The future of bread comes from a lab — here’s why that’s good

Grist.org - Thu, 05/07/2015 - 21:57

The Bread Lab has been receiving a lot of buzz recently. It’s graced the pages of the New York Times, New York Magazine, Mother Jones — and it even inspired its own section in Dan Barber’s opus The Third Plate. If the Bread Lab were a schmancy new restaurant run by an innovative chef, the coverage wouldn’t be too surprising. Instead, the Bread Lab is a part of Washington State University’s ag extension program.

“Hold the scone — why should I care about a dang agriculture program?” you may ask. First off, great topical pun. Second, the Bread Lab is shaking up the carb world as we know it. Plant breeders at public universities have historically concentrated on yield when breeding wheat and other grains. As a result, America grows 10 percent of the world’s wheat supply, but the resulting flavorless toast is, well, pretty milquetoast. Plus, unless you’re a big farm, it’s hard to make a living on commodity wheat’s low prices.

That’s where the Bread Lab comes in. The plant breeders there work with farmers and bakers to develop new lines of wheat. They test the strains with high-tech machines and good ol’ fashioned bakers. The resulting breads can run the gamut from surprisingly chocolatey loaves to delightfully buttery baguettes. Grand Central Bakery, with stores in Seattle and Portland, uses some flour that has gone through the Bread Lab. Head baker Mel Darbyshire says that particular strain has a “bright, fresh” flavor. This isn’t your chalky, flavorless bin flour.

By growing a specialty wheat, and cutting out a bunch of middlemen, the farmer can get a better price for her wheat. The Bread Lab could be an important tool for keeping some mid-size farmers afloat.

As the Bread Lab is right in our home state, we had to go see this intersection of science and dough for ourselves. Watch what we learned!

Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Food, Science
Categories: Environment

Shell’s oil rig is already falling apart — and it hasn’t even left for the Arctic

Grist.org - Thu, 05/07/2015 - 21:56

In today’s HOLY SH*T WTF!? news: The Noble Discoverer, Royal Dutch Shell’s oil drilling rig, already failed a routine Coast Guard inspection — months before it is even scheduled to leave for the Arctic. VICE News reports that inspectors found malfunctioning anti-pollution machinery aboard the rig last month.

This is one hell of a bad omen for everyone.

Why? Here’s a little history: In 2012, Shell stationed the Kulluk, an oil drilling barge, and two tug boats off the coast of Alaska to drill five oil wells in the Chukchi Sea. After multiple failed drilling attempts, the Kulluk ended up wrecked in the Aleutian Islands. The disastrous oil “exploration” mission ended with the rig’s handlers pleading guilty to eight felonies for marine crimes.

With that kind of track record, it’s no surprise environmentalists and concerned citizens are up in arms about the company’s plan to return to the Arctic this July.

Naturally, Shell officials assure us that everything’s JUST DANDY. From VICE:

Shell spokesman Curtis Smith told VICE News that the oil company still has full confidence in the vessel and its contractor.

“This system has since been upgraded and passed inspections prior,” Smith wrote in an e-mailed response to questions. “This is a case of mechanical repairs, which from time to time are required on any equipment.”

This isn’t the first “repair” the company has had to make, however. In December, the Noble Discoverer’s handlers reported that an oil separator and other instruments were out of commission, VICE reports. “Noble Discoverer’s crew struggled to deal with a buildup of water below decks and rigged up a makeshift system to discharge water from the engine room straight overboard — then tried to hide that system from the Coast Guard, federal investigators concluded.”

But despite the glitches, the rig continues to make its way to Seattle, which would be the home base for the Arctic drilling operation.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray threw a roadblock at Shell earlier this week when he announced the Port of Seattle would have to apply for a new land-use permit in order to allow Shell to use its cargo terminal. During a conference in Houston on Tuesday, however, Shell officials announced ominously that they have a “backup plan” if they are blocked from using Seattle’s port, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

If that’s not doomy enough for you, here’s another taste of the email Shell’s Smith sent to VICE:

“In the meantime, it’s widely accepted that global demand for energy will double by the year 2050 — so, we’ll need energy in all forms, and Alaska’s outer continental shelf resources could play a crucial role in helping meet that energy challenge,” he wrote.

ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME, SHELL? Drilling the shit out of our planet will NEVER be an answer to solving our global energy needs.

A message to the sane people in the world: It’s time to start rolling out our renewable energy options. Let’s just do it before these shills catalyze a total climate clusterfuck.


Filed under: Article, Cities, Climate & Energy
Categories: Environment

Will millennials shop at the new Whole Foods bargain store?

Grist.org - Thu, 05/07/2015 - 20:58

Attention fellow young people! Whole Foods (known to your grumpy, vegetarian parents as “Whole Paycheck”) plans to open a separate chain with cheaper items for the under-35 crowd, because we are so stinkin’ poor. (The company hasn’t disclosed the name yet, but my money’s on Half Foods.)

Hadley Malcolm of USA Today reports:

Co-CEO Walter Robb said the stores will have “modern, streamlined design, innovative technology and a curated selection.” And while they’ll be aimed at Millennials, Robb said the stores will appeal “to anyone looking for high-quality fresh food at great prices.”

Whole Foods is already negotiating leases for the new format and the stores will start opening next year. But executives declined to give details about where and how many, saying more information would come by Labor Day.

Whole Foods is just the latest corporate food giant looking to appeal to the well-educated, dirt-poor, and exceptionally picky millennial generation: Panera dropped artificial ingredients, Chipotle is removing GMOs, and McDonalds is testing kale breakfast bowls. These initiatives often backfire, however, as young consumers argue that the corporations base the changes on money rather than science and health.

Cheaper fresh food is a necessity for the health of any population — young and old — and especially in urban environments with little access to fresh groceries. So the stores certainly could be helpful. But what most millennials crave (and most neighborhoods need) are small, local businesses that not only offer those items at reasonable prices, but also pay decent wages and keep the money in the community.

Would a discount Whole Foods appeal to this poor, picky millennial? Cheap is exciting! So is organic! But big corporate anything? I’d give it a:

Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Food
Categories: Environment

Blame McDonald’s for James Franco

Grist.org - Thu, 05/07/2015 - 20:42

Today in celebrity news, James Franco published an editorial in the Washington Post in defense of something very dear to his very famous heart. No, not the Kickstarter to fund the Kickstarter for his upcoming biopic James Franco According to James Franco — McDonald’s.

As it turns out, James Franco (according to James Franco) was once a UCLA dropout and wannabe actor who got a job at McDonald’s and then proceeded to force his customers and co-workers alike to listen to him practice accents. Franco writes:

I was given the late shift drive-thru position. I wore a purple visor and purple polo shirt and took orders over a headset. I refrained from reading on the job, but soon started putting on fake accents with the customers to practice for my scenes in acting class.

Yes, James Franco was that guy.

The point of Franco’s article seems to be that McDonald’s is willing to give struggling actors employment until they make it as America’s favorite brooding heartthrob, and that’s a good thing, despite the company’s recent decline. To paraphrase: What’s with all the bad vibes, America? Give McD’s a break!

What Franco fails to point out is that most McDonald’s employees aren’t floundering artists with accents to finesse. The majority of fast food workers are actually adults who work there because they have bills to pay, and one in four fast food employees is raising a child. James Franco also fails to mention that it is difficult, if not impossible, to survive on the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, which is why fast food workers across the nation are striking in demand of $15 an hour and the right to unionize.

He writes: “All I know is that when I needed McDonald’s, McDonald’s was there for me. When no one else was.”

Yes, James Franco, that is all you know — your own, brief and untroubled experience working the drive-thru line before you got scooped up by Judd Apatow. Now, here’s an idea: instead of defending your golden days at the golden arches, why not lend your considerable star power to helping the underpaid workers in an industry that made nearly $200 billion last year? I mean, after the biopic is done, of course.

Filed under: Food, Living
Categories: Environment

Would you like some criticism on your GMO-free Chipotle burrito?

Grist.org - Thu, 05/07/2015 - 20:00

It’s been fascinating to watch the media reaction to Chipotle’s announcement that it was removing most genetically engineered plant ingredients from its menu. If past were prologue, there would have been some thoughtful nodding, some attaboys, and a lot of analysis about whether the change would help Chipotle’s bottom line. But instead, writers and editorial boards lambasted Chipotle.

Here are a few headlines, assembled by Marc Brazeau at the Food and Farm Discussion Lab:

TIME: Why Chipotle Mexican Grill Going GMO-Free is Terrible News
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC: What Chipotle’s Ban on GMOs Says About Us
SLATE: Chipotle Wants to Sell “Food With Integrity.” Dropping GMOs Is the Wrong Way to Do It.
DAILY BEAST: We’re Paranoid About GMO Foods Because of Pseudo-Science
BLOOMBERG VIEW: Chipotle Bans Credibility
NPR: Why We Can’t Take Chipotle’s GMO Announcement All That Seriously
CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Chipotle’s GMO message is muddled
WASHINGTON POST: Chipotle’s GMO gimmick is hard to swallow
NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Chipotle Is Promoting Opportunistic Anti-Science Hysteria
LOS ANGELES TIMES: Chipotle’s junk science on GMOs
MOTHER JONES: Chipotle Says It’s Getting Rid of GMOs. Here’s the Problem.
VOX: Chipotle will stop serving GMO foods — despite zero evidence they’re harmful to eat
GIZMODO: Chipotle’s Anti-GMO Stance Is Some Anti-Science Pandering Bullshit
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Why Tyson antibiotic-free chicken is a bigger deal than GMO-free Chipotle

The only mainstream media support for Chipotle that I could find came from Virginia Postrel at Bloomberg, though she was simply arguing that it was a canny business move:

If, like me, you consider genetically modified crops a beneficial example of scientific ingenuity, you’re probably tempted to dismiss Chipotle’s decision as nothing more than a sop to anti-technology superstition … In fact, there’s a valid strategic reason for the switch. Customers who believe that GMOs are bad are happy, of course. But even if you don’t care about GMOs, the decision sends a positive signal. It’s a high-profile sign that Chipotle is paying close attention to the ingredients in its food.

Compare this to the affable reaction when Cheerios went GMO-free last year.

Why the shift? Maybe journalists have soured on the anti-GMO movement as they’ve learned more about it. Maybe there’s a rising frustration with fad-peddling quactivists like the Food Babe (who claimed victory for the Chipotle change). Or maybe it’s just the fact that these changes are disappointingly superficial: Chipotle will simply switch to corn grown with atrazine, rather than glyphosate, and herbicide-tolerant sunflowers in place of herbicide-tolerant soy.

I’m not sure exactly why this has happened, but one thing is clear: Journalists are now framing this debate in a very different way.

Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Food
Categories: Environment

Yes, plants need vibrators, too

Grist.org - Thu, 05/07/2015 - 19:37

Humor me, and imagine this: You’re a young, lithe, blossoming tomato plant. Your leaves are wide, your vine is strong and tall, and your supple yellow flowers are plump, just dying to be pollinated. But what’s a poor, lonely tomato plant to do without a bee to get the job done? Use a vibrator. Bet life as a tomato plant doesn’t look so bad now!

The relationships between bees and plants is pretty XXX-rated, Wired reports. Your high school science textbook never sounded this sexy:

Pollen is plant sperm, and bees and plants have evolved a complex sexual surrogacy over their millions of years of evolution together. Some plants lure pollinators in with a nectar cocktail, and then dump pollen on them as a price for free drinks. Some have flower parts that are only accessible with a long tongue. And some plants require stimulation before they will release their load of pollen.

Buzz-pollinated flowers wait until a bee comes along and vibrates at just the right frequency, in just the right spot, and bang! Out comes the pollen in a spew. Potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers; pumpkins, zucchinis, blueberries and cranberries: these food plants are examples of crops that require buzz pollination.

Although, uh, apparently using your girlfriend’s vibrator can work wonders on a tomato plant (chill, bro) plant vibes like the VegiBee are crafted specifically to mimic a buzzing bee (29,000-44,000 vibrations per minute — calm down!) and come with a spoon to collect pollen as it’s released. And for a cool $49.99! I need a cold shower.

Filed under: Food, Living, Science
Categories: Environment

IAEG Publishes First Aerospace & Defence Declarable Substances...

PR Web - Thu, 05/07/2015 - 19:36

The International Aerospace Environmental Group (IAEG) announced it has released the first Aerospace & Defense Declarable Substances List (AD-DSL).

(PRWeb May 07, 2015)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2015/05/prweb12708604.htm

Categories: Environment

Alcoa and Lubrizol Foundations Sponsor First A World in Motion®...

PR Web - Thu, 05/07/2015 - 19:36

A World In Motion® (AWIM) has been providing a quality STEM education experience to Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) 5th grade students for over 10 years. The AWIM curriculum is now...

(PRWeb May 07, 2015)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2015/05/prweb12708886.htm

Categories: Environment

Scenic Fine Artist Judith Lynn First to Sign with New Licensing Agency...

PR Web - Thu, 05/07/2015 - 19:36

The Chicago-based boutique licensing company offers brand and strategic planning, product development and marketing for artists and properties

(PRWeb May 07, 2015)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2015/05/prweb12709723.htm

Categories: Environment

MutualOne Bank rethinks its lighting. Chooses ThinkLite and achieves...

PR Web - Thu, 05/07/2015 - 19:36

The bank recently completed a project that retrofitted every fluorescent lamp at the corporate offices with a breakthrough LED solution from ThinkLite that immediately began to save MutualOne up to...

(PRWeb May 07, 2015)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2015/05/prweb12708537.htm

Categories: Environment

Solveforce Launches New Cable Bandwidth Plan Options in Philadelphia,...

PR Web - Thu, 05/07/2015 - 19:36

Solveforce provides cable bandwidth services in Pennsylvania. The company now assists customers in obtaining their Cable Bandwidth service for their home and/or their business or commercial...

(PRWeb May 07, 2015)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/cable/bandwidth/prweb12708781.htm

Categories: Environment

Web SEO Master Now Offers Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Businesses SEO...

PR Web - Thu, 05/07/2015 - 19:36

Web SEO Master is excited to expand to Pennsylvania offering SEO Services Provider options in May 2015. These are Turn Key Solutions to assist Philadelphia, Pennsylvania & surrounding areas.

(PRWeb May 07, 2015)

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/SEO/ServicesProvider/prweb12708819.htm

Categories: Environment

These satellites are keeping an eye on California’s underground water

Grist.org - Thu, 05/07/2015 - 19:25

One more thing space is really good for, besides wow factor: Giving us a place to keep an eye on things happening on Earth — or in some cases, even things happening under the earth — with satellites.

Specifically, these satellites can help us keep an eye on our hidden water supplies. At the moment, California’s surface water is so scarce that the state has been sucking it from underground at an incredible rate. Groundwater reserves (like aquifers) are built up over decades or centuries, but they can be emptied in just a couple of years of industrious pumping. As water is vacuumed out of these huge underground lakes, the land above them starts sinking — and it turns out satellites can track the changing elevation better and more cheaply than eyes on the ground.

Here’s the story from Wired:

Earlier this week Tom Farr, a geologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, completed the first of many maps for the California Department of Water Resources with data collected by the European Sentinel-1 satellite. That map, of the state’s agriculture hub in the Central Valley, is part of a larger project to use NASA expertise to study—and try to help combat—California’s drought.

There are non-space-based ways to assess groundwater levels, but those are expensive and (face it) way less cool:

The state can monitor groundwater directly by measuring water levels within wells—but digging new wells is expensive, and existing wells may be on private land. …

Traditional land surveying techniques can also track water—but that method is labor-intensive. After days of painstaking measurements taken with tripods and levels, a surveyor will be left with one small area of measurement. Surveyors can also use GPS data, Farr says, but there are very few GPS stations in the Central Valley.

A better way, Farr says, is to use interferometric synthetic aperture radar, or InSAR. This technique, first developed about a decade ago, monitors changes in ground formation.

The satellite method — involving radar beams! sine waves! snazzy acronyms! — still needs some refining to be able to accurately assess groundwater, but the technique remains promising.

Jessica Reeves and Rosemary Knight, geophysicists at the Stanford School of Earth Sciences, were among the first people to apply this technique in this way, and Knight’s team continues to refine the calibrations linking ground level to groundwater levels.

The sinking that they’re tracking—as much as a foot a year in some places—threatens to become an enormous problem. That’s not just because the water will eventually run out, which (if pumping continues unabated) it will. It’s a more immediate threat to surface-level infrastructure: aqueducts, bridges, roads and train tracks. Damages due to sinking land in Santa Clara Valley is estimated at more than $756 million.

So to the list of benefits satellites offer us — rural HBO, prank calls from Antarctica, galactic posters — we can now add “monitoring California’s drinking problem.” Thanks, satellites.

Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Science
Categories: Environment