Obesity, Global Trade and Beer Prices: Why the Farm Bill is actually cool

As is usually the case with bills in Congress, I had a lot of trouble believing that the 2007 Farm Bill was applicable to me. After all, the last time I even remember going to a farm was on a kindergarten field trip, when I got goat's milk squirted directly into my mouth and I almost threw up. So, when a friend told me the Farm Bill was really important for everyone, I laughed at him. That is, until he told me beer prices might go up. I did some poking around and, lo and behold, found out that the Farm Bill was actually far more interesting and important than it sounds.

The Farm Bill is the label given to an enormous bundle of programs related to food that comes up for review about every five years. Right now the Senate and House are debating two versions, which will be combined and sent to the President, who is threatening a veto. It controls nearly anything related to food, everything from crop subsidies to food stamps. It looks boring on the surface (unless you're really into distributing funds and studying crops), but once you get past that, it has effects on almost every part of life, from energy prices to foreign trade.

First off, the bill, not surprisingly, has an impact on the diet of the nation. But it is surprising that the impact is negative. That's right, the Farm Bill is making us fat. It subsidizes corn, soybeans and wheat, three crops that contribute to much of the carbs and fats from processed foods. That means farmers are more likely to grow these crops, making them cheaper to manufacturers and thus making fatty foods more plentiful and cheaper. Meanwhile, there's little support for growing produce, which is why those fresh veggies are more expensive than the Hostess cakes. However, this year's bill has given more focus to fruits and veggies, including a boost in funding for produce snacks for schools, so carrot sticks are back on the rise.

One of the more notable results of a farm bill is the food stamp program, which helps the poor buy food. In the version that passed the House, this year's Farm Bill increases funding to the program and expanding the number of people eligible. It's also helping out food banks, by giving them more support and more nutritious options. Believe it or not, the $4 billion boost for food stamps was one of the most contentious parts of the bill.

Even outside of food, the bill has far-reaching consequences. Much of the food produced domestically is exported or traded, so American agriculture affects much of the world's economy. Thus, the Farm Bill can do a lot to other countries, which is why the WTO has gotten involved in the discussions.

If the global economy doesn't interest you, how about energy production? Unless you've been under a rock for the past two years, you know alternative energy sources are hot topics, with people looking for clean options to replace traditional fuels. Ethanol has long looked like one of the best options, but ethanol production is zapping much of the corn supply. According to the laws of supply and demand, that's driving up the price of corn, even with the increased production from subsidies. Lawmakers looking to ease that problem have written in support for cellulose development, which would be used to beer mug.jpgproduce ethanol.

But all that energy talk may have much bigger consequences than just the environment. As farmers move to grow corn, what with the high demand and subsidies, they've moved away from other crops. Among others, there's been a decrease in barley and hops production, which means beer could be going up in price. And college students across the nation cry.

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Employees at Antarctica's McMurdo Station Are Throwing a Party for Pride Month
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Employees at Antarctica's McMurdo Station are gearing up to celebrate Pride month in one of the world's harshest environments. On Saturday, June 9, the station will host what Hannah Valian, who deals with the center's recycling efforts, calls "one of the larger parties ever thrown" at the station.

McMurdo Station is an Antarctic research facility owned and operated by the United States. The station is more sparsely populated during Antarctica's colder autumn and winter seasons (which run from March to September), but employees tell us there's still a decent-sized LGBTQ scene to celebrate this June.

About 10 of the 133 people currently at McMurdo identify as LGBTQ, says Rachel Bowens-Rubin, a station laboratory assistant. Valian said the idea for a Pride celebration came up in May at one of the station's regular LGBTQ socials.

"Everyone got really excited about it," she tells Mental Floss via email. "So we ran with it."

Ten individuals are wearing coats while holding a rainbow-colored Pride flag. They are standing in snow with mountains in the distance.
"I hope when people see this photo they'll be reminded that LGBTQ people aren't limited to a place, a culture, or a climate," McMurdo's Evan Townsend tells Mental Floss. "We are important and valuable members of every community, even at the bottom of the world."
Courtesy of Shawn Waldron

Despite reports that this is the continent's first Pride party, none of the event's organizers are convinced this is the first Pride celebration Antarctica has seen. Sous chef Zach Morgan tells us he's been attending LGBTQ socials at McMurdo since 2009.

"The notion is certainly not new here," he says.

To Evan Townsend, a steward at the station, this weekend's Pride event is less a milestone and more a reflection of the history of queer acceptance in Antarctica.

"If anything," Townsend says, "recognition belongs to those who came to Antarctica as open members of the LGBTQ community during much less welcoming times in the recent past."

This week, though, McMurdo's employees only had positive things to say about the station's acceptance of LGBTQ people.

"I have always felt like a valued member of the community here," Morgan tells us in an email. "Most people I've met here have been open and supportive. I've never felt the need to hide myself here, and that's one of the reasons I love working here."

Saturday's celebration will feature a dance floor, photo booth, lip sync battles, live music, and a short skit explaining the history of Pride, Valian says.

"At the very least, I hope the attention our Pride celebration has garnered has inspired someone to go out and explore the world, even if they might feel different or afraid they might not fit in," Morgan says. "'Cause even on the most inhospitable place on Earth, there's still people who will love and respect you no matter who you are."

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New Nap Pods—Complete with Alarm Clocks and Netflix—Set for A Trial Run at Airports This Summer
Courtesy of Airpod
Courtesy of Airpod

Sleepy travelers in Europe can soon be on the lookout for Airpods, self-contained capsules designed to help passengers relax in privacy.

For 15 euros per hour (roughly $18), travelers can charge their phones, store their luggage, and, yes, nap on a chair that reclines into a bed. The Airpods are also equipped with television screens and free streaming on Netflix, Travel + Leisure reports.

To keep things clean between uses, each Airpod uses LED lights to disinfect the space and a scent machine to manage any unfortunate odors.

The company's two Slovenian founders, Mihael Meolic and Grega Mrgole, expect to conduct a trial run of the service by placing 10 pods in EU airports late this summer. By early 2019, they expect to have 100 Airpods installed in airports around the world, though the company hasn't yet announced which EU airports will receive the first Airpods.

The company eventually plans to introduce an element of cryptocurrency to its service. Once 1000 Airpods are installed (which the company expects to happen by late 2019), customers can opt in to a "Partnership Program." With this program, participants can become sponsors of one specific Airpod unit and earn up to 80 percent of the profits it generates each month. The company's cryptocurrency—called an APOD token—is already on sale through the Airpod website.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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