Category Archives: Food & Drink


First Genetically Modified Corn?

All corn, or maize, is genetically modified. It began 6,000 to 10,000 years ago as a wild grass called teosinte. It was nothing like the tasty ears of corn we enjoy now, the seeds were hard and small with only about 5 to 12 seeds.


It looks more like something you would take a string trimmer to than it does an important food crop, doesn’t it?

Early Mesoamericans (people who lived in what is now Mexico and Central America, before Europeans came) bred the plants over thousands of years to get plants that were closer to what we think of as corn.

Modern corn needs people as much as people need it. If an apple falls off an apple tree, the fruit will rot and the seeds will have a chance of sprouting. If a corn cob full of corn falls off the plant the seeds are too tightly wrapped to be able to sprout. Even if it was shucked first, there are too many tightly spaced seeds. It would not have the room it needs to grow.

Corn growers realized they could breed together several varieties of corn and create hybrids that combined the most desirable qualities of the ancestor varieties. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “About 95 percent of our corn acreage now is planted to hybrid corn. We produce at least 20 percent more corn on 25 percent fewer acres than in 1930, when seed of hybrid corn became available in quantity to American farmers.”

Hybridization let us develop corn that was more vigorous, disease resistant, had shorter growing periods, and was sweeter. New seeds had to be bought each year since you cannot grow the same plant from the seeds of a hybrid. The plants from its seeds will revert back to the parent varieties.

Corn that had been genetically modified in a lab was first made commercially available in 1996 by Monsanto. There have been several genetically engineered modifications to corn:

  • Herbicide tolerant – This lets farmers use an herbicide that kills weeds without harming the crop. This helps prevent soil erosion because the lands needs less tilling to destroy weeds.
  • Bt toxin production – A toxin that is produced by a soil bacterium is inserted into the plant. It is harmful to insects that try to eat the plant but is not harmful to humans or animals. It reacts with the alkaline insides of the insect (our stomachs have acid). An extract of this toxin is used in organic farming. Using plants with this modification means the farmers can use less pesticides.
  • Starch breakdown – This GM corn contains a transgene for an enzyme that breaks the starch in the corn down into maltose. This speeds the corn’s production into ethanol.

Corn and other plant hybridization helped feed the world for a while, but to keep growing we need to continue to develop genetically engineered plants that provide more food, use less resources, and are more environmentally friendly.

Learn more about teosinte from the University of Wisconsin and the history of maize (corn) from
NYT article about the history of corn

Find out the myths and truth about GMO corn from NPR

Read a post at the Skeptical Raptor’s Blog with lots of links to learn about GMO science vs. anti-GMO fear mongers.



The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed by Congress on December 18, 1917 and ratified on January 16, 1919. A ban on the sale and production of alcoholic beverages went into effect one year later on January 20, 1920.

Section 1.

After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

Section 2.

The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Section 3.

This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

vote dry

The temperance movement – people against the consumption of alcohol – had been growing in the U.S. since the 1820s pushed by a renewed interest in religion. It became a social justice cause for women, and as they acquired the vote, they were able to increase the political pressure to ban liquor.

The final straw may have been the anti-German sentiment brought about by World War I. Many of the United States’ breweries were owned by German-Americans and were viewed as unAmerican. Trying to deflect the temperance movement from shutting them down, the breweries attacked distilleries and hard liquor, and promoted beer as a healthful drink.

alcohol prescription

Even during Prohibition you could buy and consume alcohol, if you had a doctor’s prescription for it. (Not unlike medical marijuana in some states today.) A prescription would let you buy up to one pint every ten days. A Chicago drugstore (Walgreen’s) with 20 stores in 1920 grew with the help of prescribed alcohol and had over 525 locations by the end of Prohibition. This is why there are liquor sales in drugstores today, even in states that don’t allow hard liquor to be sold in stores other than liquor stores. (The laws vary from state to state on whether beer, wine, or liquor can be sold in grocery or convenience stores.)

It was repealed by the 21st Amendment which was passed on February 20, 1933 and ratified on December 5, 1933.

Section 1.

The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

Section 2.

The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

Section 3.

This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.


First Miracle Jesus Performed?

John 2:1 – 11 describes the first miracle:

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Weddings were followed by feasts which could last for several days. It was a point of pride in Middle Eastern cultures then, as it is now, for the host to be able to provide plentiful food and wine for their guests. Running out of wine while the party is still going strong would have brought dishonor on the family even if it wasn’t due to their poor planning or lack of funds. Maybe they had enough before, but then Jesus decided to invite his disciple bros. Not a problem, a few more are always welcome.

Mary decides to state what is obviously obvious.* “They have no wine.” He might tease her a bit, but he’ll still provide the wine to make his mom happy. She’s confident that he can do something about the lack of wine. Does this mean she knows he can perform miracles? The Koran (3:49) says:

And (make him) a messenger to the Children of Israel (saying): I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, that I determine for you out of dust the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird with Allah’s permission, and I heal the blind and the leprous, and bring the dead to life with Allah’s permission; and I inform you of what you should eat and what you should store in your houses. Surely there is a sign in this for you, if you are believers.

But this story is originally from the Gospel of Thomas, written about 140 AD. It is not a part of the official Christian canon and earlier miracles would conflict with the statement that the miracle of the wine was “the first of his signs”.

*Dads tell dad jokes, moms state the obvious. Parents act like parents no matter the place or time. What would be a dad joke in Jesus’s case? The platypus?


Wishbone First Used to Make Wishes?

People have been making wishes on a wishbone (the furcula, the v-shaped clavicle of a bird) for at least 2,400 years.


The custom began with the Etruscans, people who lived in what is now Italy, between the Tiber and Arno Rivers. They believed that fowl could tell the future. They would draw a circle on the ground, divide it into 24 segments (for the letters of their alphabet), and scatter corn in the circle. The order of the letters selected by corn pecking would give them a message that was interpreted by the priests.

When one of the sacred birds died, it’s wishbone would be saved and dried. Wishes would be made while stroking the bone. The Romans adopted this superstition because there wasn’t anyone on tumblr back then to complain about cultural appropriation.

The Romans brought the tradition to Britain. At some point after stealing it from one culture and before imposing it on another, they began having two people each tug on a side to break the bone, with good luck (a granted wish) going to the one holding the larger part.

The wishbone, or merrythought, as it was also called, was a well-established ritual by the time the Pilgrims came to America. According to tradition, wishes were made on wishbones during the first Thanksgiving in 1621.

It has been speculated that the furcula was chosen as the bone that would carry the mystic powers of the bird because the forked shape reminded them of the human crotch. Or maybe the priests thought, one wishbone per bird = market scarcity = higher prices.


Gin Plague?

Genever (Jenever) had been brought back to Great Britain by soldiers who had fought with the Dutch in the 80 Years’ War/Dutch War for Independence. It wasn’t quite the same as gin, but would lead to the creation of gin.

When William of Orange (who was originally Dutch) became king of England in 1689, he made it illegal to import French brandy. He did this because he was Protestant and the French king was Catholic and that seemed like enough of a reason at the time. At first people were encouraged to make and drink gin. It was like they were thumbing their noses at France – who needs your brandy anyway?! But people began to like it. Not just like it, but like-like it.

The government began thinking that people were having too much fun with gin so they passed a law that put a tax of 5 shillings a gallon on gin. This didn’t do enough to stop people from drinking, and in typical government thinking, if something’s not working, let’s do more of it! So they passed the Gin Tax Act of 1736. It put a 20 shillings (£1) a gallon tax on liquors and required sellers to pay for an annual license that cost £50.

Side note – Then, as it is today, a government requiring a business to have a license is less about regulating it or keeping the public safe and is mostly about reducing the number of that type of business. Often it ends up being protectionism for the businesses of that kind that already exist. Look at how taxi companies are using government to fight competition from off Uber, Lyft, and SideCar.

The result of that was that reputable gin shops closed and a black market production of it grew, and it grew bigger than the legal gin market had been before Many of the producers and sellers of it were more on the sketchy side and the gin could have been adulterated with something that could make the drinkers ill or even kill them.

After some riots and a few years of continued drunkenness on cheap hooch, the law was repealed. In 1751 a new one was enacted that lowered the fees for big producers and raised them for the sellers. Distillers could not sell gin at retail and it put a minimum volume limit on the stills. Retailers could only get a license if they were in space that rented for at least £10 a year.

Another side note – This is business/government cronyism at its finest. Finest for the big businesses and politicians, that is, not so much for the small shop owner.

The cost of food was going up so there wasn’t as much money left for gin, which was becoming more expensive too. During this time, the importation of tea had been increasing so it was in place to become the new popular drink.


First Pizza Delivery?

30 minutes after the party started, duh. Unless you’re one of those people who have a drink to before ordering the pizza just to “get in mood to party” and still haven’t food four or five drinks later. Don’t be that person. Be the one who orders on time while you can still speak coherently to the person taking the order.

Now, while you’re waiting for your pizza to arrive, you can tell them these interesting pizza facts.

In 1889 an Italian chef who was known for his pizzas went to the palace to make some pies for King Umberto I and Queen Margherita. The Margherita pizza was named after her. I don’t know if that counts as delivery since he was only delivering himself and not the pizzas.

The Splendid Table has a recipe for a Margherita Pizza so you can try making your own,

While an Italian chef was making pizza for the palace, Americans were using portable ovens to bring fresh pizza to the streets. (Still the late 1880s.) This is still not quite like what we think of as delivery, it’s more like food trucks (NTTAWWT).

It wasn’t until the 1960s that real pizza delivery to homes was made available. We had pizzas since forever and cars and phones for a few decades. There needed to be one more thing – a strong desire by the customers to eat pizza without having to get up off the couch. This finally came in the form of marijuana.

There’s one more piece to our story – a delivery to a home away from home. Pizza Hut, working with Russian scientists, sent a pizza to the International Space Station in 2001. It was a 6″ sausage pizza and the delivery from Earth to low orbit space took about 2 days.

Find more here – What’s Cooking America: History of Pizza