Dreaming of a Bowl of Cereal (6/19/2014)

I opened the door to the pantry with a little more anticipation than usual this morning.  This was the morning after our return from India, and images of the first breakfast that I would consume at home had been playing in my head towards the end of the trip.  I was looking forward to my first bowl of cereal!  I felt a sense to relief when I looked up at the top shelf in the pantry and saw the nine different boxes of cereals neatly lined up, just as I had left it before we departed for India.  This was going to be a good morning!  Perhaps the breakfast of my favorite cereals would help me to get back into the swing of things in Gaithersburg after having been away for more than three weeks.

Truth be told, this trip to India has been somewhat  unusual, with a few life events experienced, both planned and unplanned, both happy and sad, and with enough changes and adjustments to plans and schedules to keep things more uncertain than usual.  One managed to keep up with the flow, and the good thing is that with the current circumstances of ones life the mechanics of making such adjustments to the travel plans were the least of the problems to be tackled.  I have to thank all those who facilitated all of the last-minute changes in schedules in various ways without hesitation and without asking questions.  You all know who you are.   Thanks also to everybody, family and friends, for their extreme hospitality in spite of the disruption that one caused.   I have to mention the one “planned” trip I made to a facility to meet up with an old school friend of mine for the first time in nearly forty years. It was a great gift to me that he recognized me the moment we met.  But the circumstances were difficult.  The extremely destructive mental disease that my friend suffered from had aged him well beyond his years.   The intelligent and handsome young boy I had gone to with school appeared to have been destroyed by his illness.  Life can be cruel, and some of us are more fortunate than others.

But back to the present.  The cereal boxes await me in the pantry and the routine of breakfast at home is going to help me get back on track.  Perhaps you wonder at the number of cereals in question.  Each one of them is a unique, and need I say a “healthy”, mix of grain, dried fruit and nuts.  So what does Kuria do with all of this?  He puts a little bit of each cereal that meets his fancy on any particular morning into his cereal bowl and creates his own yummy mix.  This is what it looked like this morning.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then it is time to add some fruit,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand then some milk,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand down it goesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAuntil the bowl is empty!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, while I did relish the idlis, dosas, vadas, upma and other great stuff that I ate for breakfast while in India, this was what I was looking forward to and enjoying this morning.  Let’s see where the rest of the day takes me.

Submitted for the Weekly Photo Challenge with the theme Morning!

CRISPR

How many of you have heard of CRISPR?   I gather from the Wikipedia article that it somehow holds the key to a gene editing technology that is relatively simple to implement compared to  older methods in this field.  Pioneers in this area of science include Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier.   This is mind-blowing stuff with many practical applications.   You can develop approaches to tackling diseases by modifying the DNA itself.  (Think of approaches to attacking cancer in the most efficient manner without having any of the current side-effects of such treatment.) You can easily modify the DNA of pests such as mosquitoes that spread diseases as a form of pest control.  You can easily modify the DNA of plants so that they are more useful to humans. You can easily modify the properties of microorganisms so that they are less dangerous to humans, and perhaps even do useful things for them.  The possibilities are endless, and therein lies the problem.

It is a fact that we human beings have played a very significant part in determining the nature of the lifeforms that exist on this planet today.  As a process of evolution, human beings have changed over the centuries, and we have also managed to impact a lot of the things around us that we find in “nature”.  If you think that all the meats and the fruits and vegetables that we buy in the grocery store are all “natural”, think again.  They have all taken the form they are today only because we as humans have managed to affect changes to the lifeforms that are the basis of our foods in a certain way to our benefit.  We have dominated the environment of our planet in this context.  In addition to the evolutionary changes that we have caused (sped up through the process of efficient “farming”), we have also been affecting faster and more deliberate genetic changes through science in the last century or so.  While we may not have looked at what we were doing with that perspective, we have always been playing God.  And while all of this is happening, there is this moment every once in a while when we momentarily pause to consider the ethical impact of what we are doing.

The pace is now about to pick up significantly!  With simpler technology for gene editing, we have the capability to move forward much faster.  Not only that, we have the ability to open up newer frontiers in science, and with that raise a bunch of new ethical questions.

Medicine has always been about trying to take care of the problems of human beings at all stages of life and very often regardless of the costs involved.  We have been successful in extending human life significantly (for what reason, one is not always sure).  We are all about trying to make sure that people are healthy and that we overcome any health issue with all the resources available.  With the new gene repair technology, having access to all of this can become only a matter of cost.  There are of course always ethical questions involved when cost enters the picture.

But the more intriguing ethical dilemma to me will be about the process of creating a life.  It seems that not only will will be able to fix problems after birth, but we may even be able to address them before we are born.  Wow!  For example, if there is a risk of Down’s syndrome in a baby, perhaps we can now do something about it very easily before the baby is born!  Now, we are really playing God.

I suspect that some people are going to be appalled by the ethical questions that are raised, as if we are crossing some barrier that must not be breached.  But truth we told, we have always been playing God, and we have always been willing to accept any science and technology that we feel is to our benefit.  Only now the pace of “progress” increases, and this progress continues relentlessly.  It is all a continuum and the barriers that are only in our minds will be hurdled over before too long.   Where we are headed, nobody really knows.  This process started a long time ago.

The really crazy thing about all of this is even as science and technology leads us fearlessly across new frontiers, we are still unable to address some other basic requirements for humanity to thrive.  We still have inequality in the world. We still have poverty and hunger.  Crazy!

What Percentage of Food Produced in the United States Never Gets Eaten?

It feels rather strange to be writing about the topic of wasted food once again in such short order, especially since my attention span is short and usually tends to wander from random topic to topic.  But it turns out that events are happening in this domain that seem to line up with my attention being drawn to the subject.

A few weeks ago, after a lot of thought, I wrote a piece about the wastage of food, specifically bread, that I see at the food bank I volunteer at.  I called the piece The Economics of Wasted Bread.  Having not followed the subject too closely in the past, I felt that I might be a lonely voice in the wilderness speaking on the topic of food waste.  It turns out that I was wrong.

More recently I posted a blog where I provided a link to an article addressing food wastage. I had found the link in an e-mail from an organization dealing with social issues.  It turns out that there are other more capable people thinking about this subject.  If you track down the links in the article I pointed to, you will see that some of the numbers quoted in there come from a report by an organization called the NRDC. If you really want to dive into the weeds on this topic, you can read their complete report here.  The folks at NRDC tackle a variety of subjects of the “tree-hugging” variety, and having encountered them in a different life, I can say that the report ought to be taken with a grain of salt.  But  having said that, and also based on my own experiences, I have little doubt that the general tone of the report is correct and appropriate.

Whether you believe the numbers or not, the topic is in itself noteworthy, and the best person to present this topic in an entertaining manner is John Oliver.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8xwLWb0lLY

If John Oliver is right, the concept I had of the “Expiry date” of products from the legal perspective was incorrect.  But I think some my thoughts on the subject were on the right track.

So, at the end of this blog, you should know NRDC’s answer to the question as to what percentage of food produced in the United States never gets eaten.  I find the numbers shocking.

PS.  A thank you to my daughter for providing the link to the video.