Science News Finds: Eating Edition

Today is all about food, from the interplay between culture and ecology to the food choices we humans make. I found three great articles this week that talk about all aspects of food and infuse a lot of science along the way. So pull up a chair and let’s (heh heh) dig in.

First up is a blog post by Gary Taubes over at The Crux about the methodological problems with many nutritional studies. You know that weird feeling you get when you read yet another newspaper article saying, “eating chocolate makes you thin!” or “broccoli causes all types of cancer!” or some equally broad and outrageous headline? Well, this article breaks down the reasons those studies are often bunk, such as a low effect size, ignoring the major tenet that “correlation does not equal causation,” and overlooking a phenomenon called “the compliance effect.” At times, this article veers a little into territory that does not fit the Healthy At Every Size framework, but overall, the critical discussion of the pitfalls and failings of nutritional studies is accurate and great (heh heh) food for thought.

Second, we have an article from John Upton at the Bay Citizen (the link will take you to the New York Times print of the piece) about the complicated interplay of environmentalism, ecology, and culture when it comes to figuring out what to do the American bullfrog. The basic story is that the American bullfrog is an introduced species in California and it carries a deadly fungus, called chytrid fungus, that poses a huge threat to amphibians. Humans are not harmed by chytrid, but it spreads rapidly and does irreparable damage to aquatic ecosystems. Proposed laws to ban the sale of the bullfrog in California are being opposed by many people due in large part to the large role American bullfrog plays in the diets and culture of many Chinese-Americans. So now we are left with the tricky question – how can we protect amphibian populations while being mindful of the cultural importance of these frogs? And, uh, if you have an answer, definitely leave a comment!

This hyena looks so snuggly... until you remember it can crush your bones with its teeth. Photo taken by Eva Hejda Found in wikicommons.

Lastly, the majority of Christians have already celebrated Easter but for the Orthodox Christians, and these hyenas, Easter is still a week away. Yes, I meant to say “hyenas.” See, in this article by Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science, Yong describes the work of researcher Gidey Yirga who found that hyenas, noted scavengers who live on the outskirts of human cities and towns, have to alter their diet when humans alter theirs. Normally, hyenas eat meat scraps from the trash around cities, but since Orthodox Christians are prohibited from eating meat at Lent, all the butcher scraps the hyenas were feasting on are no longer available to them. Instead, the hyenas make food-ends meet by hunting for donkeys. It is cool to see how humans affect the food choices of the species around them. Those hyenas are pretty, pretty, pretty”¦ pretty tricky.


6 replies on “Science News Finds: Eating Edition”

ugh, I am always correcting people (or… gently reminding them?) that correlation =/= causation. It amazes me sometimes how defensive people get about it, too- usually something to the effect of “Hey, I’m only working with the information I have. Nothing says it’s *not* like that.” Well, great, call it what you want, but that still doesn’t make it true. Or science.

I love hyenas and after I heard the Anansi’s version of why they move the way they move, only more. Can’t we have Chinese-Americans start bullfrog plants in their gardens/basements that make the froggies  impossible to affect the environment but still give the Chinese-Americans all the legs (or whatever they need) they want?

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