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Le Freak, c'est Chic

The latest French fashion: Eating ugly fruits and veggies

ugly produce
Intermarché

Few things are more unappealing than a lumpy, bruised potato covered in sprouts. But leave it to the French to make it look sexy.

A campaign by the French supermarket chain Intermarché is on a mission to make shoppers see the inner beauty in scarred, disfigured, or otherwise odd-shaped fruits and vegetables. The message: Why throw away perfectly good produce just because it doesn’t meet arbitrary cosmetic criteria -- especially when so many families can’t afford to eat the five daily portions of fruits and vegetables recommended by nutritionists?

“Now, you can eat five ‘inglorious’ fruits and vegetables a day. As good, but 30 percent cheaper,” says an Intermarché promotional video, trumpeting the virtues of the “the grotesque apple, the ridiculous potato, the hideous orange, the failed lemon, the disfigured eggplant, the ugly carrot, and the unfortunate clementine.” Here's an English version of the video:

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This gigantic urban “skyfarm” looks like a tree and grows food for the masses

aprilli-design-studio-urban-skyfarm
Aprilli Design Studio

I know what you’re thinking, but Skyfarm is not the latest Tom Cruise sci-fi failure. Skyfarm is one possible solution to a lot of the problems with high-density urban living.

Concieved by the folks at Aprilli Design Studios for Seoul, South Korea, the Skyfarm would be a massive techno tree rising amongst the skyscrapers. The concept would provide arable space to grow crops in a tightly packed city while also providing public green spaces, producing energy, purifying water, and cleaning the air -- and the structure’s great height will get that air cleaning up where it’s needed most.

Stu Roberts at Gizmag has the scoop:

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Feed lots

Hungry hungry humans: The science (and art) of feeding ourselves

world_hunger_forkhands
Shutterstock

The issue keeps coming up when I write about genetic engineering, or local food systems, or decreased farm yield due to climate change: How do we avoid starvation as populations grow, and how can we allow people to feed themselves equitably and sustainably? The question seems to lurk in the background of every story I do, and this makes me uncomfortable, because I don't know enough to answer. So I'm diving into the debate, blogging as I go.

I recently attended a debate on this topic put on by the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program at UC Berkeley, and it quickly became clear that there are several contentious issues flying crosswise here. We really have a lot of work ahead of us. This was supposed to be a debate over solutions, but there was no agreement over what the problem is.

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Gimme 8 percent of your lunch! You’re not going to eat it anyway

When presented with a plate of delicious food, do you eat all of it? Every last bit? Is the plate pristine at the end of your eating session? Yes? Well, OK, you are a liar.

A recent study in the International Journal of Obesity found that, on average, we eat 92 percent of the food on a plate. Good news (or bad, depending on how you look at it): If the food is unhealthy, that figure goes down to 81 percent.

What does 92 percent of a meal look like? The friendly staff at Grist have compiled a very helpful guide using your -- yes, YOUR -- diet as an example!

Read more: Food, Living

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Exctinction VI: This time it's personal

Dead elephants, plagues, and rats: Why the sixth extinction is bad for you and everyone you know

Fossil_flat
Shutterstock

Hey, remember the dinosaurs? Yeah, neither. All it took was one massive asteroid, and all the dinos were wiped off the face of the planet. Well, there’s a new asteroid in town: us.

New research published in the journal Science lays out the scope of the destruction we've wrought -- and suggests that it's going to come back to bite us. Not only will the so-called sixth extinction make that wildlife safari you’ve always wanted to take a lot less interesting, it could increase disease and make it even harder to feed our own ever-growing population. Happy weekend!

Similar to previous extinction events, the large, cute animals (like elephants and polar bears) are disappearing the fastest: since 1500, more than 320 land-based vertebrates have gone extinct. Which isn't just bad news for wildlife junkies; their loss translates into a shift in the whole ecosystem. Scientists found that areas in which the big guys disappeared quickly became infested with rodents – who bring all of their disease-carrying parasites with them.

“Where human density is high, you get high rates of defaunation, high incidence of rodents, and thus high levels of pathogens, which increases the risks of disease transmission,” lead author Rodolfo Dirzo says. “Who would have thought that just defaunation would have all these dramatic consequences? But it can be a viscious cycle.”

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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Be a patriot, eat less beef

hamburger-sadness.jpg
Shutterstock

As Josh Harkinson noted this week, cows are the United States' single biggest source of methane -- a potent gas that has 105 times the heat-trapping ability of carbon dioxide. That's one major reason why beef's greenhouse gas footprint is far higher than that of most other sources of protein, according to an EWG study. (Though it's consumed at a fraction of the rate of beef or chicken, lamb is by far the most carbon intensive of the major meats, according to EWG, since the animal's smaller body produces meat less efficiently but still produces a lot of methane.)

meat-charts_AP2_0

And EWG's estimate of beef's impact may actually be on the conservative side: A study released this week found the greenhouse gases associated with beef to be even higher.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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Put down the kale and step away

Relax, everyone: We’re not about to run out of kale

kale.jpg
Shutterstock

Lay off the kale, you arrogant yuppies.* The leafy green's popularity has skyrocketed in the last few years, and as a result, Bejo Seeds, a major kale seed supplier, just ran out of seeds in Australia.

The kale chip fans in the media are scared. "Hipsters have made kale so popular that farmers are struggling to meet demand," cries the Daily Mail. "Time to Panic: There May Be a Global Kale Shortage," warns Eater. "Start Prepping Now for a Possible Global Kale Shortage," advises GrubStreet.

I see you're already clutching your favorite leafy green and growling. But is it really time to panic over, hoard, and ration your kale?

Don't unwax your handlebar mustache just yet. First, to point out the obvious, we're only talking about a temporary shortage from one (albeit big) seed supplier in one country. The Bejo Seeds Australia director told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he hopes seeds will be available by September or October.

When I contacted the Australia director for more details, he told me they had "switched the tap off" when it comes to the kale story. Translation: Calm the fuck down, internet.

I called up the managing director of Bejo Seeds' U.S. branch, Mark Overduin. He told me that while their branch had quadrupled kale seeds sales in the last three years, they weren't feeling the same crunch as their sister branch in Australia. "Sometimes supplies get a little tight," he said. When I told him that I thought that the kalepocalypse was overblown, he chuckled and said I was probably right. The leafy green researcher and kale farmers I heard from didn't seem too concerned, either.

Read more: Food, Living

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Frackers learn one does not simply walk into Pittsburgh and mess with its CSAs

csabox
Adelina W

The Pennsylvania Constitution stipulates that its citizens have a right to “clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic, and esthetic values of the environment.”

Allow me to propose, herewith, an amendment: “… and a toxin-free CSA box, goddamn it.” (Would Benjamin Franklin approve of that wording? Who cares, he’s dead!)

In New Sewickley Township, about 30 miles north of the city of Pittsburgh, there's a new microcosm of the ongoing tug-of-war between the oil and gas industry and people who just happen to like clean air and water (crazy! I know). Kretschmann Farm, which has supplied certified organic produce to the greater Pittsburgh area for 36 years, is engaged in battle with Cardinal Midstream, a Texas-based corporation proposing to build a natural gas compressor station right next door.

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Plants are poison — and that just may be why they keep us healthy

veggies
ep_jhu

The health effects of antioxidants came up recently because a study found that organic food has more of them. Now science writer Moises Velasquez-Manoff has a fascinating story on a theory that upends conventional wisdom about antioxidants.

The original idea was that antioxidants were good because they sopped up molecules called "reactive oxygen species" (ROS) that are released by stress and bounce around cells, wrecking havoc. This new theory suggests that we need the stress, and it's our bodies' reaction to that (producing our own internal antioxidants) that really does us good.

In other words, it's the whole system that's important -- piling on more antioxidants from outside alone basically accomplishes nothing. Here's Velasquez-Manoff:

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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