Wednesday, September 30

Global Seed Vault


I posted this on LookingSeeingSaying last semester but I have to post it again because it is absolutely outrageous. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located on the Island of Svalbard, Norway, approximately halfway between the mainland and the North Pole, is exactly what it sounds like. A vault, hidden deep in the frozen ground, where copies of many of the world's seeds are stored. Wangari Maathai makes an interesting point, in support of the seed vault, about genetic engineering and privatization of seeds endangering farmers crops. According to her the vault is a place where the crops of humanity can be stored in safety.

What a way to install fear.


Thursday, September 24

Preventing invasions

With all the invasive species coming through the various modes of transport -the "salties" into the lakes, flights from "climatically-proximate" locations, etc., I started thinking about the border regulations in place for protecting each country's ecosystem. As a traveller, I was rather ignorant of the consequences of bringing food across borders- my food stash has been confiscated at Customs several times.

The U.S. Customs has a list of regulations regarding agricultural/ food products (yes, they confiscated my coconut jam once), which is a little less extensive compared to the biosecurity regulations of countries like Australia and New Zealand. (List of items prohibited from NZ here) On a trip to NZ 10 years ago, I was rather upset that the NZ Customs took away my apple that I had brought from Singapore (which was imported from NZ. On a sidenote, 90% of all food consumed in Singapore is imported, that'll be another blog post...) There the penalties are higher than mere confiscation (i.e. fines and perhaps, prosecution), which is probably a stronger deterrent for travellers who unknowingly carry invasive species that endanger environments.

Here's a photo from photographer Taryn Simon's book "An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar". Reading the list of what people have tried to bring into the country, I don't want to know what strange bugs/ invasives tag along with passengers whose suitcases pass customs unchecked.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Contraband Room
John F. Kennedy International Airport
Queens, New York

African cane rats infested with maggots, African yams (dioscorea), Andean potatoes, Bangladeshi cucurbit plants, bush meat, cherimoya fruit, curry leaves (murraya), dried orange peels, fresh eggs, giant African snail, impala skull cap, jackfruit seeds, June plum, kola nuts, mango, okra, passion fruit, pig nose, pig mouths, pork, raw poultry (chicken), South American pig head, South American tree tomatoes, South Asian lime infected with citrus canker, sugar cane (poaceae), uncooked meats, unidentified sub tropical plant in soil.

All items in the photograph were seized from the baggage of passengers arriving in the U.S. at JFK Terminal 4 from abroad over a 48-hour period. All seized items are identified, dissected, and then either ground up or incinerated. JFK processes more international passengers than any other airport in the United States.

© Taryn Simon

Taken from here

--georgi p

Remind Me

This goes through an average day of an office worker in Britain but with everything informationalized and diagramed in a graphic (graphic design) way. In the beginning it goes through a brief intro to breakfast and if you keep watching to about the middle when she reaches her lunch break, it will go through an illustration of where and how her milk shake was manufactured, etc. and of course everything else is pretty interesting.


Monday, September 21

New Roomate

Dear exterminator,

Get that thing out of my house, now!

The other day I arrived home after a long day of work and school and went straight to my kitchen to prepare dinner. Upon grabbing the bread from the refrigerator to prepare a first class meal of toast and peanut butter, I was greeted by a dark gray mouse. He was hiding behind the toaster and ran across the window sill, behind the dishes, and underneath a towel lying on the far counter. To say the least, I freaked out!!!! Now I wasn't as bad as my mother who upon seeing a mouse in her house in the mid 90s stood on the top of the couch and screamed for what seemed like 3 hours. But it definitely got my heart racing. And instead of cornering the mouse and finishing this silliness once and for all, I backed my way out of the room to calm down (I was afraid to turn my back on a 1 inch mouse in case he attacked me like a million pitbulls fighting for their last meal). After catching my breath I realized this might potentially be my end. I was the only one in the house. I went back armed with my running shoes on and the longest broom I could find. I approached the dish towel in which the mouse had ran under five minutes previous and wIth one epic blow struck the towel and sent it floating to the floor, with no mouse. The mouse had somehow escaped to a new hiding place, and I had a strange feeling he was just waiting to attack. So I ran back into the other room to call everyone I knew. Being alone I needed consoling....

and the story continues

So how does this relate to ecology of food? George is a parasite or part of predation, living off of me and harming me, and I get no benefit. Well maybe my benefit is that I realize the utter fragility of life. So maybe its a mutualism. Either way its the latest story I posted in my own blog check it out, I sometimes write about food issues.


The specialist of specialty diets....

NEWS FLASH! (kind of)

Researchers in Sweden have just discovered a number of new species of something called a "bristleworm" - a creature that feeds at a rare but rich banquet table at the bottom of the ocean: Whales carcasses. These islands of nutrients are called "whale falls" in the marine bio biz.

When such a carcass does sink onto a particular part of the sea floor it represents the equivalent of 2000 years of nutrients that the same surface area would otherwise receive drifting to the bottom from the upper ocean.

( "When it rains it pours" - even in the ocean!)

These Whale Falls support diverse communities of organisms. Some wander by and take easy and opportunistic advantage, such as sharks or generalist scavenger fish. Others, however, live (quite literally) for this very unique culinary event.

Some specialize of the blubbler or flesh. Others, like the bristleworms discovered in this research feed of the specific bacteria that feeds of the whale flesh! Talk about an ecological niche.

As we see, trophic webs can develop from ot only autotrophic primary producers like plants! Decomposition and the predatation, parasitism, etc that follow also generate complex food ecologies.....

Thursday, September 17

did some research and found an interesting way to look at food globally, and i put these particular maps together to sort of see how they relate and to generally analyze.
i think you can sort of come up to several conclusions yourself...


Wednesday, September 16

wait, so what's an antioxidant? how does that relate to us? OOH right. prevents oxidation cascades.

giving oxygen the electrons they want... doesnt sound so enlightening... but this link here sounds a bit more enlightening. (click here for article)

so after going over oxidation and antioxidants, a lot of the explanations didnt convince me of any merit, or of any value. our minds usually are retentive to what we use often, and i don't see myself holding a long conversation with my art school student peers about oxidation cascades.... or reading about how oxidation cascades are destructive to lipids while i have a beer with my buddies... "so guys, have you heard about those phospholipids getting screwed over by oxidation processes?"

I don't really feel like im benefiting from reading about super basic chemistry unless i want to see how deep the rabbit hole goes by unraveling the full extent and theories of organic and bio molecular behaviors. so what does this all mean and why am i reading this? "antioxidants" prevents a chain reaction of oxidation by "giving oxygen the electrons they want" as Harold McGee so eloquently puts it in his book On Food and Cooking, The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. well, reading sort of more vernacular and practical/applicable articles help.

Tuesday, September 15

More on Entomophagy

A while back I saw this photo essay by the BBC on people in Nigeria who took a bite out of seasonal locusts swarms.

Excerpts from the captions:

Swarms of migrating locusts seasonally strip the semi-arid region of its scanty vegetation and crops. But Gambo Ibrahim, 27, a locust hunter, says the people of Borno have found a way of converting the desert locust’s assault into an annual banquet. They eat the locusts which they call "desert shrimps". [Ibrahim:] “We make a powder of salted hot chilli which we call yaji. You eat the locust by dipping it in the yaji.”

Hard to say what I would do if I happened to be traveling through during an event like this. At the very least there would have to be something to wash it down, ideally strong drink.

-Will Capellaro

Monday, September 14

Along the lines of Chris's post on waste=food, I thought I'd post this lunchbox, a concept from the design team of Dunne & Raby.

This is a piece from a series called "Is this your future" (2004) ? (If all goes well, perhaps the answer to the question is in one sense, yes?)

Of course, in one sense, it is really also our past and present. People have been (and still do) use "nightsoil" to fertilize for crops. These days some like to call it "Humanure...."

Sunday, September 13

Hushgrubbies at Bugfest

Last week we talked about alternatives to eating meat...and eating bugs instead. What if we could go 50 %? Something interesting to think about. The video below is one take that the NC Museum of Natural Science made in celebration of "Bugfest" in Sept. 2007. It is interesting to see the different reactions to each person, especially the difference in age. To a little boy it seems "so cool."

If there was a menu like this one, I might try it myself!

Posted by: Kait Franklin

Invasion of the Asian Carp

We discussed a little about the interactions and keystone species in the last class, about how the removal of starfish resulted in reduced biodiversity. The addition of alien species wreaks havoc too.

Sometime ago, I read about the invasion of Asian carp in the Illinois River (“Asian Carp Ground Zero”). The species of Asian carp (silver carp) were introduced into the river by accident. The silver carp is native to the Pacific in Eastern Asia and the Amur river in Russia. In the early 1970s, they were used to control the growth of algae in catfish farms in the South. The Mississippi floods of 1993 spread the species to other bodies of water, and as they prefer colder waters, they moved quickly up north. They are almost in the Great Lakes- but installed in the Chicago Shipping Canal is the “last line of defense”, an electrical fence made to repel anything that moves in the water.

The silver carp does not have as many predators here in US waters as it would in its native habitats. The large size of the carp (it can grow up to 1m/ 3.3feet long and 27 kg / 59.5 lbs), even the young ones, makes it difficult for native predators in the Illinois River to prey on them, hence the overwhelming growth in numbers.

As it feeds on plankton in copious amounts (up to half of its body weight a day), it breeds quickly and crowds out the native species of fish, such as the gizzard shad and largemouth buffalo. Apart from invading the rivers (90% of the fish in Illinois River are silver carp), the carp pose a danger to boaters by jumping out of the water when their boats pass, breaking their noses, bruising arms, et al.

Jumping carp video

Scientists working with the USDA are trying to solve this problem... and here are some of the solutions that might work. 3 uses for the invasive carp:
  • Animal Feed- The Saint Louis zoo is looking to use the carp as food for its animals
  • Entertainment - Redneck Fishing Tournament in Bath, IL. The annual tournament sees people/ rednecks trying to catch these silver carp sans fishing rod. Some use baseball bats.
  • Food- We can eat them! Fishermen suggested that a change in its name might make it more appealing to consumers. I wonder how it tastes like grilled with garlic sauce.
-georgi p

Saturday, September 12


I think this documentary has some really interesting points on how we have psychologically dislocated ourselves from nature and physically continued to be a part of it- a psychotic and destructive part of it!

topics covered include:
development in china
nike sneakers as waste product
cradle to cradle design
Ford motors
William McDonough
Michael Braungart (you will love this guy)

-chris c

Friday, September 11

It's Time for Real / Eat Local, Eat Real

like the same informative movie/animation as MAFF's "Ensuring the Future of Food", Canada creates an animation of the food issues of shipping, the economy, and the environment. it's pretty entertaining as well as eye opening, making us aware of apparent issues and hopefully changes old habits to better ones.


Interactive Diagram of US Consumption (Including Food) NYTimes

This interactive graphic shows in detail (when you click an area of the diagram) how much we (Americans) spend on 84,000 products in about 200 categories. In food, this includes fast food, bananas even, what we drink & so on. the way the diagram works is that the larger the shapes are, the larger the spending/consuming.

You can click on the individual shapes to view more detailed information. I don't want to spoil anything, but i found it surprising that the largest part of consumption of food in the United States are fast food and full service restaurants. One of the smallest is the spending of fresh produce/vegetables. It goes to show that most of us may be working most of the time and don't have time to cook... and perhaps makes a majority of us eat unhealthy... making most of us go to the hospital for issues regarding obesity, heart problems, digestion or liver problems, etc, etc.


Ensuring the Future of Food (Japan)

(YouTube link here)

I really liked the presentation of
the issues that Japan faced in
terms of their food ecology. I also
realized that some of the issues
Japan face are some issues that
we face as well, in terms of
local food products, smaller food
industries, farmer's markets,
what's in season, but most
importantly, eating something that
is healthy and sustainable.

this was sort of a great taste of
Japanese propaganda... haha.

-jasper whang

Various Lectures/Talks on Food

I find this entertaining to watch,
because many people here give
their ideas/solutions to several
issues regarding food (in this
post/instance) and its fairly
educating as well as interesting.
it's a lot richer than an article in
my opinion. I watched many of these
and all in all lot's of them have
radical views but bring up very
important issues. It's a good place
to enrich your knowledge of food
issues (or anything else regarding
global interests of culture, tech,
design, science, art, crisis's etc)

Jasper Whang

A New Way to Package & Market Watermelons

By growing these watermelons into cubes, it made the watermelons a lot easier to package, stack and ship to various parts in Japan. I imagine this cuts down on shipping costs by increasing the number of watermelons in one trip, conversely reducing the amount of trips needed. This also saves a lot space if needed to place in the refrigerator, gives a lot more convenience when cutting and perhaps eating. I don't know, just threw that in there.

However, this whole idea comes with the compromise of
a whopping eighty three dollars. In my opinion, no matter how
interesting and cool it might be to have a square watermelon in
your kitchen, i would rather eat the clumsy round ones for
significantly less, even if it used a bit more fossil fuels than
the square ones.

posted by Jasper Whang

Wednesday, September 9

Freaky Fruit & Veg

Of course long before the anti GMO Greenpeace ads we looked at this past week of carrots made to look like scorpions, gardeners the world over have been finding eggplants that look like Nixon or potatoes that seem to be uncannily shaped like Rhode Island.

I came across this slideshow of just such vegetables, mixed in with others that have been perfectly tricked-out to resemble various things, from Buddhas to iPods, but all accomplished in a non-GMO way.

Some take a little more interpretation than others, and some you'd rather not have thought too hard about....

Friday, September 4

A Coalition of Compromise

We discussed the Food Pyramid today: the strange Masonic attachment to pyramids, the 70s graphic treatment, and the questionable presentation of its guidance. One questions whether or not this is an effective tool for our country and its problems with obesity, health-care, and education. Though MyPyramid does have a web site, check it out at .

I want to find out more about how this abomination came to be. As a designer I have had to defend good design from irrational decisions made by highers-up, and then try to balance some well-intended but esoteric decision that makes you wish they had scuttled the project. MyPyramid smacks of such cringe-worthy compromise. In addition to other crimes against the people, someone has been robbed of a portfolio piece!

The group responsible for the updated Food Pyramid calls itself the Nutrient Rich Food Coalition. The NRFC's website says it is a "Coalition of American Commodity Organizations" whose mission is to "make it easier for consumers to build and enjoy healthier diets by getting the most nutrition from their calories consistent with the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans." This is from the NRFC's member page, . This page also shows from what interests their funding comes from.

If they just want to make things clear, then why is the pyramid update a retrograde maneuver in terms of usefulness? I'm hungry for the inside scoop. To answer my questions, and hopefully yours too, I'd like to invite someone who was involved with the project to speak to our class, either during class or at lunch afterwards. Dan Kraemer is the principal of IA Collaborative, a Chicago design studio who consulted on the project.

I don't know if IA was involved with the MyPyramid. What I saw at a lecture he gave at Northwestern was before he went out to DC to make his pitch to NRFC. He presented a clear solution that steered away from the pyramid towards a circular presentation of information. To me it had the promise to be useful to everyday Americans. Based on ethnographic research and focused on the food shopping experience as a place to best guide decision-making towards an idea of balance.

The Masons are a shadowy group that are especially powerful in Washington: any solution that did not feature a polyhedron was probably considered hopeless. Hopefully Dan will be able to tell us what went wrong.

Wednesday, September 2

JUST FOOD: a book reviewed

Implicit in the first class discussion on what food is (from an energetic and biochemical point) is the question of sustainability, which will will pursue throughout the semester. Although there are many facets to the notion of "sustainability," one has to do with where our food comes from. A farmer's market just open in my neighborhood and I am going today, excited about the possibility to buy more food that I know is locally produced. Some are convinced this is the key to responsible eating, and some even go by the moniker of "locavores" to assert the local nature of how they fill their bellies.

A review of a book that is critical of the locavore movement & philsophy just came out today in the Christian Science Monitor. The reviewer for the sums up the argument of the author, James McWilliams, as such:

An emphasis on local foods, he writes, crowds out more complicated but accurate gauges of environmental good only because, in his view, it is as much about “identity politics and anticorporate angst” as it is “the realistic achievement of a more sensible system of food production.”

The review seems fair-handed enough, but comes down on the side of McWilliam being a bit of a grouch on the matter, perhaps taking too much an aim to the hipsterism of locavores than anything else. Maybe, as the saying goes, he is "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" in his critique of an otherwise well-meaning practice of eating local?

NPR just interviewed McWilliams, Michael Pollan, and others on this topic of sustainability.

We'll be following up in the idea of bio-regionalism, "food miles," etc. later in the class, but timely mention as you start into our exploration of the ecology of food...