Some links: 93

Some links: 71

Catching up on a lot of bookmarks, so this will be a bit of a link dump.

  • Reduced-meat or meatless diets (Mediterranean, pescetarian, vegetarian) are both better for your health and more sustainable for the environment, as David Tilman and Michael Clark find in a recent paper, and as Elke Stehfest summarizes.
  • I am loving Nature‘s new sharing tools. Susannah Locke explains the journal’s move toward more open access.
  • Emily Dreyfuss signed up to give Wikipedia six bucks a month.

    …Wikipedia is the best approximation of a complete account of knowledge we’ve ever seen.

    It’s also the most robust. The most easily accessed. And the safest. It exists on servers around the world so, unlike the library at Alexandria, it can’t be burned down.

    You should chip in, too.

  • The Biodiversity Heritage Library has opened an online exhibit dedicated to women in science who began working before 1922. Some of my recent subjects are there, including Florence Merriam Bailey and Mabel Osgood Wright.

Truth in advertising

Reporting on the recent FDA food labeling standard for gluten-free foods, Allison Aubrey does a great job of unpacking the various consumer constituencies who care about gluten in their diet. The blog post doesn’t dwell on this point, so listen to the audio from the All Things Considered two-way with Audie Cornish. Aubrey identifies three groups:

  • people who are on the gluten-free bandwagon and will fall off eventually;
  • people who experience gluten sensitivity, who do better avoiding wheat and related grains, but can tolerate a little or a lot;
  • people with true-blue celiac disease.

Aubrey identifies the third group as those for whom gluten is a real problem, not just something to be avoided casually. These are the three million people who, in her deft description for radio, suffer from a “chronic auto-immune disorder that can destroy the lining of the small intestine… even a little gluten can make them sick.”

Al dente

Marcella Hazan, author of one of the two cookbooks that I actually cook from, has passed. She did prickly so well.

When Mrs. Hazan arrived in New York in 1955, Italian food was still exotic, served in restaurants with straw-covered Chianti bottles and red-checked tablecloths….

The culture shock nearly crushed her. She was appalled by canned peas, hamburgers and coffee she once described as tasting no better than the water she used to wash out her own coffeepot at home.

Three and a half cents a pound

Mark Bittman visits an industrial-scale tomato farm in California, and finds it good.

The tomatoes are bred to ripen simultaneously because there is just one harvest. They’re also blocky in shape, the better to move along conveyor belts. Hundreds of types of tomatoes are grown for processing, bred for acidity, disease resistance, use, sweetness, wall thickness, ripening date and so on. They’re not referred to by cuddly names like “Early Girl” but by number: “BQ 205.”

I tasted two; they had a firm, pleasant texture and mild but real flavor, and were better than any tomatoes — even so-called heirlooms — sold in my supermarket.

Some links: 62/a

Two recent articles pertaining to food labeling: First, Gustave Axelson recaps the labels vying for your attention as you shop for bird-friendly coffee.

…coffee sellers don’t always advertise that their coffee is Bird Friendly. “Probably about only 10 percent of coffee from Bird Friendly certified farms carries the Bird Friendly stamp on the package,” said Robert Rice, a research scientist at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.

For example, Starbucks and Whole Foods sell some coffee from Bird Friendly certified farms. But they don’t see the need to make room on their packaging for a separate label that appeals to a relatively small—and silent—minority: birders.

Next, Mark Bittman proposes labels for packaged food that put the information you need right up front. A caption to the print version of the story recommends scanning the standardized list of ingredients in today’s packaging, not necessarily reading it in full:

…if the list of ingredients spans an entire paragraph, chances are you don’t need it.

I like Bittman’s red-yellow-green color codes, and I like the prominence of the Welfare measure. It would be nice to give more visibility to ingredients to which various consumers are allergic or intolerant.

Urban extremophile

Daniel Mosquin points to an exceptionally well-written piece by Adam Rogers for Wired: it tells the story of James Scott and a mysterious black mold that beset the neighborhood around a distillery. The fungus, a barrel-shaped beastie now named Baudoinia compniacensis has been known to science since the 19th century, but much of Scott’s task was isolating and culturing the organism and giving it a proper scientific name. Props to Rogers for explaining how binomial nomenclature works.

What’s cooking?

The New York Public Library has launched another crowdsourced digital transcription project of analog source materials, similar to the North American Bird Phenology Program. The NYPL is seeking volunteers to extract information from its store of historical restaurant menus. So far, data on more than 170,000 food items offered for sale has been pulled from more than 2,800 menus. There is lots of work yet to do:

With approximately 40,000 menus dating from the 1840s to the present, The New York Public Library’s restaurant menu collection is one of the largest in the world, used by historians, chefs, novelists and everyday food enthusiasts…. The New York Public Library’s menu collection, housed in the Rare Book Division, originated through the energetic efforts of Miss Frank E. Buttolph (1850-1924), who, in 1900, began to collect menus on the Library’s behalf. Miss Buttolph added more than 25,000 menus to the collection, before leaving the Library in 1924. The collection has continued to grow through additional gifts of graphic, gastronomic, topical, or sociological interest, especially but not exclusively New York-related.