London broke my eggs.

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Sometimes, I don’t understand London. It’s not one thing in particular, it’s just that I’ll go out and come home feeling exhausted and frustrated. Most of the time I chalk it up to being American. I just don’t understand what to expect in some situations.

Like today, for example. Nothing big went wrong, yet I came home with wet socks, holding a raw egg in my hand, and wondering why I couldn’t manage a simple day’s itinerary. If you understand this city, please leave tips in the comment section. If London bewilders you, too, perhaps you’ll relate to this sequence of events: Continue reading

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The Cardamom Building

London simultaneously steeps you in cosmopolitan bustle and historical intrigue. At the end of June, I spent a week reveling in both worlds. My apartment was along Shad Thames, a street formerly host to wharf commerce, that trails southeast away from Tower Bridge along the Thames River.

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I was across the street from Butlers Wharf, an old warehouse district that housed incoming goods, notably spices, from the Thames. The wharf opened in 1872, closed in 1973, and sold for redevelopment a decade later.

I could look down from my bedroom to see tourists stop and stare at the iconic iron bridges suspended between buildings, once avenues for trade, now home to flower pots and patio chairs. The bridges that used to guide spices into London are now inspiration for passersby to wonder: who is lucky enough to live here?

Continue reading

#AAASmtg Day 2: My inner agronomist + writing tips

Walking back into the Hynes Convention Center this morning, I felt prepared. I used the conference app to arrange my schedule for the day, I knew where to get free coffee, and I was wearing my most comfortable slacks. What I didn’t know was that career aspirations I had cultivated while studying agronomy at Iowa State University would come rushing back as Paul Ehrlich laid out his thoughts about the collapse our civilization. Yes, that is exactly what he did.

Thus, I spent my second day at AAAS swirling between science writers’ events and the global food security conversation at the meeting. I’ll spare you from the so-far-solutionless demise of the human race as articulated by Ehrlich and instead post a digest of advice from some of the best science journalists in the country. Below are highlights of luncheon panel discussion, including contributions by the likes of Carl Zimmer and Mariette DiChristina.

SCIENCE WRITING LUNCHEON:

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Advice from the winners: Continue reading

Wonders within wild watermelon

This post was first published as a special to Mongabay.com, see the original here

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A hard, white, and bitter watermelon has plant geneticists licking their lips with anticipation.

The size of tennis balls, wild watermelons grow natively in southern and western Africa. Geneticists cracked open this small relative to the juicy, summertime treat to extract ancient genetic material. They are mining the fruit’s DNA for useful traits such as disease resistance that cultivated, or domesticated, watermelons have lost.  Continue reading

The ethos of food assistance

Food stamps are now called SNAP and are distributed electronically, not in the booklet form pictured above.

Gina Wilson stretched up on tip-toes to hang her coat on her office door. With a little hop, she managed to secure her coat on the inconveniently high hook and then turned around with a laugh.

“I’ve been meaning to do something about that,” she said. “Or else do my best to grow.”

Gina has worked on hunger issues since ’85 and it’s hard to imagine she’s lost any spunk in those 28 years.

On her office wall hangs a huge map with tiny FoodShare cards and shiny birthday cake confetti strategically ticky-tacked into place to help her keep track of outreach and food collection efforts. The map covers the 16 counties that are Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin’s territory; Gina is their director of agency programs and services. She and Michelle Kramer, Second Harvest’s FoodShare outreach manager, sat down to chat with me about promoting and administering food assistance programs last week.

“There’s a lot of shame about asking for food. Lots and lots of shame attached to it,” Gina said. Continue reading

The state’s broken record: food stamp policy waivers

Sometimes it starts with a state-level politician grocery shopping. 

“I was behind this lady with a shopping basket loaded with sugary drinks, potato chips, cookies and candy. She had nothing of any nutritional value in her cart and when it came time for her to pay, she pulled out her EBT card and paid for it.” Mississippi State Senator

“Several months ago, I was in line at a local grocery store when I noticed someone with children in front of me purchasing an entire grocery cart full of chips, soda, doughnuts, ice cream and other junk food. Unfortunately, she pulled out her EBT card, which carries her monthly Food Stamp allocation-and, swiped it to pay for all of that unhealthy food and off she went.” California State Senator

Other times political constituents complain about what they saw at the supermarket. Either way, it’s only going one place: a request from the state to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for a waiver to restrict the type of food purchases allowed by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). That request will either die in discussion among state legislators or be rejected by the USDA.

How do I know this? It has already happened at least 11 times. Continue reading

Replacing hunger with health: a food stamp dilemma

It’s 7:00 on a weekday evening. You’re hungry. You stop by the store on the way home to grab some dinner and decide on a six-pack of Pepsi, a large bag of Lays Original potato chips, a frozen pizza, and a package of DoubleStuf Oreos. Not the healthiest, you admit to yourself, but you’re hungry and want something tasty, convenient, and cheap.

  

At the cash register you stand behind a couple with a basket of similar items, except they went even cheaper, with off-brand cookies, Ramen noodles, and the six-pack of Coca Cola that was on sale. When he pulls out his wallet to pay, instead of debit or credit, he swipes food stamp card. Wait a second, you think, are my taxes paying for someone to eat cookies and Coke?

You wouldn’t be the first person to think such a thought, and if you pursued it, if you dug beneath the reflexive dismay, you’d find your question spaghettis into many more. Continue reading