Welcome to FERN’s Friday Feed (#FFF), where we share the stories from this week that made us stop and think.
In China’s Inner Mongolia region, sand is the enemy. The population there has quadrupled in the last half century and the number of livestock has shot up six-fold, stripping the land of its natural vegetation and turning it into desert. Today, “sand lands …. cover as much as 27 percent of [China]” and they’re still expanding. “[B]y 2006, they were devouring usable land at a rate of almost 1,000 square miles per year (nearly the area of Yosemite National Park), up from 600 square miles in the 1950s,” writes Vince Beiser. Since 1978, the Chinese government has been on a mission to stop desertification by planting millions of pine trees to create what it calls the Green Great Wall. But while officials claim that the project is a success, experts worry that as much as 60 percent of those trees in some places actually die, and those that survive soak up water needed by native plants. To make way for all the trees, the decades-long project has displaced more than 600,000 farmers and herders, relocating them to improvised towns with names like New Storage Village.
In the mid-1930s, a farmer showed up at a lab at the University of Wisconsin with a bucket of cow’s blood that wouldn’t clot. It turned out that a lot of farmers in the state were watching their cows bleed to death internally, and they didn’t know why, just that the situation got worse after rainy days when the cows ate moldy hay. It took years, but by 1940, the chemist Karl Paul Link figured out that the bleeding was caused by a fungus in the mold that reacted to a substance in sweet clover hay called coumarin. He named the mashup of fungus and coumarin “dicoumarol.” Initially, Link pitched the combo as a rat poison, but he pondered other uses, too, and people around the world are thankful that he did. A version of dicoumarol is now sold as the blood-thinner warfarin, one of the most popular drugs of all time and a lifesaver for people who suffer from blood clots.
We know that midnight snacking can give you love handles, but a new study found it might also make your sunburn worse. “In a collaborative study between the O’Donnell Brain Institute at UT Southwestern Medical Center and UC Irvine, researchers found that mice that ate at abnormal times during the day and night effectively disrupted their skins’ biological clock, leaving them more susceptible to sunburn and long-term skin damage,” says writer Karen Lo. Noshing after dark was found to hinder the expression of XPA, a gene that helps repair DNA that has been damaged by UV rays, radiation and free radicals.
From pink garlic to white peaches, the UK’s food revolution has relied heavily on imports from the rest of Europe. But if Brexit means the end of affordable green plums from France, it also is likely to mean a shortage in restaurant and farm labor. “An estimated 25% of chefs and 70% of waiters in the restaurants the produce is heading for are EU nationals, according to a report by KPMG for the British Hospitality Association,” writes Dan Roberts. And most of the people working on UK farms are from Eastern Europe. Some experts are hopeful that Brexit will usher in an era of more local eating, but others worry that with labor shortages, farmers will have to mechanize, something only the largest operations will be able to afford.
Want to test your foodie genius? Here are some real Jeopardy questions, gastronomy style. Try this one for starters: “Orange butter sauce is doused in Grand Marnier and prepared in a chafing dish, it’s flame on! for this crepe dish …”
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