GOOD

Spider Webs and the Battle Over Federal Caffeine Limits

One hundred years ago, the predecessor of the FDA had no data on how caffeine affects humans. Unbelievably, the same is pretty much true today.


A fascinating article in Monday's New York Times looks at the long debate over safe limits for caffeine consumption in the United States. "Long" in this instance means 100 years—journalist Murray Carpenter tells the story of the USDA vs. Coca-Cola, which went to trial a century ago this month.

At the time, Coke contained 80 milligrams of caffeine per serving, as much as a Red Bull today. To defend themselves against the government's charge that caffeine was a harmful ingredient, they hired a scientist to look at the effects of the stimulant on the mental and motor skills of both abstainers, occasional, and heavy users. No one had gathered this kind of data before.

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Food for Thinkers: A Few Good Menus

What menus can tell us about trends in design, culinary, economic, and urban history—and even the rise and fall of fish populations.



The New York Public Library's historic menu collection is one of the most impressive in the world, and its treasures are frequently featured on librarian Rebecca Federman's blog, Cooked Books. As part of Food For Thinkers, Federman chose a handful of curious examples—such as the way a childrens' section added to the Cafe Florent menu above tells the story of larger demographic changes in the neighborhood—to reflect on what makes menus such a fascinating subgenre within food writing.

Menus are ephemeral. They are used to convey information and when that information is no longer relevant, the item is often disposed of. The asparagus appetizer in April may not be available in August. The chocolate mousse from October 1st is not offered on October 31st.

However, like many pieces of ephemera, a menu's informational value rarely stems from its original, intended use. And that, for me, is where things get interesting.

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