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Millions alive today would have to die before the paleo diet could take over

banksy caveman
Lord Jim

The idea of going paleo is attractive to someone like me, who feels he is living in an unhealthy, vapid world of consumerism. The sprawl of modern humanity is clearly unhealthy for earth’s biodiversity and for the stability of our climate. And it makes a lot of sense that our modern lifestyle would prove unhealthy for us: Our bodies were shaped for hundreds of thousands of years to hunt and gather -- and yet we insist on sitting down all day while eating things our ancestors would not recognize as food. We keep introducing new things that don’t fit into the natural environment or the environment of our bodies.

There’s a natural yearning to backtrack -- to get back to the garden. But there’s a problem, usually unacknowledged, with the whole paleo phenomenon: Going back to a hunter-gatherer's meat-heavy diet is impossible unless we cull our population to pre-agricultural levels. There have been no reasonable proposals for achieving quick population reduction. And so we are faced with a sad reality: We can’t ever go home again.

In this week’s New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert wrote about putting her family on the paleo diet while reviewing “a small library of what might be called paleo literature -- how-to books that are mostly how-to-undo books.”

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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Let them drink olive oil

California’s next oil rush might be surprisingly delicious

olives
Gabriele Tudico

Olives trees have a lot to offer the United States. One of those things is water -- and this year, as California dries to a shriveled crisp, water is looking especially important.

Most olives grown around the world have no irrigation. The trees are built for drought: They have narrow, waxy, abstemious leaves. They’ve evolved biological tricks for going dormant when things get too dry; they hunker down and then spring back when the rains come. These skills are appealing to farmers, especially ones who have recently ripped out a drought-ravaged orchard, thereby walking away from a 20-year investment.

It’s nearly impossible to say whether California’s drought is linked to climate change. Current models suggest that the state could actually get a little wetter, but they also suggest hotter summers and greater extremes. When the droughts do come, they are going to be serious.

One projection is clear: There are going to be a lot more people sticking their straws into the communal cup. So, right about now, this tree that’s adapted for California’s Mediterranean climate, survives without irrigation, and produces food at the same time seems pretty cool.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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Cargolicious

Whole Foods will bring you groceries by bike

peoples-cargo

OK, I'll admit right off the bat that I wasn't so excited when my editors suggested I write about Whole Foods making deliveries by bike. Now affluent people who can't be bothered to pick up their own groceries can have a slightly lower carbon impact -- I mean, where's the champagne!

But after I sat with this for a second, I decided there is reason to celebrate. Cargo-bike deliveries make a lot of sense for companies, even if they don't care about the environment: They don't get hung up in traffic, they don't require parking spaces, they don't guzzle fuel, they're cheaper than delivery vans, they are easy to repair ... The list could go on. But they are still pretty rare because, basically, change is hard.

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Sean Parker backs San Francisco’s “cars first” measure, twirls moustache

SeanParker
Helga Esteb

Okay, Sean Parker. I don't really mind if you have a Live Action Role Playing wedding in the redwoods, since you paid to clean it up. I don't care if you invest in tobacco marketed to kids. And it's none of my business which conservative politicians you support. But it does tick me off that you're putting your shoulder behind this cockamamie ballot measure to make San Francisco more car-friendly.

Of course it bothers me because, in my experience of San Francisco, making things more car-friendly always means making things less human-friendly. I tend to side with the humans. And on the other side, every time the city has taken freeways or parking lots and instead dedicated them to cyclists, pedestrians, or transit, it has made things easier, faster, and safer.

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Is organic food healthier? A new analysis adds … a question mark

produce
Jamie McCaffrey

A new paper on nutrition in organic foods just came out. It’s a meta-analysis -- which means, instead of doing any new measurement or experimentation, it’s simply combining the findings of past studies. According to the report, there are more antioxidants and carbohydrates in organic food, but less protein, pesticide residue, and less cadmium.

So what does all this mean in terms of health?

Protein and carbohydrates:

“Most people in Europe and North America are consuming adequate levels of protein, or even too much,” pointed out Charles Benbrook, one of the co-authors on the study. And the controversy rages over whether it’s good or bad to have more protein or carbs. So this result may be meaningful, but it would mean totally different things to different people.

Read more: Food

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Hackers hack monster burritos down to sensible size

BurritoGodzilla2
Tyler Parker | Justin Brown

“Burrito creep” is the sort of jargon you’re unlikely to hear unless you descend deep into a highly specialized world. In this case, that world is the food company Chipotle, and "burrito creep" is the term of art employees have come up with to describe a seemingly unstoppable phenomenon: No matter what they try, the burritos keep getting bigger. And the bigger they get, the larger the proportion that ends up in the trash.

Thanks to some creative thinking at the Food+Tech Connect Hack//Dining event in New York, there may be a solution to burrito creep -- one that gives eaters an incentive to control portions and cut back on the most carbon-intensive ingredients (like meat).

The point of these hackathons is to bring clever people together and set them loose on bite-sized food and sustainability problems. “The problems in the food industry are complex, and they aren’t going to be solved in a weekend,” said Danielle Gould, founder of Food+Tech Connect. “The point is to get new ideas into circulation, new people working on this, and to do rapid prototyping -- to actually make a real product in a weekend.”

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Dumpster divine

At Chez Dumpster, every misshapen veggie gets its due

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Josh Treuhaft, Salvage Supperclub

An obscene amount of the food we grow gets thrown away. Some of it has to do with tough logistical issues (e.g., how do you make it feasible for a farmer to salvage those overripe plums?).

But a lot of our food is wasted because, to put it bluntly, we are ignorant and prejudiced. It's produce profiling: If the fruit or vegetable doesn't fit the established norm, it freaks us out, even when it's every bit as healthy and delicious on the inside.

These prejudices -- like most prejudices -- are deep, visceral, and totally irrational (experimental psychologist Paul Rozin has done really interesting work on this). So how do you work around them?

Read more: Food

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This weed is taking over the planet. On the upside, it’s delicious

A field dominated by palmer amaranth, or pigweed
Delaware Agriculture

Palmer amaranth: It's a fast-growing, tractor-busting, herbicide-defying weed. When you read about it in the news these days it sounds like the epitome of evil. But when I first heard of it, I did a double take because amaranth is also a food grain used historically throughout the Americas, by the Hopi in the north all the way down to the Inca in the south. Back in 1977, an article in Science called amaranth "the crop of the future." These days, you can find it on health-store shelves in breads and bars and cereals. OK, so those are different species …

Read more: Food

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Marginalia

The 15 things I underlined in Dan Barber’s smart new book

danbarber

Dan Barber’s book The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food is full of great stories, larger-than-life characters, and descriptions that made me hungry. But if you strip away all that, what remains is a collection of delightful facts and ideas. These are the things that made me scribble stars in the margin:

1. Child “rearing begins, not at birth, or even conception, but one hundred years before the child is born.” That’s how long it takes to build the environment and community that child will live in.

2. "If you don't count corn sweeteners, we eat more wheat than every other cereal combined."

3. In the 1800s, the East Coast was America's breadbasket. "Gristmills dotted the countryside -- one for every seven hundred Americans in 1840."

Read more: Food, Living

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Is the Anthropocene a world of hope or a world of hurt?

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Ben Mabbett

Is it possible that a world swarming with humanity, warmed by our fumes, and depleted by our carelessness could in any way be good?

Last year, some 30 people, including the ethicist Clive Hamilton and the journalist Andrew Revkin, attended a seminar in Washington, D.C., on the Anthropocene -- a term denoting a new geologic epoch, dominated by human influence. Hamilton noticed that some of the participants seemed optimistic, even excited, about the advent of the Anthropocene. "I was astonished and irritated that some people who were scientifically literate were imposing this barrier of wishful thinking between the science and future outcomes for humanity," he said. Hamilton had just written a book, Requiem for a Species, arguing that people squirm away from the bleak reality of climate change.

Months later, Revkin sent this video of a talk he'd given to the people who had attended that seminar. It was entitled "Seeking a Good Anthropocene," and Hamilton -- seeing this idea that he objected so strongly reprised -- decided to write a rebuttal (actually two).

This debate has been brewing for years, and each side tends to caricature the other's position. Suggest there's a reason for hope and you are called a delusional techno-utopian; if you say there's an imperative for humility, you are framed as an anti-technological doomer.