Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
— Groucho Marx
By Joe Romano,
For years now we have seen futuristic kitchens of all description — "smart kitchens," with appliances that can be controlled with our phones, hidden kitchens that disappear like a Murphy bed, minimalist kitchens, outdoor kitchens, automated kitchens, and even kitchens made of recycled paper.
These are modern cookzones equipped with computers, lasers, glass cooktops, induction plates, invisible burners, automated stirrers, turbo ovens, vaporizers, heating spoons, flash freezers, extruders, ozonizers, ultraviolet ray lamps, electrolyzers, colloidal mills, autoclaves, dialyzers, stills, and of course, half of them will talk to you.
Traditional housewares have been replaced with digital readout measuring cups, rollup toasters, musical salt shakers, and milk jugs that can call you to tell you that the milk has gone bad.
The Qumi, a cooking device shaped like a crystal ball, can be used for heating, frying, and steaming and can only be controlled through your mobile device. I'd keep my eye on that one.
Molecular gastronomy offers hot gelatins, airs, seafood ice cream, faux caviar, and globe-shaped ravioli. Many of these food experiments involve gelled spheres that literally burst in your mouth (futuristic food pills!) and may rely on flasks of liquid nitrogen, syringes, pH meters, and LED-blinking water baths for their creation.
But the biggest leap into the world of futuristic food may be taking place right up the hill at Cornell University, where a group of students are making food with a 3-D printer. The machine can't make just anything you ask for yet, a la Star Trek or The Jetsons, but it can currently deliver frostings, batters, chocolates, pastas, sauces, condiments, meat, cheese, and many other foods. Print out a cheeseburger anyone?
Not only can it make you the food you desire with the click of a few keys, but it can make it in any shape you want. It can even make your food look like you, making things so much easier for waitstaff of the future.
When did food get to be so complicated? Just as you've begun to get a handle on basic nutrition, ethical consumption, packaging, GMO's, and the difference between a nutrient and a micronutrient, along comes all of this stuff. Isn't there anyone trying to make food choices simpler?
Enter Ria Chhabra, a 14-year-old middle school student from Dallas, Texas.
She heard her parents arguing at the dinner table over the price of organics and decided to do a little experiment of her own. She didn't use any of the equipment listed above for her study. In fact, it was just a modest science fair project attempting to resolve the argument her parents were having. The question — "Is there any value to organic food?"
For her original middle-school science project, Ria decided to measure the vitamin C content of organic fruit and vegetables compared with that of conventional produce. Her experiment showed that there was more vitamin C in organic foods. That wasn't enough for this middle-schooler, though; she wanted to find out more.
After searching the Internet, she decided that using fruit flies might work the best for her next experiment, which would investigate the effects of organic eating on overall health. After all, that's what her parent's argument was really about.
She searched for researchers who studied fruit flies, and contacted several professors to ask for their help. While this kind of request from someone so young would not usually be taken seriously, Ria's methodical work ethic and attention to detail intrigued Johannes Bauer, an assistant professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, who surprised both himself and the young student by agreeing to work with her. "The seriousness with which she approached this was just stunning," said Bauer.
Not only was she offered university laboratory privileges normally reserved for graduate students, but Ria's study of fruit flies and organic foods has earned her top honors in a national science competition and publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Ultimately, her study has raised some provocative questions about the health benefits of organic eating.
The research, titled "Organically Grown Food Provides Health Benefits to Drosophila Melanogaster," studied the effects of organic and conventional diets on the health of fruit flies. Ria's study was as simple as it was profound. Feed organic produce to one group of flies and conventional produce to another. The results?
Advantages of the fly system lie in its cheap operating costs and its short generation time ... . We therefore used the fly model to investigate whether certified organic produce provided any health benefits to fruit flies ... . We performed tests measuring the longevity, fertility, and stress and starvation resistance of flies raised on organic food extracts versus flies raised on conventional food extracts. Our data demonstrate that flies raised on organic food extracts by and large performed better on the majority of health tests. Drosophila raised on diets based on organic foods performed better on 13 of 17 independent tests (15 of 19 if the activity data is considered).
Flies raised on organic potato, raisin, or soy diets had significantly extended longevity compared to flies raised on conventional produce extracts.
Flies fed extracts of any organic produce had significantly higher daily egg production than flies fed conventional diets.
Flies raised on extracts of organic raisin and banana food had higher overall activity than flies fed the conventional diets.
According to Tara Parker-Pope of the New York Times:
Ria has continued to work in Dr. Bauer's lab. For her 10th-grade science fair project she created a model for studying Type 2 diabetes in fruit flies. She plans to build on that research by studying the effects of alternative remedies, like cinnamon and curcumin, found in turmeric, on diabetes in fruit flies.
Dr. Bauer believes Ria's research raises the question of whether organics produce more natural compounds that ward off illness and whether those compounds offer additional health benefits to those who consume organic foods, including humans. He notes that currently, "There are no hard data on that, but it's something we'd like to follow up on."
Ironically, Ria will probably find herself in scientific kitchens of the future for the rest of her life, studying food and its effects.
As for her parent's argument over the price of organic food? Let's just say that any fruit fly passing through their house these days can expect a long and healthy life, dining strictly on organic foods.
New in Produce
|Local Produce Rolls Deep This Month|
If you're looking to keep your veggie drawer filled with local bounty, this is your month. Fruit, veggies, herbs — it's all here.
September brings the anniversary of Brazil's declaration of independence after centuries of Portuguese rule, the birthdays of legendary boxer "Rocky" Marciano, writer Truman Capote, and American revolutionary Samuel Adams ("I'll have a Samuel Jackson"), and the autumnal equinox. Summer's over ... how short it was. While I will lament the end of summer until it returns again, we can at the very least look forward to the rich and vibrant local harvest that continues on through this most comfortable of months. Stick and Stone Farm brings us delicious heirlooms tomatoes, green beans, and three kales: Red Russian, dino, and curly. We've got local apples — Sansa, Cox Orange Pippin, Pink Pearl, and more; and plums — Castelton, Long John, Fortune — from Black Diamond Farm; plus more veggies from Blue Heron Farm — broccoli, celery, cilantro, garlic, red potatoes, and tomatoes. Here comes fall, "que sera sera."