Daily Essentials | 18 May 2015



This is about as springtime as it gets. Fresh garden peas, served with light-as-air gnocchi made with pea puree, tied together with a little butter and cheese. Just a lovely light supper.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN | That Queasifying Moment

This week on Parts Unknown, we go to the little understood island nation of Madagascar—and we go with someone who most definitely has his own point of view. Darren Aronofsky is the acclaimed director of the films Requiem For A Dream, Pi, The Black Swan, The Wrestler and Noah. People often ask what it would be like to come along on a shoot with me. Now you will see. We look at Madagascar, in many ways, through Darren’s fresh set of eyes. It’s a useful reminder, worth having, that what you see on the show is not the only angle. That we are looking at the world out my window. That there are other windows. That maybe, I’ve omitted something, shaded something, if only to present myself in a more flattering light.

I was thrilled and honored and delighted when Darren approached us about coming along somewhere in the world to play with me and the Parts Unknown crew. It was his idea to go to Madagascar, largely for its unique eco-system and its environmental situation. My only request was that he shoot some footage—with whatever device he wanted to use. And that, at some point, he give us his version of at least a portion of the show for which we have already seen my version. So in ACT SIX, you will get an example of what may or may not be missing from the shows we make. An ugly, uncomfortable reminder that its not just pretty pictures and neat, hopeful sum-ups. It does not, I’m pretty sure, portray me in the best light. Or any of us for that matter. But there it is. I thought it was important.

WASHINGTON POST: 95 percent of parents think their overweight children look ‘just right’

When researchers recently looked at data on how parents perceive their overweight young children, they learned that 94.9 percent believe the kids’ size to be “just right.” As startling and unsettling as that statistic may be, it had been shown before in smaller populations and wasn’t the worst news out of the study.

More disturbing was what the researchers found when they compared the results with the same survey taken about two decades earlier. Over the years, they realized, the chances of a child “being appropriately perceived by the parents declined by 30%.” African American and low-income parents had the most inaccurate perceptions.

PACIFIC STANDARD | JAMES MCWILLIAMS: Do Personal Food Choices Affect the Drought In California?

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make a statement out of our food choices. Making ethical consumer decisions based on hard data about specific commodities is about more than achieving immediate empirical impact. Shaming, when done right, can not only affect behavioral change; it can usher a larger ethic—in this case, water conservation—into the public sphere in a way that forces us to collectively appreciate its gravity.

Meat consumption might be rising exponentially in China, but it’s doing so in a context that, due to the work of animal advocates, is far less accommodating than it has ever been. Getting into nudge grudge matches over almonds or beef or lentils or chickpeas or whatever may seem trivial to those who consider California’s water crisis as strictly a policy issue. But these battles add up to a war. They make food politics personal and, in so doing, ensure that public engagement is ready to mobilize in support of the most effective and far-reaching policy solutions to help the state save water.

THINK PROGRESS | In Wyoming, Taking A Photo Of A Polluted Stream Could Land You In Jail

One of the most troubling components of the law, according to Pidot, is that it specifically targets data collected to be shared with the government, a focus he calls “anomalous, bizarre, and radical.” Under the statute, a citizen who uncovers an environmental disaster or public health threat — unless they’ve obtained specific permission from the landowner before collecting that data — would themselves be breaking the law by reporting it to the authorities.

The law, Pidot says, is less about trespassing and more about protecting powerful interests, like Wyoming ranchers who broadly supported the bill. For years, ranchers have been locked in a battle with a small group of citizen scientists, working for the Western Watersheds Project, over data they’ve collected — and how they’ve collected it.

RODALE INSTITUTE: Organic no-till for vegetable production?

“The one thing I want to accomplish before I retire is to establish workable systems for organic no-till vegetable production using cover crops,” Dr. Ron Morse told me in one of our first meetings. A professor of horticulture at Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, Va., Morse has been working for upwards of two decades on soil-conserving systems for vegetable production in hilly Appalachia. Using high-biomass cover crop mixtures like winter rye and hairy vetch killed to form an in situ mulch, he has helped growers save tons of soil and reduce weed control costs. More recently, he has worked on herbicide-free systems for organic growers.

Morse began this line of research in the winter of 1978-79, when he received a letter from an extension agent in mountainous Carroll County, Va., with a photo of U.S. Route 58 blocked by a mass of soil washed away from an adjacent cabbage field. The caption read simply, “Help!” Morse knew the first step was to stop plowing. So he put a graduate student to work at Virginia Tech’s experimental farm, growing rye cover crops for no-till vegetable planting. Initially, they planted by hand, digging holes to plant cabbage through herbicide-killed rye. It worked!

…Weed control is often cited as the single greatest challenge in organic crop production. In relying on tillage and cultivation rather than chemical herbicides to manage weeds, organic growers risk greater soil degradation, organic matter loss and erosion. Cover crops suppress weeds, add organic matter and nitrogen, mobilize nutrients, hold and improve the soil, and harbor beneficial insects. However, when the cover crop is turned under prior to planting the primary crop, the tillage required to prepare a seedbed burns up organic matter, degrades tilth and stimulates weeds to emerge—which means yet more cultivation and associated costs.

SLATE | Blue Bell’s Listeria Crisis Will Cost 1,450 Employees Their Jobs

Blue Bell Creameries is facing the worst public relations crisis in its 108-year history. Since the deaths of three Kansas hospital patients were linked to listeria contamination in its ice cream, Blue Bell has pulled all of its products from shelves nationwide. To make matters worse, last week the Houston Chronicle reported that Blue Bell knew about its listeria problem as far back as early 2013. And now, to top it all off, Blue Bell is severing more than 1,000 workers.

In a note on its website titled “An Agonizing Decision,” Blue Bell said Friday it will lay off roughly 750 full-time employees and 700 part-time employees—all in all, 37 percent of its 3,900-person workforce. Another 1,400 or so employees will be furloughed until the company’s production resumes, Blue Bell said, putting nearly three-quarters of its staff out of commission. Finally, the company said employees who are “essential to ongoing operations and cleaning and repair efforts will continue to work but have their pay reduced.”

NEW YORK TIMES | Fructose May Increase Cravings for High-Calorie Foods

The study, published in the journal PNAS, found that compared with glucose, consuming fructose produced greater responses to food cues in the orbital frontal cortex of the brain, a region that plays an important role in reward processing. The fructose drink also produced greater activity in the visual cortex when volunteers looked at images of food, a finding that suggests increased craving compared with glucose.

When choosing between tasty high-calorie food or a delayed monetary reward, fructose drinkers were more likely than glucose drinkers to choose the food.

There was no difference in leptin or ghrelin levels between fructose and glucose drinkers. But plasma insulin response was sharply lower in fructose drinkers, which may affect what we eat, according to the senior author, Dr. Kathleen A. Page, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California.

“Insulin is released when we consume glucose,” she said. “The pancreas secretes insulin, and insulin drives glucose into cells so that it can be used for energy. But it also sends a signal to the brain that says ‘you’ve eaten.’ Fructose doesn’t stimulate insulin secretion, and if there’s no insulin, you don’t get the information that you’re full.”

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