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Dietribes: I Have a Tooth to Pick With You

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The Washington Post had this to say about the toothpick, which I really think says it all: "A satirist once described a fictitious journal, titled 'History's Splendid Splinter,' which was devoted to scholarly essays on the wooden toothpick's 'role in social history, patterns of forestry, and the evolving technology of toothpick manufacture.' Henry Petroski, who quotes this dig at minutiae-obsessed pedants, gets the joke but refutes it, insisting that even the most insignificant objects can reward our close attention with new revelations."

"¢ "The toothpick was first used in the United States at the Union Oyster House. Enterprising Charles Forster of Maine first imported the picks from South America." That fact that, "to promote his new business he hired Harvard boys to dine at the Union Oyster House and ask for toothpicks," proves that everything is about marketing!

"¢ This little wooden tool can have many other uses - Madame de Lafayette utilized a toothpick (and watery pine soot) to write a biography while imprisoned during the French Revolution.

"¢ From the Annals of Too Much Time: Amazing toothpick sculptures plus a video. Truly "the essence of patience."

"¢ Check out this patent for a tongue toothpick from 1923 that looks exceptionally painful.


"¢ Not all toothpicks are created equal - traditional Japanese toothpicks are pointed at one end, and have grooves that allow it to be broken off to indicate that it has been used. If the unsightly nature of the "discarded" part is your problem, try Martha Stewart's clever solution. Discarded toothpicks can also help you to grow your own avocado tree!

"¢ Try this parlor trick of turning a group of toothpicks into a star without touching them (there's clearly some magic to it ... surely one of you brilliant readers can help determine if it's real or not?)

"¢ Toothpicks can also be dangerous. According to the Sherwood Anderson Foundation, "Anderson died of peritonitis in the Canal Zone a year or so later while on his way to South America. He'd swallowed part of a toothpick, some think at a party while devouring hors d'oeuvres and quaffing martinis before his ship left New York. By the time he got to the Canal Zone and into a hospital at Colon, it was too late."

"¢ Sort of like creating your own needle in a haystack, find the actual beard among the 2000 toothpicks placed within. And of course, a response video with even more beard toothpicks!

"¢ If you always have to have a toothpick, be environmentally friendly and do some investing all in one with a pick made of gold. Find other fancy models here.

"¢ Can a toothpick influence an election? Consider the Putin Toothpick "“ or get a set with his black Lab, Koni!

Pay by the toothpick at an Orange County Tapas restaurant.


It's important to floss (of course), so it's good to keep a toothpick handy. Any avid users out there?

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

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Dietribes: Cabbage
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• 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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