We discovered two easy experiments you can do with milk and vinegar. One is hot, and requires adult supervision, and the other is done at room temperature. Who knew you could make plastic and glue from milk?
The first experiment we tried was making “plastic” from milk curds. Heat about a cup of milk in a pan until it gets a scum on top or gets lumpy.
Skim off the scum (curds) with a spoon and put them into a small bowl to cool. Eventually, we got tired of skimming and just let a thick layer form on top of the liquid. Then, I poured the hot milk out of the pan and scraped out the curds with a spoon, adding them to the curds we’d already collected. Add a tsp. of vinegar and let the mixture cool for about an hour. Then, slowly pour off the liquid (we blotted some off with a paper towel too) and knead the “plastic”. You can shape your plastic into anything you want- beads, balls, animals and allow it to dry on a paper towel. When it’s dry, you can even paint it! Our plastic was very soft and gooey, so we rolled it into small balls on toothpicks to make beads.
Milk contains a protein called casein, which is a polymer, or a chain, or long molecules which can bend and move until the plastic hardens.
We also made glue using milk and vinegar. Just add a cup of milk and 1/3 cup white vinegar to a clear jar or bowl. Mix gently and allow the mixture to settle until you can see two layers. The curds are the white layer on the bottom of the jar and the whey is the liquid on top. Fish some of the curds out with a spoon or sieve, or just pour off the whey. The curds can be used as glue. We tried it and found that our homemade glue worked pretty well for gluing paper together!
The vinegar separates the milk, allowing the fat, minerals and casein protein to form curds. White glue is made from caseins of milk curds. Cheeses, as you probably already know, are made from curds.
I wonder how hard it is to make homemade edible cheese curds. Maybe that will be a project for another day.
Eat fish. It’s good for you .
We hear this message over and over, and it’s true. Fish is good for you.
Most people are also aware that eating to much fish can be bad for you too, if it’s the kind of fish that tend to build up heavy metals and pesticides. Farm-raised fish can be full of toxins, depending on how they’re raised. After all, you are what you eat, even if you’re a fish.
Sadly, our appetite for our finny ocean friends has brought many of our favorite fish to the brink of extinction. The majestic Bluefin tuna is almost certainly doomed and many other species are in trouble too. It may not seem like a big deal, but fragile ecosystems hang in the balance.
What can you do to help save our oceans? Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch website and print off a Seafood Watch Pocket Guide to help you select seafood that is both safe to eat and abundant enough to be well-managed and caught in environmentally-friendly ways. They even have a sushi guide.
If you want to shop at a grocery store that sells seafood responsibly, Whole Foods Market seafood department works harder than any other fish market (I know of) to help keep farmed seafood and the environment healthy. They use the Seafood Watch program for wild-caught seafood and buy the rest from Marine Stewardship Council Certified Fisheries. I love their seafood department and I can enjoy their sushi without guilt!
In other words, if you do your homework, you can feel even better about eating fish!
The Monterey Bay is one of my favorite places in the world, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium is an amazing resource teeming with ocean life. Click here to go to webcams at the aquarium where you can watch fish, sharks, jellyfish, otters and more!
Did you know that we have ten times more microbes in our bodies than human cells? It may sound gross, but these microbes are often more friend than foe and keep us healthy in return for a little space to call their own.
There was a fantastic article in yesterday’s Science Times about microbiomes- what scientists call the collection of microorganisms colonizing our bodies. The study of microbiomes has intensified in recent years and scientists are trying to catalog some of the bacteria we carry.
I eat yogurt filled with healthy, or beneficial, bacteria on a daily basis to keep a healthy population of these little helpers living in my gut. This keeps the bad bacteria from finding a place to take hold. A more extreme version of this was mentioned in the Science Times article, where a woman dying of an intestinal infection caused by pathogenic, or bad bacteria was saved when bacteria from her husband’s intestines was introduced into her large intestine. Within hours, the good bacteria had “kicked” the bad bacteria out, taking over residence.
I also learned that babies born by C-section (like my three kids) are more prone to skin infections and asthma, possibly due to the fact that coming from the sterile amniotic sac, they are colonized by bacteria from adults’ skin rather than that bacteria from their mother’s birth canal. In fact, people with asthma have a different set of lung microbes than healthy people and obese people have a different set of bacteria in their guts than people of normal weight.
You’ve heard that kids on farms and are exposed to dirt have healthier immune systems than city kids? It’s not the dirt itself, but the microbes in the dirt giving them their immune systems a boost.
There are years of hard work in the lab ahead of scientists to validate their beliefs that beneficial bacteria may one day be a weapon in the arsenal against infectious disease, but in the meantime, I plan to keep eating my yogurt and letting my kids play in the dirt.
I don’t usually buy farm-raised fish. Too many articles I’ve read tell me that the fish are polluted with chemicals and that fish-farming pollutes the environment. So, I dutifully check my Seafood Watch card and spend a little more on wild, sustainable, healthy fish.
When our Twin Cities blogging group, the Blog Pantry, met at Local D’Lish a few weeks ago, my eyes were instantly drawn to a fish tank set up at the back of the grocery store. The owner, Ann, told me they were setting up a small-scale aquaponics system that would use water from the fish tank to fertilize vegetables and herbs they were planning to grow in the store. I had seen a larger-scale version of the same thing on Will Allen‘s amazing 3-acre urban farm in the middle of downtown Milwaukee in the film “FRESH.”
Apparently, this type of closed loop, recycling system allows people to grow crops using less water while raising cleaner fish for food. Systems like these may revolutionize the way people farm in the future.
According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor,
“Recirculating aquaculture systems, or RAS, are closed-loop production systems that continuously filter and recycle water, enabling large-scale fish farming that requires a small amount of water and releases little or no pollution.
About 99.75 percent of the water in each unit is continuously cleaned and returned to the fish tanks. Manure filtered from the water during the recycling process is used as fertilizer on nearby farm fields. The nutrient-rich water can also be used to feed vegetables and herbs in large-scale aquaponics systems, which in turn filter the water for reuse.
One of RAS’s biggest benefits is its small “water footprint,” which opens the door to commercial fish production in areas with limited water resources. (The technology is proven for both fresh- and saltwater systems.)
Cool! Maybe someday, we’ll all have little kitchen gardens hooked up to fish tanks!
In the meantime, I look forward to a future where I can buy farm-raised fish with a clean conscience.
In today’s paper, I was disgusted to read that two school-age children, a toddler and a 70-year old man were victims of an E.coli outbreak this week caused by raw milk from a Minnesota dairy. The toddler is currently hospitalized with a serious condition related to the infection (hemolytic uremic syndrome) which can cause kidney failure and death. These are unnecessary illnesses and people are putting themselves and their children at risk by drinking raw milk.
Pasteurization is the process of heating up food to kill any bacteria it might contain. Louis Pasteur first tested the process in 1864 and it is perfectly safe. However, some people who drink raw milk feel that beneficial proteins and bacteria are destroyed during the heating process.
According to the Health Department, several dozen people are sickened by raw milk every year in Minnesota. Unpasteurized milk can contain the live pathogens, or bad bacteria, E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter. Most people are careful handling and cooking meat to avoid the very same pathogens. Why they wouldn’t mind drinking them is a mystery to me.
Beneficial, or “good” bacteria can be found in most yogurt and many companies now add beneficial bacteria to other dairy items, including pasteurized milk. I suspect that many of milk’s other beneficial heat-sensitive proteins can be found in other, safe foods as well. Even raw milk cheese made correctly is safer than raw milk, because it contains other microbes that inhibit the growth of pathogens.
Maybe people don’t realize it, but giving their child a glass of raw milk is as risky as feeding them a raw hamburger. I’m glad to hear the state is cracking down.
This afternoon, I buzzed through Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules”, which are basically his Cliff Notes on a healthy diet. His mantra is “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants,” which is hard to argue with when you look at the superior health of nations who eat according to those rules. Here in America, where we eat mostly highly processed, sweetened and fatty foods, we’re on the verge of a national epidemic. Obesity and diabetes will kill more and more people each year, young and old alike, and further cripple our ailing health care system if we don’t change our eating habits. Americans literally can’t afford to keep eating this way.
Here are some of my favorite food rules from the book:
#13 “Eat only foods that will eventually rot.” It is scary that there are foods that even bacteria and fungi won’t touch.
#19 “If it came from a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t.” I can follow this maybe 70% of the time, but I love cold cereal.
#27 “Eat animals that have themselves eaten well.” Costs a little more, but who wants mad cow disease?
#36 “Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of milk.” My kids and husband love Fruity Pebbles, but I ALMOST never buy them.
#37 “The whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead.” Complex carbs rule.
#41 “Eat more like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Italians. Or the Greeks.” How do you say “yum” in all those languages?
#43″ Have a glass of wine with dinner.” My favorite food rule.
#44 “Pay more, eat less.” Why are people willing to spend money on everything EXCEPT healthy food?
#58 “Do all your eating at a table.” This is harder than it sounds, but a great rule and teaches your kids good eating habits.
#59 “Try not to eat alone.” Eating is most enjoyable when it’s a shared activity.
#63 “Cook.” We only order pizza once a week. That’s not so bad, is it?
#64 “Break the rules once in a while.” My second favorite rule and essential to the sanity of anyone with kids to feed.
So, this weekend, call some friends, cook a good meal (that includes a salad) and open a bottle of wine. You’ll just be following the rules.
Posted on “Food Renegade’s” Fight Back Friday July 1, 2010
Move over, red meat. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is the new bad boy of the food industry. Although companies like Hunt’s, Gatorade and Pepsi are rushing to replace HFCS with sugar, it’s ubiquitous in our nation’s food supply. Not only was there a recent report of mercury contamination in HFCS, but in February, a study came out of Princeton University suggesting that rats fed HFCS for 6 months gained more weight, had more body fat and showed higher triglycerides than rats fed the same amount of table sugar (sucrose.) A flurry of debate, fueled in part by the corn syrup industry, followed, calling into question the significance and accuracy of the study. In the meantime, Michael Pollan’s book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and films like ”Food Inc.” and “King Corn” accuse the corn industry of practically force-feeding Americans corn products.
I’ve been skeptical about all the negative press that High Fructose Corn Syrup is getting. As I recall from my biochemistry class, all sugars are broken down into their simplest forms so the body can use them for energy. They can be used immediately, or stored for later use either as fat, or as a carbohydrate called glycogen.
Reading more, I learned that sucrose, and HFCS are both composed of two simple sugars: glucose and fructose. Both contain about 50% glucose and 50% fructose. The big difference is that the fructose molecules in HFCS float free, while each fructose molecule in sucrose is stuck tightly to a glucose molecule.
The Princeton researchers think the unbound fructose in HFCS is more likely to be stored as fat than the bound fructose molecules in sucrose. They may be on to something.
It makes sense that sucrose and HFCS would be processed, or metabolized, differently. Our body has to do some work to break apart the glucose and fructose in sugar, while the fructose in HFCS is instantly available to our metabolic machinery. For thousands of years, our bodies have evolved to break down plants, whole grains and meat to power our cells. Now, we’re essentially shoveling pure energy down our throats in the form of HFCS, white flour and other processed foods. I don’t think it will be long before researchers have more concrete evidence that corn syrup is not equivalent to sugar in the human diet.
I’m not going to knock myself out avoiding foods containing HFCS, but as a mom and a label reader, I will definately choose products sweetened with sugar. Call it a gut feeling.
For centuries, people have harvested corn by hacking it off, six to fifteen inches above the ground. A caterpillar called the corn borer appears to have adapted its behavior to the corn harvest by travelling back down the stalk to a safe height, before spinning its cocoon. This week, the Science Times reported on a study that suggests that, by descending to the bottom of the stalks, the bugs avoid being chopped off when the corn is harvested. Researchers at McGill University think that “over generations, those caterpillars that did not descend, or did not go down far enough, did not survive.” In the article, Dr. Calcagno suggests that the likeliest explanation for this behavior is the selection pressure of harvesting over generations. In other words, only the caterpillars that crawled down survived to reproduce and make baby bugs, until only caterpillars with the family trait of crawling down remained in the population.
Similar forces are at work on bacteria that live in animals and humans, only instead adapting to harvest, they’re adapting to constant exposure to antibiotics. As a result, many harmful bacteria are finding ways to “outsmart” antibiotics. This is, in part, due to the mind-boggling volume of these drugs fed to animals produced for food. I can’t give you a number, because according to the Center for Disease Control’s website, the amount of antibiotics fed to farm animals is not available to the public or to government agencies.
Feeding animals antibiotics helps them grow. No one knows exactly why. Unfortunately, using these drugs as growth enhancers, or even to protect them from disease, often creates antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria that have the potential to end up in our food supply. These drug-resistant pathogens are especially dangerous to people who live and work on farms ( just ask Russ Kremer, who was gored by one of his hogs and nearly died from an antibiotic-resistant infection.) In reponse to the global threat presented by antibiotic resistance, the World Health Organization recommended that antibiotics used in humans should not be used to promote growth in food animals.
Healthy animals occasionally need to be treated for infections, but feeding animals antibiotics for growth benefits is a risk no one should be taking. A huge amount of money is spent each year on these drugs so producers can get top dollar for their animals. My worry is that the additional costs to public health are not being considered, especially if our pharmaceutical arsenal is rendered useless by this practice.
Happy Earth Day! This weekend, we planted a garden. Few things make me happier than watching my kids digging in the dirt, planting things. Maybe it’s because I come from a long line of farmers, or maybe it’s the sun-warmed, homegrown tomato I can almost taste just by thinking about it.
One of the most interesting books I’ve read recently is Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” which follows four meals from field to table (from McDonald’s to foraging for mushrooms and hunting a wild boar.) It reminds the reader of how disconnected we have become from the sources of our food. One of my favorite parts of the book talks about Joel Saletin, who is a seminal figure in the sustainable agriculture movement and probably the most famous farmer in America. His bio on the FRESH movie website says:
“Joel calls himself a grass-farmer, for it is the grass that transforms the sun into energy that his animals can then feed on. By closely observing nature, Joel created a rotational grazing system that not only allows the land to heal but also allows the animals to behave the way the were meant to – as in expressing their “chicken-ness” or “pig-ness”, as Joel would say.”
This week, Joel is in town with Ana Joanes, who has made a documentary called “FRESH” that celebrates the farmers, thinkers and business people across America who are re-inventing our food system. It’s about food, but it’s also about economics, community and social justice. Last weekend, I was lucky enough to meet both Ana and Joel while volunteering at one of Joel’s lectures and was impressed with their optimism and sense of humor. Ana recently told planetgreen.discovery.com ”I just had a little girl. Her name is Maayan. And, as clichéd as it may sound, I just want to do right by her. I don’t know what reality she’ll face when she reaches adulthood, but I’m trying my best so she doesn’t have to pick up the pieces of our recklessness and inaction.”
I saw FRESH last night in Minneapolis and loved it! The movie is just 70 minutes long, but you will want to talk about it for two hours afterwards! Tonight’s the last night it’s showing, so if you’re in the Twin Cities, don’t miss it! You can order tickets here.
The movie brings up interesting points about monocultures, antibiotic resistance, high fructose corn syrup, the corn industry (which my grandparents’ farm in Iowa is a part of,) and beneficial bacteria. I’m planning to explore many of these issues on this blog by writing a weekly post about food science between science experiments! Stay tuned!
Congratulations to Michael Moss, of the New York Times, for winning a 2010 Pulitzer Prize for his expose “The Burger That Shattered Her Life.” According to the New York Times, his reporting on the ground beef industry ”led the Agriculture Department to review it’s safety procedures and a major slaughterhouse and food retailer to agree for the first time to test raw ingredients that would go into ground beef.”
I remember reading his work and being shocked to learn that many ground beef producers wouldn’t sell to retailers who wanted to retest their meat for E. Coli contamination. The system still isn’t perfect (see my post on ground beef additives,) but at least someone is listening.