What the Fluff?

It’s just up the road, and I missed it.


The What the Fluff Festival, a celebration of Marshmallow Fluff in its birthplace of Somerville, Massachusetts, brings new meaning to WTF. On Saturday, Fluff enthusiasts piled into the town’s Union Square to listen to Fluff-themed poetry slams, sample Fluff-bearing foods, and play games like “Fluff, Knife, Bread” (a modified version of Rock, Paper, Scissors).

The tradition all started four years ago when the gooey white stuff was receiving some negative press. A bill was proposed to limit the number of times a week school cafeterias could serve the “unhealthy” Fluffernutters, a regional sandwich favorite combining the joys of Fluff with peanut butter. In response, Mimi Graney created an event to promote Fluff advocacy. This year’s showing was especially passionate since the Fluffernutter may soon become the state’s official sandwich.

Sea Salt and Iodine

I use a lot of sea salt. In fact, it’s been a long time since I bought a cylinder of regular table salt with the girl carrying the umbrella logo. I buy sea salt with a fancy French name, and I buy kosher salt. For this reason, I was a bit alarmed recently when I suddenly realized that most sea salt is not iodized. I don’t know why this never occurred to me before, but after the realization hit me, I did a bit of research, and what I found was worrying:

You see, iodine is a nutrient that’s essential for health. If your body is deficient in it, your thyroid can have problems functioning properly, which can result in depression, weight gain, and even mental problems. If pregnant women don’t get enough iodine, it can cause miscarriage or babies with low IQ or developmental disabilities.

Until the early 1900s, many people around the world were iodine deficient; this was the cause of the goiters (enlarged thyroid glands) that plagued members of previous generations. In the 20th century, most Western countries solved this problem by adding iodine to salt, which pretty much eliminated iodine deficiency in the developed world. (Though it’s still common in third-world countries without iodized salt—in 2006, The New York Times reported that iodizing salt would be the easiest way to raise the world’s IQ.)

Most brands of sea and kosher salt, however, do not have iodine added. There’s a common misperception that sea salt comes by the mineral naturally, due to the fact that sea water (and foods such as seaweed and fish) contains iodine. However, the information I turned up indicated that the amount of iodine in most sea salt is negligible—certainly not enough to supply the 150 micrograms needed daily by the average adult. And even iodine-rich foods don’t supply enough, unless you eat seaweed almost every day. On the other hand, a quarter-teaspoon of iodized table salt contains 115 micrograms, so if you eat that plus an iodine-rich food such as milk (iodine is added to most animal feed in the U.S.) you’re all set.

The salt issue is interesting because, like many people interested in healthy eating I think, I had just assumed that sea salt was healthier for me because it was less processed than table salt. It never occurred to me that I might be depriving my body of an essential nutrient by taking the “natural” route. And, without knowing it, I was also adding to the problem by choosing eggs from local animals that are probably not given iodine-enriched feed.

This also brings up a larger issue: How can those of us who try to eat a more “natural” diet be sure that we’re making the best choice for ourselves and our families? I’d be willing to bet that many of the same mothers who spend thousands of dollars on tutoring and “enrichment” toys for their children also buy sea salt and grass-fed milk. How would they feel if they thought their dietary choices during pregnancy might have lowered their children’s IQ’s by a few points?

One final thought: Some types of sea salt, including many from Greece and Italy, are iodized. (In fact, this is my new favorite.) But flaky Maldon salt from England and fleur de sel from France are not among them. So, if you’re worried about getting enough iodine and want to continue using sea salt, I’d be sure to check the label on your brand. And for more on the amounts of iodine in various foods, see this very comprehensive article from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.

Brant Point in miniature

Playing around with Photoshop to see if I can create a faked Tilt-Shift miniature.

Here’s the before:

Here’s the after:

I need some practice, but it’s a fun effect.

Waste Not

Meet the Ophryotrocha craigsmithi, a newly discovered species of bristleworm that eats only dead whale bones. But there’s a plus side to eating a carcass of an animal that large: a single whale can provide food for 20 years, to be eaten by generations of worms!

Once flesh-eaters like hagfish and sharks have picked clean a whale’s skeleton, the 0.8-inch-long (2-centimeter-long) worms go to work, said zoologist Helena Wiklund, a member of the University of Gothenburg team behind the study.

Generations of worms “could be there for maybe 20 years depending on how big the whale was,” Wiklund added. “Bones from a big whale last really long on the seafloor.”

But when the whale is finally disposed of, the bacteria-munching worms must find another whale carcass, and that could be many miles away.

How the tiny creatures hop from dead whale to dead whale remains a mystery. Some bristle worm species, though, have microscopic larvae that ride ocean currents, Wiklund said.

Mother Nature wastes nothing. Link (Photo: Helena Wiklund, University of Gothenburg)

Stand up for Health Insurance Execs

Protect Insurance Companies PSA from Will Ferrell

September Sunrise at Miacomet

Scenes from Nantucket Island Fair

Most Children Strongly Opposed to Children’s Healthcare

Study: Most Children Strongly Opposed To Children’s Healthcare

Health Care Reform

“Obama hasn’t created the perfect plan, he’s created something arguably more impressive: a plan that actually might pass. That plan might not do enough to change the system, and it may not spend enough to protect everybody, but there is plenty in the proposal that will better the lives, health coverage, and financial security for millions of real people. It will insure around 30 million Americans and protect tens of millions more from insurer discrimination, medical bankruptcy and rescission. It will bring more evidence to medicine and more competition to the insurance market. That may not be perfection, but it is improvement. And it is achievable.”

Ezra Klein, blogger for the Washington Post

“Obama says he doesn’t want to demonize insurance companies–he just wants to hold them accountable.  This is the best line of the night.”

Megan McCardle, the Atlantic

“After an August in which the health care debate threatened to drive into a ditch, President Obama tried to steer it back into the center lane, if there is such a thing to be found on an endeavor so ambitious as remaking one-sixth of the economy. He defended the public option, and yet downplayed it. The package that he described is about the size of the framework released yesterday by Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus–$900 billion, which is the lower limit of what anyone is estimated that it would take over the next decade. And though he is not likely to get more than one or two GOP votes, Obama went out of his way to point out the ideas in his plan that can trace their parentage to the Republicans–including his former adversary, John McCain. And he laid on the table an issue that has been something of the Holy Grail to the right: tort reform.”

Karen Tumulty, Time Magazine blogger

Sweeth Tooth

The Curious Expeditions blog has an interesting piece on the origin of scrimshaw and it’s association with whaling.

A strange art form came out of the age of whaling, thanks to scores of sailors with many idle hours at sea. The artists are known as scrimshanders, and the work; scrimshaw. Scrimshaw is the art of engraving images onto a piece of ivory; in the whaler’s case, the enormous tooth of the Sperm Whale.

The origin of the word scrimshaw is unknown, but it originally referred to tools that sailors made out of whatever was available on board the ship, most often whale ivory, whalebone, walrus ivory, and skeletal bone. They hand-crafted implements to be used on the ship, such as belaying pins (thin bars attached to a post, used to secure rope by wrapping it around them), but it wasn’t long before the listless sailors turned to more creative pursuits. A sperm whale’s tooth is soft and can be polished to a pleasing gloss, and was the obvious favorite choice. Sailors carved their scene (often a beautiful woman or a ship) on the rocky seas with nothing but a pin. They then rubbed lampblack (a fine soot), or sometimes colored pigments made from fruit and vegetable dyes into the etching to darken the lines.

Scrimshaw was often made for the sailors themselves, as a memento of their voyage, or as a gift for loved ones back home.

Maine Maritime Museum Flickr set

© 2009 ackdoc - Greg Hinson, MD 508/325-9981 info@ackdoc.com Purchasing help RSS feed