Distillations: Science + Culture + History

It’s one of the most bizarre episodes in American food history: when butter and margarine were at war. What you choose to spread on your toast might seem like a boring subject, but it turns out to be fascinating and sometimes hilarious. Margarine’s history began with French emperor Napoleon III, a French chemist, and some sheep’s stomachs, and went on to include heated courtroom debates, our first federal laws regulating food, and outlaws smuggling faux butter across state lines.

The spreads have competed for more than a hundred years, and public preferences shift each time our understanding of health science changes. In this episode of Distillations we learn about the history of butter and margarine and explore the distinctly American debates they inspired involving food, health, science, and regulation.

Credits

HostsElisabeth Berry Drago and Alexis Pedrick
ProducerMariel Carr
Associate ProducerRigoberto Hernandez
Audio Engineer: Catherine Girardeau

Reading for this episode:

The Dairy Crisis: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40716626
Letters From Our Readers, The Wisconsin Magazine of History: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4636978
The “Oleo Wars”: Wisconsin’s Fight Over the Demon Spread, The Wisconsin Magazine of History: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4636942
Bogus Butter: An Analysis of the 1886 Congressional Debates on Oleomargarine Legislation: http://scholarworks.uvm.edu/graddis/36/
“If It’s Yellow, It Must be Butter”: Margarine Regulation in North America Since 1886, The Journal of Economic History: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2566555
What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? The National Archives Foundation: https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/whats-cooking/

Special thanks to our voiceover artists, Hillary MohauptRoger Eardley-Pryor, and Sarah Reisert

Music

Our theme music was composed by Zach Young.

 

Direct download: Distillations_225_2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:34pm EST

Baby horses and giraffes walk soon after they’re born, and they can feed and take care of themselves pretty quickly, too. A one-year-old person, on the other hand, is basically helpless. But humans go on to live much longer than most other mammals, and scientists have long been trying to piece together why this is the case.

One theory, called the grandmother hypothesis, claims that grandmas are the key to why humans live so long. Unlike most other species, human females live long past their childbearing years and so can help raise their grandchildren, allowing their daughters (or daughters-in-law) to have another baby before the first one can take care of itself.

As warm and fuzzy as this idea sounds, it turns out to be pretty controversial. In this episode of Distillations we explore the grandmother hypothesis and find out what the debate is all about.

Credits

HostsMichal Meyer and Bob Kenworthy
ProducerMariel Carr
Associate ProducerRigoberto Hernandez 

Music

Our theme music was composed by Zach Young.

Direct download: Grandmother_Show_101617.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:18pm EST

Though they lived decades apart, Adolphe Dessauer and Abdelwahhab Azzawi share similar stories. They were both esteemed physicians who faced violence and persecution in their home countries. They both sought refuge abroad and found safety, only to find themselves facing a new struggle—getting permission to practice medicine in their new homes.

Dessauer, a Jewish doctor, fled Germany for the United States in 1938. Azzawi, a 36-year-old ophthalmologist from Syria, found asylum in Germany in 2015. Both men’s lives were spared through the generosity of their new countries, but they had to struggle to give back in the most meaningful way they could—by sharing their medical expertise.

In 2016 every American Nobel laureate in science was an immigrant. And it wasn’t just that year; U.S. winners often are born abroad. Yet as global an enterprise as science has become, navigating bureaucracy and straddling boundaries seems to be as difficult in the 21st century as during World War II.

Show Clock 

00:13 Intro
01:35 The German doctor 
14:28 The Syrian doctor 

Credits

HostsMichal Meyer and Bob Kenworthy
ProducerMariel Carr
Associate ProducerRigoberto Hernandez 
Reporter: Catherine Girardeau 
Audio EngineerCatherine Girardeau

Music

Our theme music was composed by Zach Young. Additional music is courtesy of the Audio Network.

Direct download: Distillations_223_2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:02pm EST

There are no parents in the world who want to see their child sick. Often the illness is no big deal—you follow doctor’s orders and your kid gets better soon. But what do you do when your child is really sick, and it’s because of decisions the founders of your religion made more than 300 years ago? And what do you do when the medical solutions seem to run counter to that very same religion?

This is the dilemma faced by many Amish and Mennonite parents in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, whose children suffer from genetic diseases at rates exponentially higher than the rest of the population. These Plain People, as they call themselves, typically eschew technology. But 30 years ago they chose to step out of character and embrace the latest advances in genomic medicine to help save their children.

Reporter Kyrie Greenberg spent almost a year getting to know some of these families, and she produced this podcast with us.  

Credits

Hosts: Michal Meyer and Bob Kenworthy

Producer: Mariel Carr

Associate Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez 

Reporter: Kyrie Greenberg

Music

Original music composed by Zach Young. Additional music courtesy of the Audio Network.

Direct download: Distillations222.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:54pm EST

On April 22, 2017, more than one million people in 600 cities around the world took to the streets in the name of science. Many were scientists themselves, and quite a few donned lab coats. Some were protesting for the first time. It was an unusual sight perhaps, but science has never been immune to politics.

“If we could imagine angels doing science maybe it wouldn’t be political,” says Liz Lopatto, science editor of the technology site the Verge, “But since it’s humans, it’s inescapable.”

Throughout the past century quite a few scientists have taken up political causes, but the tide of politics and science ebbs and flows, from the labs to the streets and back again. Now, after a period of relative quiet it seems to be flowing again. But this time it’s different. Sociologist Kelly Moore says, “I don’t know of any period in American history when scientists have felt the need to collectively defend science as a public good.”

Show Clock

00:32 March for science
02:14 Science as a noun, science as a verb 
04:55 Science and politics throughout history 

Credits

Hosts: Michal Meyer and Bob Kenworthy
ProducerMariel Carr
Associate Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez
Additional Reporting and Production: Kyrie Greenberg 
Audio Engineer: Dan Powell

Music 

Original music composed by Zach Young. Additional music courtesy of the Audio Network.

Direct download: Distillations221.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:26pm EST

There was a time when tattoos were taboo, and you thought long and hard before getting one. Today 20 percent of American adults are inked. Tattoos just don’t carry the stigma they once did—unless it’s a particular kind of tattoo, in a particular place on the body.

Fortunately, as our penchant for getting tattoos has grown, so has our ability to get rid of them. In the 1960s researchers started experimenting with lasers to remove tattoos, and since then the technology has dramatically improved. Now we can erase our past, whether it’s a sailor’s bad decision from overseas or a gang identifier that prevents its owner from getting a job—and could even get him killed.

Sociologist and CHF research fellow Joseph Klett traces the modern history of tattoo removal through the stories of his father—a retired sailor—and ex-gang members in California.

 

Credits

Hosts: Michal Meyer and Bob Kenworthy
Reporter: Joseph Klett
Producer:  Mariel Carr
Associate producer: Rigoberto Hernandez
Additional production by Kyrie Greenberg 
Audio engineer: Dan Powell
Voiceover artist: David Dault 

Music 

Original music composed by Dan Powell

Direct download: Distillations220.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:10am EST

Most of us are content to use our existing five senses to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch our way through the world. But an increasing number of people called biohackers are not satisfied with watching the everyday brilliance of a sunset or petting a silky kitten. They want infrared vision and electromagnetic fingertips.

“Why wouldn't I want to add one more sense to the ones I already have and enjoy so much? The ability to feel just a little bit more?” Nic Fox asked reporter Catherine Girardeau. Fox has a device embedded in his chest that vibrates when he faces magnetic north.

To understand more about these would-be cyborgs we turned to Kara Platoni, author of We Have the Technology: How Biohackers, Foodies, Physicians and Scientists Are Transforming Human Perception, One Sense at a Time. Platoni is a science reporter and a lecturer at University of California, Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. She describes how many biohackers feel the future hasn’t gotten here fast enough. They’re ready to be cyborgs now.

Show Clock

00:03 Intro
03:10 The North Sense
13:12 Interview with author Kara Platoni

Credits

Hosts: Michal Meyer and Bob Kenworthy
Guest: Kara Platoni
Reporter: Catherine Girardeau
Producer:  Mariel Carr
Associate Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez

Music

Music courtesy of the Audio Network.

Direct download: Distillations219_0406.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:42am EST

For as long as humans have been around they’ve worried about their smell. “That’s why we’ve had perfumes for as long as we’ve had people,” says Cari Casteel, a CHF research fellow studying the history of deodorant. But, Casteel says, "it wasn't until the late 19th, early 20th century that the technology and the chemistry catches up to what people want."

Today most Americans don’t give a second thought to using deodorant. In fact, some 90% of the population slathers the stuff on. But in the late 19th and early 20th centuries deodorants and antiperspirants were new, and their makers had to convince potential customers (all women) that perfumes alone weren’t cutting it and that their body odor and perspiration were unacceptable. They did so by preying on women’s insecurities, an approach later used successfully on men.

In this episode we explore some of the funny, disturbing, sexist, and quirky advertisements from deodorant’s history and discover that today’s commercials are strangely similar to those of the past.

Show Clock

00:01 Intro
01:20 Odorono ad 
03:57 The history and science of deodorant  
09:55 Old ads vs. new ads  

Credits

Hosts: Michal Meyer and Bob Kenworthy
Guest:  Cari Casteel
Producer:  Mariel Carr
Associate Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez
Additional Production by Kyrie Greenberg 

Music

Music courtesy of the Audio Network.

Direct download: Distillations218Deodorant.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:07pm EST

We all know hydration is important to health, but many people find water boring to drink. Juice and Coke aren’t boring, but they aren’t very healthy either. One way to transform water into a more exciting drink is to add bubbles. For centuries carbonated water from natural springs was used as a medicine. Now lifestyle and health concerns have combined to drive fizzy water’s renewed popularity.

Join us as we unpack the long history of carbonated water, from natural mineral springs, to the invention of artificial carbonation by a radical 18th-century chemist, to the fading tradition of seltzer deliverymen in New York City.

Show Clock

00:01 Intro
00:24 The rise of fizzy water 
04:30 Seltzer Boys
06:40 What's the difference between seltzer, mineral water, and club soda? 
08:22 The history of carbonated water  
11:55 Seltzer and health

Credits

Hosts: Michal Meyer and Bob Kenworthy
Producer:  Mariel Carr
Associate Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez
Reporter: Rigoberto Hernandez
Additional production by Kyrie Greenberg 

Special thanks to Alex Gomberg and Brooklyn Seltzer Boys

Music

Music courtesy of the Audio Network.

Direct download: Distillations217.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:24am EST

Second Skin: The Unexpected Origin of the Sports Bra

The sports bra is omnipresent in today’s sports landscape. But the current iteration of this nifty item is less than 40 years old, and it arrived with a serendipitous origin story.

For this episode of Distillations we talked to Lisa Lindahl, an entrepreneur from Vermont, who in 1979 patented what was to become the modern-day sports bra. It’s a story about a runner who wanted running to be more comfortable. “It was the right product at the right time. It really struck a chord for so many women,” says Lindahl. “This product came into being because it was something I wanted.”

We also talked to our museum team about their new exhibition, Second Skin: The Science of Stretch, and the roles stretch fabrics play in health and sports. Christy Schneider, exhibits project manager at the Museum at CHF, says it’s all about getting the body you want, whether you want to dance all night or run a marathon. “How do you that?” asks Schneider. “You clothe it in a second skin.”

Show Clock

00:05 Intro
00:32 ‘The Sports Bra Seen Round the World’
05:40 A brief history of the sports bra
10:53 The technology and science behind the sports bra
11:50 Why stretch fabric matters
15:20 Conclusion

Credits

Hosts: Michal Meyer and Bob Kenworthy
Guests: Brandi Chastain, Lisa Lindahl, Gillian Maguire, and Christy Schneider
Reporter: Rigoberto Hernandez
Producer: Mariel Carr
Associate Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez
Audio Engineer: Seth G. Samuel

Music

Music courtesy of the Audio Network.

Direct download: Distillations216.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:57pm EST