Sunday, November 13, 2016

TV as Demolition: When the TV Show "Emergency" Filmed in Compton

Screenshot from "Survival on Charter #220"
One of my less productive minor obsessions is with the 1970s TV show "Emergency." It began when a saw a bit of an episode set in San Francisco, which led me to buy a set of DVD that included the episode when "Emergency" filmed in San Francisco so I could learn the details of the episode. That required watching the whole episode, unfortunately, which was not fun (it is not outstanding television). 

The DVD set included an episode about a plane crash called "Survival on Charter #220". As I watched the episode, I became curious about its "making of" story — huge explosions in the middle of a city aren't common, even in Los Angeles. I knew that it was filmed in Compton, California (Los Angeles County), but how did they pick that location? Was it also a training exercise for the fire department? Were the buildings already slated for demolition?

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Faster than a Speeding Broccoli — "Superfood" in Book Titles

The Superfood Google Ngram was interesting, but I still had a superfood itch that I needed to scratch: what about superfood in book titles? The University of California's Melvyl tool (part of Worldcat) was my tool of choice and I searched for superfood* in book titles (the * to cover superfood and superfoods). The catalog contained more than 600 records [1] — too many to easily analyze, but fortunately the left column of the results page listed the number of books from each year, so a chart was a natural next step.
A chart of books with superfood in the title between 1987 and 2016

Sunday, October 30, 2016

"It's a Berry, It's a Grain, No, It's a Superfood!" - A Superfood Google Ngram

My recent post on the superfood called moringa got me wondering: has the term "superfood" been used for a long time? Or is it a recent thing? I went to the Google Ngram Viewer to get an answer. Ngram Viewer displays the frequency of use for a word or phrase in Google's massive collection of digitized materials, and therefore gives a rough sense of the term's popularity over time. You can look at one term, compare multiple terms, combine terms, and more — it is quite amazing. I had some fun comparing ketchup and catsup a while back, finding that ketchup has crushed catsup since 1980.

Up, Up and Away with Superfoods (in the 2000s)

I went to the Ngram Viewer, typed a broad search term  ("superfood + superfoods + Superfood + Superfoods") and set the boundaries to 1900 and 2010. Here is the result:

Sunday, October 23, 2016

A Word Cloud About Insects as Food (Entomaphagy)

For a little while, I was collecting articles about Insects as Food. I thought it would be fun to feed them into a word cloud generator, so I piled the articles into a giant text file, made some small adjustments and pasted the text into one of the free on-line cloud generators.   I used WordItOut because it was user friendly and allowed a good amount of creative control.

The word cloud shown below was built using text from 33 articles (over 27,000 words) from a variety of mass-media sources like magazine articles, newspaper articles, blog posts at media websites, and trade publications.  They aren't a random sample of news coverage and are probably somewhat cricket heavy. Before submitting the text, I edited the source material to remove plurals from certain top-ranked words (e.g., crickets -> cricket, insects -> insect, etc.).

Cricket is the dominant word since they are the "it insect" of the moment in the U.S. and Canada — they are fairly easy to raise and easy to incorporate into processed foods. The next tier of words includes protein (the most prominent nutritional feature of insects), farm (when a new farm opens, it gets press, especially in farming areas like Iowa or California Central Valley), and flour (converting dried insects into flour is a popular way to bring them to our plates). Interestingly, the word sustainable is in one of the lower tiers, even though it is a major emphasis of insect promoters. Climate and greenhouse (as in climate change and greenhouse gases) don't make an appearance at all on this word cloud. 

Insects as food word cloud made with WordItOut

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Moringa Leaves and Other Emergency Food Plants of Pacific Islands

Let's start this post with a bit of fiction:
It's 1944, you're a bomber pilot in the United States Navy, flying missions over Southeast Asia. It's a dangerous job, but you've got a great crew: there's Knute, a.k.a., "Swede", the navigator, a quiet, big-hearted 18-year old blonde kid from northern Minnesota; Tony, the bombardier, a tough-talking street hustler from Brooklyn who's really a Mama's boy; Larry, the tail gunner, a farm boy from Kansas; Bobby, the co-pilot, a laid-back kid from California; Leonard, a.k.a. "Glasses," the radio operator, a nerdy college student from Vermont, who operates the radio. Everyone picks on Leonard because he'd rather read books about Southeast Asia during off-duty hours than hit the bars.

On one mission, you hear an awful sound to your left: the sputter, sputter, sputter of an engine going out. Your plane starts losing altitude, and when it's clear you won't make it back to the carrier, it's bail out time, and soon you're parachuting onto unknown territory. You have a general idea of where you are and where you need to go to reach safety, but your emergency rations aren't enough to feed you on your long journey to safety.

That nerd Glasses might be your life line. One of his interests is botany — he's always looking at plants on the base — and so his flying kit includes a book called Emergency Food Plants and Poisonous Plants of the Islands of the Pacific. And so now the crew knows which plants are food — and which are poisonous — as they make their way across the jungle to a safe haven.  

The little fictional lead-in above sets up one of my recent finds in the Internet Archive (via Flickr Commons). While looking in the Flickr Commons, Google Books and Hathi Trust for images of the Moringa oleifera plant, I ran across an ink drawing of the moringa plant in a book from the U.S. War Department that was published in 1943 (I also found the beautiful 19th-century painting that I used in my post about Moringa Leaves). Reading the introduction, I learned that the book was written for members of the U.S. military to help them survive on their own ("live off the land") if they were separated from their unit or escaped from a prisoner of war camp.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Moringa Leaves, One of Today's Superfoods (Unusual greens, Part 8)

It's been almost 10 years (!) since I last updated my "Unusual Greens" series — I haven't been exploring markets like I used to and the places I shop almost always have the same few greens (chard, kale, rapini, etc.). Today's featured greens are Moringa oleifera leaves (a.k.a. drumstick tree, horseradish tree, Tree of Life, Miracle Tree [1]).  I found them in a round-about way.

I occasionally attend the Slow Money Northern California meetings to learn about new methods of funding or investing in small businesses (like Credibles). At the most recent meeting, samples of a food bar from one of the past presenters (Kuli Kuli) were offered, so I took one. "Moringa Superfood" is prominently written across the middle of the bar, and it turns out that Moringa is the key ingredient in Kuli Kuli's plans for "Nourishing you, nourishing the world." (The bar was OK, a bit high in sugar and with a slightly dissonant grassy undertone.)

At the following week's Berkeley Farmers Market (Tuesday), I noticed that one of the farmers had bundles of moringa leaves for sale. I bought a bunch, and, when he asked me "What are you going to do with them?", I was unable to give a good answer because I didn't know. When I got home, I started hitting the books and internet to find out more about the ingredient.

Painting of Moringa oliefera from Flore médicale, by F.P. Chaumeton and others, Paris (1815)
Painting of moringa oleifera leaves, pod and etc.
from Flore médicale, 1815 (!)

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Eleven Years of Mental Masala

Mental Masala at eleven years

While updating my post list the other day, I realized that it had been almost exactly eleven years since my first post on Mental Masala. My first real post was The Indian Restaurant Menu, in which I tried to understand why almost all Indian restaurant menus in the U.S. are nearly identical. 

For the remainder of 2005, I went in many directions (as usual), with the following posts being my favorite from the first few months of Mental Masala, eleven years ago:
My ersatz editorial calendar is full of great ideas, so stay tuned for the return of "Unusual Greens," new charts, some posts about food in ancient Rome, and much more.

To close, here's a song by Fairport Convention with an appropriate title, "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?":

Composted and sung by the great Sandy Denny, the song was first released on Fairport Convention's Unhalfbricking. (1969). Richard Thompson was a founder of the group and provides superb guitar work on this track (I'm a big fan of his long post-Fairport Convention career). Outside of this amazing song, the album is only OK, with some weak tracks.

For a Fairport Convention album that provides much better examples of Sandy Denny's amazing talent, Liege and Lief (1969) is the one to grab:  "Reynardine," "Farewell, Farewell," "The Deserter," "Crazy Man Michael" are all outstanding. Another Sandy Denny high point is the epic 10+ minute "A Sailor's Life" on the early 1990s compilation of Richard Thompson's work, Watching the Dark. It starts with a dreamy somewhat a capella introduction, and at about 3:33 the pace quickens as we hear the story of a search for a missing sailor, building to a few minutes of a stormy instrumental (with Richard Thompson on lead guitar, I presume).

Random link from the archive: Revenge of the Orchard