Strange but True: Food waste by the numbers

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Q: What's a decidedly unique way to think about "food waste"?

A: When the USDA does the math, the average daily food intake in the U.S. comes to about 2,100 kilocalories (kcal) per person, compared to a food supply of 3,600 kcal per person, says Vaclav Smil in "IEEE Spectrum" magazine. Subtracting intake from supply equals a loss of 1,500 kcal, "which means about 40 percent of our food goes to waste." That's enough to provide adequate nutrition to about 200 million people, or the entire population of Brazil, the world's sixth most populous country.

"Yet even as they waste food, Americans are still eating far more of it than is good for them," Smil continues. Some 36 percent of adults 20 years and older are identified as obese while 74 percent of adult males and 64 percent of females are overweight.

The U.S. "needs to produce considerably less food and consume it with considerably less waste," Smil argues, perhaps by finding clever ways to halve waste to a more acceptable 20 percent. Of other high-income countries, only Japan keeps food waste at a moderate level, and surprisingly even many low-income countries with a barely adequate food supply experience such waste. As he concludes, "cutting that waste in half would lead the way to a more rational use of food worldwide."

Q: Does overuse of the first-person pronouns indicate a narcissistic personality? If a co-worker goes on and on about "I did this," "it belongs to me," "my way is best," is she or he overly self-absorbed?

A: That's what conventional thinking holds, so psychologist Matthias Mehl and colleagues at six universities — four in the U.S. and two in Germany — set out to determine if this is true, says Lacy Schley in "Discover" magazine. They asked some 4,800 people to either talk about or write about themselves, then they measured the degree of "I-talk." Interestingly, they found that those with high marks on the narcissism assessment didn't engage in excessive I-talk any more than those with low scores.

Mehl was surprised by the findings. As he says, "When I listen to somebody who uses 'I' at lot, it's very hard to not make the inference that this person is self-absorbed but it's not true."

Q: Are you a "cyborg" yet? And if so, so what?

A: That's a human who's becoming more machine-like, maybe not half and half but in that direction, argues Amber Case, as reported by Kalee Thompson in "Time" magazine's special edition of "Great Scientists." We're all cyborgs these days, she stresses, as our laptops and smartphones add "exogenous" features to enable us to adapt to new environments.

Does personal technology expand or inhibit the mental self? Answers Case in her book "The Illustrated Dictionary of Cyborg Anthropology": "Because of technology, space and time are compressing. Communities are forming more efficiently than in the past." Not only can we access and store more knowledge to meet our goals, but also with social media we can create a "second self" to meet the world anew.

On the other hand, technology makes it easier to consume rather than create. "People are engorging their brains on information junk-food forgetting how to be at peace in technological situations." As Case says, "The best technology should be there when needed but disappear entirely when unnecessary." Though we may all be cyborgs, the human part has to stay in charge.

Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at sbtcolumn@gmail.com


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