Scientific answers to kitchen mysteries #answering #questions


#cooking questions answered

#

12 of your biggest cooking questions answered with science

Flickr / Rainer Stropek

If you’re like me, there are some parts of cooking that are completely baffling. I’m not just talking about figuring out the recipe. Sometimes I also just wonder what sort of chemical reactions are going on that makes the food taste so good and turn out the right — or wrong — way.

Without further ado, here are the scientific answers to some of your biggest quandaries in the kitchen.

View As: One Page Slides

How much water do I need to cook my rice?

Here’s a general rule: For every cup of rice you cook, you’ll need two cups of water. However, Dan Souza, the executive editor of Cook’s Science at America’s Test Kitchen and one of the authors of “The Science of Good Cooking ,” told Business Insider that this isn’t always true. There are a number of other factors that influence how much water you’re going to need, including what size the pot is and how much evaporates.

“If you have a ratio of 1:2 and you double that to 2:4, you’re saying you’re going to get double evaporating because you doubled it, and that’s not true,” he said. So keep this in mind the next time you try to double your portions.

Does searing a steak really seal in its juices?

Many cooks will tell you that searing your meat ensures all the good juices stay inside. That’s not quite true. While you’re searing a steak on a high temperature, you’re making a crispier crust on the steak, but that crust isn’t responsible for keeping in any liquids.

“Nothing about making a crust on the outside of a steak is going to trap moisture,” Souza said. In fact, he said, muscle proteins at higher temperatures actually squeeze out liquids instead of keeping them in.

What’s the best way to preserve nutrients when cooking vegetables?

The best way to preserve and enhance the nutrition in fresh broccoli is to steam them, according to a November 2015 study that evaluated different cooking methods for vegetables, including broccoli.

One of the easiest ways to steam. Fill a large glass bowl with broccoli, add a tablespoon or so of water to the bowl, cover the bowl with a plate, and then microwave your setup on high for a few minutes.

What does marinating do to meat?

Marinades have been a longtime staple in cooking as a way to add different flavors to a piece of meat. Typically, marinades contain some form of an acid, which reacts with the meat and breaks down some of the protein to make it more tender — too much though, and it will become mushy.

Marinating is a critical step to healthier grilling: Studies have linked marinading your meat to fewer HCAs (an ingredient that’s been identified as potentially carcinogenic ) being formed during the cooking process.

Pro tip? Try hacking the pH levels in your marinade by tossing your meat in baking soda and salt, letting it sit, then marinating it per usual. This helps the meat brown and hold water better.

What makes cakes turn brown?

Speaking of baking soda — otherwise known as sodium bicarbonate — it’s one of the reasons your cakes turn brown. The compound is used to help cakes rise by replacing the lengthy process that yeast takes. When it’s added to the batter, baking soda reacts with any acids (think: vinegar and baking soda volcano) and creates carbon dioxide that puffs up the batter. Baking soda is also a major factor in how brown your cake or cookies turn — a pale, dense cake could signal that it’s the forgotten ingredient.

What’s the best way to boil pasta?

Although it’s much disputed, most chefs agree: You should start with cold water. Then, for flavor, add salt, and bring it to a boil.

Once you add your pasta, there are a few ways you can keep it from boiling over: first, leave the lid off. If that’s still not doing the trick, try placing a wooden spoon across the top to break up the bubbles. Try not to add olive oil to your pasta while it’s cooking. While it’ll help dispel the bubbles, it will also make it harder for your sauce to stick to your pasta in the end. While it’s boiling, avoid clumping by stirring frequently.

Why do some people put vodka into their pie crust?

A few years ago, the chefs at America’s Test Kitchen changed the game when they started using vodka in their pie crusts in addition to water. The idea is that alcohol can’t form gluten (which is the elastic substance you get when you mix wheat flour with water that can make pie dough tougher). When the pie baked, they noticed that the the crust was flakier and didn’t taste like alcohol because it had all evaporated.

What makes spicy foods spicy?

I have to admit: I can’t tolerate even the tiniest bit of heat. The heat from virtually all peppers comes from a chemical called capsaicins. In your mouth, it binds to a receptor that registers the interaction as pain coming from heat. The receptor isn’t unique to your mouth, which is why those capsaicins can sometimes get in your eyes (not a pleasant experience). Because your body’s in pain from the heat of the spicy food, it releases endorphins that acts as a painkiller, which is why some people (not me) enjoy eating the spicy foods.

Why does dough sometimes become really tough?

Remember that gluten we mentioned in the pie crust? It’s also responsible for all the binding that goes on in your other baked goods (unless you adhere to a gluten-free lifestyle). The reaction happens when wheat (or barley, rye, etc.) flour meets up with water, via either stirring or kneading. And you can work the dough too much.

If you stir too much, you activate too much of the gluten and your muffins will come out too tough. with big bubbles throughout, and super high peaks instead of a rounded top.

Does turkey really make you sleepy?

That sleepy feeling you get after Thanksgiving dinner? You can’t actually attribute it to the turkey you just inhaled. It’s a myth that’s been de-bunked numerous times. like milk, turkey contains a chemical called tryptophan, which our our bodies convert into the sleep-influencing brain chemical serotonin.

But as it turns out, turkey (and milk for that matter) doesn’t have all that much tryptophan. In milk, you’d need 10 times more to help you fall asleep. It may have a lot more to do with all the over-eating you just did.

What’s happening when you whip up egg whites?

If you’ve ever made a meringue, you’ve seen the magical transformation that takes runny egg whites and sugar and turns it into stiff peaks of white goodness. Egg whites are predominantly made of water and protein.

Those proteins, as Smithsonian explains. are built out of amino acids that are either attracted or repelled by water. When you add air through whipping it up, those amino acids start to separate out, creating bubbles coated in these proteins. That’s when the sugar comes in and helps them keep their shape even after the whipping stops.

What causes meat to turn brown?

You can attribute the different colors of meat to myoglobin, a protein that’s found in muscle tissue. The change from red to brown has to do with its oxidation process. Dark meat tends to have more myoglobin than light meat, as seen by its pink color.

However, doneness can’t always be judged by color (sometimes, pink meat is still cooked correctly ), so it’s important to measure the temperature of the meat you plan to eat. The USDA says an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit is good for ground beef, for example.

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Scientific answers to kitchen mysteries #psychology #answers


#cooking questions answered

#

12 of your biggest cooking questions answered with science

Flickr / Rainer Stropek

If you’re like me, there are some parts of cooking that are completely baffling. I’m not just talking about figuring out the recipe. Sometimes I also just wonder what sort of chemical reactions are going on that makes the food taste so good and turn out the right — or wrong — way.

Without further ado, here are the scientific answers to some of your biggest quandaries in the kitchen.

View As: One Page Slides

How much water do I need to cook my rice?

Here’s a general rule: For every cup of rice you cook, you’ll need two cups of water. However, Dan Souza, the executive editor of Cook’s Science at America’s Test Kitchen and one of the authors of “The Science of Good Cooking ,” told Business Insider that this isn’t always true. There are a number of other factors that influence how much water you’re going to need, including what size the pot is and how much evaporates.

“If you have a ratio of 1:2 and you double that to 2:4, you’re saying you’re going to get double evaporating because you doubled it, and that’s not true,” he said. So keep this in mind the next time you try to double your portions.

Does searing a steak really seal in its juices?

Many cooks will tell you that searing your meat ensures all the good juices stay inside. That’s not quite true. While you’re searing a steak on a high temperature, you’re making a crispier crust on the steak, but that crust isn’t responsible for keeping in any liquids.

“Nothing about making a crust on the outside of a steak is going to trap moisture,” Souza said. In fact, he said, muscle proteins at higher temperatures actually squeeze out liquids instead of keeping them in.

What’s the best way to preserve nutrients when cooking vegetables?

The best way to preserve and enhance the nutrition in fresh broccoli is to steam them, according to a November 2015 study that evaluated different cooking methods for vegetables, including broccoli.

One of the easiest ways to steam. Fill a large glass bowl with broccoli, add a tablespoon or so of water to the bowl, cover the bowl with a plate, and then microwave your setup on high for a few minutes.

What does marinating do to meat?

Marinades have been a longtime staple in cooking as a way to add different flavors to a piece of meat. Typically, marinades contain some form of an acid, which reacts with the meat and breaks down some of the protein to make it more tender — too much though, and it will become mushy.

Marinating is a critical step to healthier grilling: Studies have linked marinading your meat to fewer HCAs (an ingredient that’s been identified as potentially carcinogenic ) being formed during the cooking process.

Pro tip? Try hacking the pH levels in your marinade by tossing your meat in baking soda and salt, letting it sit, then marinating it per usual. This helps the meat brown and hold water better.

What makes cakes turn brown?

Speaking of baking soda — otherwise known as sodium bicarbonate — it’s one of the reasons your cakes turn brown. The compound is used to help cakes rise by replacing the lengthy process that yeast takes. When it’s added to the batter, baking soda reacts with any acids (think: vinegar and baking soda volcano) and creates carbon dioxide that puffs up the batter. Baking soda is also a major factor in how brown your cake or cookies turn — a pale, dense cake could signal that it’s the forgotten ingredient.

What’s the best way to boil pasta?

Although it’s much disputed, most chefs agree: You should start with cold water. Then, for flavor, add salt, and bring it to a boil.

Once you add your pasta, there are a few ways you can keep it from boiling over: first, leave the lid off. If that’s still not doing the trick, try placing a wooden spoon across the top to break up the bubbles. Try not to add olive oil to your pasta while it’s cooking. While it’ll help dispel the bubbles, it will also make it harder for your sauce to stick to your pasta in the end. While it’s boiling, avoid clumping by stirring frequently.

Why do some people put vodka into their pie crust?

A few years ago, the chefs at America’s Test Kitchen changed the game when they started using vodka in their pie crusts in addition to water. The idea is that alcohol can’t form gluten (which is the elastic substance you get when you mix wheat flour with water that can make pie dough tougher). When the pie baked, they noticed that the the crust was flakier and didn’t taste like alcohol because it had all evaporated.

What makes spicy foods spicy?

I have to admit: I can’t tolerate even the tiniest bit of heat. The heat from virtually all peppers comes from a chemical called capsaicins. In your mouth, it binds to a receptor that registers the interaction as pain coming from heat. The receptor isn’t unique to your mouth, which is why those capsaicins can sometimes get in your eyes (not a pleasant experience). Because your body’s in pain from the heat of the spicy food, it releases endorphins that acts as a painkiller, which is why some people (not me) enjoy eating the spicy foods.

Why does dough sometimes become really tough?

Remember that gluten we mentioned in the pie crust? It’s also responsible for all the binding that goes on in your other baked goods (unless you adhere to a gluten-free lifestyle). The reaction happens when wheat (or barley, rye, etc.) flour meets up with water, via either stirring or kneading. And you can work the dough too much.

If you stir too much, you activate too much of the gluten and your muffins will come out too tough. with big bubbles throughout, and super high peaks instead of a rounded top.

Does turkey really make you sleepy?

That sleepy feeling you get after Thanksgiving dinner? You can’t actually attribute it to the turkey you just inhaled. It’s a myth that’s been de-bunked numerous times. like milk, turkey contains a chemical called tryptophan, which our our bodies convert into the sleep-influencing brain chemical serotonin.

But as it turns out, turkey (and milk for that matter) doesn’t have all that much tryptophan. In milk, you’d need 10 times more to help you fall asleep. It may have a lot more to do with all the over-eating you just did.

What’s happening when you whip up egg whites?

If you’ve ever made a meringue, you’ve seen the magical transformation that takes runny egg whites and sugar and turns it into stiff peaks of white goodness. Egg whites are predominantly made of water and protein.

Those proteins, as Smithsonian explains. are built out of amino acids that are either attracted or repelled by water. When you add air through whipping it up, those amino acids start to separate out, creating bubbles coated in these proteins. That’s when the sugar comes in and helps them keep their shape even after the whipping stops.

What causes meat to turn brown?

You can attribute the different colors of meat to myoglobin, a protein that’s found in muscle tissue. The change from red to brown has to do with its oxidation process. Dark meat tends to have more myoglobin than light meat, as seen by its pink color.

However, doneness can’t always be judged by color (sometimes, pink meat is still cooked correctly ), so it’s important to measure the temperature of the meat you plan to eat. The USDA says an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit is good for ground beef, for example.

Share This Post


It s Okay To Be Smart – Answer Bag: Scientific denialism in


#answer bag

#

Answer Bag: Scientific denialism in the GMOs vs. organic debate

An answer to this question sent in. Click through the break to read the full post.

GMO . That s what you call a buzz word. Just like stem cells or abortion , it brings up some pretty strong feelings in people, for better or worse. I am not sure that people s feelings about GMOs fall into denialism , though. I think it s more a crisis of generalization and misunderstanding than it is ignorance of the facts.

Genetically modified organisms are particularly tough, because the term is really too broad. You can t just address bad GMOs, as if we knew what that meant. The line where genetically modifying foods becomes too far is a fuzzy one, and we all put that line in a different place. The term organic is just as confusing. As great as it is for describing some forms of sustainable and natural agriculture, it also just looks really cool on a carton of yogurt. So how do you get to the bottom of which might be better – GMOs or organics? And are we practicing denialism when we argue one over the other?

I ll start with GMOs. Like you said, from the first moment that human beings began selecting crops to cultivate we have been (inadvertently) genetically modifying organisms. Gregor Mendel genetically modified the hell out of some peas. The Native Americans genetically modified a prairie grass into maize. the Incas mastered potatoes and the Chinese selected rice to grow in their shallow wetlands (as far back as 10,000 years ago!) .

Now let s pretend we lived in a world without GMOs. In that world we are all dead, each and every one of us. We never explore the New World, Asia never rises, life expectencies and birth rates don t increase, etc. This is a sad thought. To be clear, we wouldn t be able to feed the world s population, now or through history, if we were not genetically modifying foods by passive breeding or by deep genetic manipulation. As population grows on Earth, our need for food increases, and we will need crops that can grow in new and challenging climates, perhaps on a warmer planet. Let s use Africa as an example.

If you have seen, well, basically anything about Africa, you know that areas like Kenya are pretty dry. It s sort of what they are known for. Plants, as you also may have heard, need water to grow. Without, genetic modification this would be a mutually exclusive proposition. But thanks to modern selective breeding and genetic modification, drought-resistant wheat strains were introduced to Kenya and thrive today. What was dusty is now green, and regions once known for distended bellies, starving children and Sally Struthers-worthy famine now have greater food security.

Of course, we are all smart enough to know that the practice of genetic modification doesn t unleash a fury of rainbows and sunshine into the world. On the other hand you have companies like Monsanto (cue scary music) who deliberately manipulate organisms to be resistant to herbicides like RoundUp, which they happen to also produce. Easiest gardening technique ever. Plant crop, damn the weeds, just wipe out every other plant on the field with a daisy cutter of chemical annihilation. That you happen to own the patent on.

If you re a farmer who plants Monsanto seed, you have to buy it under a license from the company. You also have to promise to not share it, and if you are a farmer on the field next door you have to make sure you don t accidentally get any of it crossed with your crops, lest you be in violation of Monsanto s patents. Of course, the entire Great Plains were fertilized by wind-borne seeds, so these things have a tendency to drift and migrate without asking permission from pesky humans first. With the hubris of owning power over genes, Mansantokind treads on dangerous ground. In fact, Nature herself has already been assailing the idea by producing RoundUp-resistant weeds. But is this yet a form of denialism? Perhaps denial of knowing that we can never truly have power over Nature, but not denialism in the sense of hindering scientific progress. Incidentally, organic farmers are suing Monsanto as we speak over their seed-Gestapo tactics.

Which brings us to organics . What a mess. What began as a way to resist the influx of chemical fertilizers and monoculture farming has turned into one of the biggest marketing schemes on Earth. You don t need me to explain that to you, though. People like Michael Pollan and Samuel Fromartz do a great job in their books and other writings. These foods still benefit the environment in many ways thanks to their avoidance of chemical fertilizer and slightly more seasonal growth cycles, but whether organic asparagus has more vitamins than conventional is a pretty thin claim. Organic foods, by just being organic , are not better for you. This is a form of denialism, where we assume that a marketing term has christened a carrot somehow better. It may be better, for us and for the environment, but being organic is beginning to have less to do with it than many other things. I suggest you look into the term greenwashing to learn more.

So in simple terms? No, organic foods are not healthier for you, per se. And GMOs are not bad for you or the world, per se. But some of the uses of the term organic are bad for you, just as some genetic modifications of foods actually make us less secure in our meals (and are just plain mean!). I don t think being GMO is bad, like many people jump to. Like I said before, this is a crisis of generalization, not of ignorance. If we would pay more attention to what these terms mean and don t mean, we would be able to separate the truly bad from the benefits each have given us. Is that denialism? I don t think so, unless we are denying ourselves a better perspective.

Advice? I m no sage, but try to do what mankind has done for ages: Eat what s around and not what s shipped from across the globe, eat it when it s in season, and try to make sure it was farmed in a way that makes you think of straw hats and overalls instead of lab coats and petroleum.


Scientific answers to kitchen mysteries #expert #answers


#cooking questions answered

#

12 of your biggest cooking questions answered with science

Flickr / Rainer Stropek

If you’re like me, there are some parts of cooking that are completely baffling. I’m not just talking about figuring out the recipe. Sometimes I also just wonder what sort of chemical reactions are going on that makes the food taste so good and turn out the right — or wrong — way.

Without further ado, here are the scientific answers to some of your biggest quandaries in the kitchen.

View As: One Page Slides

How much water do I need to cook my rice?

Here’s a general rule: For every cup of rice you cook, you’ll need two cups of water. However, Dan Souza, the executive editor of Cook’s Science at America’s Test Kitchen and one of the authors of “The Science of Good Cooking ,” told Business Insider that this isn’t always true. There are a number of other factors that influence how much water you’re going to need, including what size the pot is and how much evaporates.

“If you have a ratio of 1:2 and you double that to 2:4, you’re saying you’re going to get double evaporating because you doubled it, and that’s not true,” he said. So keep this in mind the next time you try to double your portions.

Does searing a steak really seal in its juices?

Many cooks will tell you that searing your meat ensures all the good juices stay inside. That’s not quite true. While you’re searing a steak on a high temperature, you’re making a crispier crust on the steak, but that crust isn’t responsible for keeping in any liquids.

“Nothing about making a crust on the outside of a steak is going to trap moisture,” Souza said. In fact, he said, muscle proteins at higher temperatures actually squeeze out liquids instead of keeping them in.

What’s the best way to preserve nutrients when cooking vegetables?

The best way to preserve and enhance the nutrition in fresh broccoli is to steam them, according to a November 2015 study that evaluated different cooking methods for vegetables, including broccoli.

One of the easiest ways to steam. Fill a large glass bowl with broccoli, add a tablespoon or so of water to the bowl, cover the bowl with a plate, and then microwave your setup on high for a few minutes.

What does marinating do to meat?

Marinades have been a longtime staple in cooking as a way to add different flavors to a piece of meat. Typically, marinades contain some form of an acid, which reacts with the meat and breaks down some of the protein to make it more tender — too much though, and it will become mushy.

Marinating is a critical step to healthier grilling: Studies have linked marinading your meat to fewer HCAs (an ingredient that’s been identified as potentially carcinogenic ) being formed during the cooking process.

Pro tip? Try hacking the pH levels in your marinade by tossing your meat in baking soda and salt, letting it sit, then marinating it per usual. This helps the meat brown and hold water better.

What makes cakes turn brown?

Speaking of baking soda — otherwise known as sodium bicarbonate — it’s one of the reasons your cakes turn brown. The compound is used to help cakes rise by replacing the lengthy process that yeast takes. When it’s added to the batter, baking soda reacts with any acids (think: vinegar and baking soda volcano) and creates carbon dioxide that puffs up the batter. Baking soda is also a major factor in how brown your cake or cookies turn — a pale, dense cake could signal that it’s the forgotten ingredient.

What’s the best way to boil pasta?

Although it’s much disputed, most chefs agree: You should start with cold water. Then, for flavor, add salt, and bring it to a boil.

Once you add your pasta, there are a few ways you can keep it from boiling over: first, leave the lid off. If that’s still not doing the trick, try placing a wooden spoon across the top to break up the bubbles. Try not to add olive oil to your pasta while it’s cooking. While it’ll help dispel the bubbles, it will also make it harder for your sauce to stick to your pasta in the end. While it’s boiling, avoid clumping by stirring frequently.

Why do some people put vodka into their pie crust?

A few years ago, the chefs at America’s Test Kitchen changed the game when they started using vodka in their pie crusts in addition to water. The idea is that alcohol can’t form gluten (which is the elastic substance you get when you mix wheat flour with water that can make pie dough tougher). When the pie baked, they noticed that the the crust was flakier and didn’t taste like alcohol because it had all evaporated.

What makes spicy foods spicy?

I have to admit: I can’t tolerate even the tiniest bit of heat. The heat from virtually all peppers comes from a chemical called capsaicins. In your mouth, it binds to a receptor that registers the interaction as pain coming from heat. The receptor isn’t unique to your mouth, which is why those capsaicins can sometimes get in your eyes (not a pleasant experience). Because your body’s in pain from the heat of the spicy food, it releases endorphins that acts as a painkiller, which is why some people (not me) enjoy eating the spicy foods.

Why does dough sometimes become really tough?

Remember that gluten we mentioned in the pie crust? It’s also responsible for all the binding that goes on in your other baked goods (unless you adhere to a gluten-free lifestyle). The reaction happens when wheat (or barley, rye, etc.) flour meets up with water, via either stirring or kneading. And you can work the dough too much.

If you stir too much, you activate too much of the gluten and your muffins will come out too tough. with big bubbles throughout, and super high peaks instead of a rounded top.

Does turkey really make you sleepy?

That sleepy feeling you get after Thanksgiving dinner? You can’t actually attribute it to the turkey you just inhaled. It’s a myth that’s been de-bunked numerous times. like milk, turkey contains a chemical called tryptophan, which our our bodies convert into the sleep-influencing brain chemical serotonin.

But as it turns out, turkey (and milk for that matter) doesn’t have all that much tryptophan. In milk, you’d need 10 times more to help you fall asleep. It may have a lot more to do with all the over-eating you just did.

What’s happening when you whip up egg whites?

If you’ve ever made a meringue, you’ve seen the magical transformation that takes runny egg whites and sugar and turns it into stiff peaks of white goodness. Egg whites are predominantly made of water and protein.

Those proteins, as Smithsonian explains. are built out of amino acids that are either attracted or repelled by water. When you add air through whipping it up, those amino acids start to separate out, creating bubbles coated in these proteins. That’s when the sugar comes in and helps them keep their shape even after the whipping stops.

What causes meat to turn brown?

You can attribute the different colors of meat to myoglobin, a protein that’s found in muscle tissue. The change from red to brown has to do with its oxidation process. Dark meat tends to have more myoglobin than light meat, as seen by its pink color.

However, doneness can’t always be judged by color (sometimes, pink meat is still cooked correctly ), so it’s important to measure the temperature of the meat you plan to eat. The USDA says an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit is good for ground beef, for example.

Share This Post


It s Okay To Be Smart – Answer Bag: Scientific denialism in


#answer bag

#

Answer Bag: Scientific denialism in the GMOs vs. organic debate

An answer to this question sent in. Click through the break to read the full post.

GMO . That s what you call a buzz word. Just like stem cells or abortion , it brings up some pretty strong feelings in people, for better or worse. I am not sure that people s feelings about GMOs fall into denialism , though. I think it s more a crisis of generalization and misunderstanding than it is ignorance of the facts.

Genetically modified organisms are particularly tough, because the term is really too broad. You can t just address bad GMOs, as if we knew what that meant. The line where genetically modifying foods becomes too far is a fuzzy one, and we all put that line in a different place. The term organic is just as confusing. As great as it is for describing some forms of sustainable and natural agriculture, it also just looks really cool on a carton of yogurt. So how do you get to the bottom of which might be better – GMOs or organics? And are we practicing denialism when we argue one over the other?

I ll start with GMOs. Like you said, from the first moment that human beings began selecting crops to cultivate we have been (inadvertently) genetically modifying organisms. Gregor Mendel genetically modified the hell out of some peas. The Native Americans genetically modified a prairie grass into maize. the Incas mastered potatoes and the Chinese selected rice to grow in their shallow wetlands (as far back as 10,000 years ago!) .

Now let s pretend we lived in a world without GMOs. In that world we are all dead, each and every one of us. We never explore the New World, Asia never rises, life expectencies and birth rates don t increase, etc. This is a sad thought. To be clear, we wouldn t be able to feed the world s population, now or through history, if we were not genetically modifying foods by passive breeding or by deep genetic manipulation. As population grows on Earth, our need for food increases, and we will need crops that can grow in new and challenging climates, perhaps on a warmer planet. Let s use Africa as an example.

If you have seen, well, basically anything about Africa, you know that areas like Kenya are pretty dry. It s sort of what they are known for. Plants, as you also may have heard, need water to grow. Without, genetic modification this would be a mutually exclusive proposition. But thanks to modern selective breeding and genetic modification, drought-resistant wheat strains were introduced to Kenya and thrive today. What was dusty is now green, and regions once known for distended bellies, starving children and Sally Struthers-worthy famine now have greater food security.

Of course, we are all smart enough to know that the practice of genetic modification doesn t unleash a fury of rainbows and sunshine into the world. On the other hand you have companies like Monsanto (cue scary music) who deliberately manipulate organisms to be resistant to herbicides like RoundUp, which they happen to also produce. Easiest gardening technique ever. Plant crop, damn the weeds, just wipe out every other plant on the field with a daisy cutter of chemical annihilation. That you happen to own the patent on.

If you re a farmer who plants Monsanto seed, you have to buy it under a license from the company. You also have to promise to not share it, and if you are a farmer on the field next door you have to make sure you don t accidentally get any of it crossed with your crops, lest you be in violation of Monsanto s patents. Of course, the entire Great Plains were fertilized by wind-borne seeds, so these things have a tendency to drift and migrate without asking permission from pesky humans first. With the hubris of owning power over genes, Mansantokind treads on dangerous ground. In fact, Nature herself has already been assailing the idea by producing RoundUp-resistant weeds. But is this yet a form of denialism? Perhaps denial of knowing that we can never truly have power over Nature, but not denialism in the sense of hindering scientific progress. Incidentally, organic farmers are suing Monsanto as we speak over their seed-Gestapo tactics.

Which brings us to organics . What a mess. What began as a way to resist the influx of chemical fertilizers and monoculture farming has turned into one of the biggest marketing schemes on Earth. You don t need me to explain that to you, though. People like Michael Pollan and Samuel Fromartz do a great job in their books and other writings. These foods still benefit the environment in many ways thanks to their avoidance of chemical fertilizer and slightly more seasonal growth cycles, but whether organic asparagus has more vitamins than conventional is a pretty thin claim. Organic foods, by just being organic , are not better for you. This is a form of denialism, where we assume that a marketing term has christened a carrot somehow better. It may be better, for us and for the environment, but being organic is beginning to have less to do with it than many other things. I suggest you look into the term greenwashing to learn more.

So in simple terms? No, organic foods are not healthier for you, per se. And GMOs are not bad for you or the world, per se. But some of the uses of the term organic are bad for you, just as some genetic modifications of foods actually make us less secure in our meals (and are just plain mean!). I don t think being GMO is bad, like many people jump to. Like I said before, this is a crisis of generalization, not of ignorance. If we would pay more attention to what these terms mean and don t mean, we would be able to separate the truly bad from the benefits each have given us. Is that denialism? I don t think so, unless we are denying ourselves a better perspective.

Advice? I m no sage, but try to do what mankind has done for ages: Eat what s around and not what s shipped from across the globe, eat it when it s in season, and try to make sure it was farmed in a way that makes you think of straw hats and overalls instead of lab coats and petroleum.


It s Okay To Be Smart – Answer Bag: Scientific denialism in


#answer bag

#

Answer Bag: Scientific denialism in the GMOs vs. organic debate

An answer to this question sent in. Click through the break to read the full post.

GMO . That s what you call a buzz word. Just like stem cells or abortion , it brings up some pretty strong feelings in people, for better or worse. I am not sure that people s feelings about GMOs fall into denialism , though. I think it s more a crisis of generalization and misunderstanding than it is ignorance of the facts.

Genetically modified organisms are particularly tough, because the term is really too broad. You can t just address bad GMOs, as if we knew what that meant. The line where genetically modifying foods becomes too far is a fuzzy one, and we all put that line in a different place. The term organic is just as confusing. As great as it is for describing some forms of sustainable and natural agriculture, it also just looks really cool on a carton of yogurt. So how do you get to the bottom of which might be better – GMOs or organics? And are we practicing denialism when we argue one over the other?

I ll start with GMOs. Like you said, from the first moment that human beings began selecting crops to cultivate we have been (inadvertently) genetically modifying organisms. Gregor Mendel genetically modified the hell out of some peas. The Native Americans genetically modified a prairie grass into maize. the Incas mastered potatoes and the Chinese selected rice to grow in their shallow wetlands (as far back as 10,000 years ago!) .

Now let s pretend we lived in a world without GMOs. In that world we are all dead, each and every one of us. We never explore the New World, Asia never rises, life expectencies and birth rates don t increase, etc. This is a sad thought. To be clear, we wouldn t be able to feed the world s population, now or through history, if we were not genetically modifying foods by passive breeding or by deep genetic manipulation. As population grows on Earth, our need for food increases, and we will need crops that can grow in new and challenging climates, perhaps on a warmer planet. Let s use Africa as an example.

If you have seen, well, basically anything about Africa, you know that areas like Kenya are pretty dry. It s sort of what they are known for. Plants, as you also may have heard, need water to grow. Without, genetic modification this would be a mutually exclusive proposition. But thanks to modern selective breeding and genetic modification, drought-resistant wheat strains were introduced to Kenya and thrive today. What was dusty is now green, and regions once known for distended bellies, starving children and Sally Struthers-worthy famine now have greater food security.

Of course, we are all smart enough to know that the practice of genetic modification doesn t unleash a fury of rainbows and sunshine into the world. On the other hand you have companies like Monsanto (cue scary music) who deliberately manipulate organisms to be resistant to herbicides like RoundUp, which they happen to also produce. Easiest gardening technique ever. Plant crop, damn the weeds, just wipe out every other plant on the field with a daisy cutter of chemical annihilation. That you happen to own the patent on.

If you re a farmer who plants Monsanto seed, you have to buy it under a license from the company. You also have to promise to not share it, and if you are a farmer on the field next door you have to make sure you don t accidentally get any of it crossed with your crops, lest you be in violation of Monsanto s patents. Of course, the entire Great Plains were fertilized by wind-borne seeds, so these things have a tendency to drift and migrate without asking permission from pesky humans first. With the hubris of owning power over genes, Mansantokind treads on dangerous ground. In fact, Nature herself has already been assailing the idea by producing RoundUp-resistant weeds. But is this yet a form of denialism? Perhaps denial of knowing that we can never truly have power over Nature, but not denialism in the sense of hindering scientific progress. Incidentally, organic farmers are suing Monsanto as we speak over their seed-Gestapo tactics.

Which brings us to organics . What a mess. What began as a way to resist the influx of chemical fertilizers and monoculture farming has turned into one of the biggest marketing schemes on Earth. You don t need me to explain that to you, though. People like Michael Pollan and Samuel Fromartz do a great job in their books and other writings. These foods still benefit the environment in many ways thanks to their avoidance of chemical fertilizer and slightly more seasonal growth cycles, but whether organic asparagus has more vitamins than conventional is a pretty thin claim. Organic foods, by just being organic , are not better for you. This is a form of denialism, where we assume that a marketing term has christened a carrot somehow better. It may be better, for us and for the environment, but being organic is beginning to have less to do with it than many other things. I suggest you look into the term greenwashing to learn more.

So in simple terms? No, organic foods are not healthier for you, per se. And GMOs are not bad for you or the world, per se. But some of the uses of the term organic are bad for you, just as some genetic modifications of foods actually make us less secure in our meals (and are just plain mean!). I don t think being GMO is bad, like many people jump to. Like I said before, this is a crisis of generalization, not of ignorance. If we would pay more attention to what these terms mean and don t mean, we would be able to separate the truly bad from the benefits each have given us. Is that denialism? I don t think so, unless we are denying ourselves a better perspective.

Advice? I m no sage, but try to do what mankind has done for ages: Eat what s around and not what s shipped from across the globe, eat it when it s in season, and try to make sure it was farmed in a way that makes you think of straw hats and overalls instead of lab coats and petroleum.


Scientific answers to kitchen mysteries #find #math #answers


#cooking questions answered

#

12 of your biggest cooking questions answered with science

Flickr / Rainer Stropek

If you’re like me, there are some parts of cooking that are completely baffling. I’m not just talking about figuring out the recipe. Sometimes I also just wonder what sort of chemical reactions are going on that makes the food taste so good and turn out the right — or wrong — way.

Without further ado, here are the scientific answers to some of your biggest quandaries in the kitchen.

View As: One Page Slides

How much water do I need to cook my rice?

Here’s a general rule: For every cup of rice you cook, you’ll need two cups of water. However, Dan Souza, the executive editor of Cook’s Science at America’s Test Kitchen and one of the authors of “The Science of Good Cooking ,” told Business Insider that this isn’t always true. There are a number of other factors that influence how much water you’re going to need, including what size the pot is and how much evaporates.

“If you have a ratio of 1:2 and you double that to 2:4, you’re saying you’re going to get double evaporating because you doubled it, and that’s not true,” he said. So keep this in mind the next time you try to double your portions.

Does searing a steak really seal in its juices?

Many cooks will tell you that searing your meat ensures all the good juices stay inside. That’s not quite true. While you’re searing a steak on a high temperature, you’re making a crispier crust on the steak, but that crust isn’t responsible for keeping in any liquids.

“Nothing about making a crust on the outside of a steak is going to trap moisture,” Souza said. In fact, he said, muscle proteins at higher temperatures actually squeeze out liquids instead of keeping them in.

What’s the best way to preserve nutrients when cooking vegetables?

The best way to preserve and enhance the nutrition in fresh broccoli is to steam them, according to a November 2015 study that evaluated different cooking methods for vegetables, including broccoli.

One of the easiest ways to steam. Fill a large glass bowl with broccoli, add a tablespoon or so of water to the bowl, cover the bowl with a plate, and then microwave your setup on high for a few minutes.

What does marinating do to meat?

Marinades have been a longtime staple in cooking as a way to add different flavors to a piece of meat. Typically, marinades contain some form of an acid, which reacts with the meat and breaks down some of the protein to make it more tender — too much though, and it will become mushy.

Marinating is a critical step to healthier grilling: Studies have linked marinading your meat to fewer HCAs (an ingredient that’s been identified as potentially carcinogenic ) being formed during the cooking process.

Pro tip? Try hacking the pH levels in your marinade by tossing your meat in baking soda and salt, letting it sit, then marinating it per usual. This helps the meat brown and hold water better.

What makes cakes turn brown?

Speaking of baking soda — otherwise known as sodium bicarbonate — it’s one of the reasons your cakes turn brown. The compound is used to help cakes rise by replacing the lengthy process that yeast takes. When it’s added to the batter, baking soda reacts with any acids (think: vinegar and baking soda volcano) and creates carbon dioxide that puffs up the batter. Baking soda is also a major factor in how brown your cake or cookies turn — a pale, dense cake could signal that it’s the forgotten ingredient.

What’s the best way to boil pasta?

Although it’s much disputed, most chefs agree: You should start with cold water. Then, for flavor, add salt, and bring it to a boil.

Once you add your pasta, there are a few ways you can keep it from boiling over: first, leave the lid off. If that’s still not doing the trick, try placing a wooden spoon across the top to break up the bubbles. Try not to add olive oil to your pasta while it’s cooking. While it’ll help dispel the bubbles, it will also make it harder for your sauce to stick to your pasta in the end. While it’s boiling, avoid clumping by stirring frequently.

Why do some people put vodka into their pie crust?

A few years ago, the chefs at America’s Test Kitchen changed the game when they started using vodka in their pie crusts in addition to water. The idea is that alcohol can’t form gluten (which is the elastic substance you get when you mix wheat flour with water that can make pie dough tougher). When the pie baked, they noticed that the the crust was flakier and didn’t taste like alcohol because it had all evaporated.

What makes spicy foods spicy?

I have to admit: I can’t tolerate even the tiniest bit of heat. The heat from virtually all peppers comes from a chemical called capsaicins. In your mouth, it binds to a receptor that registers the interaction as pain coming from heat. The receptor isn’t unique to your mouth, which is why those capsaicins can sometimes get in your eyes (not a pleasant experience). Because your body’s in pain from the heat of the spicy food, it releases endorphins that acts as a painkiller, which is why some people (not me) enjoy eating the spicy foods.

Why does dough sometimes become really tough?

Remember that gluten we mentioned in the pie crust? It’s also responsible for all the binding that goes on in your other baked goods (unless you adhere to a gluten-free lifestyle). The reaction happens when wheat (or barley, rye, etc.) flour meets up with water, via either stirring or kneading. And you can work the dough too much.

If you stir too much, you activate too much of the gluten and your muffins will come out too tough. with big bubbles throughout, and super high peaks instead of a rounded top.

Does turkey really make you sleepy?

That sleepy feeling you get after Thanksgiving dinner? You can’t actually attribute it to the turkey you just inhaled. It’s a myth that’s been de-bunked numerous times. like milk, turkey contains a chemical called tryptophan, which our our bodies convert into the sleep-influencing brain chemical serotonin.

But as it turns out, turkey (and milk for that matter) doesn’t have all that much tryptophan. In milk, you’d need 10 times more to help you fall asleep. It may have a lot more to do with all the over-eating you just did.

What’s happening when you whip up egg whites?

If you’ve ever made a meringue, you’ve seen the magical transformation that takes runny egg whites and sugar and turns it into stiff peaks of white goodness. Egg whites are predominantly made of water and protein.

Those proteins, as Smithsonian explains. are built out of amino acids that are either attracted or repelled by water. When you add air through whipping it up, those amino acids start to separate out, creating bubbles coated in these proteins. That’s when the sugar comes in and helps them keep their shape even after the whipping stops.

What causes meat to turn brown?

You can attribute the different colors of meat to myoglobin, a protein that’s found in muscle tissue. The change from red to brown has to do with its oxidation process. Dark meat tends to have more myoglobin than light meat, as seen by its pink color.

However, doneness can’t always be judged by color (sometimes, pink meat is still cooked correctly ), so it’s important to measure the temperature of the meat you plan to eat. The USDA says an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit is good for ground beef, for example.

Share This Post


It s Okay To Be Smart – Answer Bag: Scientific denialism in


#answer bag

#

Answer Bag: Scientific denialism in the GMOs vs. organic debate

An answer to this question sent in. Click through the break to read the full post.

GMO . That s what you call a buzz word. Just like stem cells or abortion , it brings up some pretty strong feelings in people, for better or worse. I am not sure that people s feelings about GMOs fall into denialism , though. I think it s more a crisis of generalization and misunderstanding than it is ignorance of the facts.

Genetically modified organisms are particularly tough, because the term is really too broad. You can t just address bad GMOs, as if we knew what that meant. The line where genetically modifying foods becomes too far is a fuzzy one, and we all put that line in a different place. The term organic is just as confusing. As great as it is for describing some forms of sustainable and natural agriculture, it also just looks really cool on a carton of yogurt. So how do you get to the bottom of which might be better – GMOs or organics? And are we practicing denialism when we argue one over the other?

I ll start with GMOs. Like you said, from the first moment that human beings began selecting crops to cultivate we have been (inadvertently) genetically modifying organisms. Gregor Mendel genetically modified the hell out of some peas. The Native Americans genetically modified a prairie grass into maize. the Incas mastered potatoes and the Chinese selected rice to grow in their shallow wetlands (as far back as 10,000 years ago!) .

Now let s pretend we lived in a world without GMOs. In that world we are all dead, each and every one of us. We never explore the New World, Asia never rises, life expectencies and birth rates don t increase, etc. This is a sad thought. To be clear, we wouldn t be able to feed the world s population, now or through history, if we were not genetically modifying foods by passive breeding or by deep genetic manipulation. As population grows on Earth, our need for food increases, and we will need crops that can grow in new and challenging climates, perhaps on a warmer planet. Let s use Africa as an example.

If you have seen, well, basically anything about Africa, you know that areas like Kenya are pretty dry. It s sort of what they are known for. Plants, as you also may have heard, need water to grow. Without, genetic modification this would be a mutually exclusive proposition. But thanks to modern selective breeding and genetic modification, drought-resistant wheat strains were introduced to Kenya and thrive today. What was dusty is now green, and regions once known for distended bellies, starving children and Sally Struthers-worthy famine now have greater food security.

Of course, we are all smart enough to know that the practice of genetic modification doesn t unleash a fury of rainbows and sunshine into the world. On the other hand you have companies like Monsanto (cue scary music) who deliberately manipulate organisms to be resistant to herbicides like RoundUp, which they happen to also produce. Easiest gardening technique ever. Plant crop, damn the weeds, just wipe out every other plant on the field with a daisy cutter of chemical annihilation. That you happen to own the patent on.

If you re a farmer who plants Monsanto seed, you have to buy it under a license from the company. You also have to promise to not share it, and if you are a farmer on the field next door you have to make sure you don t accidentally get any of it crossed with your crops, lest you be in violation of Monsanto s patents. Of course, the entire Great Plains were fertilized by wind-borne seeds, so these things have a tendency to drift and migrate without asking permission from pesky humans first. With the hubris of owning power over genes, Mansantokind treads on dangerous ground. In fact, Nature herself has already been assailing the idea by producing RoundUp-resistant weeds. But is this yet a form of denialism? Perhaps denial of knowing that we can never truly have power over Nature, but not denialism in the sense of hindering scientific progress. Incidentally, organic farmers are suing Monsanto as we speak over their seed-Gestapo tactics.

Which brings us to organics . What a mess. What began as a way to resist the influx of chemical fertilizers and monoculture farming has turned into one of the biggest marketing schemes on Earth. You don t need me to explain that to you, though. People like Michael Pollan and Samuel Fromartz do a great job in their books and other writings. These foods still benefit the environment in many ways thanks to their avoidance of chemical fertilizer and slightly more seasonal growth cycles, but whether organic asparagus has more vitamins than conventional is a pretty thin claim. Organic foods, by just being organic , are not better for you. This is a form of denialism, where we assume that a marketing term has christened a carrot somehow better. It may be better, for us and for the environment, but being organic is beginning to have less to do with it than many other things. I suggest you look into the term greenwashing to learn more.

So in simple terms? No, organic foods are not healthier for you, per se. And GMOs are not bad for you or the world, per se. But some of the uses of the term organic are bad for you, just as some genetic modifications of foods actually make us less secure in our meals (and are just plain mean!). I don t think being GMO is bad, like many people jump to. Like I said before, this is a crisis of generalization, not of ignorance. If we would pay more attention to what these terms mean and don t mean, we would be able to separate the truly bad from the benefits each have given us. Is that denialism? I don t think so, unless we are denying ourselves a better perspective.

Advice? I m no sage, but try to do what mankind has done for ages: Eat what s around and not what s shipped from across the globe, eat it when it s in season, and try to make sure it was farmed in a way that makes you think of straw hats and overalls instead of lab coats and petroleum.


Scientific answers to kitchen mysteries #question #and #answer #websites


#cooking questions answered

#

12 of your biggest cooking questions answered with science

Flickr / Rainer Stropek

If you’re like me, there are some parts of cooking that are completely baffling. I’m not just talking about figuring out the recipe. Sometimes I also just wonder what sort of chemical reactions are going on that makes the food taste so good and turn out the right — or wrong — way.

Without further ado, here are the scientific answers to some of your biggest quandaries in the kitchen.

View As: One Page Slides

How much water do I need to cook my rice?

Here’s a general rule: For every cup of rice you cook, you’ll need two cups of water. However, Dan Souza, the executive editor of Cook’s Science at America’s Test Kitchen and one of the authors of “The Science of Good Cooking ,” told Business Insider that this isn’t always true. There are a number of other factors that influence how much water you’re going to need, including what size the pot is and how much evaporates.

“If you have a ratio of 1:2 and you double that to 2:4, you’re saying you’re going to get double evaporating because you doubled it, and that’s not true,” he said. So keep this in mind the next time you try to double your portions.

Does searing a steak really seal in its juices?

Many cooks will tell you that searing your meat ensures all the good juices stay inside. That’s not quite true. While you’re searing a steak on a high temperature, you’re making a crispier crust on the steak, but that crust isn’t responsible for keeping in any liquids.

“Nothing about making a crust on the outside of a steak is going to trap moisture,” Souza said. In fact, he said, muscle proteins at higher temperatures actually squeeze out liquids instead of keeping them in.

What’s the best way to preserve nutrients when cooking vegetables?

The best way to preserve and enhance the nutrition in fresh broccoli is to steam them, according to a November 2015 study that evaluated different cooking methods for vegetables, including broccoli.

One of the easiest ways to steam. Fill a large glass bowl with broccoli, add a tablespoon or so of water to the bowl, cover the bowl with a plate, and then microwave your setup on high for a few minutes.

What does marinating do to meat?

Marinades have been a longtime staple in cooking as a way to add different flavors to a piece of meat. Typically, marinades contain some form of an acid, which reacts with the meat and breaks down some of the protein to make it more tender — too much though, and it will become mushy.

Marinating is a critical step to healthier grilling: Studies have linked marinading your meat to fewer HCAs (an ingredient that’s been identified as potentially carcinogenic ) being formed during the cooking process.

Pro tip? Try hacking the pH levels in your marinade by tossing your meat in baking soda and salt, letting it sit, then marinating it per usual. This helps the meat brown and hold water better.

What makes cakes turn brown?

Speaking of baking soda — otherwise known as sodium bicarbonate — it’s one of the reasons your cakes turn brown. The compound is used to help cakes rise by replacing the lengthy process that yeast takes. When it’s added to the batter, baking soda reacts with any acids (think: vinegar and baking soda volcano) and creates carbon dioxide that puffs up the batter. Baking soda is also a major factor in how brown your cake or cookies turn — a pale, dense cake could signal that it’s the forgotten ingredient.

What’s the best way to boil pasta?

Although it’s much disputed, most chefs agree: You should start with cold water. Then, for flavor, add salt, and bring it to a boil.

Once you add your pasta, there are a few ways you can keep it from boiling over: first, leave the lid off. If that’s still not doing the trick, try placing a wooden spoon across the top to break up the bubbles. Try not to add olive oil to your pasta while it’s cooking. While it’ll help dispel the bubbles, it will also make it harder for your sauce to stick to your pasta in the end. While it’s boiling, avoid clumping by stirring frequently.

Why do some people put vodka into their pie crust?

A few years ago, the chefs at America’s Test Kitchen changed the game when they started using vodka in their pie crusts in addition to water. The idea is that alcohol can’t form gluten (which is the elastic substance you get when you mix wheat flour with water that can make pie dough tougher). When the pie baked, they noticed that the the crust was flakier and didn’t taste like alcohol because it had all evaporated.

What makes spicy foods spicy?

I have to admit: I can’t tolerate even the tiniest bit of heat. The heat from virtually all peppers comes from a chemical called capsaicins. In your mouth, it binds to a receptor that registers the interaction as pain coming from heat. The receptor isn’t unique to your mouth, which is why those capsaicins can sometimes get in your eyes (not a pleasant experience). Because your body’s in pain from the heat of the spicy food, it releases endorphins that acts as a painkiller, which is why some people (not me) enjoy eating the spicy foods.

Why does dough sometimes become really tough?

Remember that gluten we mentioned in the pie crust? It’s also responsible for all the binding that goes on in your other baked goods (unless you adhere to a gluten-free lifestyle). The reaction happens when wheat (or barley, rye, etc.) flour meets up with water, via either stirring or kneading. And you can work the dough too much.

If you stir too much, you activate too much of the gluten and your muffins will come out too tough. with big bubbles throughout, and super high peaks instead of a rounded top.

Does turkey really make you sleepy?

That sleepy feeling you get after Thanksgiving dinner? You can’t actually attribute it to the turkey you just inhaled. It’s a myth that’s been de-bunked numerous times. like milk, turkey contains a chemical called tryptophan, which our our bodies convert into the sleep-influencing brain chemical serotonin.

But as it turns out, turkey (and milk for that matter) doesn’t have all that much tryptophan. In milk, you’d need 10 times more to help you fall asleep. It may have a lot more to do with all the over-eating you just did.

What’s happening when you whip up egg whites?

If you’ve ever made a meringue, you’ve seen the magical transformation that takes runny egg whites and sugar and turns it into stiff peaks of white goodness. Egg whites are predominantly made of water and protein.

Those proteins, as Smithsonian explains. are built out of amino acids that are either attracted or repelled by water. When you add air through whipping it up, those amino acids start to separate out, creating bubbles coated in these proteins. That’s when the sugar comes in and helps them keep their shape even after the whipping stops.

What causes meat to turn brown?

You can attribute the different colors of meat to myoglobin, a protein that’s found in muscle tissue. The change from red to brown has to do with its oxidation process. Dark meat tends to have more myoglobin than light meat, as seen by its pink color.

However, doneness can’t always be judged by color (sometimes, pink meat is still cooked correctly ), so it’s important to measure the temperature of the meat you plan to eat. The USDA says an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit is good for ground beef, for example.

Share This Post


It s Okay To Be Smart – Answer Bag: Scientific denialism in


#answer bag

#

Answer Bag: Scientific denialism in the GMOs vs. organic debate

An answer to this question sent in. Click through the break to read the full post.

GMO . That s what you call a buzz word. Just like stem cells or abortion , it brings up some pretty strong feelings in people, for better or worse. I am not sure that people s feelings about GMOs fall into denialism , though. I think it s more a crisis of generalization and misunderstanding than it is ignorance of the facts.

Genetically modified organisms are particularly tough, because the term is really too broad. You can t just address bad GMOs, as if we knew what that meant. The line where genetically modifying foods becomes too far is a fuzzy one, and we all put that line in a different place. The term organic is just as confusing. As great as it is for describing some forms of sustainable and natural agriculture, it also just looks really cool on a carton of yogurt. So how do you get to the bottom of which might be better – GMOs or organics? And are we practicing denialism when we argue one over the other?

I ll start with GMOs. Like you said, from the first moment that human beings began selecting crops to cultivate we have been (inadvertently) genetically modifying organisms. Gregor Mendel genetically modified the hell out of some peas. The Native Americans genetically modified a prairie grass into maize. the Incas mastered potatoes and the Chinese selected rice to grow in their shallow wetlands (as far back as 10,000 years ago!) .

Now let s pretend we lived in a world without GMOs. In that world we are all dead, each and every one of us. We never explore the New World, Asia never rises, life expectencies and birth rates don t increase, etc. This is a sad thought. To be clear, we wouldn t be able to feed the world s population, now or through history, if we were not genetically modifying foods by passive breeding or by deep genetic manipulation. As population grows on Earth, our need for food increases, and we will need crops that can grow in new and challenging climates, perhaps on a warmer planet. Let s use Africa as an example.

If you have seen, well, basically anything about Africa, you know that areas like Kenya are pretty dry. It s sort of what they are known for. Plants, as you also may have heard, need water to grow. Without, genetic modification this would be a mutually exclusive proposition. But thanks to modern selective breeding and genetic modification, drought-resistant wheat strains were introduced to Kenya and thrive today. What was dusty is now green, and regions once known for distended bellies, starving children and Sally Struthers-worthy famine now have greater food security.

Of course, we are all smart enough to know that the practice of genetic modification doesn t unleash a fury of rainbows and sunshine into the world. On the other hand you have companies like Monsanto (cue scary music) who deliberately manipulate organisms to be resistant to herbicides like RoundUp, which they happen to also produce. Easiest gardening technique ever. Plant crop, damn the weeds, just wipe out every other plant on the field with a daisy cutter of chemical annihilation. That you happen to own the patent on.

If you re a farmer who plants Monsanto seed, you have to buy it under a license from the company. You also have to promise to not share it, and if you are a farmer on the field next door you have to make sure you don t accidentally get any of it crossed with your crops, lest you be in violation of Monsanto s patents. Of course, the entire Great Plains were fertilized by wind-borne seeds, so these things have a tendency to drift and migrate without asking permission from pesky humans first. With the hubris of owning power over genes, Mansantokind treads on dangerous ground. In fact, Nature herself has already been assailing the idea by producing RoundUp-resistant weeds. But is this yet a form of denialism? Perhaps denial of knowing that we can never truly have power over Nature, but not denialism in the sense of hindering scientific progress. Incidentally, organic farmers are suing Monsanto as we speak over their seed-Gestapo tactics.

Which brings us to organics . What a mess. What began as a way to resist the influx of chemical fertilizers and monoculture farming has turned into one of the biggest marketing schemes on Earth. You don t need me to explain that to you, though. People like Michael Pollan and Samuel Fromartz do a great job in their books and other writings. These foods still benefit the environment in many ways thanks to their avoidance of chemical fertilizer and slightly more seasonal growth cycles, but whether organic asparagus has more vitamins than conventional is a pretty thin claim. Organic foods, by just being organic , are not better for you. This is a form of denialism, where we assume that a marketing term has christened a carrot somehow better. It may be better, for us and for the environment, but being organic is beginning to have less to do with it than many other things. I suggest you look into the term greenwashing to learn more.

So in simple terms? No, organic foods are not healthier for you, per se. And GMOs are not bad for you or the world, per se. But some of the uses of the term organic are bad for you, just as some genetic modifications of foods actually make us less secure in our meals (and are just plain mean!). I don t think being GMO is bad, like many people jump to. Like I said before, this is a crisis of generalization, not of ignorance. If we would pay more attention to what these terms mean and don t mean, we would be able to separate the truly bad from the benefits each have given us. Is that denialism? I don t think so, unless we are denying ourselves a better perspective.

Advice? I m no sage, but try to do what mankind has done for ages: Eat what s around and not what s shipped from across the globe, eat it when it s in season, and try to make sure it was farmed in a way that makes you think of straw hats and overalls instead of lab coats and petroleum.