Later On

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Locusts Swarmed East Africa, and This Tech Helped Squash Them

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In the NY Times Rachel Nuwer describes a very interesting approach toward controlling a plague of locusts in Africa:

. . . In 2020, billions of the insects descended on East African countries that had not seen locusts in decades, fueled by unusual weather connected to climate change. Kenya had last dealt with a plague of this scale more than 70 years ago; Ethiopia and Somalia, more than 30 years ago. Nineteen million farmers and herders across these three countries, which bore the brunt of the damage, saw their livelihoods severely affected.

. . . But as bad as 2020’s swarms were, they and their offspring could have caused much worse damage. While the weather has helped slow the insects’ reproduction, the success, Mr. Cressman said, has primarily resulted from a technology-driven anti-locust operation that hastily formed in the chaotic months following the insects’ arrival to East Africa. This groundbreaking approach proved so effective at clamping down on the winged invaders in some places that some experts say it could transform management of other natural disasters around the world.

“We’d better not let this crisis go to waste,” said David Hughes, an entomologist at Penn State University. “We should use this lesson as a way not just to be adapted to the next locust crisis, but to climate change, generally.”

Desert locusts are the Dr. Jekylls and Mr. Hydes of the insect world. Normally, the grasshopper-like plant eaters spend their time living solitarily across the deserts of North Africa, Southwest Asia and the Middle East. But when rains arrive, they change from a muted brown into a fiery yellow and become gregarious, forming groups of more than 15 million insects per square mile. Such a swarm can consume the equivalent amount of food in a single day as more than 13,000 people.

The locust plague that hit East Africa in 2020 was two years in the making. In 2018, two major cyclones dumped rain in a remote area of Saudi Arabia, leading to an 8,000-fold increase in desert locust numbers. By mid-2019, winds had pushed the insects into the Horn of Africa, where a wet autumn further boosted their population. An unusual cyclone in Somalia in early December finally tipped the situation into a true emergency.

“Ten years ago, there would have been between zero and one cyclones coming off the Indian Ocean,” Dr. Hughes said. “Now there’s eight to 12 per year — a consequence of climate change.”

Countries like Sudan and Eritrea that regularly deal with small, seasonal swarms have teams of locust trackers who are trained to find the insects and recognize which life cycle stage they are in. They use a tablet-based program to transmit locust data by satellite to national and international authorities so experts can design appropriate control strategies.

But people outside of those frontline locust nations who may want to start using this system today would encounter a typical technology problem: The version of the tablets that the locust-tracking program was written for is no longer manufactured, and newer tablets are not compatible with the software. And even if the hardware were available, in 2020, East Africa lacked experts who could identify locusts.

“We’d never had a dress rehearsal for the real thing,” said Alphonse Owuor, a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization specialist in Somalia. “We had people who were very familiar with locusts in theory, but who didn’t have the experience or equipment required to carry out this massive operation.”

With swarms suddenly covering an area of Kenya larger than New Jersey, officials were tasked with creating a locust-combating operation virtually from scratch. Collecting dependable, detailed data about locusts was the first crucial step.

“Saying ‘Oh, there’s locusts in northern Kenya’ doesn’t help at all,” Mr. Cressman said. “We need longitude and latitude coordinates in real time.”

Rather than try to rewrite the locust-tracking software for newer tablets, Mr. Cressman thought it would be more efficient to create a simple smartphone app that would allow anyone to collect data like an expert. He reached out to Dr. Hughes, who had already created a similar mobile tool with the Food and Agriculture Organization to track a devastating crop pest, the fall armyworm, through PlantVillage, which he founded.

PlantVillage’s app uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to help farmers in 60 countries, primarily in Africa, diagnose problems in their fields. Borrowing from this blueprint, Dr. Hughes and his colleagues completed the new app, eLocust3m, in just a month.

Unlike the previous tablet-based program, anyone with a smartphone can use eLocust3m. The app presents photos of locusts at different stages of their life cycles, which helps users diagnose what they see in the field. GPS coordinates are automatically recorded and algorithms double check photos submitted with each entry. Garmin International also helped with another program that worked on satellite-transmitting devices.

“The app is really easy to use,” said Ms. Jeptoo of PlantVillage. Last year, she recruited and trained locust trackers in four hard-hit Kenyan regions. “We had scouts who were 40- to 50-year-old elders, and even they were able to use it.”

In the last year, more than 240,000 locust records have poured in from East Africa, collected by PlantVillage scouts, government-trained personnel and citizens. But that was only the first step. Countries next needed to act on the data in a systematic way to quash locusts. In the first few months, however, officials were strategizing “on the back of envelopes,” Mr. Cressman said, and the entire region had just four planes for spraying pesticides.

When Batian Craig, director of 51 Degrees, a security and logistics company focused on protecting wildlife, saw Mr. Cressman quoted in a news story about locusts, he realized he could help.

Mr. Craig and his colleagues, who are headquartered at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Central Kenya, conduct regular anti-poaching aerial surveys that could be repurposed to seek out and destroy locust swarms. They also closely communicate with rural communities affected by the insects.

Additionally, 51 Degrees uses a free program called EarthRanger. Created by Vulcan, a Seattle-based philanthropic company originally co-founded by Paul Allen of Microsoft and his sister Jody Allen, EarthRanger compiles and analyzes geographic data ranging from rhino and ranger locations to sensor data and remote imagery.

Engineers at Vulcan agreed to customize a version of EarthRanger for locusts, integrating data from the eLocust programs and the computer loggers on aerial pesticide sprayers.

Lewa Conservancy quickly became the headquarters for aerial survey and control across the region. By June 2020, these efforts were paying off. Locusts were prevented from spilling into Africa’s Sahel region and west to Senegal.

“If we didn’t stop them, . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, including a good college of large photos.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2021 at 10:54 am

Quick snack: Asparagus deluxe

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I don’t know that it’s reall all that deluxe, but it was very tasty:

• 1.5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 6 large scallions (or 3 spring onions), chopped (including leaves)
• 4 good sized crimini mushrooms, sliced thick
• pinch Maldon salt
• good dash of fish sauce
• 1 lemon, diced after ends discarded
• handful asparagus stalks (about a dozen)
• 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (hicory-smoked in this case)
• 2 teaspoons dried mint

Sauté onions, mushrooms, and salt in olive oil, stirring frequently, over medium heat until mushrooms start to lose their water. Add the rest of the ingredients and continue cooking, stirring frequently, unti asparagus is tender.

It was tasty, and easy to fix.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2021 at 8:14 pm

The Salmon Sushi Conspirarcy

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A very interesting story (and debunking):

Written by LeisureGuy

8 April 2021 at 1:02 pm

A low-energy day, but with collards

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Today I have low energy and feel like just sitting in my chair, but I suddenly remembered I have a very nice bunch of collards and some spring onions in the fridge, and that got me charged up to cook them — and to show them to you. I should have included something for scale in the photo above because these are petite collard leaves — rather than the usual elephant ear size, these are barely bigger than my hand and — dare I say it — rather cute.

Collards and spring onions strikes me as a good combination. I think I’ll not use garlic, and I’m trying to decide between a diced lemon and a splash of vinegar. I suppose I could do both.

I have some vegetable broth on hand, and that will be a good simmering liquid. Collards become silky smooth when simmered for a long time.

I’ll mince the stems and sauté those with the onions — probably four of them — and then add the chopped leaves and vegetable broth and something for umami (fish sauce or soy sauce, and if I use soy sauce I’ll include a splash of mirin).

I think I’ll sauté one jalapeño with the onions and minced stems — just enough heat to give it some presence.

Now I feel cheerful and energized. 🙂

Update: I decided on soy sauce and mirin, and I used brown rice vinegar for the vinegar. I did use a diced lemon as well, and just a pinch of salt. (And I’m out of salt, and though I don’t use much I’m convinced now I need a little. My choice is Diamond Crystal kosher salt, which is the best of the kosher salts I’ve tried. Morton’s kosher salt is, IMO, pretty bad: the salt is in tiny pellets that don’t stick well to foods.)

Update again: I had some after it finished cooking. Extremely tasty — and the jalapeño did provide presence without excessive heat.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2021 at 12:46 pm

Braised beef short ribs

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I do follow a whole-food plant-based diet on the whole, but occasionally I have a hankering for something not included in the diet. It started with watching a video by Chef John of FoodWishes.com, and then I found a video whose technique I liked better (and made more sense to me) by Helen Rennie. Moreover, in the notes to the video on YouTube, she provides the full text of the recipe.

Obviously, I’m not making six pounds. I just got 3 shorts, though after seeing them in the pan I’m using (2-qt All-Clad d3 Stainless sauté pan), I think that if I ever do this again I will go with 4 short ribs which would fit the pan better.

UPDATE: The parchment-paper lid worked much better than I expected. It occurred to me that you could avoid the boiling problem by cooking at 200ºF for 6-8 hours. Also, a fat separator obviates the need for refrigerating overnight. It was very tasty with tarragon mustard and horseradish (and the rest of the red wine).

Here’s her video:

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2021 at 3:28 pm

Go Beyond the Grocery Store With These Seven Innovative Spice Companies

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Reina Gattuso writes in Gastro Obscura:

IN 2016, SANA JAVERI KADRI found herself at a crossroads. After moving from her hometown of Mumbai to California, she wanted to learn more about the historical forces shaping her own identity and experience as a queer woman of color in the United States. A food photographer, Javeri Kadri turned to culinary history to better understand the history of global empire. For more than a century before the British crown officially made India a colony, the British East India company—a private corporation that had a monopoly over much of the South Asian spice trade—ruled the subcontinent.

Spice trading, Javeri Kadri realized, hasn’t changed much from its colonial roots. Often, the people growing spices are disconnected from the global marketplace by middlemen, who take the lion’s share of the profits. In 2017, following a series of sourcing trips to spice farms in India, Javeri Kadri founded Diaspora Co., a small spice company that directly sells seasonings from South Asian farms to U.S. and global consumers.

Diaspora Co. is one of a number of small companies bent on challenging the colonial legacy of the spice trade. In contrast to large spice companies, some of which have dominated the industry for hundreds of years, these endeavors tend to work directly with local farmers and are owned by people grounded in the cultural and culinary contexts of the spices they sell.

According to Greg Prang, co-founder of Culinary Culture Connections, which partners with South American Indigenous groups and nonprofits to import their products to the U.S., equitable spice sourcing should go beyond a “fair trade” label. It should focus on building relationships with producers and supporting their autonomy over traditional cultural and culinary practices.

“Fair trade is kind of a front for big corporations to say they’re doing something in respect of sustainability,” he says. Prang speaks from experience. He was trained as an anthropologist and worked in consumer research for multinational food companies for years. When corporations talked about leveraging fair trade branding for profit, “I remember laughing and saying, ‘If you don’t believe it, don’t do it.’”

Prang, Javeri Kadri, and others on this list believe in the importance of equitable sourcing—and they sell some tasty spices, too.

Diaspora Co.

Oakland, California

Besides bringing fresh spices to customers, Diaspora Co. states an intention to “redistribute power away from solely the trader and instead empower its farmers, laborers, and the earth,” according to their website. Today, the company directly sources more than a dozen spices from 12 farmers across six Indian states and Sri Lanka, many of whom use organic and regenerative farming methods.

Favorite offerings include sannam chillies; Sri Lankan kandyan cloves that taste like “pine, butterscotch, henna, and allspice”; and the masala dabba, a handmade brass version of the spice box ubiquitous in South Asian kitchens. The company also has a recipe blog and often weighs in on political issues—including a message of solidarity to the current farmers’ movement in India.

Loisa

New York, New York

In July 2020, politically progressive lovers of Latin American food were left with a dilemma. Robert Unanue, the CEO of Goya Foods—the largest producer of Latin American ingredients in the United States—had praised President Trump, despite the President’s record of racist rhetoric and policies targeting the Latinx community. Many boycotters, wondering where to get beloved seasonings, turned to Latinx-owned spice company Loisa.

Founded in 2017 by Kenny Luna and Scott Hattis, and co-owned by food activist Yadira Garcia, Loisa is named for the Spanglish moniker for the Lower East Side. Its two signature products, both organic, are sazón, a classic mix of cumin, coriander, garlic, oregano, and black pepper, and adobo, which is garlic, turmeric, black pepper, and oregano. The company also sells sofrito and rice and bean mixes. Loisa’s site offers vegan and vegetarian recipes for favorite Latin American dishes, and donates 2 percent of its monthly profits to community-based organizations in the greater New York City area.

Fly By Jing

Chengdu, China

Jing Gao’s spice company began out of a suitcase. As a young, European-raised Chinese chef exploring her roots in Chengdu, Gao began serving pop-up dinners out of her home kitchen. These dinner parties grew into a roving global series, with Gao lugging bags full of Chinese spices wherever she travelled. In 2018, she decided to turn the suitcase spice hustle into a full-fledged business. Gao’s first Kickstarter became the highest-funded craft food project in the site’s history, and Fly By Jing was born.

“I was completely blown away by the reception,” Gao writes via email. “It showed me that people were ready and excited to embrace these flavors.” Gao named the company after Chengdu’s “fly” restaurants, hole-in-the-wall joints so tasty that diners flock to them like flies. She also affixed her given name, Jing, to the company title, rather than Jenny, the name she’d gone by for most of her life.

The company’s first product is still its signature: Sichuan Chili Crisp, a spicy, savory sauce that will leave your mouth tingling. The company has expanded with a handful of other offerings, such as doubanjiang, aged fava bean paste, and zhong dumpling sauce, made of soy sauce, garlic, mushrooms, and spices. The company is also one of the few U.S. importers of Tribute Pepper, a mouth-numbing, citrusy chili once given to emperors as tribute.

Culinary Culture Connections

Bellevue, Washington

Greg Prang seems, at first, an unlikely founder of a company that imports small-scale, Indigenous-produced Brazilian spices. For years, . . .

Continue reading. There are more companies listed.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2021 at 12:18 pm

Ad hoc greens (the best kind)

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Finished cooking and one bowl removed and eaten with great gusto.

These turned out exceptionally tasty, all cooked from what’s on hand because I didn’t want to go to the supermarket. Use 4-qt All-Clad d3 Stainless sauté pan.

• about 1.5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 spring onions, chopped with leaves

• 1 head of garlic, cloves peeled, chopped, and rested for 15 minutes
• 2 300g block of frozen chopped spinach
• 6 miniature San Lorenzo tomatoes (finished them off)
• 6 very small domestic white mushrooms, halved
• 1 lemon, ends discarded, cut into slabs and diced
• 2 chipotle peppers, ends discard, cut into small pieces with seeds
• about a dozen kalamata olives with a little of the juice (finished the jar)
• 5-6 good dashes fish sauce
• pinch of salt

Sauté onions until transparent and almost starting to brown. Add other ingredients, cover, and cook on low (3.0) for 35 minutes, going in after 20 minutes to break up the two blocks of spinach.

It is very tasty. I thought about adding a few shavings of nutmeg, but forgot. I do add a spoonful of pumpkin seed to a serving and stir it in.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2021 at 3:59 pm

The forgotten medieval fruit with a vulgar name

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Zaria Gorvett writes at BBC of a once-popular fruit now almost forgotten:

In 2011, archaeologists found something unusual in a Roman toilet.

The team were excavating the ancient village of Tasgetium (now Eschenz, Switzerland), ruled by a Celtic king who was personally given the land by Julius Caesar. It was built on the banks of the river Rhine, along what was then an important trade route – and as a result, its remains have been steeped in water ever since. What should have rotted away centuries ago was uncovered in a remarkable state of preservation, protected by the lack of oxygen in the boggy conditions.

It was here that, nestled among the remains of familiar foods such as plums, damsons, cherries, peaches and walnuts in an ancient cesspit, the archaeologists found 19 curiously large seeds. Though they were, let’s say, “deposited” there nearly 2,000 years ago, they almost looked fresh enough to have been found yesterday – except that the fruit they belong to is now so obscure, it can baffle even professional botanists.

The polite, socially acceptable name by which it’s currently known is the medlar. But for the best part of 900 years, the fruit was called the “open-arse” – thought to be a reference to the appearance of its own large “calyx” or bottom. The medlar’s aliases abroad were hardly more flattering. In France, it was variously known as “la partie postérieure de ce quadrupede” (the posterior part of this quadruped), “cu d’singe” (monkey’s bottom), “cu d’ane” (donkey’s bottom), and cul de chien (dog’s bottom)… you get the idea.

And yet, medieval Europe was crazy about this fruit.

The first record of the medlar’s existence is a fragment of Greek poetry from the 7th Century BC. Eventually the fruit is thought to have fallen into the hands of the Romans, who brought it to southern France and Britain. In 800AD, Charlemagne included it on a list of plants that were mandatory in the king’s many gardens, and nearly 200 years later, the English abbot and writer Ælfric of Eynsham first committed its rather rude sobriquet to the public record.

From there, the fruit’s popularity steadily increased. It became a staple of medieval monasteries and royal courtyards, as well as public spaces such as village greens.

It’s featured in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and the two-time queen consort Anne of Brittany’s Book of Hours – a kind of illustrated religious manuscript popular in the Middle Ages. Henry VIII had the medlar planted at Hampton Court, and gifted his French counterpart with large quantities.

The fruit reached its peak in the 1600s when it was widely grown across England – as ordinary as apples, pears, mulberries and quince. From this lofty pinnacle, it underwent a steady decline. It was still widely known until the early 20th Century, though less celebrated. Then in the 1950s it abruptly vanished from the public consciousness altogether.

Once a household name, described by one Roman commentator as amounting “almost to a craze“, now the medlar is primarily grown as a romantic relic from the past – a niche plant for eccentric gardeners and a historical curiosity at palaces and museums.

Just a few decades after it disappeared, it was already mysterious to many greengrocers. In 1989, one American academic wrote that “probably not one in a hundred” botanists had seen a medlar. Today it’s not sold at a single British supermarket. Where there are still plants growing in public spaces, they often go unrecognised and are left to rot on the ground.

What was it about this strange fruit that gripped medieval Europe, and why did it disappear? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2021 at 10:07 am

Does a low-carb/ketogenic diet help diabetes? or make it worse?

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As it turns out, a low-carb/ketogenic diet can reduce diabetes symptoms (high blood glucose readings) — as aspirin can reduce a fever — while having no effect on the disease — as aspirin will not cure pneumonia. In fact, it’s even worse: a low-carb/ketogenic diet can reduce the symptoms while making the disease worse. It is an example of “bending the needle”: responding to a dangerous situation, where the needle on the gauge has moved into the red zone, by bending the needle so it’s no longer in the red: not really a solution and can lead to disaster.

Watch this brief video (and persist through the awkward metaphors in the middle: he does return to study results).

And for a more detailed explanation of how a low-carb/ketogenic diet has detrimental effects on one’s health:

Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2021 at 6:42 am

Spring onion meets asparagus (and mushrooms)

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Photo was taken after one fairly large serving had been removed (and eaten)

The weather this morning was on the dreary side, so cooking seemed like a good idea. I used my 4-qt All-Clad d3 Stainless sauté pan, since I figured there would be some acidic simmering.

• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 3 spring onions, chopped — I quarter the bulb end lengthwise and then chop (and chop all the green as well)
• cloves from one head of garlic, chopped small
• 1 large bunch of relatively thin asparagus, chopped
• 3 cups halved small mushrooms (there were a few a little larger; I quartered those)
• 10 miniature San Marzano tomatoes, sliced (each into 3 pieces)
• about a tablespoon or so of ground black pepper
• about a tablespoono or so of dried mint
• 2 chipotle peppers, cut into pieces with kitchen shears
• several dashes fish sauce

I sautéed the onions in the olive oil for several minutes at 5.0, then added the garlic. I don’t know whether the store has resumed getting garlic from Spain, but the garlic was very easy to peel: cut away the attachment end, twist, and the peel popped off.

After the garlic cooked a minute, I added the remaining ingredients, sautéed for a few minutes stirring often, then reduced heat to 3.0, covered, and let it cook 12 minutes.

When it was done, I added:

• juice of 1 pretty juicy lemon

Just had a bowl. Very tasty. And onions, garlic, and asparagus are high in a type of dietary fiber enjoyed by good microbes in the microbiome.

Update. A little Bragg’s nutritional yeast sprinkled over the top is very nice.

And, later: a bowl mixed with some pumpkin seeds, and then drizzled with Enzo’s Table Fig Traditional Balsamic Vinegar. Very tasty.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 March 2021 at 2:25 pm

Long walk with flowers

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Took a fairly long walk late morning (7500 steps). The photo above is a side street off the street on which I live. I think these are cherry (or plum) — whatever they are, those in front of my apartment building are the same, only white.

As I walked along I encountered the fragrant wall of flowers pictured below. I thought at first “honeysuckle,” but it doesn’t look like any honeysuckle I’ve seen. The pictured flowers are flat, but honeysuckle flowers have a deep, narrow throat.

Anyway, a good walk, and I decided to treat myself to a California Fatburger (with onions added) — scroll down here. I figure once a year reduces risk enough. Even more rarely (one hopes), get one to celebrate every time I get the first of two inoculations of a vaccine to prevent a infectious disease that has gone global. That, I hope, will make the occasion a one-off.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2021 at 1:52 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food

Personal notes: Pfizer shot, spring onions, and a sunny day

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I got my first Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine inoculation, and I will be called to schedule the second in a few weeks. They warned me not to expect any immunity until a couple of weeks have passed.

Then we went to Market Garden, a local nice store, and I saw the first spring onions of the year, so I immediately bought a couple of bunches. These I sauté (chopped, including leaves), and I have a few things on hand I can include in the sauté — garlic (of course), fresh asparagus, steamed veggies (beets, carrots, butternut squash, and broccoli, all ready to go), mushrooms, fennel, yellow bell pepper — plus appropriate herbs and spices and sauces (fish, soy, tamari, or Worcestershire). I’ll sauté a mix of those to have as Other Vegetables (and broccoli also counts as a Cruciferous Vegetable, of course).

Altogether a good day.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2021 at 4:08 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Medical

In the gut microbiome, at least, it’s nurture, not nature

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Clea Simon writes in the Harvard Gazette:

We are what we eat, and so are our microbiomes. A new study shows that alterations in diet, along with other environmental factors, had a major impact on gut biomes over time as animals were domesticated. In a process that closely tracks changes in the human diet since industrialization, this shift had implications on the health of domesticated animals — and possibly on humans as well.

The question that challenged human evolutionary biologist Rachel Carmody was one of nature vs. nurture. Her study “Effects of domestication on the gut microbiota parallel those of human industrialization,” published today in eLife, answered it definitively.

“Evidence in humans and many animals to this point suggests that, surprisingly, genetics plays a small role compared to environmental influences,” said Carmody, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology and principal investigator of the department’s Nutritional and Microbial Ecology Lab.

Carmody and Aspen Reese, a junior fellow in her lab, looked at nine different pairs of wild animals and their domesticated descendants, such as wolves and dogs, wild boars and pigs, and wild European rabbits alongside the domestic variety. Though the pairs differed profoundly from one another, the tame counterparts have encountered many common environmental changes during domestication, including shifts in population density, physical activity, patterns of reproduction, medical interventions such as exposure to antibiotics, and human contact.

In addition, “We’ve changed their diets,” said Carmody. “For example, many domesticated animals are eating foods originally cultivated for human use, in processed forms that are relatively easily digestible, and that tend to be richer in fat.” While the microbiomes of wild and domesticated animal pairs resembled one another, “The process of domestication shifted the divergent microbiomes of these different species in a common direction. In other words, we were able to detect a global signature of domestication,” she said.

The fact that environment rather than genetics drove that shift became apparent as researchers switched a single environmental variable between wild and domesticated pairs — feeding wolves dog chow, for example, and raw meat to dogs. “We used diet as one example of an environmental factor that we know has changed with domestication and with industrialization in profound ways,” Carmody said.

The researchers then sampled and sequenced the microorganisms in the animals’ fecal matter. With just a short-term diet change, the wolves’ gut microbial community became dog-like, and the dogs’ wolfish. This discovery confirmed earlier work done in Carmody’s lab with mice and humans that revealed how diet not only changed the gut biome but did so relatively quickly. “Within 24 hours of seeing a new diet, the gut microbiome looks and behaves very different,” she said.

To bring the study closer to home, researchers also looked at the closest parallels in human evolution, comparing chimpanzees’ gut biomes with those of modern humans. While the evolutionary distance between chimps and humans is greater than that between, say, wolves and dogs, the same kinds of changes were seen. Notably, the shifts were clearest in humans living in industrialized societies, who have experienced the greatest changes in diet, population density, physical activity, antibiotic use, and other factors that were also involved in animal domestication.

The implications are considerable. “We know that the gut microbiome has really important effects on human health,” said Carmody. Indeed, this internal environment has been linked to “a range of human diseases,” she said, including metabolic diseases like atherosclerosis and Type 2 diabetes, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and autoimmune disorders.

“In some ways, it’s great news that the gut microbiome is so sensitive to environmental conditions, as this means we can manipulate it more easily to improve human health,” Carmody said. “But it’s a double-edged sword, as all the changes our recent lifestyles have had on the microbiome may create opportunities for mismatch with human biology, which changes on much slower timescales.”

This study also  . . .

.Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2021 at 12:10 pm

Saving Collards, the South’s Signature Greens

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Nearly-lost collard green varieties are being preserved and propagated across the country. ALL IMAGES COURTESY OF THE HEIRLOOM COLLARD PROJECT

Debra Freeman writes in Gastro Obscura about one of my favorite greens. The only place I can readily find it here is Whole Foods, so I buy a couple of bunches on every visit.

Her article begins:

IN THE AMERICAN SOUTH, MANY people have fond memories of a pot of collard greens simmering on the stove for hours, seasoned with a ham hock and stirred by a parent or grandparent. Cousins to cauliflower and broccoli, collards are a hearty green known for their robust, slightly bitter taste and the rich, nutritious “pot liquor” they produce when cooked. These greens and their liquor have been lauded for generations, but few in the South know that there’s more than one kind of collard green. Even fewer know that there are dozens of different varieties, and that many are now on the verge of disappearing forever.

That’s where the Heirloom Collard Project comes in. By distributing and growing rare and unique collards, this massive collaboration has created ties between chefs, gardeners, farmers, and seedsmen who hope to preserve the plant’s genetic diversity.

Collards are not native to the United States. Instead, they’re Eurasian in origin, and ancient Romans and Greeks feasted on them thousands of years ago. As for how they became prevalent in the American South, scholars have a number of theories. Collard seeds may have been brought over from Portugal in the 18th century, or from the British Isles to the early colonies. However, the most prevalent theory is that enslaved Africans introduced them to the region, since collard greens were a staple crop in many parts of Africa. Historian John Egerton, in his 1987 book Southern Food, declared that “from Africa with the people in bondage came new foods,” such as okra, black-eyed peas, yams, and collard greens.

Regardless of when or how they arrived stateside, collard greens flourished in Southern gardens. 20 main varieties, from the Yellow Cabbage collard to the Old Timey Green, established themselves as garden favorites. But after World War II, many Americans moved away from both their farmland and their agricultural lifestyles. One victim of this shift was the collard green. With fewer people farming, variety after variety dropped off the map, leaving only five types that could easily be found—Georgia Green, Champion, Vates, Morris Heading, and Green Glaze.

But five years ago, Ira Wallace and the members of the Seed Savers Exchange asked the USDA for over 60 collard green varieties to plant in Iowa. Wallace, as worker/owner of the cooperatively run Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, had been promoting the versatility and resilience of collards for years. Her inspiration for spearheading the Heirloom Collard Project was a series of photos taken by Edward Davis.

Davis and John Morgan, both geography professors at Emory & Henry College, traversed the South to collect rare heirloom collards between 2003 and 2007. The pair published a book on their quest, Collards: A Southern Tradition from Seed to Table, in 2015. They then gave the dozens of collard varieties they had gathered to the USDA. When Davis shared photos of all of the collards he tracked down, Wallace knew she wanted to help make the seeds widely available once more.

The project has several goals, among them seed preservation, documenting the stories of the still-living seed stewards that Davis and Morgan met while writing their book, and, perhaps most importantly, providing seeds to companies and gardeners interested in growing these storied old varieties.

So far, many have risen to the challenge. That’s according to . . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2021 at 12:35 pm

A new shape in cut pasta

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Meme evolution continues: a recent pasta mutation, described by Heidi Glenn and Rachel Martin in an NPR story:

Why does the world need a new pasta shape?

For Dan Pashman, host of the food podcast The Sporkful, there’s just a lot of mediocre pasta out there. There’s plenty of room for improvement.

“Spaghetti is just a tube,” he tells Morning Edition. “After a few bites, it’s the same.” And its round shape means it’s not great at holding on to sauce.

Meet his cascatelli — Italian for “little waterfalls.”

To come up with his own shape, he bought, ate, studied and catalogued all kinds of existing pasta. “I brought together attributes from different shapes that I especially like that have never been brought together in this way before,” he says.

Cascatelli is short, with a flat strip and ruffles that stick out at a 90-degree angle. The ruffles give the shape texture, Pashman says.

“That right-angle element is really key to what I think makes this shape different,” he says. “There are very few pasta shapes that have right angles. It provides resistance to the bite at all angles. It creates kind of like an I-beam, and that makes for a very satisfying bite.”

Pashman has documented his three-year effort to invent a new pasta shape, have a die-maker create a mold and then ultimately sell it. “If  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2021 at 1:46 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Food, Memes

Broccolini & Butternut (squash)

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This was taken just a few minutes after everything was in the pan in cooking. About 20 minutes more cooking to go.

Just sort of idle cooking. I had bought a smallish butternut squash, but I didn’t want to roast it, and it occurred to me to steam it. When I went to peel it, I looked at the label and that suggested steaming. I often don’t peel when roasting, but I thought I’d peel it for steaming. It had very little in the way of seeds, so I just discarded them.

I cut it into small (about 2cm) chunks and steamed those for 13 minutes, which was plenty. I planned to cook it more, and I think next time I might steam it just for 10 or 11 minutes.

Broccolini & Butternut

This idea came to me, so I did it.

• about 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 bunch scallions chopped
• 1 large jalapeño, chopped (with core and seeds)
• small pinch of salt
• cloves from 1 head of garlic, peeled, chopped small, allowed to rest 15 minutes
• 1 bunch broccolini (AKA baby broccoli), chopped
• about 10 small domestic white mushrooms, halved (they were pretty small)
• half the steamed butternut squash
• about 1 tsp ground black pepper
• about 1/2 tsp hickory-smoked paprika
• about 2 tsp dried mint

I used the Stargazer 12″ skillet. I put oil, scallions, jalapeño, and salt into the skillet, turned on heat to medium (4.0 on my induction burner), and cooked for about 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently.

I added the garlic and cooked that for a couple of minutes, then the rest.

I cooked it for a few minutes, stirring to mix, then covered the skillet with the third-party lid, turned heat to low (3.0) and cooked it for 15 minutes, stirring a couple of times.

I’m eating some now, mixed with 1/4 cup kodo millet, 1/4 cup black beans, and 1/2 cup of the red/purple kale and spinach (recipe at link). It’s a meal right out of the Daily Dozen: Grain, Beans, Greens, and Other Vegetables. (For breakfast, I had a tangerine, pear, and apple, and mid-afternoon I had a bowl of mixed berries. Lunch was where I got the ground flaxseed, turmeric, nutritional yeast (with B12), and quarter cup of walnuts, which I ate with the usual combination of Grain, Beans, Greens, and Other Vegetables (the experimental ratatouille).

If I hadn’t had the walnuts earlier, I probably would have added 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds to the recipe above.

My recipes, it should be noted, are nothing more than descriptions of what I did with what I had. Do not, for example, go looking for hickory-smoked paprika. I just happened to see that in a local store, bought it to try, and so had it on hand. Adapt to what you have.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 March 2021 at 5:14 pm

Experimental ratatouille

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To my surprise, when I was picking up some more bricks of chopped frozen spinach, I spotted a bag of frozen roasted vegetables: zucchinii, eggplant, red onion, red pepper, yellow onion, yellow pepper. Those are exactly what I roast to make my version of ratatouille, so I thought I’d try a bag and see what they were like.

The ratatouille is cooking now in the 4-qt All-Clad d3 Stainless sauté pan. I used that instead of cast iron because I planned to simmer acidic ingredients at some length — plus it has good capacity. I sautéed a red onion in some olive oil with a small pinch of salt, and when the onions had cooked and softened and almost started to brown, i added chopped garlic (the cloves from 1 head of garlic) and 4 dried chipotles that I had cut up (including the seeds). After the garlic had cooked a couple of minutes, I added a small can of no-salt-added tomato paste and cooked that until it changed color (darkened).

I then added the bag of roasted vegetables, an 18-oz can of diced tomatoes, a 10-oz can Ro-Tel Original, about a dozen small domestic white mushrooms halved (quartered if they were larger), and about a cup of pitted Kalamata olives, along with:

• About 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
• 6 or so good dashes fish sauce
• about 3 Tbsp Mexican orgeano
• about 1 Tbsp dried thyme
• about 1 Tbsp dried marjoram
• about 1 Tbsp cracked dried rosemary
• about 1 Tbsp black pepper
• about 1 tsp hickory-smoked paprika
• 1 tsp liquid smoke (for more “roasted” flavor)

It’s simmering now. I’ll have it over kodo millet with a teaspoon of Bragg’s Nutritional Yeast sprinkled on top.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 March 2021 at 4:17 pm

Just some cooking: Greens and a Grain (kodo millet)

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Today’s Greens

• about 1 tablespoon olive oil, drizzled across 4-qt All-Clad d3 Stainless sauté pan
• 1 bunch scallions, chopped
• small pinch of kosher salt (Diamond Crystal is the best)
• 8 cloves garlic, chopped small and allowed to rest 15 minutes
• 4 huge domestic white mushrooms, halved and sliced
• 1 lemon, ends discarded then diced
• 6 small (miniature) San Marzano tomatoes, sliced
• 1 tablespoon dried mint
• 1 tablespoon dried marjoram
• good shaking of crushed red pepper, probably 1/2 teaspoon
• several generous dashes fish sauce
• 1 small bunch intensely dark red kale
* 2 300g packages frozen chopped spinach
• 1/2 cup mushroom broth

Sauté scallions for a while, then add garlic and mushrooms. Continue to cook until mushrooms start to release their liquid. Add the rest. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. After the first 15 minutes, uncover to break up the blocks of spinach, stir to mix well, then cover again and continue cooking.

Today’s Grain: Kodo millet

• 1 cup kodo millet
• small pinch of salt
• 2 cups mushroom broth
• 1 pat butter or about 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

Put millet and salt in a pan and toast over high heat until it smells toasty. Add broth and butter, reduce heat to a low simmer, cover, cook 15 minutes. Then remove from heat and leave covered for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and refrigerate (to make the starch resistant).

Dinner

1/2 cup of the greens
1/2 cup of my ratatouille variant
1/4 cup black beans
1/4 cup kodo millet
1 teaspoon Bragg’s Nutritional Yeast (for B12 and flavor)

Mix in bowl, eat.

Then for dessert, I had some of the millet with a little black-truffle oil and a pinch of Maldon salt.

Millet is a grain — seeds of plants from the grass family.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2021 at 5:50 pm

School-lunch decision triggers bedlam in France, including intemperate remarks

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Roger Cohen writes in the NY Times:

Grégory Doucet, the mild-mannered Green party mayor of Lyon, hardly seems a revolutionary. But he has upended France by announcing last month that elementary school lunch menus for 29,000 Lyonnais children would no longer include meat.

An outrage! An ecological diktat that could signal the end of French gastronomy, even French culture! Ministers in President Emmanuel Macron’s government clashed. If Lyon, the city of beef snouts and pigs’ ears, of saucisson and kidneys, could do such a thing, the apocalypse was surely imminent.

“The reaction has been quite astonishing,” Mr. Doucet, 47, said.

He is a slight man whose mischievous mien and goatee give him the air of one of Dumas’s three musketeers. A political neophyte elected last year, he clearly finds it a little ludicrous that he, an apostle of less, should end up with more, sitting beneath a 25-foot ceiling in a cavernous mayor’s office adorned with brocade and busts of his forbears. That tweaking a local school menu has split the nation leaves him incredulous.

“My decision was purely pragmatic,” he insisted, eyes twinkling — a means to speed up lunches in socially distanced times by offering a single menu rather than the traditional choice of two dishes.

Not so, thundered Gérald Darmanin, the interior minister. He tweeted that dropping meat was an “unacceptable insult to French farmers and butchers” that betrays “an elitist and moralist” attitude. Julien Denormandie, the agriculture minister, called the mayor’s embrace of the meatless lunch “shameful from a social point of view” and “aberrational from a nutritional point of view.”

All of which prompted Barbara Pompili, the minister of ecological transition, to speak of the “prehistoric” views, full of “hackneyed clichés,” of these men, in effect calling two of her cabinet colleagues Neanderthals.

This heated exchange over little illustrated several things. Mr. Macron’s government and party, La République en Marche, remain an uneasy marriage of right and left. The rising popularity of the Greens, who run not only Lyon but also Bordeaux and Grenoble, has sharpened a cultural clash between urban environmental crusaders and the defenders of French tradition in the countryside.

Not least, nothing gets the French quite as dyspeptic as disagreement over food.

The mayor, it must be said, made his move in a city with an intense gastronomic tradition. At the Boucherie François on the banks of the Rhône, a centennial establishment, Lyon’s culture of meat is on ample display. The veal liver and kidneys glistened; cuts of roast beef wrapped in pork fat abounded; the heads of yellow and white chickens lolled on a counter; the saucissons, some with pistachio, took every cylindrical form; the pastry-wrapped pâté showed off a core of foie gras; and pigs’ trotters and ears betrayed this city’s carnivorous inclinations.

“The mayor made a mistake,” said François Teixeira, a butcher who has worked at François for 19 years. “This is not good for Lyon’s image.”

Certainly, the mayor’s decision came at a sensitive moment. The right in France has expressed indignation that the country is being force-marched, through politically correct environmental dogmatism, toward a future of bicycles, electric cars, veganism, locavores, negative planet-saving growth and general joylessness — something at a very far cry from stuffing goose livers for personal delectation.

Last year, Pierre Hurmic, the Green party mayor of Bordeaux, touched a nerve when he rejected the city’s traditional Christmas tree because it’s “a dead tree.” Mr. Doucet’s culinary move was part of “an ideological agenda,” the right-wing weekly Valeurs Actuelles proclaimed in a cover story. “The canteens of Lyon were just a pretext.”

Mr. Doucet, who describes himself as a “flexitarian,” or someone who favors vegetables but also eats a little meat, argues that the Education Ministry forced his hand. By doubling social distancing at schools to two meters, or more than six feet, it obliged the mayor to accelerate lunch by offering just one dish.

“There’s a mathematical equation,” he said. “You have the same number of tables, but you have to put fewer children at them, and you can’t start the lunch break at 10 a.m.”

But why nix meat? The mayor, who has a 7-year-old in elementary school, rolled his eyes. “We have not gone to a vegetarian menu! Every day, the children can eat fish or eggs.” Because a significant number of students already did not eat meat, he said, “we just took the lowest common denominator.”

It was not, Mr. Doucet said, an ideological decision, even if he aims over his six-year term to adjust school menus toward “a greater share of vegetable proteins.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2021 at 4:47 pm

Benefits of millets for diabetes

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I have ordered some millets (intact whole grain) to try (kodo, finger, and barnyard millets) after watching this previous video. I’ll be very interested to see their effect (if any) on my fasting blood glucose readings (see the video below).

Written by LeisureGuy

15 March 2021 at 10:10 am

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