Dietribes: Lobster Tales

• Lobster love goes back a long way (1605 marks the first recorded lobster catch), while the creatures were more than plentiful in the 17th and 18th centuries. But originally these sea creatures were consider pauper's food - there are stories of indentured servants having it written into their contracts that they could not be served lobster more than twice a week.

• The Guinness Book of World Records lists a 44-pound 6-ounce specimen caught off Nova Scotia in 1977 as the largest lobster on record (which was eventually was sold to a restaurant).

• However, there are many tales of lobster liberation: In 1987, A 22-pound lobster (estimated to be around 40 years old) escaped the fate of many when an Alaskan doctor paid to have it taken from Anchorage to Maine and set free in the Atlantic. Another lobster in new York City estimated to be 140 years old, was similarly released back into the ocean after being granted a reprieve.

• For those not as lucky, lobster claws are banded in tanks because the creatures are especially cannibalistic (and strong - a lobster's claw can crush a man's finger). Lobsters are also bottomfeeding scavengers, leading many to call them "cockroaches of the sea."

• Lobsters also need no longer fear fisherman's bait and traps, but rather, a joystick. In a Maine restaurant, patrons can catch their dinner live via a "claw machine," as one would use for plush toys, if they can (those lobsters are wiley - but perhaps it would be more fair to pitch the machine up against a robo lobster?)

• A lobster that has lost one claw or has any missing appendage is called a cull. One that has lost two claws is called a bullet or dummie. But do not dismay - lobsters can grow back new claws, legs, and antennae, surviving mangling by sharks or other foes.

• Lobsters come in other colors than pre-boiled brown, rare as they may be - a yellow lobster's chances of appearing are around one in 30 million. Elsewhere, one particularly odd two-toned lobster has merged boiled and pre-boiled looks. But the real king of the Unusual Lobster Color crown? The blue lobster.

• Is "lobster shell" the new "tortoise shell"? "The shells from Maine's signature seafood are being used to manufacture decorative tiles, trivets and drinking-glass coasters. Work is under way to utilize them in countertops and tabletops. And at the University of Maine, a professor has developed prototypes of biodegradable golf balls and plant pots made out of ground-up lobster shells." Lobsters also make for unique fashion.

• Artists and poets seem to also have an affection for lobsters - Salvador Dali had his infamous lobster telephone while Gérard de Nerval took his pet lobster for a walk in the gardens of the Palais-Royal in Paris, saying "I have affection for lobsters. They are tranquil, serious and they know the secrets of the sea.”

• March of the Penguins? Fugghedaboudit when compared to the March of the Lobsters.

• Where are all those lobsters marching to? More like marching away from lobster festivals that include such events as crate racing (which looks difficult, dangerous and painful).

• And the most bizarre lobster fact this week - you can hypnotize a lobster. No really, it's easy. Just stand it on its head with its claws laid out in front of it and its tail curled inward. Rub your hand up and down the carapace making sure to rub between the eyes. Eventually it may(!) stand by itself (honestly this would probably make me go catatonic, too).

• Share your own lobster tales in the comments!

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‘Dietribes’ appears every other 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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