Daily Essentials | 2 June 2015

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KQED | ‘Just Eat It’ Demonstrates a Widespread System of Food Waste

The filmmakers have come up with novel ways to demonstrate just what this waste means, starting with their own habits in the kitchen. After learning about the billions of dollars of food that is discarded each year in North America, documentarians Grant Baldwin and Jenny Rustemeyer decide to live for six months on food that either has been or would otherwise be thrown away. This exercise in bartering, scrounging and dumpster diving yields an unexpected bounty, which the couple begins to share with friends and family.

Along the way, they explore the various points where perfectly good food gets tossed out for various reasons. A Fresno peach and nectarine farmer describes how less-than-cosmetically-perfect fruit ends up wasted before it even leaves the processing plant. A Salinas celery farmer demonstrates just how much of the plant gets left out in the field.

CREDIBLE HULK | About those more caustic herbicides that glyphosate helped replace

One of the common criticisms of commercially available GMO seeds is the idea that they have led to an increase in pesticide use. In actuality, it turns out that they’ve corresponded to a decrease in total pesticide use, but this is attributable primarily to insect resistant GMO crops, and critics argue that herbicide resistant crops have led to an increase in herbicide usage. It is true that the rise in popularity of glyphosate-resistant (GR) crops in particular has coincided with an increase in the use of glyphosate, which had already been in use to some degree for a couple of decades before the implementation of glyphosate-resistant crops. However, what critics invariably fail to mention is that its rise in popularity also coincided with the phasing out of other herbicides, most of which were significantly more toxic than glyphosate

SCIENCE | Scientists find way to create supersized fruit

When Spanish explorers first brought domesticated tomatoes to Europe 500 years ago, the fruit was already gigantic compared with its olive-sized wild counterparts. Researchers trying to understand the genetic basis of this girth have uncovered a way to make other fruits larger as well. The team discovered this secret by studying two mutant tomato strains that had many branches coming off the upper part of the stem and that produced unusually fecund fruit.

… The scientists discovered a feedback loop involving two genes, one to stimulate stem cell production and the other to hold production in check. A shortage of the latter, a gene called CLAVATA3, leads to plumped up beefsteaks, the team reports today in Nature Genetics. This gene’s protein requires a chain of three sugar molecules to work right, and shortening that chain yields ever larger fruit, the scientists report. Because this feedback loop exists in most plants, the team suspects plant breeders can manipulate it to improve crops, and even increase the number of kernels on a corncob.

SCIENCE DAILY | UNIVERSITY OF LANCASTER | How people defend eating meat

This study asked students and adults in the United States why they find it OK to eat meat. The largest category used to justify their choice was that that it is “necessary” followed by the other three categories.

Typical comments used to justify eating meat include these 4Ns:

  • Natural “Humans are natural carnivores”
  • Necessary “Meat provides essential nutrients”
  • Normal “I was raised eating meat”
  • Nice “It’s delicious”

Dr Piazza said: “Morally motivated vegetarians may serve as a source of implicit moral reproach for many omnivores, eliciting behaviors designed to defend against moral condemnation.”

GATESNOTES | BILL GATES | The Love Life of Plants

Of all the things I did when I visited Cornell University recently, I probably had the most fun brushing up on how plants have sex.

Cornell is one of the world’s top universities for research on improving crops. Their work involves a lot of plant breeding. During one meeting, I got to try my hand at cross-pollinating wheat, which is a surprisingly delicate procedure. It gave me even more respect for the people who do it every day.

Cornell’s work on crop improvement also involves a lot of cutting-edge genetics. You might see the words “crop improvement” and “genetics” in the same sentence and think I’m talking about GMOs. Although Melinda and I do support research in that area—we don’t think poor farmers should be denied the choice to use any tools that might benefit them—the work I saw at Cornell is different. It’s focused on how the science of genetics can improve agriculture in other ways. And the advances are really exciting.

THE BREAKTHROUGH | Is Feedlot Beef Better for the Environment?

Industrial meat production – particularly for beef – is often portrayed as an environmental menace. Has this always been the case?

I wrote a paper comparing the environmental impacts of beef production between 1977 and 2007, with the goal of understanding whether more intensive and efficient beef production has come at a greater environmental cost. The paper fairly categorically shows that it didn’t. We saw a 16 percent reduction in carbon footprint per pound of beef over that time period, a reduction in land use by a third, and a reduction in water use of 12 percent.

Is grass-fed beef better for the environment?

People often have the perception that grass-fed beef must be better for the environment, yet it’s a system in which cattle grow more slowly and are slaughtered at a lower live-weight. For example, if we switched to all grass-fed beef in the United States, it would require an additional 64.6 million cows, 131 million acres more land, and 135 million more tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. We’d have the same amount of beef, but with a huge environmental cost.

SPE BLOG | A Spotlight on the Monday Campaigns

Most people don’t realize that Meatless Monday was started during World War I as a way to conserve food for the war effort and was then restarted in World War II to help feed those in Europe. Sid, what inspired you to breathe new life into the campaign?

I was at a Johns Hopkins donor consultants meeting at the Center for a Livable Future (CLF) and the subject of the day was the Atkins diet, fat and cholesterol, and heart disease and stroke. Coincidentally, I had just been put on Lipitor – you know, very much like any other normal civilian who was having too much fat and meat. At the meeting, Bob Lawrence, the director of CLF, who was into the details of the USDA, FDA, and medical field, mentioned that as a nation we were probably having too much meat – about 15% more meat than we should.

Because the percentage was 15%, I could easily translate it to 3 meals out of 21, which is easier than picking 15% out of every plate and every meal. Being an advertising guy, I thought – how do you dumb it down and make it simple to communicate? So I figured: one day a week, don’t eat meat. Then I thought, “That’s a good idea, but what do we call it?” I dug back into my then younger memory to World War II when I was a kid and Meatless Monday was what Roosevelt was using for conservation, and I said “Gee that fits. Let’s try it!” And that’s how it happened. If it was 18% or 23% maybe it would have never happened. It was one of those fortunate accidents in conversation that results in something that becomes usable and memorable.

SALON | Bees are dying off — but there’s a surprisingly simple, completely uncontroversial way to save them

The simplest way, if you want to conserve bees, the most obvious thing and the least controversial thing, everyone can agree, it would be nice to have more flowers. You don’t upset too many people when you say that. But it’s true. And also going back to these other things, the pesticides and the diseases they suffer from, they’re probably better able to cope with being poisoned or infected if they’ve got lots of food. The same is true of people; obviously we all know if you’re unwell, it’s important to have healthy food and so on, because that helps build your strength and immunity. So creating areas with flowers is a really good way to help them.

But also it isn’t just about bees, because if you try and restore these flowery habitats, then it helps hundreds of other species as well. Starting with the flowers, obviously, there are all these interesting, beautiful wildflowers that used to be quite common and many of which now are very rare. It gives them somewhere to live. Loads of other insects will come with that: the grasshoppers and crickets and beetles and flies and wasps, all sorts of other things as well. So there’s a whole rich community of creatures that live in these meadows. It’s quite dear to my heart to look after the meadows that are left and create new ones if we can, which is what I’ve been up to down in France for the last 12 years.

WIRED | America Needs a Real Definition of What a ‘Natural’ Food Is

Earlier this week, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut both announced they are going natural. Goodbye Yellow-5. Ciao trans fat. Sayonara unsustainable palm oil. “Today’s customers want simplicity, transparency and choice in the foods they eat,” proclaimed the Bell’s broadsheet. And while it’s great that fast food giants are listening to the public, there’s one problem: In terms of describing food, “natural” is almost completely meaningless.

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