Super E. Coli

A food-poisoning epidemic in Europe is reportedly caused by a super-toxic strain of the E. coli bacteria:

Scientists on Thursday blamed Europe’s worst recorded food-poisoning outbreak on a “super-toxic” strain of E. coli bacteria that may be brand new.

But while suspicion has fallen on raw tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce as the source of the germ, researchers have been unable to pinpoint the food responsible for the frightening illness, which has killed at least 18 people, sickened more than 1,600 and spread to least 10 European countries.

An alarmingly large number of victims — about 500 — have developed kidney complications that can be deadly.

Chinese and German scientists analyzed the DNA of the E. coli bacteria and determined that the outbreak was caused by “an entirely new, super-toxic” strain that contains several antibiotic-resistant genes, according to a statement from the Shenzhen, China-based laboratory BGI. It said the strain appeared to be a combination of two types of E. coli.

“This is a unique strain that has never been isolated from patients before,” Hilde Kruse, a food safety expert at the World Health Organization, told The Associated Press. The new strain has “various characteristics that make it more virulent and toxin-producing” than the many E. coli strains people naturally carry in their intestines.

via Outbreak in Europe blamed on ‘super-toxic’ strain – Yahoo! News.

The specific source of the outbreak has not yet been pinpointed.  In the meantime, stay away from European vegetables.  Let’s hope the super bacteria can be isolated and dealt with before it spreads throughout the world.

Food & ideology

A Washington Post food writer, Andreas Viestad, discusses the Italian futurist artist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, who tried to carry his aesthetic into food with his 1932 Futurist Cookbook.

 

Marinetti was the leader of the Italian futurists, a poet and demagogue closely associated with the ruling fascists but often in conflict with them. (He criticized them for being too traditional and for their anti-Semitism.) He is best remembered for his many manifestos calling for a break with the past. One of his most memorable and controversial was the “Manifesto Against Past-Loving Venice,” wherein he suggested that the “small, stinking canals” of Venice be “filled with the rubble of the past” and paved over and that it be rebuilt as a modern militarized and industrialized city.

His venture into gastronomy started in 1926, when in another manifesto he called for a ban on pasta, describing it as “an absurd Italian gastronomic religion.” The favorite food of Italians, Marinetti claimed, made them lazy, tradition-bound and pacifist. He was met with massive protests. Petitions were signed. Housewives took to the streets. An enraged nationalistic journalist even challenged Marinetti to a duel. Marinetti accepted and — as happened so often in his colorful career — lost. He was gravely injured.

Marinetti’s many stunts made him famous, but they are also why he was seldom taken seriously. Today he is an obscure figure, even in Italy. But when I read “Futurist Cookbook,” I have little doubt he was on to something. Many of his ideas have since become commonplace. His proposal to make a cuisine that consisted of lighter sauces, bite-size dishes and “a consistent lightening of weight and reduction of volume of food-stuffs” is pretty uncontroversial, even though it sounded strange at the time.

Other ideas have an uncanny similarity to what is happening at the frontline of creative cuisine today. A recurring theme in Marinetti’s work, for instance, is the participation of all senses while dining, as illustrated by “A Tactile Dinner Party.” In another futurist meal idea, a house is built on a tongue of land between ocean and lake, and the smells from the sea, the lake and a nearby barn all contribute to the experience. Several other meals involve scent or music. When Blumenthal at the Fat Duck asks a diner to don headphones and listen to the sound of the sea while eating an oyster, he clearly has entered some of the same territory.

Similarly, Marinetti’s chapter “Invitation to Chemistry” has been answered by today’s modernist cooks, who are both lauded and criticized for being technology-focused and for using texture- and flavor-altering chemical compounds in their food. Playing with the shape and the appearance of the food is pretty commonplace today. At El Bulli, I was once served a dish consisting of two perfectly simple raw razor clams, one real and one faux. Playing with the diner’s expectations is also one of the ideas behind my futurist-inspired recipe for an orange-colored, orange-smelling dish that doesn’t actually contain orange (see recipe, Page E6).

via The Gastronomer: What if one futurist had made his ideas more delicious? – The Washington Post.

Cuisine is an art form, no less than music and painting, and I have often wondered about the extent to which a particular approach to food is expressive of ideology and worldview.  For example, Asian food is directly tied to Taoism, with the putting together of sweet and sour, smooth and crunchy, etc., expressing the yin and the yang, the balance of opposites that is the key to harmony in the universe.  I have known Christians who would not think of partaking of books, movies, or music that are not “Christian” who nevertheless love to eat Chinese food, not caring about its worldview as long as it tastes good.  (Do realize I’m not opposing Asian cuisine, far from it, any more than I’m advocating staying away from other art forms that aren’t Christian.  The aesthetic elements, whether food that tastes good or art that is in good taste, already fall under the created order of God’s rule.)

Marinetti’s ghastly ideas–the rejection of tradition (making Italians give up pasta?) and the embrace of chemicals and technology–are clearly modernist.  His radicalism and his assaults on ordinary human values–thinking they can be changed by mere willpower–are also clearly fascist.

So is the traditional arrangement of meat and potato and vegetables separately on a plate an expression of American individualism, as opposed to the communal pots of many combined ingredients that more communal cultures favor?  Are casseroles favored at church pot luck dinners because in their mushing together of diverse ingredients they express Christian community?  And what are we to make of the postmodernist touch in so many restaurants today of stacking the different foods on top of each other?

How does fast food express the consumer capitalism of the pop culture?  Can you tell someone’s political beliefs by what they eat?

OK, how far can we take this?  (I’m being partially serious and partially unserious.)

 

I’ve written about the Futurists and their very real (but often minimized) connection to Fascism.  They demonstrate that Fascism was most certainly NOT conservative, but instead “the latest thing” much beloved by  “cutting edge” artist and thinkers.

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.


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