Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Scientific Look at Real Creatures from the Black Lagoon

Aquatic plants were not on my radar screen until recently. When I first heard CAST was organizing a team of experts to analyze the problems of nuisance aquatic plants, I figured they’d have to dredge up something about the Creature from the Black Lagoon to get much material. Hand me my snorkel and face mask—I was wrong.

Safe, accessible water resources are essential, but various threats are closing the taps. This paper keeps the flow going as it looks at plants that invade rivers, lakes, and other aquatic ecosystems. These invaders can affect aesthetics, drainage, fishing, water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, flood control, human and animal health, hydropower generation, irrigation, navigation, recreation, and, ultimately, land values.

The authors encourage long-term funding, sustained research, and creative problem solving. They believe that a collaborative push to meet the challenges posed by nuisance aquatic plants will support a sustainable civilization that depends on clean and abundant freshwater resources. 

Fishing, Swimming, and Creatures from the Deep
Now that I think back a bit more carefully, aquatic plants were lurking below the surface a few times during my youth. We kids often grabbed bamboo fishing poles and a can of worms so we could spend the afternoon on our farm creeks. Thistles and poison ivy hid along the banks in the pasture, but the main aquatic plants we dealt with were spindly reeds and batches of algae—sometimes clumps of the slimy green substance were the only weighty catch we hauled in for the day.

Algae and other lily-type plants clogged the nearby farm lake we fished in, and decades ago the authorities worried about silt and obstructed water outlets there. County officials recently dredged the area and constructed a new dam with the hope that camping and local tourism would increase. The battle against aquatic nuisance plants will no doubt be part of their maintenance program.

Once we hit the car generation, we joined friends for summer outings at a place we called the Gravel Pit. As teens, we’d swim there in cut-off jeans and swing off old ropes tied to overhanging trees. Legends floated there about a drowning at the far edge of the pit where algae and tangled aquatic plants could pull a swimmer under. I don’t know the facts, but it was enough to keep us cautious; the Creature from the Black Lagoon might not be real, but water hazards are.

Global water issues are now front and center, but many are unaware of the problems aquatic nuisance plants add to looming water crises. CAST’s new paper gives a solid background and plenty of practical suggestions. Today Black Lagoon Creatures come in the form of invasive plants that damage our water systems—both rural and urban folks need to figure out solutions.

by dan gogerty (pic from

Monday, July 7, 2014

Eggs, Goldfish, and Nathan's Hot Dogs--The Zen of Eating Contests

** a tragic update:
What should have been a fun way to kick off the Fourth of July weekend quickly turned tragic for a South Dakota man who choked to death while trying to speedily eat hot dogs during a competitive eating contest.


During my college days, I attended two “eating contests.” I’d like to think they were fundraisers for charity, but I’m not sure. I was eighteen and living in an era when TV dinners were big, burgers were just becoming mass produced, and labels on food meant a silly rabbit or a cuckoo Cocoa Puff bird would tell you what to buy. 

A classic movie called Cool Hand Luke had recently moved through the theaters, so somebody decided our small institution of higher learning needed an egg eating contest. The favorite, a big dude who lived in the same dorm I did, sat with four or five others on a stage, and the fun began. We in the crowd cheered and “egged them on,” and it appeared the favorite was a lock for the championship. I think he squeezed in 30 or so, but before he could claim the crown, he bolted for the edge of the stage and “blew lunch.” Disqualification for him; a reason for senseless laughter and chatter for us in the peanut gallery.

The next year we were more sophisticated—a goldfish eating contest. Live fish and another loud spectacle. In this case, the winner was a small town kid who would try nearly anything. He turned it into a comedy routine—you don’t want to know the details. I imagine he still has the trophy in his closet memory box.

I’m not sure Nathan's Annual Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest has anything to do with these events, but I refuse to watch people stuffing buns and “tube steaks” into their mouths. In a time when obesity, waste, and malnutrition are so prevalent in our conversations about food, these spectacles don’t hit me right. On the other hand, I probably watch plenty of ridiculous things, so I shouldn't preach. Folks might have a good reason to watch gluttony.
According to the headlines, Joey somebody seems to win whenever a skinny guy from Japan doesn’t. And this year Joey evidently used the occasion to propose to his future bride. Maybe she competes too—I should read the articles but I'm afraid I'd have trouble eating a hot dog at the next family barbecue. Joey and his wife will probably be a lovely couple—but I wouldn’t want to get invited to their place for dinner. I’d be afraid the meal would include a stop watch, a mountain of bland hot dogs, and an industrial-sized barf bag. Bon appetit.

For those who do want to read about the event: Joey Chestnut Inhales 61 Hot Dogs To Win Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest.

Those who want to watch a video: Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest is a Fourth of July Tradition

by dan gogerty (pic from

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Ag Terms in Advertising--Natural Ignorance is Bliss

The Consumer Reports group is calling for a ban of the word “natural,” and many others are complaining about the way words are used for food labeling, packaging, and advertising. I’m all for keeping the phraseology honest, but let’s face it—truth in advertising is a foggy concept no matter which “mad men” are shaping it.

I do recall a forthright cigarette company in the 90s—located in England, I believe. They called their product Death cigarettes. The only packets I saw were in Asia, and they were black, with skull and crossbones woven into the design. I’m not sure they marketed them widely. I have a feeling the buyers were looking for novelty items, or they had achieved a type of zen fatalism. On the other hand, the company did manufacture Death Lights also, so maybe they had a sense of humor about it all.

Labels and ads are controlled in widely different manners around the world, but here in the United States some say the government interferes too much, while others think not enough. Some terms are regulated: “organic” must fit certain specifications, but I’m sure it’s still misused at times. Medical terms and nutritional facts are also regulated—even if the reality is not always “nutritional” or “factual.”

Lobbying groups and various factions have made much of the debates regarding proposed GMO labeling laws, and others argue about the way sugar, salt, fat, and other items are listed. Consumers need to know what they’re eating and drinking, but I’m not certain about the best methods needed to get the information across in the clearest, most helpful manner.

One thing for sure—it was much easier when I was a kid. The terms seemed more basic—easier to understand or ignore. Let me give you a few examples:

Sugar—was just that. It’s what animated characters dumped on cereal in the ads, and what Mom used in baked goods. No terms clouded the issue—after all, high fructose sounds a bit like a premium grade of gasoline. The local dentist never mentioned the word "sugar," but he didn’t say much anyway. He was too busy putting fillings in our teeth.

Organic—was an adjective that came in front of the word “chemistry,” and we all knew organic chemistry was a tough course in high school filled with brainiacs heading to science universities.

Fat—was the gristle we cut from steaks and pork chops. Of course it was also a term used in school to bully certain kids. Sadly, we didn’t know it was bullying because just about everyone in school was called something derogatory—we had equal opportunity denigration.

Free range—is what happened when our pigs or cattle got loose from the pastures or feedlots. We had lots of free range livestock on our farm.

Natural—never seemed attached to the idea of food. Most of our food items came from home cooked meals or small town restaurants—until TV dinners and fast food arrived. The latter gave us a trendy feeling, and the former seemed futuristic. After all, we were watching the Jetsons cartoon show, so we thought food was going to move straight from the kitchen table to outer space foodoramas.

Many other current terms weren’t even on our radar back then. Antioxidant and gluten-free would have sounded like something a pseudo scientist was using in a shady toothpaste ad. And environmental concerns hadn’t yet joined our lexicon. If someone would have mentioned the problem of agriculture and carbon emissions, we’d really be confused. As teens, our biggest greenhouse warming efforts were on purpose. We’d try to rig up high-performance carburetors and straight-pipe exhausts to increase performance—and noise—on our ’57 Chevys.

 “Gee, Wally; I didn’t know cars could pollute.”

 “Aw, Beav—there’s a lot you don’t know. You’re just a dumb kid.” 

Ignorance did have its benefits.

by dan gogerty (cigarette pic from; Beaver pic from 

Recommended reading:  CAST's Issue Paper--The Potential Impacts of Mandatory Labeling for Genetically Engineered Food and Food Buzzwords, an article from Feedstuffs online.