If you think that scurvy is just about loose teeth, think again. For Distillations (the magazine of the Chemical Heritage Foundation), I tell the crazy story of a disease that killed more than two million sailors between the time of Columbus’s transatlantic voyage and the rise of steam engines in the mid-19th century—and explain how a lot of what you think you know about it is probably wrong.
I recently had the chance to do a Q&A with Anahad O'Connor, nutrition reporter extraordinaire, for the New York Times. Here's the full Q&A.
And here's his intro:
"Many people can rattle off the names of the most popular vitamins and the foods that contain them in abundance. But understanding exactly what vitamins are and what roles they play in the body is far more complicated. In fact, though scientists recognize that there are 13 vitamins that are essential for good health, there is no real consensus on what they actually do and exactly how much of them we truly need.
Catherine Price, a science journalist, explores these questions and more in a book that was recently released in paperback, called “Vitamania: Our Obsessive Quest for Nutritional Perfection.” Ms. Price traces the history of vitamins from their discovery as lifesaving organic compounds that prevented strange diseases to their ubiquity today in foods, beverages and dietary supplements. Ms. Price sheds surprising light on the mythology surrounding vitamins and explains why even basic advice promoted by experts – like the nutrient requirements for healthy adults known as the recommended dietary allowance, or RDA – may be misguided.
Recently, we sat down with Ms. Price to discuss some of the most common misconceptions about vitamins, the reasons vitamin D testing can be misleading, and which questions you should ask yourself before deciding whether to take a multivitamin. Here are edited excerpts from our conversation."
For the LA Times, I explain how little scientists truly know about vitamin D—and how you can make an educated decision about whether to take a vitamin D supplement, even while they're still figuring out the details.
I did not—at least until I went way, way, way down a yeast rabbit hole for Vitamania, and ended up learning a lot more about America's yeast craze than, well, I'm going to guess nearly anyone. Some of the best stuff got cut from the book, but thankfully was revamped for this feature piece in Distillations Magazine. Grab a yeast cake and check it out!
"THERE is much concern these days about what’s in our dietary supplements. Are they actually filled with the ingredients that the labels promise?
Maybe, maybe not. Quality control issues in the estimated 85,000 dietary supplement products available in America should give every consumer pause. But even vitamins themselves — the 13 dietary chemicals necessary to prevent deficiency diseases like scurvy and rickets — pose hidden hazards of their own."
(image credit: Oivin Horvei for the New York Times)
Flywheel, in case you do not keep up with the stationary biking/clubbing scene in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, Florida, Atlanta, North Carolina, Texas, or—now—Philadelphia, is a descendant of SoulCycle, another New York-based spinning cult. By “spinning,” I mean a fitness class where you ride on a stationary bike in a dark room, sprinting up imaginary hills to a soundtrack of Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj. And by cult, I mean, well, cult. In my one and only SoulCycle class (a single class in Manhattan costs $34), I watched a group of ponytailed, aggressively fit women—many in makeup, at least one carrying a gold-embossed SoulCycle gym bag—line up on the sidewalk on Manhattan’s Upper East Side outside what used to be a bodega-sized store called Champagne Video. Their $34 did not buy them a locker room, or even a shower. It was good only for 45 minutes in a small room that was packed so tightly with bikes that it was difficult to maneuver between them, and a sound system so loud that I took them up on the complimentary earplugs. “Change Your Body, Take Your Journey, Find Your Soul,” read the manifesto on the wall
For Slate, I reveal my competitive streak. Did I mention that I won?
Before I received the diagnosis that I had Type 1 diabetes, I saw food as food, and ate it as such -- simply, casually, with no real thought attached.
The winter of my senior year of college, after a bad cold and a painful breakup, I began eating more -- not to cope, but to feel full. I was hungry, always hungry. Hungry and thirsty and tired, piling my tray in the dining hall with pasta, cheese, dessert, getting up in the middle of the night to slurp water from my dorm's bathroom faucet.
I gorged myself and yet my pants were looser, my arms thinner, my stomach flatter. One afternoon I threw it all up, convinced I had food poisoning. My stomach eventually settled but my mind did not. The world swirled. I couldn't stand without stumbling. On February 17th, 2001, I entered the hospital, and since that day, food has never been the same.
In 2009, Tara Parker-Pope at the New York Times published an essay of mine in the Well blog called "Thinking About Diabetes With Every Bite." about my experience living with Type 1 diabetes. Not only was I thrilled to have such a personal piece placed in the Times, but I've been incredibly touched by the wonderful feedback I've gotten from other people with Type 1 (and Type 2). It's inspired me to keep writing about diabetes -- if you want to read more, check out my blog over at the diabetes website, A Sweet Life.
In a piece for Slate, I wrote about the time when my husband and I ate a rabbit we found in the middle of the road. I was not anticipating that they would illustrate it.
It really was a good-looking rabbit. Shiny coat, sleek body, glassy eyes—only its mangled back leg hinted at its violent cause of death. My husband Peter and I had come across this rabbit on a trip to a bird sanctuary in Gridley, Calif. It was lying in the middle of a narrow country road, stretched stiffly across the pavement; Peter swerved slightly to avoid its body.
"That was a pretty rabbit," he said, guiding the car back into the correct lane.
I agreed. We continued down the road in silence. Then, several hundred meters later, Peter spoke again.
"Should we go back and pick it up?"
He was suggesting that we take the rabbit home and eat it. Yes, I'm aware that this sounds crazy. And no, I'm not a back-to-the-land hippie: I grew up in Manhattan, where eating something off the street will likely result in an untimely death. But we were living in Oakland, Calif., dangerously close to Berkeley—the epicenter of the organic food movement, where the words local andsustainable are prized more than Michelin stars. This rabbit was wild, grass-fed, and presumably antibiotic- and artificial hormone-free. Except for the car that had hit it, no food miles had been accrued delivering it to us. So why not bring it home for dinner?
It was Friday night in Shinjuku, a Tokyo neighborhood famous for neon signs, subterranean shopping malls, and rent-by-the-hour lodgings known as love hotels. In crowded bars, people tipped back beers and sang karaoke. Young men with black jackets and gelled hair stood on street corners, offering menus of available escorts to passersby. In the midst of the action was a store window, covered except for a narrow strip of glass. If you were to have stopped and looked through it, you would have seen something strange: my legs, submerged to the ankles, with 600 flesh-eating fish feasting on my feet.
This is the story of how I got there.
I recently had the amazing opportunity to write a story for O, The Oprah Magazineabout taking a trip in which I based all of my decisions, from what I saw to where I slept, on the recommendations of strangers. It's out in the June issue, along with this slide show.
My travel book is out!:
Now out from HarperPaperbacks, 101 Places Not To See Before You Die is a guide to some of the least appealing destinations and experiences in the world. From the armpit of New Jersey to the Beijing Museum of Tap Water to, of course, Euro Disney, it includes some of the most boring museums,stupidest historical attractions, and worst Superfund sites you’ll ever have the pleasure of not visiting. But the book goes much further.Jupiter’s Worst Moon, an Outdoor Wedding During the 2021 Reemergence of the Great Eastern Cicada Brood, Fan Hours at the Las Vegas Porn Convention —101 Places Not To See Before You Die travels through time and space to provide a welcome — and unusual — reprieve from the glut of “inspirational” travel books currently on the market.
Far from being just an encyclopedic list of crappy travel statistics, 101 Places Not To See Before You Die is also a backhanded tribute to what makes traveling so great: its tendency to put us in situations that we otherwise never would have experienced. With guest entries from writers like Nick Kristof and A.J. Jacobs, 101 Places Not To See Before You Die is filled with stories and anecdotes of misadventure to which any seasoned traveler can relate. These are the experiences we tell to friends afterwards, the stories that earn us bragging rights, the reason why we’re willing to put up with the bed bugs and the food poisoning and set out to explore to the world.
101 Places Not To See Before You Die: Because Bad Places Make Good Stories.
My dislike of partner yoga started with a stranger's sweaty thighs. I had just moved from Brooklyn, N.Y., to the San Francisco Bay Area, and I was working my way through a Sunday morning Vinyasa class with the same discipline, determination and Type A drive I bring to most attempts at relaxation. But I kept getting distracted by the young man next to me. To be specific, I was distracted by the moisture he was producing. No sooner had we started sun salutations than the man began to sweat, energetically and abundantly. By the time the class was halfway through, drops of perspiration rolled off his nose with the regularity of a leaking faucet, and a puddle had formed on the floor in front of his mat. Instead of wiping off his face with a towel, he removed his shirt. Now sweat began to drip from a new spot: his nipples.
When I go to yoga, I want to be alone. Apparently I'm not the only one, as I discovered after I wrote this article for Salon.
A sign rests on the windowsill in the office of Jeffrey Bluestone, director of the Immune Tolerance Network and the Diabetes Center at the University of California at San Francisco. Measuring nearly three feet across, it reads “Club Bluestone” in pink and blue neon. It’s the sort of artifact you’d expect to find in a bar. But Bluestone is a world-renowned immunobiologist; his father-in-law had the sign made for him in the late 1980s when Bluestone was working long hours in his lab at the University of Chicago. As the night wore on and their energy faded, he and his colleagues would turn out the lights, turn on the sign and, propelled by the power of Bruce Springsteen, push forward with their research. “It was our version of partying,” he says.
As you may already know, auto-immune diseases like Type 1 diabetes or multiple sclerosis occur when your immune system malfunctions and mistakes part of your own body for a foreign invader. In the case of Type 1, it's when your body decides to kill off the cells that produce insulin, a hormone necessary to absorb the energy in your food. I think I speak for all Type 1 diabetics when I say that destroying these cells is not the body's smartest move.
I was lucky enough to participate in a trial for a promising new drug -- created by the aforementioned Jeffrey Bluestone -- that attempted to stop my system from killing off the rest of my insulin-producing cells. What's more, I recently got a chance to write about this drug -- and others like it -- for Popular Science. The article's called "Rebooting the Body." Here's a link to a digital copy.
I also got a chance to speak about the piece on the New Hampshire Public Radio Show, Word of Mouth. You can listen to the interview here.
When you first buy a Vitamix 5200, the so-called Ferrari of blenders, two thoughts are likely to pass through your mind. The first is “Did I really just spend more than $400 on a blender?” And the second is “This machine is going to change my life.
At least those are the thoughts I had after I bought my Vitamix at a nutrition-related conference several weeks ago. I hadn’t planned to make this purchase; I’d merely followed some colleagues to the Vitamix demonstration stand, where a fast-talking young man with a headset and an impressive dexterity with Dixie cups was offering samples to an enthusiastic crowd. I watched as he liquefied a pineapple. I witnessed him puree an entire clove of garlic, unpeeled. I tried a sample of a green smoothie, then a tortilla soup, then a blended cappuccino. Before I knew what had happened, I’d taken out my credit card. The damage? $429.89—and that was with a discount.
As I crossed the exhibition hall, the Vitamix’s enormous box knocking against my shins, I began to question what I’d just done.
That’s when I heard a voice call out to me.
“You won’t regret a penny!” the voice cried in a thick Jamaican accent. “You won’t regret one cent!
I turned to find an older woman waggling a finger at me, a huge smile on her face. This woman had no connection to the Vitamix booth; she just felt so passionately about her own machine that, upon viewing mine, she couldn’t help but shout.
“I love my Vit-a-mix,” she continued, enunciating each syllable, before launching into a highly complimentary review of the company’s return and repair policy. “I love it so much, I would recommend it to the dead!”
It was a strong, if odd, endorsement. And as I walked away, her words ringing in my ears, my anxiety over its price quickly morphed into something else: excitement.
For Slate, I write about the Vitamix 5200. Spoiler alert: it lives up to its hype.
Standing in the middle of the room at the Sweetwater Distillery in Petaluma, Calif., Bill Owens held a feedbag full of stale donuts high in the air. With a crowd gathered around him, he dumped its contents -- chocolate glazed, jelly-filled, iced with sprinkles -- into a tank filled with hot water and plunged an industrial mixer into the liquid, splattering warm, sticky bits onto anyone who stood too close. A dog wandered up and began licking the floor.
As part of my research for this article about moonshine for Salon, I got the chance to track down local distillers and sample their homemade spirits. (And no, drinking moonshine isn't actually against the law.) My advice? Beware the slivovitz.
(The piece also got picked up by the New York Times's Idea of the Day Blog.)
Even if you ignore ( from ignorare -- to not know, disregard) the Romans' influence ( influere -- to flow in) on our culture ( colere -- to foster, cultivate or respect), architecture ( architectus, from the Greek arkhi -- chief + tekton -- builder, carpenter), literature ( littera -- letter), government (gubernare -- navigate, pilot, govern), military (miles -- soldier), legal ( lex -- the law) and judicial (iudex -- a judge) systems and medicine ( medicus -- physician), there's still the fact ( factum -- something done, a fact) of Latin's presence ( praesentia -- presence) in English itself.
As might be obvious, getting to write a feature about Latin for the Washington Post Magazine was a treat for my inner dork.
For PARADE Magazine, I put together a quiz about plane travel. Unfortunately, my statistics on animal strikes (frequent; not just birds but turtles) and ridiculous stories about safety announcements (Virgin America had to put a bull into its safety video instead of a dog over concern that people would think dogs need to wear seat belts*) did not make it in. But nonetheless!
*and what? Bulls don't?