It's one of our guiltiest pleasures on the Internet, and though some of us may not like to admit it, chances are, we've done it. Some are even addicted. That's right, we're talking about the endless consumption and distribution of food porn.
Photos of fatty foods like grease-laced bacon and glistening donuts abound to satisfy our virtual cravings, yet their healthier counterparts — fruits and veggies - just haven't been getting as much love online.
But why should the junk food guys have all the fun?
That was the thinking behind Food Porn Index, an interactive website that highlights this unhealthy imbalance in social media. The index uses a custom algorithm to track how many times certain food hashtags are used on Twitter and Instagram, updating every 15 minutes.
Sure, the site is part of a marketing campaign from carrot and juice company Bolthouse Farms' — whose thing is to make healthy foods edgy — but it's also pretty interesting nonetheless.
On the index's front page, you'll find a grid of boxes featuring 24 different food hashtags and pictures - 12 healthy ones and 12 unhealthy ones - along with the number of times they've been mentioned. Depending on which box you click on, you'll be shuttled over to a different interactive experience — say, a fast-paced game of "guac-a-mole or a trippy "melon meditation," led by a soothing voice.
The goal is to sway the online conversation to be more about fruits and vegetables, and less about junk food, in a lighthearted way, says Todd Putman, Bolthouse's chief officer or marketing and innovation. He plans to showcase the success of the website at the Partnership for a Healthier America summit this week, where first lady Michelle Obama will be speaking.
"We're aiming for humor, to make guacamole fun, to really bring to life the juxtaposition of Brussels sprouts and having fun with them," he says. "Because people don't necessarily do that today and ... we think [that], to the extent that you can have fun with fruits and vegetables, it can accelerate the consumption. (For the record, we here at The Salt have always found guacamole fun.)
Bolthouse may be onto something. Over half of Americans who use social media agree that seeing photos of fruits and vegetables actually motivates them to eat healthier, according to a recent survey that market research company Harris Interactive conducted for Bolthouse. At the same time, about a third of respondents admitted that those glorified photos of cookies, pizza and cake also make them give into their unhealthy cravings.
"What better way than to have a little bit of a laugh around something that's quite serious, which is the way the people eat in this country," Putman says. "We all know [our eating habits are] out of whack, out of balance, and you can clearly see that mathematically."
To date, the website has collected nearly 200 million hashtags — 71 percent are for junk food, while only 29 percent are for healthy foods. That's actually a slight improvement from when the site was first launched back in February, when the numbers sat at 72.4 percent and 27.6 percent.
While junk food may be winning the hashtag war so far, the site is getting attention - attracting 42,000 unique visitors in under a month. Putman hopes that will encourage other marketers to get more playful with selling healthy foods.
"Marketing of healthy fruits and vegetables need to be more creative, needs to be more innovative, needs to be more relevant ... and more emotive versus rational," he says.
This week, All Things Considered is exploring a counterfactual history of World War I, and we invite you to participate. Use the form below to imagine how one aspect of the past 100 years would be different if Archduke Franz Ferdinand had not been killed in 1914. We will share some of the responses in a future segment.
This summer marks 100 years since the start of World War I. Many argue that the conflict was inevitable — but what if it wasn't?
Without the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, there would have been no need for rulers in Vienna to threaten Serbia, no need for Russia to come to Serbia's defense, no need for Germany to come to Austria's defense — and no call for France and Britain to honor their treaties with Russia.
What would be the ripples of this counter-history?
All Things Considered host Robert Siegel put the hypothetical question to three historians: Ned Lebow, author of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives!, Margaret MacMillan, author of The War That Ended Peace, and Christopher Clark, author of The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War.
Some highlights from their counterfactual history:
- A multi-national successor to Austria-Hungary would have developed in Central Europe.
- Czarist Russia doesn't become completely undone, so the Bolshevik party's October Revolution fails. Vladimir Lenin moves to the United States where he becomes a professor of Russian history at Columbia University. Having maintained his left-wing connections, he comes in contact with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and helps write the pro-union musical, Pins and Needles.
- The Germany of the 1920s is not bled by the victorious and vindictive allies so the Nazis never come power. Europe would have been a more German-speaking continent.
- Adolf Hitler — an aspiring artist and vegetarian — never goes to war and never enters politics. Instead, he becomes the manager of a company that produces alternative medicine.
- Jews continue to thrive, and there is no Holocaust. The small Jewish settlement in Palestine continues, but without a flood of refuges it remains a minority community there.
- Without World War I, there is no World War II and no Cold War. Science develops much slower — the U.S. doesn't put a man on the moon, there is no atomic bomb, and penicillin and antibiotics are slower to hit the market.
Torquay is a beach resort in the part of southwest Britain known as the English Riviera for its abundant sun (relative to the rest of the country, anyway). Agatha Christie was born here in 1890. By the mid-1970s, the TV show Fawlty Towers was emphasizing Toquay's shabby aspects over its glamour. And now, well, the town has seen better days.
This time of year, the wear on Torquay is evident. On a recent blustery afternoon, the pier was nearly empty and the tour boats were all tied up in the harbor. Jenny Vowden and her husband were out for a walk. Having spent most of their 70-odd years here, they worry about how their land is changing.
"One of the dangers that we see in this country is that we are losing our British-ness," Vowden says. "I mean, we are a Christian country. We always have been. And we feel that we would prefer to keep it that way."
This is part of the UK Independence Party's appeal.
"UKIP," as it is known, is a minority party with an outsize influence on British politics, particularly on issues of immigration and membership in the European Union.
A growing number of Britons fear that immigrants are taking British jobs and changing British culture. Some immigrants come here through the European Union's "open borders" law, which lets people move freely from one country to another. So, as its name suggests, UKIP wants U.K. independence from Europe.
At the Riviera Convention Center overlooking the Torquay coastline, a catchy song with a soft-rock vibe plays on repeat: Au revoir, auf wiedersehen mein frau. Arrivederci, I don't mean ciao. Goodbye, goodbye, it's time to leave you now.
A bunch of mostly white-haired men arrive in the main conference hall wearing purple and yellow UKIP lapel pins. It's the party's national convention, where one speaker after another talks about the need to break free from the rules and regulations that flow from the European Union in Brussels.
A party official named Steve Crowder gives a speech called "Out of Europe and Into the World."
"We must be able to choose who comes to live in our country," he says to thunderous applause. "And we cannot while we remain in the E.U.!"
UKIP has no seats in Britain's Parliament, but the party exerts a strong force on the ruling coalition government. For example, Prime Minister David Cameron has promised that if Conservatives win next year's elections, the people of Britain will get to vote on whether to leave the E.U.
In this respect, UKIP resembles the Tea Party in the United States. It's a center of gravity that pulls the Conservative Party farther to the right than it would prefer to go. Both Tea Party and UKIP members talk about "taking the country back."
But unlike the Tea Party, UKIP is an actual political party, with a charismatic leader named Nigel Farage.
"This country, in a short space of time, has frankly become unrecognizable," he says during his keynote address. "In many parts of England, you don't hear English spoken any more. This is not the kind of community we want to leave to our children and grandchildren."
Part of UKIP's appeal lies in Farage's larger-than-life persona. He has survived a plane crash, a car crash and cancer. He is known for downing a few drinks with lunch. And though he's not yet 50, Farage smokes like a man from an earlier generation.
At this conference, vendors sell tote bags printed with Farage's face in bright purple ink.
"He looks a bit like Walter Matthau but slightly melted," says Steve Morgan, a consultant who advises businesses on the British political system.
"Nigel Farage does [espouse] these very right-wing policies in a very pleasant way," Morgan says. "You would go to the local bar and drink with Nigel Farage, and you'd feel good about that because he talks your language in a very straight way."
The UK Independence Party was created 20 years ago — a timespan known as "score" in British terminology. Now the party is hoping for big wins in the European elections this May and hoping to pick up UKIP's first British Parliamentary seats in next year's general elections.
And all around the convention center, signs and key chains say, "Ready for another score."
Neil Young wants to start a revolution against the MP3, against the CD, poorly made vinyl and poor audio quality in general. He wants people to hear the music the way it was made.
So at SXSW yesterday (and on Kickstarter, which I'll get to in a moment), Young introduced Pono. In Hawaiian, the word means righteous or goodness. For the world of sound it's a audio player that Young says he's been working on for two-and-a-half years, one that's capable of playing music at the same quality at which it was recorded. (You can listen to his speech via the audio player this page.)
Right now, most portable players are capable of playing music at about the quality of a CD. In his talk at SXSW, Young pointed out again and again that when music is originally captured in studios, the quality of that recording can be better than a CD. Pono is built around the idea that whatever sound the musician records will be played back on the device without any manipulation. It's not format specific — MP3s will play on the Pono devices Young's team is selling, just as the super-high quality digital files he speaks so lovingly about.
Below, you can read some of the highlights of Young's speech, but the whole thing is worth listening to. At the end of the address, he played a video full of testimonials about Pono's sound by musicians including David Crosby, Sting, Jack White, Beck, Eddie Vedder, Arcade Fire, Gillian Welch, Norah Jones and dozens more. You can see that video here too — it's the same one on Pono's Kickstarter page. That Kickstarter drive had an $800,000 goal when it launched last night. By now, it's already got over $1.5 million pledged.
Neil Young on Pono
What he sees as the limits of digital music: "I'm a fan of listening loud. I love to listen loud. That's what it's all about, really, for me. I love to hear rock and roll really loud, and I love to hear even acoustic music really loud. Loud for whatever it is it's being played on. I like to take whatever it is to the limit, and then listen to it right there. When I started doing that with these machines, it started to hurt, and I couldn't do it for very long, so the part of the record-making experience that I used to enjoy became painful. That was a sign to me that something was wrong. I complained a little, and I might have bitched and moaned a little about that too. Then time went by, and I got some better machines, but they weren't really that much better — it didn't change it. But I noticed when I listened to CDs in my car, the same thing happened — it hurt my ears a little bit. And then the MP3 came along, and that's when the recording industry really went into duress."
Why he thinks high quality reproductions are important: "Whatever you believe about where things come from, the human body is unbelievable. I's so sensitive. And when you give it something, it loves it. You give it good food, it grows. It's nourished. And when you give it good input, it loves it. When it sees great art, it feels good. We all are like that. So with our music, we were deprived. And we started getting very little, a minuscule 1/20th of what we [are] capable of getting what we used to listen to. So then one or two listenings, you'd heard it. Your body was not getting anything new after that. you've already figured it out. That's it. Okay, I recognize it. And music even changed a little bit. ... music adapted. It became beat-heavy and it became right for what the media was that was selling it. It became smart, it became clever, tricky."
One reason he was frustrated by the rise of the MP3: "I love making records. That's what I do. I love every song on the record, I love every note on every song on every record. They meant something to me. They're a family of songs that were telling a story of how I was feeling. They weren't just filler. I'm not the only one who feels this way."
How Pono was conceived: "You're all listening to a lot of MP3s. They're very convenient. So what we decided to do was come out with a new system that was not a format, had no rules, respected the arc, respected what the artist was trying to do and did everything that it could to give you what the artist gave, so that you get to feel not just what the artist intended you to feel, but actually what the artist did. And that it what Pono is. Pono plays back whatever the artist decided to do or the artist's producer decided to do."
How he hopes the audiophile world responds to Pono: "All those big things that you had to give away or put in the garage, they can come back now. All those stereo stores that had to close because there's no reason for big speakers any more because people listen to little things that look like lozenges? Because those are the new sound? How cool they could be? You can put it right on the kitchen table next to the toaster and it sounds exactly like an MP3. Now maybe those stores will start to open up again."
The particular assortment of microbes in the digestive system may be an important factor in the inflammatory bowel condition known as Crohn's disease.
Research involving more than 1,500 patients found that people with Crohn's disease had less diverse populations of gut microbes.
"[This] basically for the first time identifies what might be the bacterial changes in patients with Crohn's disease," says Ramnik Xavier, of Masssachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who led the work.
More than a million Americans suffer from Crohn's, which seems to start when an overreactive immune system causes abdominal pain, diarrhea, bleeding, weight loss and other symptoms. Many patients have to take powerful steroids (which can have serious side effects), and some have parts of the digestive tract surgically removed.
Mounting evidence has suggested that microbes living in the gut might contribute to the problem. So Xavier and his colleagues compared the species of bacteria in more than 447 Crohn's patients to the mix of microbes in more than 221 healthy people.
In their paper published in the journal Cell, Host and Microbe, the researchers detailed the clear difference they discovered: The patients with Crohn's seemed to have too many of the sorts of bacteria that rile immune systems.
In addition to having less diversity in their gut microbes, Xavier says, the Crohn's patients had fewer bacteria that that have been associated with reduced inflammation and more bacteria associated with increased inflammation. (The findings were confirmed in 800 Crohn's patients from other studies.)
Interestingly, children whose doctors had tried to treat their Crohn's symptoms with antibiotics before they were properly diagnosed had a mix of microbes that was the most out of whack.
"We may have to revisit the use of antibiotics in [these] patients with early-onset Crohn's disease," Xavier says.
Instead, doctors might eventually do better to identify and prescribe treatments that mimic the helpful bacteria, he says, along with foods or other pharmaceutical agents that reduce or counteract the harmful bacteria.
"There's the possibility that we might be able to identify [some] sort of super-probiotics that might be able to correct the gut back to the healthy state," Xavier says.
UCLA pathologist Jonathan Braun, who studies microbial ecology, says the paper offers important first insights into illnesses beyond Crohn's. "Other diseases are thought to be driven at least in part by bacteria," he says, such as inflammatory and some . "Other inflammatory diseases; certain autoimmune diseases; and even traits like obesity."
Humans should work harder to understand bacteria, Braun says, "and live with them when they're helping us, or get them to serve us better when they are causing harm."