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.
Yesterday afternoon, it was my privilege to teach a class about bees to a group of young after-school students at the Eagle Heights community center on the UW-Madison campus. Ariela and I taught the same class last year, and although she was not able to make it this time, it was just as fun as ever.
First, the kids sat down (give or take) for a half hour discussion about bees, as I showed them pictures of bees doing various things with a PowerPoint presentation. I taught them how to tell a bee from a wasp, I showed the three different bee castes and what they do, and talked about how important bees are and how they make honey. It was not only a visual presentation but also tactile and olfactory experience. When it came to talking about beeswax comb, I passed around a large piece of natural comb I pulled out of one of our hives. The kids got to smell some beeswax candles, and I showed them the tools we use out in the apiary and all about the frames that make up a hive.
When we were done with questions, we adjourned to the community center’s stainless steel (yes I am jealous) kitchen where my pressure-cooker-turned-steam-generator had already been warming up. The steam powers an uncapping knife to slice open the combs and release the honey. As the layer of wax cappings dripped off, the glowing, golden cells of sweetness awed the group – who lined up to take a turn at spinning the frames in the centrifuge. After showing the gathering pool of honey in the centrifuge, I lifted it up onto the counter to let the honey flow out through the filters and into the waiting bucket.
I kept some honey from the last harvest in the bucket, so it had already settled and lost its bubbles. And one by one the kids filled their little 1/2 cup jelly jars from the spigot, excited to have a treat to take home.
Many of the kids wanted to see the bees themselves, which wouldn’t have been possible this time around, but next year, we might be able to arrange that. Ariela and I look forward to doing more classes about bees for kids – it’s great to see and hear their excitement about something that we as beekeepers are perennially privileged to experience, and I always delight in sharing a little knowledge. We were almost going to have a second bee class this year. Almost. Which is what this post is about. Continue reading Beeing an Atheist
I’m two-thirds the way through my 3-day weekend, and I’m loving it. Plenty of time to work on stuff in and around the house, write furiously, and make grand plans for the near future. Yesterday I finished digging out a trench to add some drainage to a planter, and I got a start on a scratching post for the cat. Today I will be painting a bee table and putting a second coat on some recently-bare concrete, and maybe a little filming if I can fit it in. Lots of things related to the Haus Haro von Mogel to keep me busy.
But there’s something else I’ve been busy with as well. Over the last few days I have written a few posts about genetic engineering over at Biofortified:
I have a pile more to write, some half-finished in drafts, but they are taking a backseat position to an entry I am writing for th Ashoka Changemakers. They’ve got a contest about educating the public about genetic engineering, and although they have gone to a great effort for this contest, but as I point out here, there are a couple issues. Nevertheless I’ll make a showing later, but first, a bucket of paint and a powerdrill awaits!
Right now, the moment this post has become available on the blog, I will be sound asleep. After 26 straight days of getting up early to make controlled pollinations with corn plants, I, along with a dozen and a half of my fellow field crewmates, are enjoying our first weekend day off. This field season has not been too bad, though, perhaps the most enjoyable of the three that I have experienced.
Could I be getting used to this whole plant breeder thing? Am I finally able to get to sleep at a reasonable time with regularity so that I’m not tired and groggy all day? Or am I instead sticking to a rigorous schedule of washing my long-legged and sleeved field clothes and applying sunscreen religiously every day while also wearing a wide-brimmed hat to keep from toasting my outer layer of cells with UV radiation? The answer to all these questions is Continue reading Finito! Sort of…
A few days ago, field pollination season started for the field corn labs at UW-Madison. At first, it’s out in the field every day at 8 am, next week it will be 7 am, and no one goes home until everything is done. For new grad students, the first summer pollination season can be quite the shock. Last year, in addition to our own nurseries, we had a huge field known as the NAMs (Nested Association Mapping) that made field season seem interminable.
This year I have about 560 rows of plants to manage, which isn’t a lot when you get down to it.
Anyway, this morning, however, I’m up at the crack of dawn to dilute something in the lab before heading out to the field. It has to mix in a shaker for a good two hours before I get out there at the regular time. Many people would be annoyed at leaving the lab at 6 pm only to be back in less than 12 hours later. But this is the way I see it:
It’s not every day that a guy gets to make mutants!
I’ve been so busy the last few days, I forgot to put up this post. Matt Nisbet, who blogs at Framing Science, is a professor of communication at American University. He will be giving a free talk tonight in Madison on science communication.
His talk is titled What’s Next for Science Communication? Promising Directions and Lingering Distractions. It will be in 1100 Grainger Hall, from 7-9 pm TONIGHT June 25, 2009.
Despite recent innovations in science communication such as deliberative forums, the application of framing research, and partnerships with the arts and humanities, these approaches are still all too commonly defined as simply novel ways to persuade the public to view scientific debates as scientists and their allies do. Instead, the question should not be how to “sell” the public on science and emerging technologies; but rather how to use communication research and its applications to empower greater public participation in the governance of these issues.
Elaborating on much-discussed articles published at Science, Environment, The Scientist, Nature Biotechnology, and other leading outlets, Nisbet argues that the sophistication of these emerging communication strategies needs to be complemented by an equally sophisticated view of public engagement. In particular, in areas such as biotechnology, evolution, and climate change, Nisbet emphasizes the need to use framing, partnerships with the arts, and new forms of digital journalism to generate “participatory conversations” with diverse publics and stakeholders that result in meaningful input on policy choices and decisions.
I’ll be there taking notes, pictures, mugshots, etc. If you are in town and can’t make it, I hear that it will be videotaped for both online viewing and rebroadcasted by Wisconsin Public Television. Hopefully, Matt will be available during his trip to “one of [his] favorite cities” to do a little interview…
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.
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