Food for Thinkers: The Grand Finale

Recipes for transgenic foods, the ethics of cyborg Jainism, lunar agriculture, and Harry Potter at the farmers' market: food for future thinkers.

On the principle of going out with a bang, rather than fading away, I present, with a drumroll, the Food for Thinkers Grand Finale.

First up is Zackery Denfeld at the Center for Genomic Gastronomy, whose post describes using "the lens of cuisine to investigate transgenic foods."

As part of a recent course Denfeld taught at the Pacific Northwest College of Art, he asked his students "to examine the USDA’s database of Field Tests of GM Crops, as well as those on the Petitions for Deregulation list, and write recipes using the plants they found." As Denfeld points out, the process of turning a biosafety review report into a recognizable set of culinary instructions meant that his students had to find, hidden somewhere within the legal, scientific, and business jargon of the corporate filings, the "supposed purpose and cultural narrative of a plant."

Read Denfeld's post, "Teaching Transgenic Food," in full to find out what to prepare from the fruits of biotechnology, from Kentucky Fried Tofu (from soybeans engineered to produce higher levels of fatty acids) to Quick Energy Potato Bars (from transgenic potatoes whose altered carbohydrate metabolism creates no amylase).

On BLDGBLOG, Geoff Manaugh contributes five short vignettes to the Food for Thinkers carnival. "Spaces of Food #1" examines the practice of agriculture as "long-term re-formatting of the planet's landscape;" "Spaces of Food #2" introduces us to a lunar greenhouse currently being tested at the University of Arizona's Controlled Environment Agriculture Center; "Spaces of Food #3" visits the mushroom tunnel of Mittagong, where "disused industrial infrastructure and an emerging food-production system fortuitously intersect;" "Spaces of Food #4" showcases the neon-lit oddness of Taiwan's betel-nut stands; and "Spaces of Food #5" features an architectural proposal for an odorless fish market in Camara de Lobos, Madeira, which relies on the designed interaction between solar heat and a complex ventilation system to achieve a "self-deodorizing architecture of thermal air control."

Shared across all five BLDGBLOG posts, each of which is worth reading in full, is a sense that food can reshape space in both intentional and accidental ways, whether it be thousands of generations humanizing the planet through agriculture or a team of scientists making the earth's surface simulate a lunar field.

Meanwhile, on his blog, Quiet Babylon, Tim Maly ponders the will of animals to live and the will of plants to live, and arrives at this terrible ethical question: if we become capable of not eating, could we be required to stop? His post, which is entitled "The Cyborg Ethics of Eating" and is far too interesting not to read in full, considers proposals for driving predators to extinction (to eliminate all cases of animals eating other animals, not just human carnivorism), demolishes arguments for according lesser status to plants ("If the goal is an avoidance of suffering, how to account for the knowledge that plants use chemicals to scream?"), and finally frames the question of eating in moral terms:

A growing pool of technology and knowledge brings with it a growing sediment of moral duties. Once we are able to do things, we must decide whether to do them.

It's not all that difficult to envision a research program driven by moral goals. How does a Jain with a multi-billion dollar R&D budget approach the terrible problem of eating? Why not cut out the clumsy middleman of mastication and develop new systems for converting energy and nutrients directly into sustenance? Imagine a research program devoted to enabling cyborg Jainism.


Finally—and if your mind is not completely blown at this point, I give up—we move to a completely different kind of future, in which Robin Sloan saves the publishing industry through food. In an immensely enjoyable post on Snarkmarket, Sloan makes a powerful pitch for food as an "irresistible, universal hook"—"one of the most powerful tools" for selling ideas—and for fiction's dependence on food as an engine to move plot:

Today, in 2011, food isn’t just part of the background; it’s right up front, in sharp focus. We think, every day, about our food’s composition and its origin. We look at labels. We ask for options. We feel waves of angst and dread. We are uncertain.

This is the perfect environment for fiction.


Building on this union of food and fiction, Sloan then notes the twin facts that "one of the big problems with books is that there are fewer and fewer credible places to sell them" and that "there are more farmer's markets than Whole Foods stores in the United States." The next step is now obvious:

So what if you set up a stand next to the radish-monger and sold books at the farmer’s market? What if wasn’t the same pulpy selection you get at Wal-Mart—the latest Lee Child and James Patterson—but instead an inventory specifically concocted to tickle the brains and tug the heart-strings of farmer’s market true believers?

The next boy wizard will enroll in a magical cooking school.

The next Jason Bourne will be pursued by a sinister agribusiness giant and/or the Tuna Yakuza.

The next Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will be a girl with a street food cart.


I have to admit, I have heard more unlikely stories. Especially over this past week. But don't take my word for it: visit Snarkmarket to read "Harry Potter and the Farmers' Market" in full.

And on that note, I think it's time to say goodnight.

Food for Thinkers is a week-long, distributed, online conversation looking at food writing from as wide and unusual a variety of perspectives as possible. Between January 18 and January 23, 2011, more than 40 food and non-food writers will respond to a question posed by GOOD's newly-launched Food hub: What does—or could, or even should—it mean to write about food today?

Follow the conversation all week here at GOOD, join in the comments, and use the Twitter hashtag #foodforthinkers to keep up to date.

Images: (1) Teaching Transgenic Food by Zackery Denfield; (2) Betel Nut Beauties by Magda Biernat, courtesy of Clic Gallery; (3) Christmas Eve Feast by shadarington.

via David Leavitt / Twitter

Anyone who has ever worked in retail knows that the worst thing about the job, right after the pay, are the unreasonable cheapskates who "want to talk to your manager" to get some money off an item.

They think that throwing a tantrum will save them a few bucks and don't care if they completely embarrass themselves in the process. Sometimes that involves belittling the poor employee who's just trying to get through their day with an ounce of dignity.

Twitter is rallying around a gal named Tori who works at a Target in Massachusetts after she was tweet-shamed by irate chapekate, journalist, and Twitter troll, David Leavitt.

Keep Reading

Childbirth is the number one reason American women visit the hospital, and it ain't cheap. In fact, it's getting more and more expensive. A new study published in Health Affairs found that the cost of having a baby with employer-sponsored health insurance increased by almost 50% in the past seven years.

The study evaluated "trends in cost-sharing for maternity care for women with employer-based health insurance plans, before and after the Affordable Care Act," which was signed into law in 2010. The study looked at over 657,061 women enrolled in large employer-sponsored health insurance plans who delivered babies between 2008 and 2015, as these plans tend to cover more than plans purchased by small businesses or individuals.

Keep Reading

A meteorite crashed into Earth nearly 800,000 years ago. The meteor was 1.2 miles wide, and the impact was so big, it covered 10% of the planet with debris. However, scientists haven't been able to find the impact site for over a century. That is, until now. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal believes the crash site has been located.

Tektites, which are essentially rocks that have been liquefied from the heat of the impact and then cooled to form glass, help scientists spot the original impact site of a meteor. Upon impact, melted material is thrown into the atmosphere, then falls back to the ground. Even if the original crater has disappeared due to erosion or is hidden by a shift in tectonic plates, tektites give the spot away. Tektites between 750,000 to 35.5 million years old have been found in every continent except Antarctica.

Keep Reading