RFF#104 – There is an online banana museum @ www.bananamuseum.com

Every once and a while you stumble across something really interesting on the internet, the Washington Banana Museum—an online museum dedicated to anything and everything related to bananas—is one of those things.

The virtual museum (www.bananamuseum.com) provides a visual history of the banana and includes numerous items including banana themed postcards,  buttons, sheet music, stamps, photographs and even a banana cello.

The museum was created by Ann Mitchell Lovell who said that even as a baby she was crazy for bananas. Thus, she said that after growing up as “Ana Banana” with a love for the taste of bananas, it was inevitable that if she was going to collect something, it had to be bananas.

Lovell’s collection of banana memorabilia officially started in the 1980s with a t-shirt she picked up from a bar in Hawaii called “Anna Bannanas.” Since then she has collected more than 6000 items from antique stores, thrift stores, yard sales, and of course eBay. She said some of her favourite items in the museum are old photographs of people eating bananas in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and commented, “I love seeing a window into the past and imaging the people posing in their very elaborate clothing holding a peeled banana in a studio setting. At one time it was a sort of status symbol to have a banana.”

Boy with a fine bunch


Chicago theater troup eating bananas

She is also very fond of the bakelite Josephine Baker necklace…

Josephine Baker Necklace

…and the miniature Sebastian figure of Chiquita Banana.

Chiquita Banana Figuirine - courtesy of Banana Museum

Personally, my favourite item is the Banana tokens which were issued by Elders and Fyffes (banana importers, who also operated passenger carrying banana boats) as part of a promotional campaign in England.

Banana Tokensbanana tokens2

And if the virtual museum leaves you wanting more, Lovell also has an actual museum in Auburn, Washington where the items are on display at 120 E. Main St., Tuesday-Thursday 10:00am-1:00pm, Friday 10:00am-3:00pm and Saturday 10:00am-3:00pm.

Photo of the museum

—Special thanks for Ann Mitchell Lovell for the interview and for sharing these photos courtesy of the Banana Museum.


RFF#103 – Agricultural fairs are as relevant today as they were 100 years ago…or…my ode to the CNE

A new gastronome is someone who seeks to know everything about what he/she eats: its provenance, the process it has undergone, and the people who have been involved. According to Carlo Petrini—the founder of the Slow Food Movement—we must all strive to be new gastronomes, because if we “make the right decisions about food (we) can change the world.”

Thus, as an aspiring new gastronome, I’m concerned about the origin of my food and its processing. However, I’m a city-dweller, and therefore, I don’t have direct contact with the farmers who create my food. This is a problem because Petrini specifically says that you cannot become a new gastronome by simply reading books, he says you must actually talk to farmers.

So here I am thinking…I haven’t been to a farmer’s market all summer…how can I prevent myself from being a poseur? Then it hit me, despite the ever growing distance between food producers and food consumers, there is a place where rural food producers are brought right to the doorstep of urban food consumers…and that place is…the Canadian National Exhibition (aka the CNE, or the Ex).


For readers who may not be familiar, the CNE is a 136 year old fair that takes place annually in Toronto.


It has rides, games, food, exhibits, performances and in keeping with its agricultural roots, a Farm Building.

Farm Building 2014

The Farm Building is a place where you can talk to farmers, learn about agriculture and see livestock.

Farm Collage

In many ways, the Farm Building does exactly what Carlo Petrini says we need to do; it connects food consumers and food producers. In an era filled with diet-related diseases, and children who think food grows on grocery stores shelves, this is incredibly important. Therefore, while some may criticize the fair for being anachronistic, I would argue that the CNE, particularly its agricultural legacy, is as relevant today as it was 100 years ago, albeit for slightly different reasons.

As a nutritionist, who is *slightly* obsessed with the CNE, people always ask me, “how does the CNE’s deep fried butter fit with your healthy eating philosophy?” And the truth is, it doesn’t, but there’s way more to the CNE than just the food; a trip to the CNE is an opportunity to get a gastronomic education, the kind you don’t get in school and can’t learn from books. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t indulge in their unique food offerings. As I always say, there’s a time and a place to treat yourself, and the CNE is a good time and place.  So what are you waiting for? Let’s go to the Ex!

RFF#102 – Tromp l’oeil aka culinary deception

Trompe l’oeil–which refers to something that misleads or deceives the senses–was originally an artistic concept…

…before surfacing in the culinary world.

I learned about trompe l’oeil many years ago from a documentary about “the art of culinary deception” which highlighted the work of Michele Richard. Richard is a chef who specializes in trompe l’oeil by creating meals such as steak tartar with tomatoes, or caviar with couscous and squid ink.

As a result of Richard’s culinary genius and passion, I never forgot about tromp l’oeil. And today (6 years after watching the documentary), I created my own tromp l’oeil

Fruit Cake-1

It’s a fruit cake, literally! The entire thing is made of fruit, but you might not realize it at first glance!

Fruit Cake-2

RFF#92 – 73% of products in India do not disclose sodium content on their food label

In North America we often take it for granted that we can just turn over a product and read its Nutrition Facts table.


Though people often hate on the Nutrition Facts table–accusing it of being confusing and archaic–it’s easy to forget how privileged we are to simply have that information available to us.

I learned about this fact from: Sampath, Janani. “Doctors Push for Sodium Levels on Food Labels” The Time of India, May 18th 2014. And thanks to Google alert, for alerting me to this fact!

RFF#90 – You can’t breakfast like a bird and work like a horse

Last Monday I visited the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, California. The museum was filled with countless amazing things (by the way, I highly recommend going if you have the chance), but there was one particular poster that caught my eye…

Public Service Announcement-1943

I just love old nutrition public service announcements, and  this one from 1943 is one of my all-time favourites. After researching its history, I learned from an old Milwaukee newspaper that this was not the only public service poster Disney contributed to…

A Goofy Lunch Pulls your Punch There's Fightamins in F and Vs

These posters were created by the California War Council with an aim to “educate the (California War) workers who are turning out stuff for our fighting men to the fact that the war will end sooner if they eat wisely and well”.  They believed that you can get anyone to do anything if you can get them laughing, thus, the general public would be more responsive to their messaging if it was humorously put.

Overall, the caption at the end of the Milwaukee newspaper article said it best:

“California workers are not only getting a smile out of (these posters), but they are also learning something about the kind of meals that people should eat if they are going to make their best contribution to victory.”

I learned about this fact from: The Disney Family Museum;  and The Milwaukee Sentinel, “Funny Pictures that are Full of Common Sense”, 1943.

RFF#84 – The “Fisher’s Exact Test” was devised for the “lady tasting tea” experiment

Today I learned an interesting fact about one of the statistical procedures I often use, and I couldn’t resist sharing it because it’s a very random fact that happens to involve food (or more specially, beverages).

As the story goes, Ronald Aylmer Fischer–the famous statistician, biologist, geneticist and eugenicist–created the Exact Test to verify the validity of a claim made by  Dr. Muriel Bristol, a fellow biologist. Apparently, she claimed that she could detect whether the tea or the milk was added to her cup first.

Doubting this ability, Fischer designed an experiment where she would consume eight cups of tea, with four poured each way, and would be asked to predict which was which. At the time, there were no methods to analyze this “categorical data” as we call it. Hence, as a result of this experiment, he devised the Exact Test.

This story probably isn’t as interesting for the non-stats geeks out there. Nevertheless, I still think this story can be appreciated by all because it is a classic example of how the inspiration behind great discoveries can often be quite peculiar.

I learned about this fact from: “The Mathematics of a Lady Tasting Tea”




RFF#81 – Michael Bloomberg was not the first person to try to regulate beverage sizes

For this extra special food fact I decided to do a video blog, I hope you like it…

In case you’re wondering how it works, here’s a cross-section of the cup…

I learned about this fact from: The tour guide at the Greek pottery shop somewhere between Athens and Corinth!

Special thanks to Pete (my brother) for helping me film this.

RFF#80 – Ralph Nader is trying to outlaw all-you-can-eat tickets at baseball games

In case you didn’t know, several major league baseball stadiums offer “all-you-can-eat” tickets that give fans access to a buffet for the duration of the game. Last summer, Ralph Nader, the long-time consumer advocate, wrote a letter to the baseball commissioner criticizing him for offering such a service despite his public pledge to support Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign.

What I love most about Ralph Nader is not just his advocacy work–in the world of nutrition he’s made strides in outlawing harmful food dyes and improving the quality of processed meats–but most importantly, the important life lesson I learned from him this week. Let me explain…

Almost a year and a half ago, I presented some of my research at a conference. After my presentation a doctor from the audience came up to me, congratulated me on my work, and proceeded to explain how the University could likely get sued because of my work. Nevertheless, he explained that a lawsuit wouldn’t be a bad thing, and that I shouldn’t worry, because a lawsuit will end up being great for my career. Despite his reassurance, I have to admit, I’m concerned about this. As a matter of fact, the threat of such an occurrence is constantly in my mind when I’m making decisions about what to analyze and how to present my data.

So where does Ralph Nader fit into all of this? Well, I found that he had an interesting experience with this sort of thing early in his career. And to my surprise, he managed to take a bad situation and turn it into something great. Here’s what happened:

In 1965, Ralph Nader published a landmark book called “Unsafe at Any Speed” where he exposed the auto industry for its unsafe practices. In response, the industry retaliated by trying to ruin him. They hired private detectives to follow him and even hired prostitutes to try to lure him into a scandal. So what did Nader do? He sued them for invasion of privacy. Not only did he win the case, he used the money to start his first advocacy organization.

In conclusion, I was immensely inspired by this story because it taught me to be a little less worried about the backlash that can result from one’s work, in the end, it will all work out.

I learned about this fact from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ralph_Nader

RFF#75 – Queen Elizabeth I created the first gingerbread men

Apparently she presented visiting dignitaries with cookies baked in their own likeness. This is one of my favourite RFFs because, without realizing this, every year I make my colleagues personalized gingerbread men. Though they’re not all created in the likeness of their recipient,  some are…because doesn’t everyone want a cookie version of themselves?


I learned about this fact from:  http://easteuropeanfood.about.com/od/crossculturaldesserts/a/gingerhistory.htm

RFF#71 – 100% of industry sponsored nutrition intervention research results favour the financial interests of the sponsors

“Most days of the year are unremarkable. They begin, and they end, with no lasting memories made in-between. Most days have no impact on the course of a life…”             (quote from “500 Days of Summer”)

Today was not one of those days.Today, I made a realization that I will never forget (and no, I’m not talking about Rob Ford’s shenanigans).

Here’s what I realized…

I was taught in my undergrad that the purpose of research is to produce knowledge. And in grad school I’ve learned that funding is what produces research. Today I made the connection that…if industry produces funding…and funding produces research…and research produces knowledge…then ultimately…INDUSTRY produces KNOWELDGE…this is a problem. 

Here’s how I realized it…

The day started as most “at-home” work days do. I turned on my computer and started  working…keep reading, it’s going to get more interesting…Because I’m presently preparing for my comprehensive exam (a two hour oral beast-of-an-exam that all doctoral students face)  I have a huge stack of research papers to read through. While reading my first paper of the morning, I got distracted by a typo in the acknowledgements section of the paper. Upon seeing the typo, my eyes were drawn to the “Conflicts of Interest” (COI) section of the article (that’s there authors declare that they haven’t received any money from the food industry or anyone else who could have financial interests in the research results). Normally, the COI section is quite short…normally, I pay no attention to it.  But in this article, the COI section was long, one of the longest I’ve even seen. I was intrigued…and so I started reading it.

Upon reading, I made a realization that will forever change my life. I learned that a certain group of researchers (who will remain nameless), studying a particular nutrient (which will remain nameless) received an “unrestricted research grant” (a.k.a as much money as they want) from a certain food company (which will remain nameless).

For those who are familiar with my research, this would be equivalent to me receiving unlimited funds from McDonalds and then proceeding to publish research that says, “the sodium levels aren’t that high”. You get the point.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve always known that the food industry sponsors research, it just never hit me as hard as it did today. Furthermore, this realization led me to read more on the topic. I quickly found an amazing article published by Lesser et al in 2007, where they did a systematic review of various studies investigating soft drinks, juice and milk. They wanted to see if there was a relationship between the sponsorship of a study, and its conclusions. Not surprisingly, they found that 0% of industry sponsored nutrition intervention studies had results that were financially unfavourable for the sponsors. Meanwhile, 37% of non-industry sponsored nutrition intervention studies did show unfavourable results.

So next time you’re watching tv, or reading the newspaper and it seems like yet another nutrition study has been published that contradicts age old nutritional wisdom…don’t be fooled…chances are the industry’s behind it.

I learned about this fact from:

1) My comprehensive exam reading

2) Lesser et al. 2007. Relationship between Funding Source and Conclusion among Nutrition-Related Scientific Articles. PLoS Medicine. 4(1)e50041-0046.  http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040005 (it’s open access, check it out!)

RFF#66-Rats fed diets high in sugar and fat have down-regulated dopamine receptors

For the record, dopamine is a neurotransmitter, which means it is a signal sent from one brain cell to another in order to convey information. After eating, dopamine is released in our brain as a reward, it’s our body’s way of thanking us for engaging in a survival enhancing activity. The problem is, when you eat more, more dopamine is released. Therefore, the body responds by decreasing sensitivity to dopamine, mainly through down-regulating the production of receptors. This dulls the effect of dopamine, making us want to eat more sugar and fat, to experience the same pleasure inducing effect that our body previously perceived with less sugar and fat. This is probably the reason why rats fed diets high in fat and sugar, will continue to consume foods high in fat and sugar, despite the electric shocks researchers use to try to deter them.

I learned about this fact from: Gearhardt et al. Can food be addictive? Public healthy and policy implications. Addiction, 106, 1208-1212.

RFF#49 – “Peter Piper” (who picked a peck of pickled peppers) was a real person

You know the old nursery rhyme:

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where’s the peck of pickled peppers that Peter Piper picked?

Apparently the real “Peter Piper” was a horticulturist, missionary and colonial administrator by the name of Peter Poivre. In the 1760s he was the colonial administrator on the island of Mauritius. It was there that he established a botanical garden where he grew trees, shrubs and plants from all over the tropics. He supposedly smuggled clove and nutmeg out of the Spice Islands, which at the time were controlled by the Dutch East India Company, and thus broke their monopoly. To this day his 25-hectare garden still exists in northern Mauritious and is called the “Botanical Garden of Pamplemousses”.

I learned about this fact from: Globe Trekker – The Story of Spice which aired on WNED Sunday July 21st 2013

RFF#29 – Ancient chewing gum was made from Mastiha

Mastiha (pronounced: mas-tee-ka) is a natural resin that comes from the Mastic tree (basically an evergreen shrub that was first cultivated on the Greek Island of Chios). People in ancient eastern Mediterranean countries commonly chewed (masticated) it to clean their teeth and freshen their breath. Today it can still be found in commercial chewing gums (among other foods) from Greece and other Eastern Mediterranean countries.

I was so surprised to find modern mastiha gum

I was so surprised to find modern mastiha gum at the grocery store in Athens.

I learned about this fact from: The ELMA gum box.

RFF#27 – Chewing gum is banned in Singapore

Apparently they had too much trouble with people disposing of their gum under tables, on elevator buttons, in mailboxes and even inside keyholes. As a result, in 2004 they banned its importation and consequently you can only get chewing gum with a prescription from a doctor or dentist. Supposedly a black market has yet to emerge, but I can’t verify that.

I learned about this fact from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chewing_gum_ban_in_Singapore

RFF#24 – Some people are “taste blind”, meaning they have a reduced ability to perceive the taste of food

It has to do with the number of taste buds and touch fibers on your tongue. The fewer you have, the less sensitive you are to the taste of food. Apparently, this arises because people who are “taste blind” carry a mutation in the gene that controls a factor (gustin) involved in taste bud development.

A recent study examining people who are “taste blind” compared with people who are “super-tasters” showed that people who are “taste blind” tend to consume more calories. Of course, this is what you’d expect considering that they’re less sensitive to subtle tastes and thus tend to prefer rich foods.

—I learned about this fact from: Tepper, B.J., et al., Greater energy intake from a buffet meal in lean, young women is associated with the 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP) non-taster phenotype. Appetite, 2011. 56(1): p. 104-10.


RFF#19 – It can take 5-10 exposures to a new food to overcome your initial aversion

The fact is, humans are neophobic. As a result, we naturally fear anything that is new or unfamiliar on the basis that it could be harmful. But, as studies have shown, repeated exposure can lessen our aversion (at least that is what they’ve seen when studying children). So whatever vegetable you loath, I encourage you to give it another try, chances are, the more you try it, the better it will taste.

—I learned about this fact from: Birch LL. Development of food preferences. Annual Nutrition Reviews. 1999;19:41-62.

RFF #8 – Children can be born with caffeine dependency if their mothers consume caffeine during pregnancy

Shocking but true. Upon consumption caffeine passes through the placenta and enters every organ of a developing fetus. Furthermore, caffeine can also be transmitted to infants through breast milk. Because babies lack the enzymes necessary to breakdown caffeine, it can stay in their system for up to 85 hours!!!! Even in children, caffeine lingers around in the body for longer than it does in an adult. Hence, children should stay away from caffeine, and that includes soft drinks!

—I learned about this fact from: Gilbert RM. Caffeine, the most popular stimulant. The encyclopedia of psychoactive drugs. Chelsea House Publishers: New York, 1992.

RFF#6 – Sesame seeds contain calcium

Just when you thought dairy products were the only source, lo and behold every tablespoon of sesame seeds contains about 10% of the calcium you need each day. Nevertheless, like many of the other non-dairy sources of calcium (such as turnips, mustard greens, broccoli, cauliflower and kale), sesame seeds contain oxalates which decrease the absorption of calcium. While there is debate, toasting sesame seeds may destroy the oxalates, thus making the calcium more readily absorbable. Nevertheless, while you can’t rely entirely upon these non-dairy sources of calcium, they can still make small contributions to your daily calcium intake.

—I learned about this fact from: Bowden, Johnny. The 150 healthiest foods on earth. Fair Winds Press. Massachussets: 2007.

RFF #5 – A low fat diet can reduce risk for breast cancer

That’s right, if everyone ate a low fat diet, breast cancer rates would decrease by 7.3%. That’s 10 333 cases in the US alone, every year!

I don’t know about you, but french fries suddenly look less appetizing.

–I learned about this fact from: Dayal HH, Kalia A. Preventing breast cancer in postmenopausal women by achievable diet modification: A missed opportunity in public health policy. The Breast, 2010;19:309-311.

RFF#3 – Lamb is the highest natural source of trans fats

But that doesn’t mean you should stop eating it! While it’s pretty clear that industrially produced trans fats (the ones found in things like baked goods and other processed foods) greatly increase risk for heart disease, studies have shown that this may not be the case for natural trans fats (found in meat and dairy products). As a matter of fact, natural trans fats may actually decrease the chances that leftover cholesterol will take up residency in your arteries. At least that is what they have found in rats.

—I learned about this fact from:
Ganguly R and Pierce GN. Trans fat involvement in cardiovascular disease. Molecular Nutrition and Food Research. 2012;56:1090-1096.

RFF# 2 – There’s seaweed in chocolate milk

You may have noticed the mysterious fifth ingredient in chocolate milk:


If you’ve ever wondered what it is, you now have the answer. But don’t get all grossed out on me, seaweed performs an important function. The carageenan fibers form a microscopic mesh framework that traps particles of chocolate keeping them perfectly interspersed through the milk. If it wasn’t for carageenan, all of the chocolate would settle at the bottom and you’d have to shake the carton every time before pouring it. Thus, you can thank seaweed for that perfectly even chocolaty experience.

I learned about this fact from: Dr. G, my university food chemistry instructor.

RFF#1 – When it comes to healthy eating, Plato had it all figured out 2000 years ago

That’s right, according to Plato “there ought to be no other secondary task to hinder the work of supplying the body with its proper exercise and nourishment”.

If you’re confused about the never-ending debate over what’s healthy and what isn’t, the commonsense teachings of Plato reaffirm that a healthy diet includes:

-cereals (like wheat and barely)
-legumes (such as chickpeas, which according to Plato were most tasty when stirred with a golden or fig wood ladle)

While Plato cites olive oil as being helpful, it seems the ancient Greeks were more interested in putting it on their skin, as opposed to actually eating it. Furthermore, as would be expected, Plato warned against excessive drinking, and confectionaries (which in his day consisted of pastries and pancakes with grape syrup), describing these foods as being harmful to the body.

All in all, Plato emphasized that despite our limitless desire for food and drink, self-restraint is essential for healthy living.

I learned about this fact from: Skiadas PK and Lascaratos JG. Dietetics in ancient Greek philosophy: Plato’s concepts of healthy diet. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2001;55:532-537.