Soup Culture

Andrew Zimmern, award-winning chef, TV personality and important thought leader to yours truly, made two kinds of Asian Hot Pot earlier this week. It’s one of my favorite dishes and Andrew, always one to bring an interesting tidbit to everything around him, brought my appreciation to a whole new level. Holding everyone’s rapt attention during his demonstration at the Aspen Food & Wine Festival, he didn’t merely guide his audience through recipes; he delivered a profound observation about the communal aspects of “soup cultures” around the world. Alas, the United States in his opinion does not rank high in this manner.

Perhaps you know Andrew through his TV shows and his massive social media presence. And if you do, you’ll know that aside from being a gifted chef, he is a talented rogue anthropologist. I have the pleasure of knowing him as a dear friend, a guy with one of the sharpest minds I’ve ever met and a huge “heal the world” heart to go with it. He always makes me think just a little bit harder than I expected and that’s exactly what he laid on me up in the mountain air.

Soup really is the ultimate communal food. A thousand years ago, you could extract the maximum amount of nutrition from the maximum number of ingredients by cutting them up and throwing them into a big pot of water over a fire. Until extremely recently in the course of human history, this staple of the human diet never heard the words “single serving.” And because of that, Andrew illuminated the idea that soup is an important civic design: Food that physically brings us together. (more…)

A Food Revolution that Kids Actually Crave

If you want people eating healthier in the future it seems obvious to focus today on cafeteria food in K-12 schools. There are a lot of upsides if we re-design what is too often served to kids: foods that are sugar-loaded, fatty and produced from products that don’t have much of a sustainability footprint. And this situation becomes even more impactful when you consider the number of children on free or reduced cost meals, which in some cases is the only food they eat during the day.

Eating well can’t be an option just for the privileged few. We need to blanket our society with everyday accessible opportunities and with companies like Revolution Foods, that just might be possible. Revolution Foods was founded by two moms who wanted to transform the way Americans eat by making healthy food accessible for schoolchildren. The company makes healthy eaters out of students by providing schools with kid-inspired, chef-crafted food that’s actually affordable and, therefore, accessible.

The food served at schools across the country is hand-prepared freshly by chefs each day, and with natural ingredients to boot. Even the whole grain bread is baked daily! The meat is humanely raised with no antibiotics or nitrates and none of the foods have artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. I can get behind all of that.

But here’s where I think the magic really kicks in. (more…)

World Peace isn’t a Fantasy if you Bring Peace to your Piece of the World

Peace. It’s something that most everyone on the planet can get behind, even if it doesn’t seem that way when you tap into your favorite news outlet. The common story that is spun in front of our daily lives is pretty dystopian: full of violence, dread, impending doom and death right around every corner. It certainly sells well, doesn’t it?

However, what is truly remarkable in our world right now is that it is safer and more peaceful than it has been since the Roman Empire. And that, my friends, isn’t just opinion: it’s a fact.

I bring this up because I just watched a deeply moving animated data visualization about World War II fatalities. I’ve been a student of that global conflict for decades and even at that, the 18-minute video is full of shock, awe and horror. But if you stick around toward the end of it, you’ll see something that isn’t bone chilling but is actually rather heart warming.

World War II began in 1939, the US entered at the end of 1941, and the conflict was concluded in 1945. It’s just a blip in time, but during that time, the United States lost around 400,000 troops. These are big numbers. Want some context? Approximately the same number of our troops died on D-Day (June, 6th 1944) as the entire 13-year span of the war in Afghanistan. (more…)

An “Almost” Magic Carpet Ride

Recently in this blog, I wrote about shoes that grow with a child’s foot. The Shoe That Grows is a great design that addresses an important need in developing countries. It’s in that vein that I bring to your attention another cool design. This time the product leans into two very different needs with one clever solution.

A company in New Zealand called Wishbone Design Studio is repurposing waste carpet into the most unlikely of upcycle projects: bicycles! Jenny and Rich McIver have created a smart technology that transforms old carpets into tires for a very unique kids’ bike.

First the carpet. That oh-so-cozy span of colorful padding under your feet endures a lot of wear-and-tear and even the toughest stuff doesn’t last forever. And of course it’s not something you can just toss into the green bin on the corner of your driveway. No, carpet is something that goes into big dumpsters because, well, it’s a big expanse of waste at that point, right? The Carpet America Recovery Effort estimates that five billion tons of carpet ends up in landfills worldwide. That’s almost one ton per person per year, which quite frankly really surprised me given that there are millions of people who don’t have homes, let alone carpeted floors. (more…)

Carbon-Free Fuel at the Gas Station Might be Coming to You Soon

Planes, trains and automobiles (and skis, bikes, skateboards and on and on) … mobility has always fascinated me. But those first three on the list come with a hefty price due to carbon emissions. That’s why I find it interesting that the top three hyper-sports cars on the planet are hybrids. (Check out the Porsche 918, the McClaren P1 and LaFerrari if you think that hybrid only goes with small economy cars).

In that vein, the mix between luxury, aspiration and green at Tesla is more than a little important. But as cool as a Tesla is (very cool), it doesn’t come without its drawbacks either. New electrical charging infrastructure is needed and all that electrical energy doesn’t always come from the most sustainable of sources. Throw in what it takes to make a battery full of heavy metals, dispose of it someday and toss in a little bit of coal-fired electricity, and you’d probably be doing the world a bit better if you just drove a diesel fueled car.

That need for all new fueling infrastructure is a vexing one and historically has served as a big barrier to the introduction of new alternatively powered vehicles. And that’s why I sprang to attention when I learned what the car brand Audi was up to. Sure, they’re jumping into hybrid and electrical vehicles with both feet, but this new initiative is incredibly exciting because they just may have cracked the code on how to make a green sustainable fuel that works with the massive infrastructure that is already built. (more…)

Kids Grow Like Weeds … So Why Don’t Their Shoes?

Did you know that approximately two billion people worldwide suffer from soil-transmitted diseases and parasites? Most live in impoverished communities without adequate sanitation, and the fact that many walk around shoeless doesn’t help matters much. To date, we’ve seen the birth of programs like TOMS Shoes’ buy-one-give-one, which is a very worthy model. But even with charitable shoe drops, the challenge of the shoeless is compounded when it comes to children: they outgrow their shoes almost as fast as they are dropped off.

But as luck would have it a very smart man stepped up with a very clever solution.

Kenton Lee was living and working in Kenya in 2007, so the story goes, when he noticed something unsettling: a little girl wearing shoes that were far too small for her feet. That led him to the question, wouldn’t it be great if there was a shoe that could adjust and expand?

And so he teamed up with a shoe development company called Proof of Concept to create The Shoe That Grows – a shoe that grows up to five sizes and lasts up to five years. The product name couldn’t be simpler and his design is elegantly simple as well.

There’s no unnecessary fluff to these shoes: made of durable materials, they can withstand elements and grow with their young owners. In an interview with Bored Panda, Lee states, “We did not cut any corners with the materials that we used. The sole is compressed rubber – very similar to a tire rubber. The rest of the shoe is a high quality leather. Just quality, solid, long-lasting materials.” (more…)

One of the Smartest Ways to Use a Smartphone Yet

While it may be an inconvenience to make an appointment and get over to the doctor’s office, consider the millions around the developing world who would love to have that kind of disruption to their day. That’s especially true when there’s a deadly disease spreading around your community as we saw with such tragic consequences in West Africa and the Ebola outbreak. Sending doctors took too long.

But what if we didn’t have to send in the doctors, at least initially? What would it look like if we could get vital information to them faster than a speeding airplane?

That “what if” just might be changing soon.

Florida Atlantic University researchers have come up with a little innovation that could make a big difference worldwide. They have created a biosensing film made out of cellulose paper and a flexible polymer that can detect certain viruses and bacteria in blood and saliva. If you are worried about a dangerous virus – let’s take HIV as an example, as it’s a real issue in developing countries that needs to be addressed – you simply apply a drop of blood or saliva to the biosensing film created to detect the specific virus. If the HIV virus is present in your sample, the sensor will dye the cells blue. (more…)

When Plastic Pays

Imagine if that plastic water bottle you just tossed had true value. And I don’t mean value in terms of you took the effort to recycle the vessel (although if you did, thanks … it’s an important action). Wouldn’t it be wonderful if what was in your hand wasn’t refuse but actually as valuable as money in your pocket? Enter a terrific organization called the Plastic Bank, because that is exactly what they are trying to do.

Plastic Bank is transforming plastic waste into currency. Hitting up the poorer countries on our planet, these folks are turning plastic waste into something too valuable to toss. Founder David Katz says, “If we can reveal the value in plastic, we can make it too valuable to throw away. If we can reveal value in people, we can unleash the potential of the world’s most disadvantaged and give them a platform to improve their lives.”

Those are some powerful words. Powerfully good words.

Once the program is up and running, plastics will be able to be exchanged for essentials like food, shoes and other goods and services. Alternatively, the plastic waste could be broken down and 3D printed into other necessities. When Plastic Bank collects the plastics, they break them down and turn them into pellets that can then be processed in 3D printing machines and pumped out as new products. The pellets are either given back to the folks bringing the plastic to the “Bank” or sold to manufacturers.

In the video below the founder also says their goal is to “empower the world’s poor to become 3D printing entrepreneurs so that they can collect the raw material for the items that they can print and either use the items or sell. It allows the consumer to expect that corporations use a plastic that’s been ethically sourced and improved the lives of others while keeping already produced plastics out of the oceans.” (more…)

Designing Away Two Kinds of Waste and Uncovering One Big Value

There’s nothing quite like converting what is considered to be waste into something useful. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s wasted space or waste as in refuse: if it can be repurposed you’ve got my attention. So here’s a design that converts two challenges into one incredible solution and has to do with a slimy thing called algae. Perhaps you’ll recall my post about this super plant when I came across a building in Hamburg, Germany that is covered from top to bottom with this living, moving green stuff. The purpose of this building is to simultaneously insulate and shade the apartment building, thereby cutting down on costs and energy consumption. Cool idea, but check this one out.

A co-operative of architects, creatives and designers called The Cloud Collective turned a highway bypass in Geneva, Switzerland into an algae farm. Besides the tubes and equipment that keeps them together, the only elements that power the growth in this farm is CO2 and sunlight, which happen to be precisely what algae need to thrive. Yes carbon dioxide: the greenhouse villain now gets to play hero.

3038134-slide-s-5-an-algae-farm-designed-to-suck-up-highway-pollutionThe Cloud Collective has come up with a design where the CO2 emitted from all the cars that zip under the overpass is sucked up into the tubes where the sun then beats down on it. In other words, a perfect place to grow algae. Once harvested, the algae can be used to make cosmetics, food supplements or biofuel. And speaking of biofuel, algae is not only much more efficient than other plants, but the fact that this occurs outside of farm land means that this approach takes care to not put stress on the food supply. (more…)

The Sleek Side of Water Conservation

How would you like to have a faucet in your home that swirls water into stunning crystalline spirals? It might sound superfluous, but a faucet called Swirl has some serious good embedded into its beautiful design.

Designer Simin Qiu, a student at London’s Royal College of Art, created a faucet so striking it has won design awards and has the web all aflutter with its beauty. Swirl is a sleek water faucet that dispenses water in the beautiful pattern you see below. Those with a deep appreciation for art know the importance of negative space — the white space that exists being object and form. But take a closer look and you’ll see that Swirl has taken that design principle and applied it to a surprising new art: the art of water conservation.

Swirl was designed to use 15 percent less water than the average water faucet with the same pressure in a 60-second period. If you want to conserve even more water, there’s an aerator that mixes air with the water flow and saves up to 30 percent of water used. You can choose between three swirly water patterns, each of which dispense 0.4 seconds faster than a traditional faucet. The slight increase in speed positions the user to keep the faucet on for a shorter amount of time. (more…)