Do not be alarmed, but you may be eating wood pulp. Or at least an additive that started out as wood.
If you buy shredded cheeses, including brands such as Organic Valley and Sargento, or hit the drive-thru at McDonalds for a breakfast sandwich or a smoothie, or douse some ribs with bottled barbecue sauce, there's likely some cellulose that's been added to your food.
Cellulose is basically plant fiber, and one of the most common sources is wood pulp. Manufacturers grind up the wood and extract the cellulose.
It's odd to imagine the same kind of pulp that's used to make paper turning up in our food. So, it's no surprise there's buzz over a spate of recent posts, from Quartz to the Los Angeles Times on the food industry's widespread use of cellulose to help add texture and fiber to foods.
But there's not much new here. The FDA long ago green-lighted the use of added cellulose in foodstuffs. And, in our bodies this cellulose passes right through our GI tracts, virtually unabsorbed.
Food scientist John Coupland of Penn State says it doesn't matter much where the cellulose comes from. In theory, you could extract it from any plant, from asparagus to onions, but he says that would be a waste of good food.
"A good way to think about it is to ask: Would our food be any better or worse if the cellulose used was sourced from another plant?" And Coupland says, the answer is, no. "Cellulose is just a molecule, and probably one we want more of in our diets."
"Ah yes, the wood pulp in cheese stories" Elizabeth Horton of Organic Valley responded to us when we asked her about the headlines.
"Yes, Organic Valley does use cellulose in our shredded cheeses; it's a pretty standard anti-caking agent." So, it helps prevent the bits of cheese from clumping together.
Horton says there is work in the industry to find other sources allowed for organic use, but "the challenge is they are not as effective at anti-caking."
And, perhaps, not as cost effective either.
We reached out to a supplier of cellulose, Sweetener Supply Corp. The company's Jon Bodner told us that there have been efforts to extract cellulose from a wide range of plants including oat and soybean hulls, corn stover, and even hemp. "But establishing a new supply chain system to accumulate the [plant] materials is cost prohibitive."
He points to an effort in the late 1990s to establish a cellulose pulp plant using corn stalks, leaves and husks, but it failed.
And now, there are additional challenges to using non-wood plants. For instance, lots of customers, Bodner says, are demanding non-genetically modified products. If the cellulose industry were to use corn stalks, leaves and husks or sugar beets, it would be a challenge to keep the supply chain free of genetically modified crop residue.
Bodner is accustomed to clearing up misconceptions about his industry. For instance, the idea that cellulose is just like saw dust. Nope. He says sawdust contains only about 40 percent cellulose. Whereas the powdered cellulose used in foods contains about 97 percent cellulose.
The baking industry has been defending the use of cellulose for more than 35 years. Back in 1977, the ITT Continental Baking Company promoted its use of cellulose as a way to boost healthy fiber.
"We feel it's important to get the facts out," the baking company's John Colmey told The Milwaukee Journal back then. And it seems, decades later, the industry is still working to win consumer acceptance.
An audacious quest to reconnect with a vintage NASA spacecraft has suffered a serious setback and is now pretty much over.
The satellite launched in 1978 and has been in a long, looping orbit around the sun for about three decades. Earlier this year, NPR told you about an effort to get in touch with this venerable piece of NASA hardware, and send it on one more adventure.
But there are no guarantees when you try to recapture the past.
A team of space enthusiasts recently got permission from NASA to reconnect with the old spacecraft as it approached Earth. The idea was to put it on a new course so that it wouldn't just fly past. Instead, it would be commanded to go to a new orbit and join younger satellites in monitoring space weather.
On Tuesday, and then again Wednesday, the volunteer group sent commands to fire ISEE-3's engines again and again.
"And our first series of burns, we thought went OK," says Keith Cowing, a former NASA guy who is one of the leaders of the volunteer group — the ISEE-3 Reboot Project. "And then when we went to the second set, pretty much nothing happened. And we tried it again, and nothing happened."
Their troubleshooting suggests that nitrogen tanks that are needed to pressurize the fuel either aren't working or are empty, Cowing says. "So, in essence, we can't really fire the engines anymore."
The earlier engine firings may merely have burned fuel that was already in the fuel lines, says Cowing. If the nitrogen tanks won't work, then the team can't get more fuel into those lines.
That means they won't be able to do a course correction that would let the spacecraft be recaptured into an orbit that would enable it, once again, to do useful science.
"At this point we're sort of scratching our heads," Cowing says. "We may take one last run at the spacecraft but this may be it for an attempt to bring it back to Earth."
Bob Farquhar, a former NASA mission designer who has always felt a close connection to the spacecraft, told NPR things don't look good. "I don't know what's the matter, but it sounds like it's pretty serious," he says.
Without the thrusters, Farquhar says, there's no way to keep ISEE-3 around. Once it's far enough away that we can't really communicate with it, he says, "they should probably turn off all the transmitters this time and not have anything left on like they did before. I think we should let it have a good death."
Farquhar, who is 81, has long felt his own fate was connected to this spacecraft's. Now, he says, he hopes they're not that connected. "But I am getting pretty old also," he says. "If you measure a spacecraft's life, he's probably about the same age I am."
He says his friend should pass close to Earth on August 10. That's when Farquhar plans to wave goodbye.
If you're feeling stressed these days, the news media may be partly to blame.
At least that's the suggestion of a national survey conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health.
The survey of more than 2,500 Americans found that about 1 in 4 said they had experienced a "great deal" of stress in the previous month. And these stressed-out people said one of the biggest contributors to their day-to-day stress was watching, reading, or listening to the news.
The result comes as no surprise to Mary McNaughton-Cassill, a psychologist at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She's been studying stress and the news media since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. In that incident, a rental truck filled with explosives killed 168 people, including children in a day care center.
McNaughton-Cassill was hundreds of miles away. Even so, "I had small kids in day care and got kind of stressed," she says. And she realized that "certain kinds of news can push your own buttons and make you very anxious."
Since then, McNaughton-Cassill and other researchers have done many studies showing that certain types of news coverage can produce emotional responses associated with stress. The biggest effect comes from traumatic events covered in a sensational way — something that's hard to avoid these days, McNaughton-Cassill says. "There is so much more news available, and so many different channels that are competing, that they're trying harder to be sensational" she says.
Another factor is the growing prevalence of disturbing images delivered in something close to real time, McNaughton-Cassill says. During the Civil War, media outlets relied on line drawings that could take days or weeks to reach an audience. By the Vietnam War, nightly video was available. "And now, of course, we've got the reporter there waiting to see where the bomb hits," she says.
To see how that kind of coverage is affecting the public, a team of researchers questioned more than 4,500 people across the country about their reaction to last year's Boston Marathon bombing. The study found that "people who exposed themselves to six or more hours of media daily actually reported more acute stress symptoms than did people who were directly exposed — meaning they were at the site of the bombings," says Alison Holman from the University of California, Irvine.
One reason for this extreme reaction may be that news outlets frequently "take a clip of images and they repeat that same clip over and over and over as they're talking about what happened," Holman says. The result can be symptoms like those of post-traumatic stress disorder, she says.
But consumers and the news media can take steps to minimize news-related stress, researchers say. News outlets can help by warning their audience before presenting something that's particularly disturbing. And consumers can avoid binging on news, especially after an event like 9/11 or the Boston Marathon bombing. "Just don't overdo it," Holman says.
That can be hard to do, though. There's evidence that our brains have evolved to pay close attention to potential threats, McNaughton-Cassill says. So we have to remind ourselves that absorbing every detail about a bombing doesn't help us survive. It just stresses us out.
Pablo Picasso once said that the great 19th-century French painter Paul Cezanne was "the father of us all." Cezanne's distinctive brush strokes, and the way he distorted perspective and his subjects, influenced the cubists, and most artists who came after him. In Philadelphia, the Barnes Foundation is showing a group of still-life paintings by Cezanne.
A few months ago, my neighbor Barbara Baldwin went to the Barnes, which has an incredible collection of pretty much every painting you've ever seen reproduced in art books that's not already at the Met or the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. She was wowed by the Pierre-Auguste Renoirs — the largest Renoir collection in the world. "All those naked women," Barbara says. "Good heavens!"
The current special exhibition is all about naked fruit — apples, mostly. It's called "The World Is An Apple: The Still Lifes of Paul Cezanne."
Joe Rishel, of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, describes Cezanne's work as "repetitive apples with apples." But that's not to say it's boring. With Cezanne, Rishel says, "Every game is a new game." That's partly because of the idiosyncratic way Cezanne arranged his apples before he painted them.
"He would stick little wedges of any kind, sometimes fat little coins, underneath them just to prop them up," Rishel says. "Isn't that cute?"
Cezanne propped one apple higher than others, put another at an angle and pushed another into the foreground. Then he painted them. "I want to astonish Paris with an apple," he's said to have said. And, coming to town from his southern country village of Aix-en-Provence, he did astonish.
"They thought he was crazy," says Benedict Leca, the Barnes show curator and director of curatorial affairs at the Art Gallery of Hamilton in Ontario, Canada. "People said he was on drugs, even. People said that he was dabbling in hashish and that he was out of his mind."
They said all that because they'd never seen brushwork like this.
"These are very short, parallel strokes, very clearly painted," says Judith Dolkart, chief curator at the Barnes. "He does nothing to ... hide his hand."
The paint is thick, almost chiseled onto the canvas. You can see the edges of each hatched stroke. And, subtly, within each paint stroke, the colors change. One has more white in it; the one next to it is darker.
Dolkart says, "Every time he is lifting his brush, he's declaring, 'I'm a painter. This is my medium. These are my materials.'"
According to Leca, for a French viewer in the late 19th century, "an apple painted with these distinct strokes in this kind of rough-hewn manner would have been shocking."
In those days, painters made their strokes as smooth and invisible as they could. The taste-making Academie des Beaux-Arts in Paris said that's how paint should be applied. Leca says that may partially explain why there's never been a show devoted entirely to Cezanne's still-life paintings — not in the U.S. anyway. Given Cezanne's fame and how many still lifes he painted (they say "lifes," by the way, "not lives"), it really doesn't make sense, but Leca deconstructs it this way: "There is a historic bias against still-life painting. It was always the lowest genre in the hierarchy of painting as established by the French academy in 1648."
Still lifes, then, were the bottom feeders of the art world. Historical subjects, Bible scenes and mythic figures were most prized; after that came portraits; landscapes were OK, although landscape painters were sometimes seen as slackers — not working all that hard. But apples? A parade of fruit?
Why not! Cezanne took on the establishment. Ambitious and fierce, he was determined to astonish Paris, not just with apples, but by making his mark on canvas and in life.
"He walks around in a blue smock in Paris," Leca says. "He meets [Edouard] Manet on the street and says, 'Sorry, I don't want to shake your hand — I haven't bathed in three days.'"
The raw country fellow thumbed his paint stains at the elegance of Paris. But Cezanne was no bumpkin.
"You're talking about a guy who went to the Louvre, who copied the old masters, who was keenly aware of his historical position," Leca says. "He felt that he was going to go in the history books, so he wanted to make sure to be distinctive."
It took a while, but it worked. Today Cezanne is in the pantheon of all-time great artists. Evidence of that is in the Barnes Foundation's permanent collection and, until the end of September, its special still life exhibition. It's an astonishment of apples — and some pears and oranges.
As members of Congress continue hammering out a bill to improve the Veterans Administration's beleaguered health care system, attention has focused on one man leading the charge: Bernie Sanders, Independent senator from Vermont and a self-described Socialist.
Sanders barely got 2 percent of the vote when he first tried breaking into Vermont politics in the 1970s, but now there's buzz that the man known simply as "Bernie" may be a presidential candidate in 2016.
"The cost of war is huge," he said recently during lunch at Henry's Diner in Burlington, Vt., where he rose to become an immensely popular mayor in the 1980s. "It's not just tanks and guns and planes. It's what happens to people's lives."
Sanders' frizzy hair may have gotten whiter since his mayoral days, but it could still use a comb. And when he opens his mouth, you don't hear New England — you hear Brooklyn.
He's also not one for idle chit chat. Even the most casual conversation relentlessly returns to the central idea that animates him: the wide gulf between rich and poor in this country.
"What is part of my DNA — something I never will forget — is just the stress in the family over money. Of my mother, you know, feeling that we just never had enough money to do what she wanted to do," Sanders said, referring to his childhood years in Flatbush, Brooklyn.
During his time as mayor, he created more affordable housing in Burlington, and stopped development on the waterfront to make it more accessible.
"And that's what Democratic Socialism is. It is essentially — bottom line — making government work for all of the people," he said.
Winning Over Conservative Vermont
Sanders is the only member of Congress who calls himself a Socialist. And if you're wondering how a Democratic Socialist differs from a Democrat, he'll point to the time he took to the Senate floor for eight and a half hours in 2010, railing against President Obama for supporting Bush-era tax cuts.
That's drawn him few fans in corporate America.
But to understand how Bernie Sanders has become perhaps the most popular politician in Vermont, go to a place you wouldn't normally expect to be friendly to self-described Socialists.
Called the Northeast Kingdom, this corner of Vermont is the most conservative part of the state. It's a lush and green region dotted with dairy farms.
Sanders does really well here.
Randy Meade, a dairy farmer, is a gun owner, thinks gay marriage is immoral, and says the government should spend a lot less. But he's always voted for Sanders because he says Sanders protects small farmers like him against the larger dairy farms. When milk prices dropped a few years ago, the senator led the push for more government assistance so family farms wouldn't go out of business.
"He's not intimidated by large money," Meade says. "He's not intimidated by well-dressed people with, you know, $2-, $3,000 suits. That's not Bernie. And that's not us either."
The Northeast Kingdom includes the poorest sections of Vermont, where Sanders' ability to bring in federal help resonates more loudly than any dig that he's a "Leftist" or a "liberal." He brought more federally funded health centers here, and more outreach clinics for veterans.
A few of those vets were having beers recently at the Veterans of Foreign Wars club room in Newport, and although everyone had a gripe about the VA's health care system, none of it was aimed at Sanders. Instead, people like Steve Brochu pointed to the bill Sanders crafted to fund more facilities and more doctors.
"I really believe that he cares a lot about us, even though he's never experienced what we've been through," Brochu said. "He cares and he listens."
Vermont's population is smaller than most congressional districts. Still, it's striking how many people have actually met Sanders in person, even up there. His former chief of staff, Huck Gutman, gives credit to the senator's hundreds of town hall meetings.
"It's always amazing to me to go to a town meeting," Gutman said. "After two and a half hours, I think, 'It's enough already, Bernie.' He wants everybody to speak who wants to speak."
'That's My Job'
This meticulous tending to constituents began during Sanders' days as mayor of Burlington, a time when he rode snow plows to make sure streets were cleared after storms and even took calls from constituents in the middle of the night.
His close friend Richard Sugarman remembers when one resident woke Sanders up at 2 or 3 in the morning to report someone had thrown a brick through the resident's window. Sugarman told Sanders that "most mayors don't answer these kinds of calls." Sugarman recalls his friend saying, "That's my job, isn't it?"
Sugarman said Sanders can have a hard time relaxing. He takes only half of Sunday off.
"His idea of a big afternoon on Sunday — I don't want to make him sound like he's out of it — he'll say 'You want to go to get an ice cream?' " said Sugarman.
Current and former staffers say working for Sanders can be exhausting. But his attention to detail has built an expansive base of supporters in a state where politics remains intimate. He isn't "Sen. Sanders" to anyone here. Instead, he's simply "Bernie."
That's what people called him in Montpelier where, after the Fourth of July parade (scheduled for July 3) was canceled, Sanders decided to walk the streets anyway.
"Bernie for president!" one person shouted.
Another said, "I'm voting for you. You better run for president, but I've been waiting for you for 10 years, OK?"
To be sure, there are critics out here — some say the senator shouldn't call himself an Independent since he votes with the Democrats so often. But Sanders says people are confusing what it means to be an Independent.
"The issue for me about being an Independent is not to be somewhere in the middle of an extreme-right-wing Republican Party and a ... middle-of-the-road Democratic Party," he said. "To be an Independent is to try to represent the needs of the vast majority of the people."
Sanders remains coy about whether he'll actually run for president, but if he does, he says, it will be for those voters who aren't being well-represented by either party.