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- Next Nature Researcher
This is the second part in a series that examines the different ways new foods become naturalized parts of our diets. For part one, click here.
Potatoes are an evil, unchristian tuber, a food so disgusting that even dogs refuse to eat it. Or, if you’re European, that’s what you might still think, if not for the aristocracy’s work to popularize the potato in the 1700s. Though we associate the celebrity endorsement with vapid talk shows and magazine spreads, in reality it’s been around for centuries, and it’s played a far more serious role than we give it credit for.
Amazon.com’s fulfillment center in Rugeley, England, is a sterile kingdom where the algorithm is king – and humans do their best to perform its bidding. Workers’ every movement is dictated by a tracking algorithm, which can send them on trips of up to 24 kilometers per day on the quest for packages. The silence is total. Workers can be fired for talking, even as smiling cardboard cutouts remind them that “this is the best job I’ve ever had!”.
With zero-hour contracts – and jobs that evaporate from one day to the next – workers are treated more like cogs than humans. According to photojournalist Ben Roberts, who chronicled the Rugeley center in Amazon Unpacked, “the only reason Amazon doesn’t actually replace them with robots is they’ve yet to find a machine that can handle so many different sized packages.” It’s dismal proof that if we don’t domesticate technology, it ends up domesticating us.
Read more at Fast Company.
While this storefront in Northern Ireland looks like it’s a merry place full of meat, it’s actually full of lies. In anticipation of the G8 conference in June, empty shops and abandoned buildings around the country were plastered in cheery faux-stores and images of local landmarks. The country’s leaders spent two million pounds to cover up signs of a crumbling economy. Presumably, their hope was that the G8 attendees, zooming past in their limos, wouldn’t see that the stores were as flat as the employment rate.
Via Atlantic Cities.
In this peculiar image, swans float down a flooded street in Worcester, UK. A jarring sight to human observers, the swan’s blithe adoption of a new habitat illustrates the fact that most creatures don’t care about the differences between nature and culture. Via The Times.
This is the first in a series of case studies that examine the different ways new foods become naturalized parts of our diets. Why is this important? Promoting the consumption of insect, plant and in-vitro protein is an increasingly vital component of addressing global food and environmental concerns. Despite this, convincing consumers to abandon steaks and chicken nuggets remains a daunting task.
When is a Patagonia toothfish not a Patagonian toothfish? When it’s a Chilean sea bass. In the first principle of food familiarization, semantic tricks are used to place strange food in a context where it feels familiar, alluring, or healthful. In the infamous example of Dissostichus eleginoides, an ugly fish with an ugly name was rebranded as the sexy-sounding Chilean sea bass.
If your prepackaged deli meat has been looking a little more “authentic” lately, it’s not because the meat is getting any tastier or the recipes any more artisanal. Food manufacturers have been hard at work giving processed meats – arguably some of the nastiest stuff in the grocery store – a “deli fresh”, “homemade” makeover.
While cream from the dairy aisle is pure white, most people would agree that cream the color is a pale shade of yellow. So why the discrepancy? It turns out that language preserves a form of dairy that has all but disappeared from our diets.
Though it’s over a decade old, Emily Green’s essay Is Milk Still Milk? is a fascinating history of how milk was transformed from a high-fat, high-protein and highly variable food into a homogenized industrial product. In regards to cream-the-color vs. cream-the-liquid, Green describes the results of a milk taste test performed with UC Davis students. While the students ranked raw milk from Jersey cows as better-tasting than supermarket milk from Holsteins, they also gave it the lowest scores for appearance. “It wasn’t white,” Green notes. “They had never seen cream-colored milk.”
Just as we’re surprised to learn the origin of the color cream, our children may be surprised to find out that the ‘ca-click’ of their smartphone’s camera is actually the sound of an analog shutter.
Read more over at the LA Times.
Normally, when we select for characteristics in fruits and vegetables, it’s to bring them closer to some modernist ideal: corn that’s sweeter, lettuce that’s crisper, cucumbers that are perfectly green and straight. However, a new strain of tomato out of the UK may soon topple the spherical red fruit from its iconic position. These purple GM tomatoes owe their unusual hue to a dark purple-blue pigment called anthocynanin. Not only does this antioxidant double the shelf life of tomatoes in the supermarkt, it also extends the lives of mice that are genetically predisposed to cancer. A tomato that cuts down on food waste and the incidence of cancer? Even if pasta and pizza will never look the same, maybe it’s time to pass the purple.
Old nature meets next nature as a pair of lions prepare for their day amidst morning traffic, while human bystanders snap photos and upload them to Facebook. As cities and suburbs infringe on lion habitat, these carnivores are increasingly becoming synanthropes – animals that, welcome or not, live in association with human habitations. Image via Naij.
Deep, Deep in the uncanny valley lives this Japanese humanoid robot, aptly called an ‘actroid’. She can function autonomously, talking and gesturing while interacting with people. While her appearance may not be as hyper-realistic as her cousin Geminoid F, her interaction is autonomous instead of tele-operated. This makes her at the same time more effective and a bit creepier.
Over at the New York Times Magazine, there’s a fascinating long read about the quest to find the “female Viagra”. Calling it Viagra is a bit disingenuous, as these treatments don’t necessarily address female sexual response, but desire. Contrary to what evolutionary psychologists have been telling us for years, women grow bored more quickly than men in long-term relationships, and may be more inclined to promiscuity than ever expected. Using pills to flip lust on and off, as we now do with erections, depression, and concentration, would have fascinating ramifications:
“Gaining control of their reproduction in the ‘60s affected not just women’s sex lives but also everything from their social standing to economic empowerment. What might it mean for conventional structures if women could control, with a prescription, the most primal urge? So many things, personal and cultural, might need to be recalibrated and renegotiated, explicitly or without acknowledgment. The cumulative effect of all those negotiations could be hugely transformative, in ways either thrilling or threatening, depending on your point of view.”
Read the full story here. Image via She Knows.
Are sloths mythical animals? This status update reads like a snapshot from our post sixth-extinction future, when most of the earth’s megafauna has quietly shuffled off to the realm of dragons and other legends.
In a fortuitous mixture of old and next nature, park officials in Kaziranga National Park in India are now deploying aerial drones to monitor the critically endangered one-horned rhinoceros. Poaching is a serious issue in the 480 square kilometer park, where illegal hunting took 22 rhinos last year, and another 16 in the first three months of 2013. This uptick in poaching triggered mass upset in Assam State as the animal is a source of local pride and much-needed tourism revenue. Drones have already been used in the Chitwan National Park in Nepal, where rhino deaths have been drastically reduced. Drones in parks? Further proof that the noosphere is expanding by the day.
We often bemoan the design issues with skeuomorph prosthetics: Why make a weak re-creation when you can make aesthetic or functional improvements on the original? The Alternative Limb Project takes this philosophy to heart by creating gorgeous new limbs that call attention to their artificiality with jewels, hand-painted flowers, and see-through anatomy.
Above, Jo Cranston wears the Snake Arm. Click through for more photos.
Across Paris, bees and their keepers have been taking advantage of the city’s pesticide-free parks, gardens and flowerbeds to produce pricey honey. The otherwise unused rooftops of many Parisian landmarks are now home to hundreds of thousands of bees. The exclusivity of the real estate shows in the cost: The world’s most expensive honey – E 15 for 150 grams – comes from the roof of Palais Garnier, the city’s grand opera house.
Image: A keeper fumigates the hives atop Saint-Denis. Story via Skyscraper City. Thanks to Wessel de Jong for the tip.
Did an algorithm write this blog post? If it did, you’d likely never know it. Chicago-based Narrative Science is producing smart software that writes stories for parents of Little Leaguers all the way on up to media giants like Forbes. You might expect stilted, formulaic prose from a robot, but the result is surprisingly lively:
“Friona fell 10-8 to Boys Ranch in five innings on Monday at Friona despite racking up seven hits and eight runs. Friona was led by a flawless day at the dish by Hunter Sundre, who went 2-2 against Boys Ranch pitching. Sundre singled in the third inning and tripled in the fourth inning … Friona piled up the steals, swiping eight bags in all …”
Kristian Hammond, cofounder of Narrative Science, predicts that in 15 years, 90% of all news will be auto-generated in this manner. The company’s software may someday be programmed to spit out snark, wry commentary, or philosophical reflections on the effable beauty of a spring day. As Big Data mines every minute aspect of our lives, the time is ripe for a writer – human or otherwise – to transform these reams of data into stories.
Read more about Narrative Science at Wired.
In Massachusetts’ Cape Cod, the cordgrass salt marshes have been mysteriously dying off for decades. Now, some of the marsh is just as mysteriously beginning to grow back. This die-off and regrowth has finally been traced back to two little crabs and, of course, to human error.
Green: It’s the color of spring leaves, little frogs and, apparently, health. According to a new study, consumers overwhelmingly rated candy bars with green nutrition labels as healthier than those with red labels, even when all the data remained the same. While green is perceived as a “green light” to go ahead and eat a sugary snack, the color green is also heavily pushed in biomimicmarketing to imply a product is wholesome and natural – and therefore better for you.
Via the Washington Post.