Burger-making machine

Watch out, burger flippers of the world…Momentum Machines is looking to put you out of work with their new hamburger-making machine.  It slices the toppings on demand, offers custom meat grinds (mixing multiple meats, for example), and can produce around six burgers per minute.  This photo here is of an actual burger produced by the machine, and you know what?  It looks like the promotional pictures restaurants use for their burgers…you know, the pictures that look NOTHING LIKE the actual burger they serve you.  After the horrible experience I had at McDonald’s over the weekend (see the picture below)…I think this is the coolest machine ever made.  Read more about it over at Gizmag.

This was half of the Angus burger McDonald’s served me over the weekend. Sloppy construction. Giant glob of mayo (not shown). A couple slices of onions (when I has specifically asked for NO ONIONS).  If this is the best humans can do, I’d rather have a machine-made burger!

Review: Earthbox self-watering planter

Read the marketing literature, and the EarthBox sounds like a revolutionary approach to growing plants.  I was skeptical.  The truth is, it’s a self-watering planter with a very nice amount of attention to detail.  For example, they provide the right amount of fertilizer to use.  A plastic cover to reduce evaporation.  A nice fill tube and overflow hole.  Little stuff like that, but you know what?

It adds up to something great.

I’ve owned two of these.  The first, while I was living in California, produced a tomato plant over six feet high.  The second, in Colorado, has done a fantastic job of growing peas, beans, and cucumbers in a water-scarce climate.  I love it and can always count on the EarthBox to take care of the plants, giving them the right amount of fertilizer and water while I sit back and do nothing.  It’s available for about $50 at Amazon, in both organic and non-organic versions.  It’s large and heavy once you fill it with dirt and water, but still fits in nicely on a deck or patio, where hopefully you can keep the local wildlife away from it.

Which brings me to the one drawback…animals.  A raised bed is easily covered with deer netting to protect your crops, but this standalone planter doesn’t lend itself nearly as well to that.  That six foot tomato plant I mentioned?  It produced countless tomatoes.  I ate ONE, just one measly tomatoe from that whole plant.  The rest were enjoyed by squirrels, who were rude enough to eat the tomatoes before they were ripe enough for us to harvest for human consumption.  So, when planning a garden, be sure to look around your backyard…the EarthBox will help your plants grow fantastically well, but who’s going to enjoy the fruits of that?

What the food industry is selling us

Ready to be grossed out about our food supply?  Ok, here goes, thanks to this great article over at cracked.com (check it out for more juicy details…).

Do you like honey?  Do you think it’s *really* honey?  Think again.  The common practice is to buy honey from China, which, let’s face it, has a reputation for reducing cost at expense of quality.  When it comes to honey, that means stripping out the pollen (so its true source cannot be determined), and adding corn syrup and artificial sweeteners.  Buy local if possible, to avoid this.

Soy sauce?  Perhaps, but you’re just as likely to be eating flavored corn syrup and not even know it.

But hey, buying a whole, all natural chicken is ok, right?  I mean, it’s just a chicken, nothing added, right?  Yeah right, you wish.  Ever hear of plumping?  You probably don’t want to.  It’s a process whereby the raw chicken meat is injected with saltwater, chicken stock, seaweed extract, or other mystery ingredients to make the meat tastier and juicier.  We’re not talking about this being exclusive to ‘chicken nuggets’ and other processed mystery meat, no, this is done to whole chickens.  This also has the benefit (to the corporations) of increasing profits, as prices are typically per pound, and you’re paying for 15-30% saltwater instead of chicken.  Oh, and it still gets to wear its ‘all-natural’ label, because, even if it’s not all chicken, it’s all natural ingredients inside that wrapper.  Nice, huh.

Then of course there’s meat glue, where they take the little scraps of meat that don’t form big enough pieces for steak and, well, they glue them together to make a steak.

Ok, so skip the chicken and beef and get some fish, right?  How about some nice salmon?  That pink color comes from the shrimp and krill they eat.  Except the salmon you’re eating probably never had a single shrimp or krill in its life because most salmon consumed today (~95%) was raised on fish farms.  Its meat ends up a gray color, but that doesn’t sell well…so they dye it pink.  Hamburger and sausage is often dyed to a more pleasing red color as well (using a dye that causes cancer in mice…).

What about nice, yummy Kobe beef…is that any better?  Ha!  The rules that apply to Kobe beef production aren’t in compliance here…it’s basically illegal to produce Kobe beef.  Even worse, there’s no regulation on the use of the term “Kobe beef” outside of Japan, so as long as it’s beef, hey, Kobe it is then!  Chances are, unless you ate some in Japan, you’ve never, ever had Kobe beef.

How do you think olive oil is made?  From olives, right?  Yep!  Well, that and sunflowers!  While not legally accepted (people DO go to jail for this one), some extra virgin olive oils actually have been found to contain up to 80% sunflower oil (that’s only 20% olive oil!).  It’s an industry that’s at least trying to get it right, but corruption and greed are making it tough.  Your best bet is to get only ‘extra virgin’ oil, since others (like ‘light’) have been refined and are less natural.  Don’t shop based on the color of the oil, it’s meaningless.

These are just a few disturbing examples of what are thought of as natural, basic foods – not heavily processed items like cheetos (let’s not even go there…).  So, if you care about what you’re eating, what can you do?  As you see, not a lot.  However, you can start buy buying local…go direct to the source, where possible.  Get a quarter of a grass fed cow delivered (clean out your freezer first!).  Plant a garden.  Avoid ‘status’ foods like Kobe Beef that are carrying a heavy marketing message.

Good luck!

Over-consumption

No surprise here, but a recent article at phys.org talks about over-consumption on a global scale, how we’re consuming more than this planet can produce.  Think of it in terms of personal finance…we’re spending more than we’re making each money, and out savings account is going to run out (with no interstellar ‘banks’ to extend us credit!).

What I really found interesting though was the chart below, that illustrates how the carbon footprint of different food varies.  It’s amazing how bad cows are for our environment, especially compared to other meat options like pork or chicken!

Can GMO be a good thing?

“Genetically Modified” is a term that can mean a lot when it comes to plants, and I think that’s going to be an interesting issue in coming years.  On the one hand, Monsanto is modifying corn to produce a pesticide, and the idea of eating that scares me (just a warning, you’re probably already eating this!).  However, there are applications for GM plants that I’m more supportive of.  For example, scientists are working on making plants more drought-tolerant.  Considering how human-caused climate changed is predicted to alter future weather patterns, and the increasing demand for food due to a rising global population, I think GM applications like this will be necessary.  They also seem to pose less risk to consumers.  However, I fear that consumers will reject ALL GM foods based upon the results of some of the more scary ones, rather than open their minds to the idea that some GM foods may be OK.  History has shown that it’s not a matter of using science to show whether foods are safe or not; just look at how many Americans reject the indisputable science behind climate change.  This is more of an emotional and social issue, and I honestly don’t know what the answer is…but I do think this is a debate we’ll be having in coming years.

Our food supply is global

As a nice reminder of just how linked our global climate and food supply is, bluefin tuna off the California coast are showing levels of radiation indicating exposure at the Fukushima power plant in Japan.  It’s not a high enough level to cause immediate concern, though should serve as a reminder of just how small this planet is, and how the actions of one country can affect the others.

Read more over at Scientific American.

Blue strawberry?

Wow, talk about genetically modified food.  A BLUE strawberry?  Crazy stuff.  It seems the goal wasn’t to create a blue strawberry, but rather, one that would be resistant to freezing – which this one is – and the color was just a side effect.  Scientists took the gene that makes a type of antifreeze in flounder fish, and added it to an otherwise normal strawberry planet.  This abomination is the result.  This GMO field is one that really scares me…I recognize we may require widespread adoption of GMO in order to feed growing populations, but I’m concerned about the unknown side effects of creating living organisms like these.

Read more over at Care2.