Baker’s Yeast Detects Cholera: 5 Good Food Ideas

Below is the latest installment of 5 Good Food Ideas — ideas that are reshaping our food system for the better:

  1. Animal Welfare Groups Have a New Tool: Virtual Reality
  2. Turning Baker’s Yeast Into a Disease Sensor
  3. New Law Helps Young Farmers Find Their Footing
  4. Can A Shipping Container Farm Solve Our Food Desert Problem?
  5. Designing Dignity in Food Banks

1. Animal Welfare Groups Have a New Tool: Virtual Reality: Animal rights activists are using virtual reality to expose and fight against animal abuse in the meat industry. Instead of using poorer quality video or photographs, VR technology allows groups like Animal Equality and Direct Action Everywhere to produce clear, panoramic experiences of the environment within these factories.

2. Turning Baker’s Yeast Into a Disease Sensor: Baker’s yeast has long been the friend of craft brewers and breadmakers. Now, this versatile fungus is taking its talents to the lab, where it can help scientists detect cholera. The pathogen is often found in stagnant water and if not detected early enough can result in a widespread epidemic. Today, in Yemen, 200,000 people have been infected, with 5,000 new cases reported per day. Typically, the protocol for detecting cholera is to test water samples in petri dishes in laboratories, where it might take a day or two to get results. A team of researchers has now found a way to test at the source by inserting a dipstick into the water source and testing in real-time. The yeast is genetically modified to act as a biosensor that turns red when it comes in contact with contaminated water. The researchers plan to give the yeast to developing countries vulnerable to cholera outbreaks that can then grow the biosensor themselves. [The link and story come from Ed Yong, one of the best science writers around who has a great weekly newsletter].

3. Helping Young Farmers Find Their Footing: A new law in Minnesota (first of its kind in the nation) intends to make it easier to attract young people to farming. The average age of the farmer in the state is 56, with only 4% of the state’s farmers under the age of 35. It is projected that over the next 20 years more than 570 million acres of farmland will need to change hands as older farmers retire. There are concerns that if we don’t encourage more young people to take over those farms, we could lose the land to other non-agricultural purposes, such as development. To reverse that trend, the Minnesota law provides tax credits to farmers who sell their land to young farmers. The law gives farmers a 5% state income tax credit if they sell land or machinery to young farmers; 10% if they rent land or machinery; and, 15% if they set up a crop-share agreement. New and beginning farmers are defined by having farmed for less than 10 years, and they must also have completed a farm management course to be eligible for the tax credit program.

4. Can A Shipping Container Farm Solve Our Food Desert Problem?: Local Roots is a California-based startup that’s making local food available year-round through indoor shipping container farms. The shipping containers are stacked in parking lots or at old warehouses and can be plugged into the grid or powered by solar energy. Local Roots’ containers have the capacity of a 3–5 acre farm while using 97% less water to grow similar volumes of fruits and vegetables. The farms are powered by sensors and software that indicate when during a growing cycle plants need additional nutrients or water. Another advantage of the technology is that Local Roots can customize flavor development. They can work with a chef, for instance, who might desire a basil variation or a more peppery lettuce. Perhaps more importantly, Local Roots has managed to make its produce prices comparable to grocery stores. Therefore, it could place a container in a food desert and provide affordable access to fresh produce. The company is currently pursuing partnerships with corner stores and other community vendors to help make that a reality.

5. Designing Dignity in Food Banks: The Toronto Vegetarian Food Bank (TVFB) meets twice a month to offer vegan and vegetarian food options to the food insecure. Those options include fruits and vegetables, tofu, grains, and plant-based milk and the idea is to not only provide healthy food to those in need but also to do so in a dignified way. Even the food insecure should not have to cast aside their healthy food values and choices. This is a great initiative that’s part of larger trend (which hopefully will continue) to revamp food bank menus to include healthier, fresh food while eliminating sugar-laden junk food.

Originally published at on July 26, 2017.