Briefly

Stuff that matters


From the mouth of babes

This young girl just wants to know if Congressman Jason Chaffetz believes in science.

At a heated town hall meeting in Utah this week, Hannah Bradshaw asked Chaffetz two simple questions: “What are you doing to help protect our water and air for our generations and my kids’ generations?”

And a pointed follow-up: “Do you believe in science? Because I do.”

Those questions seem reasonable, considering the congressman is a noted climate denier and recently drafted a bill that would put 3.3 million acres of public lands up for sale.

His response was predictably lackluster. After agreeing that “things thrown into our air, what is thrown into our water” affect the environment, he defended an “all of the above” energy strategy and stated his support for coal.

He eventually got around to reassuring young Hannah that he does believe in science, but boos and outbursts from the crowd ended the town hall meeting.

Republican lawmakers across the country are facing impassioned crowds demanding answers on Obamacare and other issues. In fact, all of the GOP members of Congress from Washington state seem to be hiding out from their constituents — maybe they have space in their panic rooms for a guy from Utah?


Grist 50

Meet the fixer: This entrepreneur is making a better burger.

A lot of startups want to make animal flesh obsolete with tastier, more environmentally friendly products: Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, and Mosa Meats, to name a few. If one of these companies can convince Americans that its new product is better than meat, it could put a dent in the livestock industry, which is responsible for roughly 4.2 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

One of the most audacious of those companies is Memphis Meats. Instead of engineering a meat replacement, Valeti’s startup is growing actual meat in a lab. “The products we’re producing are the delicious meat we’ve enjoyed for thousands of years — we’re just changing the process by which it’s produced,” he says.

Valeti isn’t your average Silicon Valley founder — he’s a doctor, a cardiologist to be precise. He previously worked on experiments that used stem cells to regrow damaged heart tissue. If we can grow heart muscle with stem cells, he thought, why can’t we grow meat? With a team of foodies and scientists, he’s doing just that. Last year they fried up and ate their first no-death meatball — the video went viral. Now, they’re working to take their cultured meat to the masses.


Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.


pumping iron down the drain

The new American dream is being woefully anemic WHILE throwing away all your nutrients!

Americans waste between 1,200 and 1,400 calories of food per person everyday, which we can all agree to feel bad about: all that energy- and water- and money-intensive nourishment going straight to the landfill! But in spite of a national love for counting nutrients, we didn’t know how many macros we’ve been chucking out.

A new study courtesy of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future is the first to measure just how much nutrient value is ending up in the bin. The most jarring example: Those 1,400 calories of wasted food per person per day include 48 percent of an average adult’s daily iron intake. Also wasted: 43 percent of the recommended levels of Vitamin C and 29 percent of the calcium.

This is significant, the researchers note, because so many American adults suffer from crucial nutrient deficiencies.

We asked Kevin Klatt, a PhD candidate at the Cornell Division of Nutritional Sciences, if these numbers — they’re so big! — seemed normal. If anything, Klatt said, the percentages seemed slightly conservative, because recommended daily values tend to be higher than what most people need.


big book, tiny hands

The pope’s gift to Trump is the subtlest shade we’ve seen all week.

During his trip to the Vatican this week, President Trump received a thoughtful present from Pope Francis: “Laudato Si,” the encyclical on climate change the pontiff published in 2015.

Francis slipped the slim book in with a few of his other works on peace and economics, real smooth like.

Based on reports of Trump’s disinterest in delving into lengthy material during his intelligence briefings or just reading, it seems unlikely that he’ll keep his promise to get through the entire encyclical. “Laudato Si” has more than 40,000 words and leans on biblical references and emotive language (Mother Earth pops up a couple of times). It also makes grave warnings about climate change and its threat to humankind, a risk that Trump has downplayed and denied.

So how could Pope Francis have encouraged Trump to read his encyclical? A few suggestions:

  1. Replace every mention of seawalls with “Great Great Wall” (full disclosure: the encyclical never actually mentions seawalls).
  1. Put the whole thing in tweet format.
  1. Publish it in Breitbart, or have it read aloud on Fox News.
  1. Put it on the back of the ketchup bottle he squirts on his steak.
  1. Tell him that Barack Obama and Tom Brady were overhead joking that Trump would never read it.

Of course, Pope Francis could have ribbed Trump about being able to hold a book with such tiny hands but the pope seems too classy for that.


in the pie of the beholder

Apple pie may not be as American as you thought.

We’ve all heard the saying: “As American as apple pie and baseball.” But common wisdom has been wrong before — and it turns out the origins of both are pretty global.

Other cuisines speak to the imported nature of national favorites. For example, Indian curries wouldn’t be quite the same without chilies, which come from Central America. And Central American rice and beans obviously requires rice, which hails from Asia.

So how American is apple pie? Well, not very. Except in the sense that ingredients from all over the globe have combined into something greater than the sum of its parts — that might describe “American” just perfectly.


Grist 50

Meet the fixer: This New Yorker champions affordable housing.

If cities are the future of sustainability, they can’t only be green — they have to be livable, too. Enter Ritchie Torres, New York City’s youngest elected official, hell-bent on making the city more affordable for its most vulnerable inhabitants. Torres, who is Afro-Latino and the first openly LGBT politician from the Bronx, cut his political teeth as a tenant organizer. He ran for city council in 2013 at the behest of a mentor who saw potential in the self-described introvert — and won.

The young councilman’s driving issue is affordable housing, because, he says, “there can be no city without housing.” Torres grew up in Throggs Neck public housing directly across the street from Donald Trump’s golf course — as Torres puts it, with Trump’s shadow hanging “both literally and metaphorically over public housing.”

Torres is taking on the health, safety, and sustainability of public housing in New York from all angles: eliminating mold infestation, requiring more carbon-conservative building materials, and creating the first LGBT youth shelter in the Bronx.

For those young people who may feel inspired to seek political office themselves, Torres provides these words of encouragement: “The lesson from 2016 is that millennials are more powerful than we realize — it was the only ray of hope in an otherwise dark election year.”


Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.


Let them eat Trump steaks

Trump wants to slash money for food and farming.

The administration’s proposed $4.1 trillion budget cuts food stamps by 25 percent, which would boot some 10 million people off the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It also chops crop insurance subsidies by 36 percent while wringing 21 percent out of the Agriculture Department’s budget by getting rid of rural economic development and conservation programs.

After the release of the President Trump’s budget on Tuesday, a diverse array of urban and rural advocates, including Republicans, were united in opposition. Here’s a sampling of what they are saying:

The anti-poverty campaigner: “Cutting essential, effective anti-poverty programs like Medicaid and SNAP will exacerbate inequality, poverty and despair.” — Billy Shore, founder of Share Our Strength, a nonprofit working to end childhood hunger.

The farmer’s group: “By shredding our farm safety net, slashing critical agricultural research and conservation initiatives, and hobbling our access to foreign markets, this budget is a blueprint for how to make already difficult times in rural America even worse.” — Ron Moore, American Soy Association president and a soybean farmer in Illinois.

The Senate power broker: “The proposed cuts to important farm and family safety net programs, including crop insurance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, are harsh and short sighted.” — Debbie Stabenow, Democratic senator from Michigan, and the person you need to know to get any farm bill passed.

Add all this up and it means that this part of the budget has little chance of getting past Congress. Funding for food and farm programs has always brought together unusual bedfellows. In this partisan era, it’s a rare area of bipartisan agreement.