Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘health’

18 AUGUST, 2010

4Food: Dejunking Fast Food for the Digital Age


Holes that fill a market gap, or what the iPad has to do with taking down Monsanto.

We all know the story — fast food is awful for us, dreadful for the environment, and one of modernity’s most gruesome addictions. Yet in a culture of constantly shrinking time budgets and an ever-increasing marketability of convenience, it’s increasingly difficult to reconcile our moral and nutritional ideals with our fast-paced workaholism. But it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation, at least not if it’s up to 4food — an innovative restaurant concept aiming to de-junk fast food for the digital age.

Founded by British serial entrepreneur and ex-music-exec Adam Kidron, former CEO of Urban Box Office, and rock musician Michael Shuman, 4food is equal parts good food and digital age fixtures. Not only are orders placed through iPad-based “Dynamic Menu Boards” or pre-ordered online, but they’re also fully customizable to your lifestyle and nutrition goals. The entire operation is designed with sustainability and ethical conduct at its core — from the local, organic, Monsanto-unaffiliated ingredients to the fairtrade worker compensation to the in-store recycling and composting programs.

We bring fast food that’s fresh, delicious, and nutritious to all ages, lifestyles, incomes, and ethnicities. No fads, fillers, or anything artificial. We’re revolutionizing counter culture, in real-time.”

The restaurant’s signature product is the W(hole)burger™ — a donut-shaped beef, lamb, pork, turkey, veggie, salmon or egg patty, paired with one of 25 ethnically and nutritionally diverse Veggiescoop centers, each with unique nutritional attributes. The “holes” from the patties are made into skewers for a perfect bunless, low-carb, shareable meal.

4food’s manifesto is a fantastic epitome of what every eatery should aspire to do and be:

  • De-junked fast food is made of quality, natural ingredients and customizable to your taste and nutrition goals.
  • Our foods don’t contain any hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats or oils.
  • No artificial sweeteners. No preservatives. No artificial flavor enhancers.
  • None of our food is fried.
  • If it’s soy, it’s not Monsanto* — wherever possible we purchase whole ingredients that have neither been genetically engineered nor modified.
  • Our chefs use simple and straightforward cooking techniques to prepare and cook your food to order.
  • Our cows, pigs, and sheep are humanely raised while grazing and eating vegetarian diets.
  • Our poultry and fish are fed heritage foods with no artificial growth hormones or antibiotics.
  • You know (because we tell you) where all of our ingredients come from.
  • We provide personalized nutrition facts, advice, and menu recommendations every day in—store, at, and printed on every receipt.
  • We charge reasonable prices, when the rights of farm workers to earn a living wage, the integrity of our food preparation, and the quality of our ingredients are taken into account.
  • Your purchases provide real world job training to individuals transitioning back into the work force—to earn more than minimum wage.
  • We compost in-store and recycle. We employ sunscreen systems, LED lighting, and purchase renewable energy credits from alternative energy generators. We’re committed to increasing our use of sustainable power as we grow.
  • We incentivize you to market your custom W(hole)burgers™ online, so that we don’t have to. The money we save on marketing enables us to purchase better quality ingredients and keep our prices down.

4food is part Apple store, part European coffeehouse, part Michael Pollan‘s wet dream. The first restaurant opens its doors at 40th & Madison in New York on September 7.

via Creativity Online

We’ve got a weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays, offers the week’s articles, and features five more tasty bites of web-wide interestingness. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

13 MAY, 2010

The Future of First-Response Environments


Displays for disasters, or what sensors have to do with survival.

In just a few short months this year, the world has seen more disasters than its fair share — devastating earthquakes, floods and a destructive oil spill, each requiring different strategies of emergency management. And this month, Organizing Armageddon, the excellent Wired article by Vince Beiser about lessons learned from the Haiti earthquake, exposed the many and worrisome shortcomings of disaster relief efforts. From infrastructure to technology to tactical coordination, today’s emergency management is in dire need of an upgrade.

Luckily, Precision Information, a division of Homeland Security’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, is developing ambitious new first-response cooperation environments that focus not on a single piece of technology but, rather, on a suite of interconnected tools that offer targeted access to information and sophisticated decision-making aid for emergency response.

From predictive modeling to automated recommendations to augmented reality, this concept video is designed to serve as a blueprint for research in the next decade, exploring some of the possibilities in addressing key research challenges.

For a closer look at the many emergining technologies and concepts alluded to in the video — including ubiquitous displays, crowdsourcing, pervasive sensor networks and adaptive user interfaces — be sure to see the annotated version.

via information aesthetics

We’ve got a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

12 FEBRUARY, 2010

Highlights from TED 2010: Day Two


Suspended animation, augmented reality, and what sheep’s knuckles have to do with the future of cultural problem-solving.

We’ve been busy live-tweeting from TED 2010, so yesterday’s highlights come mostly in photos and quotes — see Twitter for play-by-play updates.


Be skeptical. Ask questions. Get proof. Don’t take anything for granted. But when you get proof, accept it. We have a hard time doing that. ~ Michael Specter

Science tells us what we can value, but it never tells us what we ought to value. ~ Sam Harris

AIDS researcher Elizabeth Pisani shows the remarkable and life-saving effects of HIV treatment, but says that, contrary to popular belief, treatment is not all the prevention we need. In fact, it leads the infected to take their guards down, so they become less careful, which can be dangerous.

Pisani’s book, The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels and the Business of AIDS, sounds fascinating and eye-opening.

Pisani shows some counterintuitive HIV stats

Nicholas Christakis, whose social contagion studies we tweeted some time ago, talked about

Christakis’ book, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, is a sociology and digital anthropology must-read.

Christakis calls obesity a 'multicentric epidemic,' reduced not to the behavior of individuals but to that of the 'human superorganism.'


Ex-CIA covert operations officer Valerie Plame Wilson shares Global Zero, her advocacy for eliminating nuclear weapons.

One thing our country needs is better political debates. We need to rediscover the lost art of political argument. ~ Michael Sandel

If we weren't afraid our servers might go down tomorrow, we'd dare say 4chan founder Christopher 'moot' Poole was endearing, but left us underwhelmed and missing a connect-the-dots idea. Hypothetically speaking.

Kevin Bales reveals some shocking facts about modern-day slavery: Today, there are 27,000 people in real, physical slavery. He points to four main causes: Overpopulation, extreme poverty, vulnerability of disadvantaged groups, and corruption.

'What enables slavery is the absence of the rule of law. It lets people use violence with impunity.' ~ Kevin Bales

Kevin advocates “freedom dividend” — letting people out of slavery and letting them work for themselves, which causes local communities to flourish. He says the total cost of enduring freedom for those 27,000 contemporary slaves is $10.8 billion, which is how much the US spent shopping this past holiday season.

We stand wholeheartedly behind Chris Anderson’s recommendation for Bales’ chilling and fascinating book, Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy.

A TED first: Mark Jacobson and Stewart Brand (whose compelling new book, Whole Earth Discipline, we reviewed recently) entered a good old fashioned debate on the merits of nuclear power.

Brand for, Jacobson against

If all of the electricity in your lifetime came from nuclear, waste would fit in a Coke can. ~ Stewart Brand

Each got 6 minutes to defend his stance, followed by an audience grill and refuting arguments.

To power the entire world with wind you will need only about 1% of US land area. ~ Mark Jacobson

Despite his charisma, Brand 'lost' in the end -- the audience skew moved from 75/25 in favor of nukes in the beginning of the debate to 65/35 by the end.


The Extraordinary Legion of Dancers, LXD, were extraordinary indeed.

LXD received the most enthusiastic standing ovation at TED 2010 yet.

Though without the impact of a live performance, you can see for yourself:

When I dance, I want people to question the reality of what they’re seeing. ~ Madd Chadd

Game designer Jane McGonigal delivered some staggering statistics on gaming: Since World of Warcraft launched, we’ve spent 5.33 million years solving it; to put this in time perspective, 5.33 million years ago, the first humans stood up.

In the game world, we become the best version of ourselves. ~Jane McGonigal

Today’s kids, McGonigal pointed out, spend some 10,000 hours gaming by the time they turn 21. At the same time, the average child with perfect attendance spends 10,800 hours in school by graduation — so there’s a parallel “education” going on. She advocates for using social games as something bigger than escapism from reality — a cultural advancement tool putting gamers’ problem-solving talents to work. She demoes World Without Oil, a collaborative social game made in 2007.

Ancient dice made out of sheep's knuckles, invented in Libya, are world's first recorded gaming device.

McGonigal premieres Urgent Evoke, a game developed in partnership with the World Bank. If you complete it, you get certified by the World Bank as “social innovator”.

Music icon David Byrne, a cultural hero of ours.

Byrne says people in 19th-century opera houses used to yell at each other just like they did at CBGB's in the 70's.

Photosynth mastermind Blaise Aguera y Arcas demoes some remarkable Augmented Reality technologies using Microsoft's Bing

Inventor Gary Lauder says energy efficiency is about more than just vehicles: It's also about the road. He points out that converting a traffic light into a roundabout -- something well-adopted in Europe, but tragically scarce here in the US -- reduces accidents by 40%. He proposes a new hybrid sign that blends a Stop sign and a Yield one.

In the developing world, 10-50% of vaccines spoil before delivery. Kids die. ~Nathan Myhrvold

Polymath Nathan Myhrvold delivers some known but still chilling statistics about malaria — it sickens 250 million people a year; every 43 seconds a child in Africa dies — and demonstrates a radical new way of fighting the disease: By laser-blasting infected mosquitoes.

Myhrvold orchestrates an incredible on-stage demonstration, wherein a mosquito is shot by a laser beam in a glass tank.

We've stitched together the slow-motion sequence of the mosquito blast. Click the image to look closer.


Singer-songwriter Andrew Bird, amazing as usual.

Stephen Wolfram, creator of revolutionary semantic search engine Wolfram|Alpha, argues raw computation combined with built-in knowledge changes the economics of the web and democratizes programming. He talks about the principle of computational equivalence — the idea that even incredibly simple systems can do complex computation.

Wolfram says you don't have to go very far in the computational universe to start finding candidate universes for our own.

For the first time, Microsoft Labs’ revolutionary Pivot software is availble for the world to tinker with.

MacArthur genius fellow Mark Roth admits he didn’t know what TED was until Chris invited him to talk, but we quickly forgive him after hearing his incredible — literally — and surprisingly grounded sci-fiish work in “suspended animation,” a slowing life process and makes a living being appear dead without harming, then reanimates it. In layman’s terms, resurrection.

The amazing TED Fellows are a mind-blowingly multi-talented group, working in anything from crowdsourced citizen journalism to e-waste management to humanitarian documentary film-making.

For live coverage of today’s and and tomorrow’s TED talks, follow us on Twitter. And keep an eye on the TED website as the first of this year’s talks begin being uploaded.

We’ve got a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays, offers the week’s main articles, and features short-form interestingness from our PICKED series. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

11 FEBRUARY, 2010

Highlights from TED 2010, Day One


What one pound of tuna has to do with five years of chocolate milk, spider silk and a ukulele.

We’re thrilled to be reporting — and live-tweeting — from TED 2010, themed What The World Needs Now. Here are some highlights from an exhilarating and punchy first day, which opened with an appropriately bold address from Chris Anderson.

I don’t like what’s been happening in the world. What the world needs now is a restart.

Session one, Mindshift, opened with one of our big behavioral psychology heroes and winner of the Nobel in Economics, Daniel Kahneman. He delved into the cognitive traps of happiness.

The first cognitive trap about happiness is a reluctance to accept its complexity.

Kahneman went on to describe the differences — and conflict — between the experiencing self, which lives in the moment of the experience, and the remembering self, which frames that experience in our memory through the stories it tells about it. He asked us to consider a vacation at the end of which all of our memories would be erased by an amnesia-inducing pill and all of our photos deleted — would be still choose the same vacation?

We don’t actually choose between experiences. We choose between memories of experiences. We think of the future as dissipated memories.

In a surprise livestream from London, Prime Minister candidate David Cameron slung some cliches about transparency, accountability and choice as the three key game-changers in politics — we were not impressed. And, frankly, we don’t think TED should be dabbling in the messy and murky waters of purely-political (as opposed to social policy) agendas.

Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro followed with a mind-blowing rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

It is no doubt best experienced live, but you can get a teaser-taste here:

Activist Esther Duflo, founder of, made a powerful case for immunization and other interventions to stop preventable diseases that kill over 25,000 children every year. And she raised the difficult question of aid efficiency, saying we can’t actually know how effective aid in Africa is because we don’t know whether Africa would’ve been better or worse off without it.

An interesting nugget came from Duflo’s work on distributing mosquito nets. Turns out simply getting them to the community is only half the work. Getting people to use them is a different story, and there’s something to be learned from Kahneman here — behavioral economics of sorts: If you make the nets free, people won’t see them as valuable, so they won’t use them. So, do you make them free to maximize distribution, or do you sell them to increase their perceived value and thus incentivize people to use them?

Esther Duflo's answers to preventable diseases that claim thousands of lives a year.

Duflo concluded with the compelling question of why, in technology, we spend so much time in experimeting to find the best solution, but we don’t do the same in social policy.

Michael Shermer followed with a fascinating talk about pattern recognition and its psychology of skepticism and belief. He zoomed in on agenticity — the tendency to project our own beliefs on invisible objects — and pointed to it as the cause of conspiracy theories, managing to slide in a few rather entertaining jokes along the way.

Contrary to some conspiracy theories, we now know 9/11 was not a plan of the Bush administration because… it worked.

Session Two, Discover, opened with cancer researcher William Li, whose groundbreaking work in angiogenesis is revolutionizing the war on cancer, fighting the disease by cutting out blood supply to the vessels that favor the cancerous tissue.

Li contended that diet is one of the most effective cancer prevention mechanisms and identified a number of antiangiogenic foods — ones that help nip the blood supply to cancerous cells.

Because fat tissue is highly angiogenic, Li advocated a hand-in-hand fight against cancer and obesity by attacking their common denominator — angiogenesis — through dietary prevention.

Cheryl Hayashi followed with an informative, though not particularly engaging, talk about spiders and spider silk, the only fascinating takeaway of which was the possibility of using spider silk — a highly flexible and resistant structural material — in flexible body armor in the future.

Carter Emmart, Director of Astorvisualization at the Hayden Planetarium, followed with the utterly fascinating demo of the Digital Universe Atlas, which we raved about on Twitter a few months ago:

In a short talk, Philip Kaplan demoed his latest venture, Blippy, a social tool that shows what your friends are buying online and off, which reminded us of Facebook Beacon debacle and thus only made us shudder with skepticism.

The TED folks played “Parisian Love,” Google’s Super Bowl spot, from the stage — turns out, not because Google paid for it, but because they just loved how it captures the digital age.

What followed was our favorite talk of the day — chef extraordinaire Dan Barber, who dove into the serious overfishing problem and its many sidekick consequences: bycatch, pollution, ocean depletion.

Dan Barber, the day's highlight.

It takes 15 pounds of wild fish to get you one pound of tuna.

Barber pointed to smart, sustainable fish farming as a way of keeping fish on the menu and off the ocean’s death toll. He spoke of one such farm, which uses extensive, not intensive farming — along the entire ecological chain — even letting gorgeous pink flamingos feast freely on the fish.

We need a radical new conception of agriculture. One in which the food actually tastes good.

He also pointed to the failure of food distribution — not the mere lack of tonnage — as the reason why one billion people will go hungry today. To feed the world, Barber said, we should look not to the capitalist agribusiness model, but in the ecological model. And he got one of the most well-deserved standing ovations we’ve ever seen at TED.

The day’s last session, Action, spotlighted some recent TEDPrize winners and the phenomenal, actionable projects they’ve undertaken with the help of the grants and support they received.

Ideas are all very well, but what the world needs now is action. ~ Chris Anderson

Between these mini-presentations, TED announced the launch of SETI Quest, a new site aiming to engage the open-source community in a citizen-powered quest for alien life.

Wrapping up the day, chef-activist Jamie Oliver, winner of the latest TEDPrize, delivered some expected but still shocking stats: Today’s child will live 10 years less than his parent because of the food landscape we’ve created; obesity costs Americans 10% of healthcare bill — $150 billion a year, set to double in three years.

While I do this talk, four Americans will be dead by what they eat.

Jamie Oliver: 'Meet my friend Britney. She's 16 years old, she's got 6 years to live. She's eating her liver to death.'

Oliver addressed the tragic state of school lunches, where French fries are considered vegetables and the absence of utensils implicitly endorses fast finger-food. He showed a rather disheartening video, in which he asks elementary school children to name different vegetables; they call beets broccoli and tomatoes potatoes.

Jamie Oliver pours a cartful of sugar on the stage, the amount an average school child will consume in five years just from sweetened milk beverages.

Finally, Oliver shares his inspired and, we think, urgently important TED wish:

In a wonderful last session, the ever-amazing Sheryl Crow took the stage for some of her unmistakable magic.

This concluded a riveting first day, beautifully curated to ever-so-subtly-yet-powerfully illuminate the intricate connection between food, health and social policy. Tomorrow, we’re returning with complete live coverage on Twitter — so stay tuned.

Major thanks to Kent of TEDxLex for tech support today

Psst, we’ve launched a fancy weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays, offers the week’s articles, and features five more tasty bites of web-wide interestingness. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.