I’ve often joked with David about converting our trusty canine-and-condiment-hauling vans to “green” vehicles by filling the gas tanks with recycled deep fryer oil. Besides being the cheapest option for long-term fuel use, it would have the added benefit of making everything inside the van — including the driver! — smell like the world’s best food: FRENCH FRIES.
But it turns out there’s now a competing recycling market for used fryer oil; and frankly, it’s so cool, I’m willing to let them have it. Researchers at UofT Scarborough’s Environmental NMR Centre have devised a way to use recycled fryer oil as raw material for 3D printing. They were motivated by the great cost of standard light-projection printing resins they needed to make custom parts for their nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer — a breed of machine we encountered in this space last week. CNN Business has details:
“[Professor Andre] Simpson had bought a 3D printer for the lab in 2017. He hoped to use it to build custom parts that kept organisms alive inside of the NMR spectrometer for his research.
But the commercial resin he needed for high-quality light projection 3D printing (where light is used to form a solid) of those parts was expensive.
The dominant material for light projection printing is liquid plastic, which can cost upward of $500 a liter, according to Simpson.
Simpson closely analyzed the resin and spotted a connection. The molecules making up the commercial plastic resin were similar to fats found in ordinary cooking oil.”
Simpson and his students scored ten litres of used fryer oil from a local McDonald’s, filtered the food particles out of it, and began refining it into a usable resin. Several batches in, the team printed a butterfly as a test. It was sturdy, stayed solid at room temperature, and, most excitingly, proved to be biodegradable when buried in the soil. The applications for the team’s discovery, while tangential to their original aim, could be endless — and environmentally sound, in more ways than one. Delicious!
With the current health climate, we at DFC consider ourselves luckier than ever that we live out in the woods. Still, we are laying in a few supplies in case we get sick. This is a continuation of our usual winter M.O.: Who wants to schlep out to the shops when you’re coughing and miserable, whatever the cause?
I’ve always thought is essential to have some freezer meals, painkillers, ginger root, and cold meds at the ready all winter. And honey; definitely honey! The straight-up miracle elixir that not only coats your throat, but has enzymes, antioxidants, and trace vitamins in it that will make every cup of tea a healing experience! … Right?
But Vice has sad news this cold season, that the honey we trust off the shelf may not at all be what it seems. Author Shayla Love has uncovered the fact there is shockingly little regulation involved in the manufacturing, labelling, and selling of honey. While real raw honey itself has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties and was even used by ancient cultures as a wound-healing salve, some modern manufacturers are heating their honey until those benefits disappear, faking its provenance, or even adding sugar syrup to stretch their wares — all without informing the health-conscious consumer. Love sees this fraud in action when she brings various kinds of honey to the Sweetwater Science Labs for testing.
“In the past five years, another technology has stepped up to bat: nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMR). NMR isn’t new, but its application to honey is. The NMR food screener, made by scientific instrument producer Bruker, can analyze the magnetic fields of the atoms in any substance. When you image honey with NMR, it creates a spectrum that acts like a fingerprint, and can test for at least 36 different components of honey. NMR can also identify the country it came from using that molecular fingerprint by comparing it to a growing database of more than 18,000 honey samples established by the Honey Profiling Consortium, a collaboration of all the labs that use this specific technology on honey. […]
But the total number of people doing NMR testing on honey is small—so small, in fact, that [Jim] Gawenis’s lab at Sweetwater Science in Columbia, MO is the only lab facility in the United States currently using the technology.”
The whole article is an interesting, but sobering, read. I take it as a cautionary tale about how, when certain industries are given an inch, they take a mile — sometimes trampling our consumers’ rights. It’s up to us sometimes, to use science to protect one of our most interesting and delicious foods, and ultimately us.
We at DFC have been really lucky. As we’ve been expanding our sauce and condiment business, we’ve developed fantastic relationships with some really lovely food folks — the Ormsbee’s Mercantile team who provide us with maple syrup, and the garlic gurus at the Bowness Family Farm, to name just two! We’ve been learning more about organic, local growing practices, that are in touch with the natural cycles of the earth — and often result in better, more delicious products!
But, this new awareness of our interconnectedness has brought a stark realization with it. Our freaky winters and parched summers can wreak havoc with our friends’ harvests, and their — and our — livelihood.
Climate change is upon us. And, as I’ve recently read in a fascinating take in Vice, the most devastating effect it could have (floods and ice storms aside) on the world’s food supplies. According to scientists, we are already seeing higher amounts of toxins in certain foodstuffs. Cassava is a big one: not only is lack of water is allowing (in this case, naturally occurring) hydrogen cyanide to concentrate, but the scarcity of other things to eat due to drought forces people to eat more of the hardy root— and more of its cyanide.
But there are many other ways climate change could start to poison our food.
“Plants try to protect themselves in the face of a changing climate too, and the ways they do can be harmful to humans. They use a compound called nitrate to grow and convert it into other molecules like amino acids and proteins. When crops like barley, maize or millet are faced with drought, they slow down or stop this conversion, which leads to a nitrate buildup. […] If a human eats large amounts of nitrate, it can ‘stop red blood cells from transporting oxygen in the human body,’ Yale360 reported. […]
In the opposite direction, heavy rains can lead to a toxic buildup of hydrogen cyanide or prussic acid in foods like flax, maize, sorghum, arrow grass, cherries and apples. […] With flooding, there can be an increase in fungal growth and mycotoxins on crops.”
All these toxins wreak havoc on the human body. And, as is the unfortunate case with most terrible natural disasters, the people hardest hit will be the most disadvantaged — the ones who can’t pay their way to safety.
This planet is the responsibility of all of us, though. And we in Canada can’t content ourselves that we’ll be (short term) fine as the planet warms, nor can we out-of-sight-out-of-mind our fellow food eaters. I don’t know what it’ll take to turn this climate change ship around, but I sure hope it doesn’t require something as intimate as changing our very sustenance into poison.
Long-time readers of this newsletter can corroborate: We’re always interested in the development of AI through machine learning. We’ve seen computer bits of intelligence fool university students, teach English to Japanese schoolkids, name kittens, and sort Lego.
While it is fun to think about a computer dubbing a baby cat Snox Boops, how well does machine learning work with less frivolous data? Well, a team from MIT has found out, by challenging an AI to pore through thousands of pharmaceutical compounds and come up with a working antibiotic. And it has succeeded — unbelievably well.
“To find new antibiotics, the researchers first trained a ‘deep learning’ algorithm to identify the sorts of molecules that kill bacteria. To do this, they fed the program information on the atomic and molecular features of nearly 2,500 drugs and natural compounds, and how well or not the substance blocked the growth of the bug E. coli.
Once the algorithm had learned what molecular features made for good antibiotics, the scientists set it working on a library of more than 6,000 compounds under investigation for treating various human diseases. Rather than looking for any potential antimicrobials, the algorithm focused on compounds that looked effective but unlike existing antibiotics. This boosted the chances that the drugs would work in radical new ways that bugs had yet to develop resistance to.”
The AI found a stellar combo, which the researchers cheekily named “halicin,” after the meddling computer HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey. But the antibiotic itself is far more helpful to humans than anything HAL was responsible for: In tests, it has cleared the bacterium behind tuberculosis and C. difficile, as well as a host of other, equally drug-resistant bugs.
Its creators are hoping to work with a non-profit or pharmaceutical company to bring halicin to the market in the near future. Until then, their concept proven, they will continue to throw molecules at their trusty AI — who knows what medical wonders will come out the other side!