On the map Who used travel maps and why
Staying after school ...for hip-hop dancing
Professoriat What the faculty are up to
Three of a kind Goldberg jazz group on campus
Time capsule 1940 mementos unearthed
What's that you're eating Smorgasbord of food ecology
On exhibit Drawings at the Tang
Hardly Retiring Retirees Brown, DeSieno, Graves, Narasimhan
Books Faculty and alumni authors
Sportswrap Thoroughbred highlights
What's that you're eating?
Why did the British army need prickly-pear cactus? How can spinach be bad for you? How old is a one-pound lobster? Students in biologist Monica Raveret-Richter’s “Food Ecology” course have the answers, and lots of other social and scientific knowledge about the ripple effects of who eats what.
After a semester of honors-level class and lab study, plenty of readings, and a few field trips to area farms (a local sheep dairy and cheese sampling was on the itinerary), each student presented research—and a potluck dish on
a particular food item, discussing its nutritional value, environmental niche, economic or commercial impacts, and sociohistorical roles. Among the fascinating tidbits they served up:
• Prickly pears are good in salad and pie; Native Americans used the spines for pins; and the cochineal insect, which relies on the plant, was the source of the dye for the famous red coats of British soldiers.
• Commercial spinach growers use so much pesticide that spinach rivals strawberries as the most heavily treated produce.
• Today’s wild rice is pretty tame: farmed in paddies, it’s bred for shatter-resistant grains that all ripen at the same time to allow mechanical harvesting.
• It takes 15,000 sesame seeds to tip the scale at one pound; it takes a lobster about six years to grow to one pound.
Putting it in a nutshell (so to speak): “The immense ecological ramifications of human production and harvest of food resources,” says Raveret-Richter, are “complex, fascinating, and quite often unsettling.” —SR