Problems with the food supply

Just in case you need something else to worry about, global food prices are skyrocketing (here not so much–yet), due to increased demand and shorter supplies:

Since last summer, several events — floods in Australia, blistering drought in Russia, the threat of a poor winter wheat crop in China — have compounded concerns about the food supply and pushed world prices to the highest levels measured since the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization began calculating its index in 1990.

For decades, the world was often swimming in surplus food because farmers were so productive. But rising demand has caught up, and reserves have become so tight that global food markets are vulnerable to even minor shocks. Many analysts say that higher, more volatile prices may be here to stay.

The new dynamic reflects in part the rising demand for meat in developing countries such as China, which has almost single-handedly driven up prices for the soybeans it imports for animal meal, as well as the increasing use of corn for ethanol. Today, at least a third of the U.S. crop goes for making fuel. In addition, there is spreading concern that climate change may make weather less settled and more disruptive to growers.

“For the last 60 years, the simple story was agricultural productivity — great productivity gains, unabated,” said Joseph Glauber, chief economist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “But in the last five years, prices have lifted, and you see this real strong demand.”

Since last summer, the market price for corn to be delivered in May nearly doubled from $3.67 to $7.23 as of late last month, according to data compiled by Dan O’Brien, an agricultural economist at Kansas State University.

Grain reserves have dwindled. The latest USDA estimates, released Thursday, show U.S. reserves of corn and soybeans at historic lows, less than 5 percent of projected demand for the coming year. Typical reserves have been three or more times that amount, a chief reason why it does not take much to send prices skyrocketing.

via Higher food prices may be here to stay – The Washington Post.

Radioactive bananas

Thanks to Webmonk for alerting me to this interesting fact cited at the blog Watts Up With That, which quotes from Wikipedia:

A banana equivalent dose is a concept occasionally used by nuclear power proponents[1][2] to place in scale the dangers of radiation by comparing exposures to the radiation generated by a common banana.

Many foods are naturally radioactive, and bananas are particularly so, due to the radioactive potassium-40 they contain. The banana equivalent dose is the radiation exposure received by eating a single banana. Radiation leaks from nuclear plants are often measured in extraordinarily small units (the picocurie, a millionth of a millionth of a curie, is typical). By comparing the exposure from these events to a banana equivalent dose, a more intuitive assessment of the actual risk can sometimes be obtained.

The average radiologic profile of bananas is 3520 picocuries per kg, or roughly 520 picocuries per 150g banana.[3] The equivalent dose for 365 bananas (one per day for a year) is 3.6 millirems (36 μSv).

Bananas are radioactive enough to regularly cause false alarms on radiation sensors used to detect possible illegal smuggling of nuclear material at US ports.[4]

Another way to consider the concept is by comparing the risk from radiation-induced cancer to that from cancer from other sources. For instance, a radiation exposure of 10 mrems (10,000,000,000 picorems) increases your risk of death by about one in one million—the same risk as eating 40 tablespoons of peanut butter, or of smoking 1.4 cigarettes.[5]

After the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, the NRC detected radioactive iodine in local milk at levels of 20 picocuries/liter,[6] a dose much less than one would receive from ingesting a single banana. Thus a 12 fl oz glass of the slightly radioactive milk would have about 1/75th BED (banana equivalent dose).

Nearly all foods are slightly radioactive. All food sources combined expose a person to around 40 millirems per year on average, or more than 10% of the total dose from all natural and man-made sources.[7]

Some other foods that have above-average levels are potatoes, kidney beans, nuts, and sunflower seeds.[8] Among the most naturally radioactive food known are brazil nuts, with activity levels that can exceed 12,000 picocuries per kg.[9][10]

I knew about electrical bananas–name that source! Watson, do you know that kind of trivia?–but not radioactive bananas.

Playing Chikin

The chicken sandwich chain Chick-fil-A is owned by devout Christians who close their stores on Sundays and give lots of money to Christian causes.  The company gave some free sandwiches to a meeting of a “pro-family” group.  Since that group opposes gay marriage–even though Chick-fil-A has not said anything about that issue–some bloggers are calling for a boycott.

This is an especially big deal on university campuses, where Chick-fil-A has a presence.  Peter Wood sees the efforts to boycott the chain and to kick it off campus as symptomatic of some other trends in higher education:

Because of Chick-fil-A’s support for pro-family causes, it has recently run afoul of some gay bloggers who have called for a boycott of the restaurant chain. And as The New York Times reports, “Students at some universities have also begun trying to get the chain removed from campuses.”. . .

Students, of course, are well within their rights to criticize the company and to circulate petitions, and Chik-fil-A is well within its rights to support pro-family causes even as it pursues business opportunities on college and university campuses.  . . .I don’t see a free-speech issue emerging in this controversy. But I do see another instance of aggressive intolerance in higher education towards those who uphold traditional social values.

So far as I can tell, no one has accused Chick-fil-A of discriminating against gays and lesbians in its employment practices or its customer service. The incident that sparked the boycott campaign was a Pennsylvania Chick-fil-A restaurant’s provision of sandwiches and brownies to a marriage seminar put on by the Pennsylvania Family Institute—a group that opposes gay marriage and has been characterized by activists as anti-gay. The seminar in Harrisburg is “The Art of Marriage:  Getting to the Heart of God’s Design.”

Presumably Chick-fil-A contributes to other groups that hold similar views. Does that really provide a sound reason to those who favor gay marriage to drive Chick-fil-A off campus?I think not. The campaign is unwise because it seeks to punish and stigmatize those with whom the protesters disagree. The ideal of the campus as a place where people debate their differences by means of rational arguments and well-vetted evidence has been on a downward trajectory for decades. Kicking Chick-fil-A off campus is a reductio ad absurdum of the now-common tactic of roaring at your supposed opponents. The company, after all, isn’t busy on campus promoting an anti-gay marriage agenda. It’s just selling chicken sandwiches.

Protests like the one aimed at Chick-fil-A are partly or even mostly attempts to exhibit the power of the protesters. That aim has nothing to do with winning the argument—is gay marriage a good social policy or a mistaken one?—and everything to do with controlling the narrative. Only those who agree with the protesters are granted a legitimate voice hereafter. Roar loud enough and you may intimidate the target, but that’s of less importance than pumping up excitement among followers and creating a secondary wave of self-censorship among others who correctly surmise that it is dangerous to disagree.

via Is Chick-fil-A Anti-Gay? – Innovations – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Do you think gays are overplaying their hand?  They get legal rights, civil unions, in many places since they have the moral high ground same-sex marriage.  Do they need to persecute people who do not agree with them?

HT:  tODD

Saying grace

The Religious News Service reports on a study about how many Americans have a prayer of thanksgiving before meals:

These days, 44 percent of Americans report saying grace or a similar blessing almost every day before eating; 46 percent almost never say it, leaving just a statistical sliver in between, Putnam and Campbell report in their recently published book, “American Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides Us.”

“We are hard-pressed to think of many other behaviors that are so common among one half the population and rare among the other half—maybe carrying a purse,” Putnam and Campbell write.

Yet unlike wearing a purse, grace is often a private act: a quiet prayer around a kitchen table, a quick thanks in a crowded restaurant, or a bowed head before a bowl of soup.

“Saying grace is a very personalized form of religious expression,” Campbell said in an interview. “It’s something you do in your home, with your family.”

The privacy of saying grace—it’s not often shouted from rooftops—makes it a better measure of religious commitment than asking people if they go to church, Campbell said. Giving thanks for food isn’t generally said or done to impress the neighbors.

But the private prayer has strong connections to public positions, especially political ones, according to Putnam and Campbell. “Indeed, few things about a person correspond as tightly to partisanship as grace saying,” the scholars write in “American Grace.”

The more often you say grace, the more likely you are to identify with the Republican Party, Putnam and Campbell report. By turns, of course, the less you say grace, the more likely you are to identify with Democrats, the scholars said.

But there is one big exception to the prayer-politics connection. Eighty-five percent of African Americans report saying grace daily, a far higher rate than even Mormons, evangelicals, and mainline Protestants, the runners-up in grace-saying. The rate for evangelicals, for instance, is 58 percent. Yet, blacks remain stalwarts in the Democratic Party.

via Comment on “How, or if, you give thanks speaks volumes”.

Only 58% of evangelicals pray before they eat?  So 42% do not?  That sounds odd.  I wonder in what sense the non-prayers are evangelical.  I also don’t understand the correlation between Republicanism and saying grace.  Aren’t Republicans supposed to be the big money materialists?  Have Democrats really become that secularist?  It doesn’t surprise me that African Americans pray so much. But why do you think all of this is?

By the way, some time ago I sort of complained about the ubiquitous Lutheran table prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest. . . .”  I’m over that.  Now I think it’s a good prayer, and we’ve started to use it.  It’s especially fitting for Advent!

Saying thanks before meals is a good way to cultivate the consciousness of vocation.  In thanking God, as the source of our daily bread, we recognize that He works through the farmers, the bakers, the hands that prepared the meal, and everyone else involved in the vast network of mutual interdependence that is vocation.

Thanksgiving food

Why do most people like white meat better than dark meat? Isn’t the latter juicier and much more flavorful?

Do you have dishes that have been passed down in your family from time immemorial? That you must have, even though no one particularly likes them?

I just learned that someone else shares my taste for what a recipe I describe as “white on white on white on white.” And calls it the same thing! Do any of the rest of you? Do you know what it is?

Use this space to rhapsodize about your favorite Thanksgiving foods.

Deep-fried beer & chicken-fried bacon

Texas cuisine. . . .

The beer is placed inside a pocket of salty, pretzel-like dough and then dunked in oil at 375 degrees for about 20 seconds, a short enough time for the confection to remain alcoholic.

When diners take a bite the hot beer mixes with the dough in what is claimed to be a delicious taste sensation.

Inventor Mark Zable said it had taken him three years to come up with the cooking method and a patent for the process is pending. He declined to say whether any special ingredients were involved.

His deep-fried beer will be officially unveiled in a fried food competition at the Texas state fair later this month.

Five ravioli-like pieces will sell for $5 (£3) and the Texas Alcoholic Commission has already ruled that people must be aged over 21 to try it.

Mr Zable has so far been deep frying Guinness but said he may switch to a pale ale in future.

He said: “Nobody has been able to fry a liquid before. It tastes like you took a bite of hot pretzel dough and then took a drink of beer.” Mr Zable previously invented dishes including chocolate-covered strawberry waffle balls and jalapeño corndog shrimps.

Last year’s winner of the Texas state fair fried food competition was a recipe for deep-fried butter.

via Deep-fried beer invented in Texas – Telegraph.

HT: The Pearcey Report

Would you like some chicken-fried bacon with that?

Occasionally throughout history, a visionary comes along who should be honored for his Herculean efforts in swimming upstream against the tide of political correctness.

Such a man is Frank Sodolak, who is pretty darned sure he invented chicken-fried bacon.

“I ain’t never heard of it anywhere else,” Sodolak said. 

Sodolak, owner of Sodolak’s Original Country Inn in this small town (population 489) about 13 miles southwest of College Station — that’s about 100 miles northeast of Austin — serves the breaded and deep-fried bacon as one of his appetizers. For that totally brown meal, he says some people order it as an appetizer to go with their chicken-fried steak. . .

Sodolak makes his chicken-fried bacon by double-dipping uncooked bacon strips in milk and flour. Then he tosses the breaded strips in a Fryolator and nukes them in animal/vegetable oil for three or four minutes.

For that final touch, the chicken-fried bacon is served with a bowl of cream gravy. . . .

“I’ve never heard of anything worse,” said Jayne Hurley, senior nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington D.C., the same bunch of food frumps who warned us about theater popcorn, guacamole and Chinese food.

“They’ve taken fat, they’ve doubled-coated it in fat, they’ve fried it in more fat, and then served it with a side order of fat.”

HT:  George Clay


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