone, and confirm the identitiy of my gene, Sugary Enhancer.

This year, I will fully complete my video project and plan my next ambitious enterprise.

But there are a few things that I wish from the Universe – things I hope to find in the world this year:

A Jonathan Kozol of FOOD. I’ve been knee-deep in the writings of foodies, pop nutritionists, food revolutionists, and not one of them really comes from the perspective of poor people who cannot afford to shop like the culinary bourgeoise. Jonathan Kozol, who I met once in Davis, is a prime example of a true progressive, the likes of whom I have never found writing about food. He’ll actually get into the ghetto to figure out the problems. You cannot fix the American diet within the aisles of Whole Foods.

Some real political change. Barack Obama – you’ve got quite a task ahead of you and have made people believe in the political process again. Keep it rolling!

Welcome, 2009!

Corn Breeding

The next in my Award-Winning series of plant breeding videos is up at the UW-Madison Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics program website. This is the first in a series of videos interviewing plant breeders about what they do and what they like about it. The first breeder up for public scrutiny is professor Bill Tracy, here at UW-Madison, who is also the other PI on the project besides my adviser Shawn. Continue reading Corn Breeding