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Dietribes: Eggplant

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• Few foods have gone through the kind of transformation the eggplant has. From being considered "the mad apple" on the presumption it caused insanity, to having a complete overhaul as the aphrodisiatic "apple of love" in sixteenth century Spain to being used as a cosmetic for black dye that was sometimes used to polish teeth to a metallic sheen in fifth century China!

• In case you were wondering, the eggplant is indeed a fruit. "But remember this joke: Knowledge is knowing that eggplant is a fruit; wisdom is not using it in fruit salad."

• Eggplants may not be any use in a fruit salad, but it makes for serviceable bacon. Eggplant has also been distinguished as a papal gift (Pope Pius IV greeted guests with it), a Crayola color as of 1998, and a way to make penguin figurines.

• Add eggplant bacon to your list -- "it is said in the Middle East that a woman is not ready to marry until she knows 1,000 ways to cook eggplant."

• Eggplants are native to India, and India and the Far East are still its largest consumers.

• Where does the "egg" bit come in for a purple plant? Originally the plant was named for a white-skinned variety that was small and similar to, you guessed it! an egg.

• Eggplant also has a rich poetic history: In Istanbul, the southern wind was named patlican metlemi (eggplant wind) because it blew on the many fires where eggplants were grilled. In Sicily, eggplant is called quaglie (partridge) because its long fruits are often cut by cooks to resemble wings. A famous Japanese proverb says: the happiest omen for a New Year is first Mount Fuji, then the falcon, and lastly eggplant.

• Medieval Persian philosopher Abu Ibn Sina cautioned that the eggplant could caused pimples, leprosy, blood thickening, insomnia, and excess of black bile. But they also gave the eggplant a little bit of a break, saying beneficial qualities could be extracted by salting and soaking.

• Eggplant is low in cholesterol and high in fiber and B6, although it has a very high sodium content with calories coming from sugars.

• We don't eat many naturally colored blue or purple foods, (there aren't that mant) but they are worth seeking out: "purple foods contain anthocyanins, which are health-promoting chemicals that help protect cells and heal your body. Research suggests they play active roles in promoting eye and heart health, decreasing cancer cell proliferation and more."

• So how do you Flossers enjoy your eggplant? As a vegetarian I use it pretty often as a meat substitute!

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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