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Dietribes: Spinach

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• Spinach is far fancier than you might imagine upon first glance: in some cultures, greens like spinach and kale symbolize money. Beyond that, the “Florentine” moniker given to some French dishes is in honor of Catherine de’Medici, who is said to have eaten spinach at every meal.

• Sometimes spinach is just cheap and easy though, which is why researchers at MIT chose it to use in an experiment to convert the power of photosynthesis into charging up cell phones and laptops.

• What causes “furry teeth” from eating spinach? The food’s sandy beginnings could be partially to blame, but more likely it’s because it contains high levels of oxalic acid crystals, which coat teeth and leave a chalky feeling. I’m just happy to know I’m not crazy after having experienced this for years not knowing it was a common thing!

• If you’re on the fence about winter as a season, consider that many vegetables taste better when harvested in the winter. Why? In the cold some plants, such as spinach, break down their energy stores into “free” sugars, such as glucose and fructose, which keep the plant from freezing and make it even tastier once it hits your plate.

• No article on spinach is complete without mention of its greatest champion – Popeye! Popeye’s spinach cravings began in the Thimble Theater cartoon strip, and went on to become an indispensable plot device. Popeye was the first cartoon character erected into a statue – an honor bestowed upon him by spinach growers who credit Popeye with a 33% increase in U.S. consumption, saving the industry in the 1930s.

• Though a stray decimal point may have lead Popeye to believe he was getting more iron than he actually was (though can you imagine if he had feasted on eggs, pork or brown sugar instead?), spinach may help prevent cataracts and macular degeneration.

• Spinach did bring strength to Birdseye foods - it was one of the first frozen vegetable to be sold, after which Clarence Birdseye was able to pioneer the future of frozen food industry.

• Spinach can be a nuisance, at least to dishwasher makers – it's used as one of the test food residues in standardised tests for dishwasher performance. Residue (from cooked or tinned spinach) and its tiny green flecks are impossible to miss on a bright white plate, and also notoriously hard to get off.

• Still not enough spinach? Then take time to visit the Crystal City Spinach Festival, home of the self-proclaimed Spinach Capitol of the World!

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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