What I'm Reading (Jan. 18)

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Plant-based foods
Banning Kools
A dress with a mystery
Dishing the dirt on the discovery of DNA



I’ve written so much about food labeling. As it turns out, the term “plant-based” is so 2023!

“A 2023 study co-authored by Árvai suggested that people are less likely to go for foods described as “plant-based” (or “vegan”) compared with those called “healthy” or “sustainable.” One reason may be negative associations with plant-based meat alternatives, which are seen as “artificial” because of their ultra-processed nature, co-author Patrycja Sleboda, an assistant professor of psychology at Baruch College, City University of New York, told me.

Shoppers just want to know what’s in their food without having to think too hard about it. Plant-based hasn’t helped with that. Even Campbell, after he coined the term, acknowledged that it was a limiting, potentially misleading phrase that left too much room for unhealthy ingredients, such as sugar and flour.”

From The Atlantic, ‘Plant-Based’ Has Lost All Meaning


I’ve often written about the possible Menthol ban on cigarettes, and this captures part of the economic issue.

“During June 2020, Massachusetts banned menthol flavored cigarettes. Within the year, sales declined close to 24 percent. Compared to 2019, the 2021 drop was 25 percent. But it was much more than sales. Massachusetts sacrificed $135 million in tax revenue. Similarly, after California’s ban, researchers collected 15,000 discarded cigarette packs from public trash bins. They calculated that 21.1 percent of the packs were menthol style.

Menthol? Many smokers continued with their flavored preferences. They were just smuggled.”

From EconLife, The Unintended Consequences of a Menthol Cigarette Ban


Hidden within a secret pocket of a 19th-century dress,

“For a decade, the code remained, well, encoded. Questions lingered over what “Bismark omit leafage buck bank,” “Calgary Cuba unguard confute duck fagan,” and “Spring wilderness lining one reading novice” could have possibly meant.”

From Popular Mechanics, A Woman Hid This Secret Code in Her Silk Dress in 1888—and Codebreakers Just Solved It


The recent TV adaptation of Lessons in Chemistry stars a woman chemist treated as an assistant more than a peer. While that story is fictional, this one is not.

“The London-born Franklin, a chemist and mathematician, drove herself to perfect X-ray crystallography. The process to determine the atoms that constitute a molecule is painstakingly slow. Crystallographers take hundreds of photographic images of a molecule and apply complex mathematical formulas to determine its final shape and size, informing them which atoms are involved. After the preternaturally meticulous and patient Franklin made a name for herself in crystallography, she was hired to deconstruct DNA at King’s College. Wilkins felt DNA was his dominion and Franklin was being hired as his assistant, not an independent scientist with her own mind and methods.”

A book dishes the dirt on the cast of scientists discovering DNA. Nautil.us brings us the preview, One of the Most Egregious Ripoffs in the History of Scienc