Lawyers of Big Tobacco Lawsuits Take Aim at Food Industry

This could get interesting. From the New York Times: Lawyers of Big Tobacco Lawsuits Take Aim at Food Industry

More than a dozen lawyers who took on the tobacco companies have filed 25 cases against industry players like ConAgra Foods, PepsiCo, Heinz, General Mills and Chobani that stock pantry shelves and refrigerators across America.

The suits, filed over the last four months, assert that food makers are misleading consumers and violating federal regulations by wrongly labeling products and ingredients.

Solar Toilet Disinfects Waste, Makes Hydrogen Fuel : NPR (

From NPR's "Talk of the Nation", a story about sustainability in waste processing: Solar Toilet Disinfects Waste, Makes Hydrogen Fuel

You might take that sound for granted. I know I do. That's because most of us hear it all the time, at least in this country. Toilets are everywhere here in the U.S. But a lot of people around the world don't hear that sound every day, because two-and-a-half billion people, with the B, don't have a safe, sanitary place to go to the bathroom, according to the World Health Organization.

That's why the Gates Foundation rolled out its Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, asking engineers to dream up waterless, hygienic toilets for people in the developing world. They held a toilet fair. Yep, they held a toilet fair in Seattle this week, complete synthetic poop.

And my next guest and his team top prize with a solar-powered toilet that not only disinfects waste, but also produces hydrogen fuel

Medieval Mindsets - 'vegans' in the middle ages -

For centuries the history of vegetarianism in the West was of a practice of "mortification", of attempting to subjugate the desires of the body to some supposed reward in an afterlife, rather than as a protection and celebration of life. I think this history still casts a shadow on vegetarianism today. At, John Davis looks at Medieval Mindsets - 'vegans' in the middle ages:

There were people who didn’t eat meat in Medieval Europe, and in Asia, but mostly for very different reasons to what we associate with veganism today.

In the western world the time after the fall of the Roman Empire - ‘the dark ages’, or Middle Ages or Medieval period, usually defined as about 500-1500CE. - was dominated by religion in both Europe and Asia, and many of those religions demanded various levels of abstinence and self-denial, even self-punishment.

Noteworthy is a Syrian poet, Al-Ma’arri (973-1057CE):

Thou art diseased in understanding and religion. Come to me, that thou mayst hear the tidings of sound truth.
Do not unjustly eat what the water has given up, [i.e. fish] and do not desire as food the flesh of slaughtered animals,
Or the white (milk) of mothers who intended its pure draught for their young, not noble ladies.
And do not grieve the unsuspecting birds by taking their eggs; for injustice is the worst of crimes.

Walnuts 'improve sperm health' (BBC News) Tom Swiss Thu, 08/16/2012 - 14:25

Chinese Medicine has long seen walnuts as a yang tonic, capable of promoting male sexual health. BBC News reports on research suggesting that walnuts can improve sperm quality, possibly due to their content of a-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid.
Walnuts 'improve sperm health' (BBC News)

Eating around two handfuls of walnuts a day improves sperm health in young men, a study in the journal Biology of Reproduction suggests.

Sperm shape, movement and vitality improved in men who added walnuts to their diet over 12 weeks.

The fatty acids found in these nuts are thought to have helped sperm development. It is not known if this would help improve male fertility.

The vagaries of vegan dating (BBC News) Tom Swiss Thu, 08/16/2012 - 10:38

BBC News discusses an issue near and dear to my heart: The vagaries of vegan dating

Whatever health benefits may come from not eating meat, milk, fish or eggs, veganism is still a minority pursuit, which means that vegans looking for vegan dates sometimes have a hard time.

While I certainly date women who aren't vegan, if I was going to get serious about someone they'd have to at least be vegetarian. I won't have the flesh of dead animals in the house. But it's interesting that, in my experience, women are often more willing to compromise on this; I wonder if it's part of the way our culture socializes women, that they're expected to yield to men. As the article notes,

According to Masters, the numbers ought to favour heterosexual men, as vegan women outnumber them by about three to one. But in practice it doesn't work out like that, he says. Vegan women, it seems, are more willing to tolerate a non-vegan partner.

"When I get together with my male vegan friends, we do sometimes grumble a bit about all the vegan women with non-vegan men," he says.

PLU Codes Do Not Indicate Genetically Modified Produce (The Huffington Post) Tom Swiss Thu, 08/16/2012 - 01:37

This myth about PLU codes continues to circulate. While it is true that four-digit codes (NNNN) represent non-organic produce and five-digit codes starting with 9 (9NNNN) mean organic, and it's even true that 8XXXX codes are reserved for GM produce, the fact is that using the 8XXXX codes isn't mandatory and no one does it. The only way to avoid GM produce is to buy organic or look for a "no GMOs" pledge.

More details at The Huffington Post: PLU Codes Do Not Indicate Genetically Modified Produce

Let's put a rumor to rest. No, the 5-digit PLU codes on produce do not tell you what is genetically modified or natural. This urban legend has circulated long enough, even on the best of websites. It's time to take it down.

Saving Lives In Africa With The Humble Sweet Potato : NPR (

I've been saying for years that GM crops like "golden rice" were a stupid (though profitable for Big Ag) solution to vitamin A deficiency, and that growing crops naturally rich in vitamin A was a much more effective and sustainable solution. Now the International Potato Center is on the case From NPR's blog "The Salt":

""This potato is healthier," one of the sellers, Jaume Otavio Martin, tells me. "It has more vitamins. These are the sweet potatoes that people want to eat, now. That's why I grow them. They're more profitable." About a third of all the sweet potatoes in Mozambique, Andrade says, now are orange. Recently, scientists gathered evidence from Mozambique and Uganda that these vegetables are, in fact, improving people's lives. Children who are eating them do have more vitamin A in their blood. Based on other studies of the effects of vitamin A, nutritionists are confident that the boost is big enough to improve the health of those children."

Saving Lives In Africa With The Humble Sweet Potato : NPR (

In Africa, a nutrition success story: Swapping orange sweet potatoes for white ones is improving the health of children by boosting vitamin A levels. Researchers are now trying to duplicate their success with other crops.

Strategies for Hot-Weather Exercise (Well)

I remember soccer player and coach Paul Crossley showing us how to pour water on the backs of our necks to stay cool during his soccer camp. Nice to see science catch up. (On a side note, I did not realize that Paul had passed away. I don't know what factors could have contributed to a heart attack in a former pro athlete who was only 48 when he died. But he was a nice guy and I'm saddened to learn of his death.)

"When they drank cold water, their heart rates were lower than when they did not drink. But only when cold water was poured over their heads did the volunteers report feeling blessedly cooler than in the other exercise session. They also said that the workout felt noticeably easier, and their skin temperatures were lower than in other sessions. They did not, however, actually perform better during the five-kilometer time trial, no matter what cooling strategy they employed. Their times were generally equivalent, whether they drank cold water, were doused with it, or neither."

Strategies for Hot-Weather Exercise (Well)

A chilled collar or an icy drink can help keep an athlete cool in hot weather. Dousing the head with water may provide added benefits, a new study found.

Daily Dose Of Dark Chocolate May Help Lower Blood Pressure : NPR ('s "The Salt": "Now, there's a new review from the Cochrane Collaboration, a science-based group in the U.K. that analyzes bodies of research to determine the effectiveness of health claims. It finds that compounds in cocoa called flavanols may help to reduce blood pressure." It's a small reduction; you get more meditation/mindfulness practice or exercise. But a little dark chocolate plus red wine still seems like a good idea for many reasons, health benefits among them.
Daily Dose Of Dark Chocolate May Help Lower Blood Pressure : NPR (

A little chocolate may lower your blood pressure, scientists say, but don't throw out the medicines just yet. The new study is the latest in a string of signs that some of the properties in chocolate might be good for you.

Triclosan, A Chemical Used in Antibacterial Soaps, is Found to Impair Muscle Function (Smithsonian Magazine)

Triclosan is a widely used bactericide, commonly used in soaps and other products. Smithsonian Magazine's science blog reports on new concerns about its safety:
Triclosan, A Chemical Used in Antibacterial Soaps, is Found to Impair Muscle Function

In recent years, though, research has shed light on a number of problems with employing triclosan so widely. Studies have shown that the chemical can disrupt the endocrine systems of several different animals, binding to receptor sites in the body, which prevents the thyroid hormone from functioning normally. Additionally, triclosan penetrates the skin and enters the bloodstream more easily than previously thought, and has turned up everywhere from aquatic environments to human breast milk in troubling quantities.

To this list of concerns, add one more: A new paper, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicates that triclosan impairs muscle function in both animals and humans.

The effect wasn't just on skeletal muscle -- test on mice showed a reduction in heart function. In other words, we've been throwing a cardiac depressant into consumer products for years now. Since it has become pervasive in the environment, the researchers also tested its effect on fish; exposing minnows to triclosan was found to interfere with their ability to swim. (Usual disclaimers about animal research apply.)

According to the FDA, using tricolsan-containing antibacterial soaps has no benefits over washing with regular soap.

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