BBQ of the Gods, with Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan explains the lost cultural and spiritual importance of cooking and eating meat.

Michael PollanCarolina barbecue is a really kind of ancient primal way of preparing food where you essentially are taking a whole animal and you are cooking it very slowly over a wood fire.  The recipe couldn’t not be more simple.  It is pig plus wood fire plus time and a little salt.  It’s as close as we get to that primal scene of our proto-human ancestors two million years ago roasting the big animal over a fire which is a wonderfully communal event because it requires a lot of cooperation, somebody’s got to stay up with the fire and not let it go out.  Someone has to prepare the animal to be cooked.  Someone has to carve it and divide up the portions.  And pitmasters today stand in for the, you know, this lineage that goes back probably a couple million years and passes along the way through the priests and Greek culture who oversaw the rights, the ritual sacrifice or the Rabis in the old testament who also did ritual sacrifice.Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler and Dillon Fitton

There was for a very long time the priests, the butchers and the cooks were the same person.  That was a very prestigious job.  There were a lot of rules that went with it because it was so momentous.  I mean meat was very special, it was sacred.  And you had to deal with the Gods and we started by actually burning meat to a crisp as an offering to the Gods.  And then somebody figured out, you know, they don’t really eat meat probably.  They really just want the smoke.  And so we gave them the smoke and that was the way, you know, how else do you get it up to heaven.  And then we got to eat the meat.  And – but we continued to have that religious overlay.  And the word in Greek for priest and butcher and cook is the same, mageiros.  And the word magic is buried in that word, the origins for the word magic because it was magic.  It was transformation of this carcass, dead animal into this food fit for the Gods.

You know, one of the most striking things about modern life is that we eat meat without giving it a thought.  We eat meat without realizing what is at stake.  The fact that an animal has died, that an awful amount of effort is taken, there’s the sacrifice of the animal, there’s the effort of raising it or killing it if you’re hunting it.  And we eat it without ceremony.  We have meat two, three times a day in this country without giving it a thought.  It’s just shrink wrapped protoplasm from the supermarket or the restaurant.  But for most of history you realize eating meat was a profound almost sacramental occasion.  People understood the sacrifice involved.  They understood that an animal had died because they had probably participated in that process.  And they also understood how precious this stuff was.  It was delicious.  It was nutritious.  You didn’t have it every day.  You had to work really hard to get it.  And so we surrounded meat eating with a great deal of ceremony and somberness and rules.

You know the proper accompaniment for meat in world history if you look at it appears to be rules whether they’re the kosher rules that you eat this meat and not that or you eat this part of this animal and not that part or you don’t have meat with this or that.  Halal rules also govern meat – what can and cannot be eaten.  But then you have the rules of barbecue.  In some parts of the South barbecue is whole hog with just vinegar and salt and, you know, a little pepper.  But you move to the other side of the same state and they have a ketchup based sauce and they cook pork shoulders.  And then you move to South Carolina and they’re barbecuing pork shoulders and they’re using a mustard based sauce.  And then you go to Tennessee and they’re eating ribs.  And you go to Texas and they’re eating brisket.  They’re eating beef.  Every one of those traditions has deep roots and every one of those traditions looks down on every other tradition.  That’s fine but it’s not barbecue.

So rulemaking seems to surround meat eating.  And I think that that’s a reflection of how much was at stake for people and how wonderful it was for people.  And we have lost that.  We eat meat in this incredibly thoughtless, cavalier way.  We waste it.  We don’t give a thought to the animal.  We don’t give a thought to the person who raised it or hunted it.  And I think in the process we’ve lost something.  And that carelessness, it now infects the way we raise the meat.   That we treat the animals really badly and we don’t honor it the way we need to honor it.

Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler and Dillon Fitton

 

Michael Pollan explains the lost cultural and spiritual importance of cooking and eating meat. Pollan is the author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation.

Outer space capitalism: The legal and technical challenges facing the private space industry

The private sector may need the Outer Space Treaty to be updated before it can make any claims to celestial bodies or their resources.

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  • The Outer Space Treaty, which was signed in 1967, is the basis of international space law. Its regulations set out what nations can and cannot do, in terms of colonization and enterprise in space.
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Is NASA ignoring proof of Martian life from the 1970s?

One of the scientists with the Viking missions says yes.

Image source: David Williams/NASA
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  • A former NASA consultant believe his experiments on the Viking 1 and 2 landers proved the existence of living microorganisms on Mars
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  • Though other subsequent evidence supports their findings, he says NASA has been frustratingly disinterested in following up.

Gilbert V. Levin is clearly aggravated with NASA, frustrated by the agency's apparent unwillingness to acknowledge what he considers a fact: That NASA has had dispositive proof of living microorganisms on Mars since 1976, and a great deal of additional evidence since then. Levin is no conspiracy theorist, either. He's an engineer, a respected inventor, founder of scientific-research company Spherix, and a participant in that 1976 NASA mission. He's written an opinion piece in Scientific American that asks why NASA won't follow up on what he believes they should already know.

In 1976

Image source: NASA/JPL

Sunset at the Viking 1 site

As the developer of methods for rapidly detecting and identifying microorganisms, Levin took part in the Labeled Release (LR) experiment landed on Mars by NASA's Viking 1 and 2.

At both landing sites, the Vikings picked up samples of Mars soil, treating each with a drop of a dilute nutrient solution. This solution was tagged with radioactive carbon-14, and so if there were any microorganisms in the samples, they would metabolize it. This would lead to the production of radioactive carbon or radioactive methane. Sensors were positioned above the soil samples to detect the presence of either as signifiers of life.

At both landing sites, four positive indications of life were recorded, backed up by five controls. As a guarantee, the samples were then heated to 160°, hot enough to kill any living organisms in the soil, and then tested again. No further indicators of life were detected.

According to many, including Levin, had this test been performed on Earth, there would have been no doubt that life had been found. In fact, parallel control tests were performed on Earth on two samples known to be lifeless, one from the Moon and one from Iceland's volcanic Surtsey island, and no life was indicated.

However, on Mars, another experiment, a search for organic molecules, had been performed prior to the LR test and found nothing, leaving NASA in doubt regarding the results of the LR experiment, and concluding, according to Levin, that they'd found something imitating life, but not life itself. From there, notes Levin, "Inexplicably, over the 43 years since Viking, none of NASA's subsequent Mars landers has carried a life detection instrument to follow up on these exciting results."

Subsequent evidence

Image source: NASA

A thin coating of water ice on the rocks and soil photographed by Viking 2

Levin presents in his opinion piece 17 discoveries by subsequent Mars landers that support the results of the LR experiment. Among these:

  • Surface water sufficient to sustain microorganisms has been found on the red planet by Viking, Pathfinder, Phoenix and Curiosity.
  • The excess of carbon-13 over carbon-12 in the Martian atmosphere indicates biological activity since organisms prefer ingesting carbon-12.
  • Mars' CO2should long ago have been converted to CO by the sun's UV light, but CO2 is being regenerated, possibly by microorganisms as happens on Earth.
  • Ghost-like moving lights, resembling Earth's will-O'-the-wisps produced by spontaneous ignition of methane, have been seen and recorded on the Martian surface.
  • "No factor inimical to life has been found on Mars." This is a direct rebuttal of NASA's claim cited above.

Frustration

Image source: NASA

A technician checks the soil sampler of a Viking lander.

By 1997, Levin was convinced that NASA was wrong and set out to publish followup research supporting his conclusion. It took nearly 20 years to find a venue, he believes due to his controversial certainty that the LR experiment did indeed find life on Mars.

Levin tells phys.org, "Since I first concluded that the LR had detected life (in 1997), major juried journals had refused our publications. I and my co-Experimenter, Dr. Patricia Ann Straat, then published mainly in the astrobiology section of the SPIE Proceedings, after presenting the papers at the annual SPIE conventions. Though these were invited papers, they were largely ignored by the bulk of astrobiologists in their publications." (Staat is the author of To Mars with Love, about her experience as co-experimenter with Levin for the LR experiments.)

Finally, he and Straat decided to craft a paper that answers every objection anyone ever had to their earlier versions, finally publishing it in Astrobiology's October 2016 issue. "You may not agree with the conclusion," he says, "but you cannot disparage the steps leading there. You can say only that the steps are insufficient. But, to us, that seems a tenuous defense, since no one would refute these results had they been obtained on Earth."

Nonetheless, NASA's seeming reluctance to address the LR experiment's finding remains an issue for Levin. He and Straat have petitioned NASA to send a new LR test to the red planets, but, alas, Levin reports that "NASA has already announced that its 2020 Mars lander will not contain a life-detection test."

Breast cancer vaccine could be available in 8 years, says Mayo Clinic

A new immunotherapy treatment is showing positive signs in early-stage clinical trials.

BSIP / Getty
Surprising Science
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