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Dietribes: I Believe I Can Fry

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• In addition to the waffle which bears their name, the Belgians claim to have invented "French" fries, although accounts are unconfirmed. Fried potatoes were around as early as the 1700s, where Thomas Jefferson sampled them in Paris and brought the recipe home. At a White House dinner in 1802, the menu included "potatoes served in the French manner."

• The "French" in French fry did not catch on until the first World War, where American soldiers feasted on these friend potatoes while stationed in France. From then on there was simply no stopping them - more than 4.5 billion pounds of fries were sold in the United States last year.

• But the Belgians are not to be deterred - "so seriously do they take their fried potatoes that four years ago a vocational center started to train would-be frites sellers. Classes are always oversubscribed. The school, in Leuven about 30 km (20 miles) from Brussels, spends a year teaching aspiring vendors the tricks of the trade, from the sugar content of various potatoes to techniques of double-frying. They have to write a thesis to graduate, says the school's communications chief, Lieze Struyf."

• What happens to the potato skins once the fries are sliced, shaved and shaped? The shavings were once sold as livestock feed, but by 1953 there was a tastier answer. Mixed with spices and friend, these little delicacies became Tater Tots.

• Sometimes fast food just isn't fast enough, which must have been the rationale behind these French fry vending machines.

• Just when you thought there was no way to make us any fatter ... ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce you to the French fry covered hot dog. Admittedly that may actually be delicious, but as for these chocolate-flavored, cinnamon-flavored, and blue-colored "Funky Fries" ... the public and I remain skeptical.
 
• Hmm, remember that little situation with French fries being renamed Freedom Fries? For those unaware, they are back to being French again.

• Sometimes it's ok to play with your food ... like if you want to paint a portrait with ketchup and fries, or take part in New Jersey's annual fry sculpting contest.
 
• I love French fries, you love French fries, First Lady Michelle Obama loves French fries. “They are my favorite food in the whole wide world,” she said. “I could live on French fries." Even though they maaaaay cause cancer ...

• But I can't end on such a down note, I love fries! I make my own, usually out of sweet potatoes. And don't even get me started on the Tater Tot, the most perfect food to eat when you're starved late at night. How do you Flossers prepare your fried spuds? And are all fast food fries the same, or is there a clear winner for taste and crispiness?

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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