Dietribes: Tea


According to legend, tea was first discovered when (get ready for vagaries) some leaves happened to fall into a boiling pot and were found to have a tasty and aromatic effect. Sounds a bit suspicious to me, but here are some actual facts and figures regarding this important beverage of my Southern upbringing, tea.

"¢ There are three basic kinds of tea—Green, Oolong, and Black. In the U.S., 94% of tea consumed is Black, with Green coming in at a paltry 5% (as opposed to 80% Black and 19% Green worldwide). A fourth and more rare type of tea, White tea, is a Chinese tea produced exclusively from the buds or tips of the tea bush.

"¢ Most countries have their own tales of origin regarding tea, but as far as American consumption goes, the Cambridge World History of Food tells us "One great change in American tea drinking came about in the early twentieth century. In 1908, tea merchant Thomas Sullivan, in order to reduce shipping weight, began to package tea samples in silk bags instead of miniature tins. Some of his customers brewed the tea without taking it out of the bags and requested more tea packaged in this way; Sullivan obliged, and teabags were created. Today, in America, most tea is brewed from teabags."

"¢ More recently, teabags have been seen in the shape of a pyramid. However, if you like brewing your tea loose leaf, you should consider learning how to read your tea leaves. [Photo courtesy of Teadrop.]

"¢ Some of the largest world growers and producers of tea are China, India and Sri Lanka, and the bushes from which tea leaves are harvested are best grown in dense, tropical areas. Now, this sounds like a bit of Monkey News to me, but apparently now you can buy tea that has been hand-picked by, well, monkeys.

"¢ Richard Blechnyden is credited for "inventing" iced tea (this brings me back to considering the "invention" of the chocolate chip cookie—was there really a world with out it?) at the 1904 World's Fair. Now, 85% of the tea consumed in the U.S. is of the iced variety.

"¢ And of course, no one can mention American tea consumption without speaking of December 16, 1773. That's the date of the Boston Tea Party. Every American middle schooler is brow beaten to know that 342 crates of tea were dumped into Boston Harbor in protest of British Parliament's Tea Act of 1773. (You guys remembered all that ... right? Here's a refresher.)

"¢ Although we might guess the English, with their tradition of High Tea, to be the world's number one consumers of the aromatic beverage, it's the Irish who consume the most tea per capita, with an average person handling 4 cups a day (compare that to the U.S., where the average person has a mere half cup each day!)

OK, Ladies and Gents: how then do you take your average "half cup" of tea—hot or iced, sweet or unsweet? Any brewing suggestions or favorite flavors? And if you think you know all there is to know about tea, try your hand at the Tea Test.

[Previous Dietribes: Strawberries, Macaroni & Cheese, McIntosh Apples, Smoothies, Coffee, The Sweet Potato, Eggs, Cookies and Watermelon]

"˜Dietribes' appears every Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.

University of Pittsburgh
Researchers Create Motorized Wheelchair Made for the Water Park
University of Pittsburgh
University of Pittsburgh

Despite advances in technology, there are many aspects of the world that remain inaccessible to people with disabilities. But researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are working to make one activity easier for people who use motorized wheelchairs: navigating water parks.

The average motorized wheelchair has a number of electrical and battery components that can’t get wet, limiting who can access the joys of splash parks and pools. But a new wheelchair that uses compressed air instead of a heavy battery could change that, Gizmodo recently reported.

Created through a joint research project between University of Pittsburgh engineers, the university’s medical center, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the PneuChair is lighter and quicker to charge than traditional motorized chairs. It can also be repaired with basic hardware tools if something breaks in the midst of all the splashing.

The 80-pound chair (a traditional device can weigh up to 400 pounds) can travel about three miles on one charge, about a third of the maximum distance of an electric mobility device. Another benefit: It only takes 10 minutes to recharge rather than eight hours.

The university's Human Engineering Research Laboratories is also working on a scooter version for people who don't need the assistance of a full chair. “The potential to open opportunities for people with disabilities who need powered mobility to access splash parks, water parks, beaches or pools is transformative,” lab director Rory Cooper told the university's press service.

The PneuChair was designed in part for use at Morgan’s Inspiration Island, an upcoming water park in San Antonio that’s designed for people with disabilities. The accessible splash park—which is part of Morgan’s Wonderland, a fully accessible theme park—will initially offer 10 of the chairs to its guests for use while they’re there.

[h/t Gizmodo]

Dietribes: Cabbage

• Cabbages are derived from the wild mustard plant of the Mediterranean region, and have been popular since ancient times. Cato the Elder praised the cabbage for its many medicinal uses.

• Cabbages are highly nutritious, containing large amounts of Vitamin C, folate and fiber. That and its low calorie count is why some people use cabbage on weight-loss diets.

• However, the cabbage is also known to have a certain undesirable gastric side effect. As Nicholas Culpeper said in A Complete Herbal (1653) "Cabbages are extremely windy, whether you take them as meat or as medicine, as windy meat as can be eaten, unless you eat bag-pipes or bellows."

• Remember "freedom fries"? That wasn't the first time the name of one of our foods has been attempted to be changed because of political fervor. During World War I, Americans renamed sauerkraut "liberty cabbage."

• No one knows exactly how the Cabbagetown neighborhood in Atlanta got its name, though stories include the idea that the original poor Scotch-Irish residents (workers at the nearby cotton mill) would grow cabbages in their front yards, and that the smell of cooked cabbage was a nuisance (and later a point of pride). Other apocryphal suggestions include a train derailing or a Model T car overturning and spilling cabbages everywhere for people to snatch up, shouting "Free Cabbages!"

• Georgia has another cabbage connection - Cabbage Patch Kids, which were originally called Little People. In the late 1970s, art student Xavier Roberts started creating "soft sculptures," which he later expanded on by giving them birth certificates and allowing "adoptions." In 1982 the name changed to Cabbage Patch. By the mid-80s, the dolls went on record as having the most successful and in-demand introduction of a toy ever.

• Though cabbages have often been thought of throughout history as a cheap food, that's certainly not true in Northern Canada, where a cabbage can cost $28. The northern Canadian territory of Nunavut is so remote that anything not a product of hunting and gathering must be flown in.

• By the way, that corned beef and cabbage you cook up for St. Patricks Day? Not actually Irish. Though corned beef was made in Ireland in the 17th and 18th centuries, most Irish families were too poor to eat it. Instead it went to British citizens as well as the British and U.S. military. These days, the Irish reportedly find the dish just plain boring.

• Cabbages can have a killer instinct - genetically modified cabbages can produce scorpion poison that kills caterpillars when they bite leaves. But don't worry, the toxin is modified so it isn’t harmful to humans. (I like that the title of the article is "Venomous Cabbage"!)

• Another way to get rid of pests in your cabbage? Er, human urine. According to a 2007 study, "Our results show that human urine could be used as a fertilizer for cabbage and does not pose any significant hygienic threats or leave any distinctive flavor in food products." Good to know?

• The largest cabbage on record was called "The Beast" and weighed 127 pounds. Reportedly it wasn't actually particularly tasty, so it ended up as compost rather than on anyone's plate.

• How do you like to eat your cabbages, Flossers? And have you found a way to counteract their less-desirable side-effects?

Hungry for more? Venture into the Dietribes archive.

‘Dietribes’ appears every other Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.


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