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658 - Bulgarian Salad Voted Europe's Favourite Food
Elections for the European Parliament have been held every five years since 1979, but none have been as crucial as this 8th edition, taking place from 22 to 25 May. The euroskeptic parties poised to win are set on freezing, or even reversing half a century of European integration.
Not that the average European voter (if such a strange beast exists) seems to give a hoot. Turnout dropped below 50% in 1999, and looks set to continue its downward trend.
But the twin evils of voter apathy and anti-EU populism will not win the day unopposed. Leading the fightback is the European Parliament itself. On its Facebook page, the 751-member assembly proposes parlour games and a map of national dishes – one for each of the 28 member states – to turn the election results marathon on tv into an evening filled with transnational fun and culinary delights.
Clearly, the European Parliament is drawing inspiration from the Eurovision Song Contest, the annual competition to find the continent's kitschiest song. The annual finale of that televisual feast spawns innumerable house parties across Europe, to cheer on national favourites and to gawk at the parade of outrageous costumes, competitors and compositions.
Eurosong may be palatable only with a stiff dose of irony, but the fact remains that it is a genuinely popular, continent-wide event at which European countries compete with and vote for each other. If only that other European project could borrow some of Eurosong's uniquely unifying vibe.
That's what A Taste of Europe is trying to do. As explained on the initiative's starting page on the European Parliament's Facebook:
You live in Europe, you work in Europe, come 22-25 May you will be voting for Europe – now have a Taste of Europe.
Celebrate Europe by making a feast of the European elections […] Election Night is when you finally get to see for yourself what impact you made on Europe’s future, so why spend such a big night alone? Why not host a fun EU Election Night for your friends and family, so you can watch - and hopefully celebrate - the election results together?
Just take a second to take stock of the fact that the European Parliament has just taken over party-planning your life. If you see nothing wrong with that, you are beyond redemption and may proceed to download the entire 'election toolkit'.
That kit consists of personalisable popcorn boxes, napkin rings with EU member state flags, drinks markers to prevent your guests mixing up their glasses (that would just be too hilarious!), and even a fun game where you stick a random flag to your forehead and have to guess which EU member country you are by asking your friends pertinent yes-no questions (“Are my main exports footwear and pharmaceuticals?”)
When the time comes, the app will even include a live stream of the election results. So there really is no escaping the fun. Meanwhile, your guests could each prepare a national dish to bring to the event. A handy map provides an overview of the EU's favourite dishes.
Each favourite has been selected from a wider list of national recipes via the pseudo-democracy of 'likes'. If you don't see your favourite dish among the list, you could always add your own recipe (although we doubt whether Reindeer Pad Thai or the mysteriously-named '5677778' really are Austrian specialty foods).
What do these dishes and their relative popularity tell us about the state of European democracy?
28. Malta: fenek moqli (fried rabbit). 41 votes.
Maltese rabbit does not have the same ring to it as Maltese falcon.
27. Luxembourg: gromperekichelcher (potato fritters). 65 votes.
Like the Maltese, there just aren't enough Luxies to vote this dish up in the rankings.
26. Ireland: arán prátaí (potato farls). 77 votes.
Not shunning the cliché, Ireland's favourite dish consists of... potatoes! At least the Irish name is marginally more pronounceable than the Luxembourgish one.
25. Denmark: Dansk smørrebrød (Danish open sandwiches). 80 votes.
Scandinavia's efficient, no-nonsense approach to governance also applies to their culinary efforts.
24. Finland: avokadopasta (pasta with avocado). 82 votes.
Arctic avocados thrive in the short, intense Finnish summer.
23. The Netherlands: pannenkoek (traditional Dutch pancakes). 100 votes.
The first dish on the list to break the three-digit barrier, from the first country on the list to break the 10-million inhabitants mark. European democracy is not about how right you are, but about how big you are.
22. Sweden: köttbullar (Swedish meatballs). 116 votes.
An interesting variant to the chicken-and-egg question: What was popular first, Ikea or Swedish meatballs?
21. UK: fish and chips. 155 votes.
This shows just how out of touch the EU is with the groundswell of British public opinion. Everybody knows that chicken tikka masala is Britain's favourite food. Or is it Chinese stir-fry now?
20. Cyprus: flaounes (easter cheese pies). 177 votes.
Cyprus is only half-in the EU; the Turkish north doesn't get a say. But the food is ecumenical at least: flaounes are a delicacy eaten both at Easter and during Ramadan.
19. Slovenia: potica (dessert). 178 votes.
Sweet yeast dough rolled around a filling of nuts, honey, butter, raisins and cinnamon. Slovenia's greatest contribution to the world. Or do you know of any other?
18. Germany: Spargel mit Sauce Hollandaise (asparagus with Hollandaise sauce). 178 votes.
The German favourite dish shows two things: the 'Europeanisation' of Germany (which other country elects a food covered in Dutch sauce?) and its diminished enthusiasm for the European project (only as many votes as tiny Slovenia?)
17. France: bœuf bourguignon. 201 votes.
A French classic, rightfully earning more votes than Germany's asparagus, but still stranding at a disappointing 17th place.
16. Belgium: moules frites (steamed mussels and fries). 204 votes.
One of the few things most Belgians can agree on.
15. Czech republic: svíčková na Smetaně (beef sirloin in cream sauce). 219 votes.
Wait, does this mean the Czech composer Bedřich Smetana is actually called Freddie Cream?
14. Croatia: zagorski štrukli (cheese puff pastry). 228 votes.
Part of Croatia's Intangible Cultural Heritage, this pastry is fortunately tangible enough to eat.
13. Hungary: tölltött káposzta (stuffed cabbage rolls). 275 votes.
Hungry in Hungary? You'll likely get stuffed with stuffed cabbage rolls.
12. Portugal: arroz de pato (duck rice). 290 votes.
In northern Portugal, you'll find very few ducks voting for Christmas. That's when they'll end up in this seasonal favourite.
11. Spain: gazpacho (cold soup). 331 votes.
Spanish soup is like revenge: best served cold.
10. Poland: bigos (hunter's stew). 385 votes.
The recipe doesn't say how many hunters you need for a stew.
9. Latvia: rupjmaizes kārtojums (sweetened rye trifle). 402 votes.
Well, it sounds delicious.
8. Estonia: kiluvõileib (sprats with bread). 437 votes.
Who knew Estonians were this desperate to be Scandinavian?
7. Italy: spaghetti alla carbonara. 613 votes.
A simple, but strict classic: should only consist of al dente spaghetti, egg, cheese and pork (guaniciale – pig's cheek – if you can get it).
6. Austria: Wiener Schnitzel (Viennese cutlet). 735 votes.
The highest-ranking food from Western Europe; as with Eurovision, Austria uses its pivotal position between east and west to garner votes from either side.
5. Greece: dolmathakia (stuffed grape leaves). 799 votes.
The appetizer that is as classically Greek as Alexander the Great. But wait, wasn't he Macedonian?
4. Slovakia: bryndzové halušky (dumplings with sheep cheese). 811 votes.
These Slovakian dumplings are four times as popular as boeuf bourguignon. But are they four times as delicious?
3. Romania: sarmale (sweet cabbage rolls). 995 votes.
Romania shares with Hungary a predilection for cabbage-based dishes, but is about four times as proud of it.
2. Lithuania: šaltibarščiai (cold beet soup). 2,268 votes.
Relatively few in numbers, the Lithuanians are still enthusiastic enough about the EU to vote their favourite dish high up in the rankings. That, or cold beet soup must be a lot more delicious than it sounds.
1. Bulgaria: shopska salata. 14,214 votes.
Winner by a massive landslide, crowning the evidence that, like Eurovision, A Taste of Europe is heavily dominated by Eastern Europe. But there is a twist to the Bulgarian win: some commenters suggest that shopska salata it is as much a Serbian dish, and perhaps even more so than a Bulgarian one. But Belgrade gets nulle points, as Serbia is still outside Brussels' political (and culinary) orbit.
Meanwhile, the real European elections are crucial for another reason: for the first time, the European Parliament will directly elect the President of the European Commission (currently José Manuel Barroso).
The change is hoped to amplify the relevance of the European elections, revive the interest of the voters and increase turnout. But of course, the EU wouldn't be the EU if the process wasn't overly complex and only marginally democratic.
The candidates for the five-year EC presidency were put forward by the so-called Europarties, the half-dozen ideological alliances within the European Parliament. They are: Guy Verhofstadt from Belgium (for the liberals), the tandem José Bové from France and Ska Keller from Germany (for the greens), Martin Schulz from Germany (for the social democrats), Jean-Claude Juncker from Luxembourg (for the centrists), and Alex Tsipras from Greece (for the leftists).
Neither of them is electable throughout all member states. The European Council will draw up a shortlist of presidency candidates based on the overall performance of the Europarties, and then present that list to the newly-elected European Parliament for its consideration.
Hardly an electrifying prospect, but then: How are you going to govern a continent famous for its countless culinary treasures, which then elects a Bulgarian salad as its top dish?
Why mega-eruptions like the ones that covered North America in ash are the least of your worries.
- The supervolcano under Yellowstone produced three massive eruptions over the past few million years.
- Each eruption covered much of what is now the western United States in an ash layer several feet deep.
- The last eruption was 640,000 years ago, but that doesn't mean the next eruption is overdue.
The end of the world as we know it
Panoramic view of Yellowstone National Park
Image: Heinrich Berann for the National Park Service – public domain
Of the many freak ways to shuffle off this mortal coil – lightning strikes, shark bites, falling pianos – here's one you can safely scratch off your worry list: an outbreak of the Yellowstone supervolcano.
As the map below shows, previous eruptions at Yellowstone were so massive that the ash fall covered most of what is now the western United States. A similar event today would not only claim countless lives directly, but also create enough subsidiary disruption to kill off global civilisation as we know it. A relatively recent eruption of the Toba supervolcano in Indonesia may have come close to killing off the human species (see further below).
However, just because a scenario is grim does not mean that it is likely (insert topical political joke here). In this case, the doom mongers claiming an eruption is 'overdue' are wrong. Yellowstone is not a library book or an oil change. Just because the previous mega-eruption happened long ago doesn't mean the next one is imminent.
Ash beds of North America
Ash beds deposited by major volcanic eruptions in North America.
Image: USGS – public domain
This map shows the location of the Yellowstone plateau and the ash beds deposited by its three most recent major outbreaks, plus two other eruptions – one similarly massive, the other the most recent one in North America.
The Huckleberry Ridge eruption occurred 2.1 million years ago. It ejected 2,450 km3 (588 cubic miles) of material, making it the largest known eruption in Yellowstone's history and in fact the largest eruption in North America in the past few million years.
This is the oldest of the three most recent caldera-forming eruptions of the Yellowstone hotspot. It created the Island Park Caldera, which lies partially in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming and westward into Idaho. Ash from this eruption covered an area from southern California to North Dakota, and southern Idaho to northern Texas.
About 1.3 million years ago, the Mesa Falls eruption ejected 280 km3 (67 cubic miles) of material and created the Henry's Fork Caldera, located in Idaho, west of Yellowstone.
It was the smallest of the three major Yellowstone eruptions, both in terms of material ejected and area covered: 'only' most of present-day Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska, and about half of South Dakota.
The Lava Creek eruption was the most recent major eruption of Yellowstone: about 640,000 years ago. It was the second-largest eruption in North America in the past few million years, creating the Yellowstone Caldera.
It ejected only about 1,000 km3 (240 cubic miles) of material, i.e. less than half of the Huckleberry Ridge eruption. However, its debris is spread out over a significantly wider area: basically, Huckleberry Ridge plus larger slices of both Canada and Mexico, plus most of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri.
This eruption occurred about 760,000 years ago. It was centered on southern California, where it created the Long Valley Caldera, and spewed out 580 km3 (139 cubic miles) of material. This makes it North America's third-largest eruption of the past few million years.
The material ejected by this eruption is known as the Bishop ash bed, and covers the central and western parts of the Lava Creek ash bed.
Mount St Helens
The eruption of Mount St Helens in 1980 was the deadliest and most destructive volcanic event in U.S. history: it created a mile-wide crater, killed 57 people and created economic damage in the neighborhood of $1 billion.
Yet by Yellowstone standards, it was tiny: Mount St Helens only ejected 0.25 km3 (0.06 cubic miles) of material, most of the ash settling in a relatively narrow band across Washington State and Idaho. By comparison, the Lava Creek eruption left a large swathe of North America in up to two metres of debris.
The difference between quakes and faults
The volume of dense rock equivalent (DRE) ejected by the Huckleberry Ridge event dwarfs all other North American eruptions. It is itself overshadowed by the DRE ejected at the most recent eruption at Toba (present-day Indonesia). This was one of the largest known eruptions ever and a relatively recent one: only 75,000 years ago. It is thought to have caused a global volcanic winter which lasted up to a decade and may be responsible for the bottleneck in human evolution: around that time, the total human population suddenly and drastically plummeted to between 1,000 and 10,000 breeding pairs.
Image: USGS – public domain
So, what are the chances of something that massive happening anytime soon? The aforementioned mongers of doom often claim that major eruptions occur at intervals of 600,000 years and point out that the last one was 640,000 years ago. Except that (a) the first interval was about 200,000 years longer, (b) two intervals is not a lot to base a prediction on, and (c) those intervals don't really mean anything anyway. Not in the case of volcanic eruptions, at least.
Earthquakes can be 'overdue' because the stress on fault lines is built up consistently over long periods, which means quakes can be predicted with a relative degree of accuracy. But this is not how volcanoes behave. They do not accumulate magma at constant rates. And the subterranean pressure that causes the magma to erupt does not follow a schedule.
What's more, previous super-eruptions do not necessarily imply future ones. Scientists are not convinced that there ever will be another big eruption at Yellowstone. Smaller eruptions, however, are much likelier. Since the Lava Creek eruption, there have been about 30 smaller outbreaks at Yellowstone, the last lava flow being about 70,000 years ago.
As for the immediate future (give or take a century): the magma chamber beneath Yellowstone is only 5 percent to 15 percent molten. Most scientists agree that is as un-alarming as it sounds. And that its statistically more relevant to worry about death by lightning, shark, or piano.
Strange Maps #1041
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Measuring a person's movements and poses, smart clothes could be used for athletic training, rehabilitation, or health-monitoring.
In recent years there have been exciting breakthroughs in wearable technologies, like smartwatches that can monitor your breathing and blood oxygen levels.
But what about a wearable that can detect how you move as you do a physical activity or play a sport, and could potentially even offer feedback on how to improve your technique?
And, as a major bonus, what if the wearable were something you'd actually already be wearing, like a shirt of a pair of socks?
That's the idea behind a new set of MIT-designed clothing that use special fibers to sense a person's movement via touch. Among other things, the researchers showed that their clothes can actually determine things like if someone is sitting, walking, or doing particular poses.
The group from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) says that their clothes could be used for athletic training and rehabilitation. With patients' permission, they could even help passively monitor the health of residents in assisted-care facilities and determine if, for example, someone has fallen or is unconscious.
The researchers have developed a range of prototypes, from socks and gloves to a full vest. The team's "tactile electronics" use a mix of more typical textile fibers alongside a small amount of custom-made functional fibers that sense pressure from the person wearing the garment.
According to CSAIL graduate student Yiyue Luo, a key advantage of the team's design is that, unlike many existing wearable electronics, theirs can be incorporated into traditional large-scale clothing production. The machine-knitted tactile textiles are soft, stretchable, breathable, and can take a wide range of forms.
"Traditionally it's been hard to develop a mass-production wearable that provides high-accuracy data across a large number of sensors," says Luo, lead author on a new paper about the project that is appearing in this month's edition of Nature Electronics. "When you manufacture lots of sensor arrays, some of them will not work and some of them will work worse than others, so we developed a self-correcting mechanism that uses a self-supervised machine learning algorithm to recognize and adjust when certain sensors in the design are off-base."
The team's clothes have a range of capabilities. Their socks predict motion by looking at how different sequences of tactile footprints correlate to different poses as the user transitions from one pose to another. The full-sized vest can also detect the wearers' pose, activity, and the texture of the contacted surfaces.
The authors imagine a coach using the sensor to analyze people's postures and give suggestions on improvement. It could also be used by an experienced athlete to record their posture so that beginners can learn from them. In the long term, they even imagine that robots could be trained to learn how to do different activities using data from the wearables.
"Imagine robots that are no longer tactilely blind, and that have 'skins' that can provide tactile sensing just like we have as humans," says corresponding author Wan Shou, a postdoc at CSAIL. "Clothing with high-resolution tactile sensing opens up a lot of exciting new application areas for researchers to explore in the years to come."
The paper was co-written by MIT professors Antonio Torralba, Wojciech Matusik, and Tomás Palacios, alongside PhD students Yunzhu Li, Pratyusha Sharma, and Beichen Li; postdoc Kui Wu; and research engineer Michael Foshey.
The work was partially funded by Toyota Research Institute.
How imagining the worst case scenario can help calm anxiety.
- Stoicism is the philosophy that nothing about the world is good or bad in itself, and that we have control over both our judgments and our reactions to things.
- It is hardest to control our reactions to the things that come unexpectedly.
- By meditating every day on the "worst case scenario," we can take the sting out of the worst that life can throw our way.
Are you a worrier? Do you imagine nightmare scenarios and then get worked up and anxious about them? Does your mind get caught in a horrible spiral of catastrophizing over even the smallest of things? Worrying, particularly imagining the worst case scenario, seems to be a natural part of being human and comes easily to a lot of us. It's awful, perhaps even dangerous, when we do it.
But, there might just be an ancient wisdom that can help. It involves reframing this attitude for the better, and it comes from Stoicism. It's called "premeditation," and it could be the most useful trick we can learn.
Broadly speaking, Stoicism is the philosophy of choosing your judgments. Stoics believe that there is nothing about the universe that can be called good or bad, valuable or valueless, in itself. It's we who add these values to things. As Shakespeare's Hamlet says, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Our minds color the things we encounter as being "good" or "bad," and given that we control our minds, we therefore have control over all of our negative feelings.
Put another way, Stoicism maintains that there's a gap between our experience of an event and our judgment of it. For instance, if someone calls you a smelly goat, you have an opportunity, however small and hard it might be, to pause and ask yourself, "How will I judge this?" What's more, you can even ask, "How will I respond?" We have power over which thoughts we entertain and the final say on our actions. Today, Stoicism has influenced and finds modern expression in the hugely effective "cognitive behavioral therapy."
Helping you practice StoicismCredit: Robyn Beck via Getty Images
One of the principal fathers of ancient Stoicism was the Roman statesmen, Seneca, who argued that the unexpected and unforeseen blows of life are the hardest to take control over. The shock of a misfortune can strip away the power we have to choose our reaction. For instance, being burglarized feels so horrible because we had felt so safe at home. A stomach ache, out of the blue, is harder than a stitch thirty minutes into a run. A sudden bang makes us jump, but a firework makes us smile. Fell swoops hurt more than known hardships.
What could possibly go wrong?
So, how can we resolve this? Seneca suggests a Stoic technique called "premeditatio malorum" or "premeditation." At the start of every day, we ought to take time to indulge our anxious and catastrophizing mind. We should "rehearse in the mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck." We should meditate on the worst things that could happen: your partner will leave you, your boss will fire you, your house will burn down. Maybe, even, you'll die.
This might sound depressing, but the important thing is that we do not stop there.
Stoicism has influenced and finds modern expression in the hugely effective "cognitive behavioral therapy."
The Stoic also rehearses how they will react to these things as they come up. For instance, another Stoic (and Roman Emperor) Marcus Aurelius asks us to imagine all the mean, rude, selfish, and boorish people we'll come across today. Then, in our heads, we script how we'll respond when we meet them. We can shrug off their meanness, smile at their rudeness, and refuse to be "implicated in what is degrading." Thus prepared, we take control again of our reactions and behavior.
The Stoics cast themselves into the darkest and most desperate of conditions but then realize that they can and will endure. With premeditation, the Stoic is prepared and has the mental vigor necessary to take the blow on the chin and say, "Yep, l can deal with this."
Catastrophizing as a method of mental inoculation
Seneca wrote: "In times of peace, the soldier carries out maneuvers." This is also true of premeditation, which acts as the war room or training ground. The agonizing cut of the unexpected is blunted by preparedness. We can prepare the mind for whatever trials may come, in just the same way we can prepare the body for some endurance activity. The world can throw nothing as bad as that which our minds have already imagined.
Stoicism teaches us to embrace our worrying mind but to embrace it as a kind of inoculation. With a frown over breakfast, try to spend five minutes of your day deliberately catastrophizing. Get your anti-anxiety battle plan ready and then face the world.
A study on charity finds that reminding people how nice it feels to give yields better results than appealing to altruism.