For thousands of years, quinoa barely budged from its home in the Andes. Other crops — corn, potatoes, rice, wheat and sorghum — traveled and colonized the world. But quinoa stayed home.
All of a sudden, quinoa is a trendy, jet-setting "superfood." And as we've reported, some American farmers are trying to cash in on its new-found popularity.
But, seriously, would you believe that quinoa is now growing in a remote, mountainous part of Central Asia that British explorers called the "Roof of the World"?
Indeed, it has landed in Tajikistan and Kyrgystan, thanks to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, which has become a cheerleader for quinoa. The FAO, recognizing this crop's nutritional quality and its ability to grow in dry and salty environments, has sponsored tests of quinoa in various nations of Asia and Africa.
According to an FAO press release, quinoa plants at one farm in Tajikistan are more than six-feet-tall and appear to be thriving.
Cataldo Pulvento, a researcher at the Institute for Agricultural and Forest Systems in the Mediterranean in Italy, helped with the quinoa trials in Tajikistan and Kyrgystan. In an email, Pulvento tells The Salt that the FAO is not promoting quinoa as an export crop; the agency hopes that it could become a source of nutritious food for the local population.
Kyrgystan and Tajikistan both import much of their food. They don't get much rainfall, and much of their land isn't well-suited for growing crops.
Quinoa, though, is used to harsh conditions. It tolerates the arid highlands of Bolivia and Peru. So, why not the arid highlands of Central Asia?
For similar reasons, the FAO is also sponsoring trials of quinoa in the United Arab Emirates, where farmers struggle with salty soil. Quinoa, as it happens, can also grow in highly saline conditions.
So far, these trials are simply to try and figure out whether quinoa will grow in these areas. No one knows whether the people will want to grow it, or eat it.
"The [Central Asians] I met can be divided in two categories: the skeptics and the enthusiasts," Pulvento says. The skeptics believe "it will never be sold on the domestic market because no one knows quinoa." Some fear that it could become a weed.
The enthusiasts, he wrote, hope to grow several acres of quinoa starting next year and offer it for sale at the market.
An eye exam may be the ticket to a longer life, researchers say, because good vision is essential for being able to shop, manage money and live independently. And maintaining independence in turn leads to a longer life.
Researchers have known for years that people who have vision problems as they get older are more likely to die than those who still see well. But they weren't sure why that was so.
To answer that question, scientists looked at data from the Salisbury Eye Evaluation, which tracked the vision and health of people ages 65 to 84 living in Salisbury, Md., from 1993 through 2003.
People's visual problems at the start of the study or their loss of vision didn't directly predict an increased death risk, the researchers found. Instead, the vision loss made it less likely that people could pay their bills, do housework and otherwise manage their lives.
People who lost visual acuity equivalent to one letter on an eye chart each year had a 16 percent increase in mortality risk over eight years, and that was due to the loss in independent living abilities, the researchers said.
"An individual who's remaining relatively stable in their visual acuity in their older years is not seeing this subsequent difficulty in functionality," says Sharon Christ, an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Purdue University, and the lead author of the study. It was published Thursday in JAMA Ophthalmology.
The researchers did look at whether other factors, including physical illness, race, sex, depression, smoking, alcohol use and obesity, could be causing the increased mortality risk. But they found that the correlation between vision loss and instrumental activities of daily living was the strongest.
Reducing the risk may be as simple as getting an eye exam and new glasses or contact lenses, Christ told Shots. "It's really important to deal with impairment and make sure you're getting the eye care that you need."
People with vision problems that can't be corrected should get help with tasks of everyday life, Christ says, and be encouraged to remain physically active, postponing those functional declines for as long as possible.
British authorities are trying to identify the masked man who executed American photojournalist James Foley in a video that has caused massive global reaction.
The man — who appears wearing all black, holding a knife, and wearing a gun holster — speaks in an accent that linguists say sounds like someone from East or South London. The video yields other clues to the man's identity, such as his height and the fact that he's left-handed.
British intelligence agencies are now trying to ascertain if the killer is one of the roughly 500 British citizens who've left the U.K. to fight in Iraq and Syria.
The outflow of future jihadists isn't new. Like many 20-somethings, a British Pakistani man interviewed on the BBC said he often felt adrift in life. He said he felt like "a lost sheep in the world."
"I just started to question, like, what am I doing?" said the man, who would not give his real name.
Unlike most people his age, this man went looking for meaning in the Syrian civil war. He said he left the U.K. to fight the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Eventually, he joined fighters from the Islamic State. And now, violence and killing have become a regular part of his life.
"What I'm aware of is about the three, four guys that we beheaded. And then we put the heads as usual in the town center," he told the BBC. "The reason for putting the heads in the town center again is to demoralize or cause fear into the hearts of the spies who are amongst us. Because we know there's a lot of spies amongst us."
Islamic State's Need For Foreigners
Terrorism experts say fighters from the West have been committing atrocities in Syria and Iraq for years now.
"If you're a foreigner who doesn't easily blend in, who in many cases doesn't speak Arabic, you are perfect material for these excessively brutal operations that we've seen coming out of Syria and Iraq," says Peter Neumann, who runs the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King's College in London.
"Organizations like ISIS need foreigners in order to do these things, because a lot of Syrians are refusing to carry them out," he says.
In the Foley video, the Islamic State had another reason to use a fluent English speaker, says Afzal Ashraf with the Royal United Services Institute, a security think tank in London.
"It's a message directed at the U.S. government, and in order to deliver that message they wanted, ideally, an American," Ashraf says. "But they obviously don't have an American handy, so they've used the next best thing, which happens to be a Brit."
About 2,000 Europeans are believed to have joined the fight in Iraq and Syria. In contrast, experts estimate only a hundred or so Americans have gone over.
Ashraf says there are lots of reasons for this. For one, American Muslims tend to be more integrated into society than European Muslims. Also, the U.S. does not have the same extremist networks that Europe has.
And finally, Ashraf says, there's the issue of distance.
"It was very easy, certainly, a year or two ago to catch a train or a plane to Turkey from the U.K. and cross the border and join," he says. "Not so easy from the U.S."
Joining Forces To Stop More European Fighters
So now, Britain and other European countries are struggling with how to stop people from joining the fight — and how to prevent those who've gone over from coming back and doing harm in Europe.
British Prime Minister David Cameron cut his vacation short to speak about the problem.
"We know that far too many British citizens have traveled to Iraq and traveled to Syria to take part in extremism and violence," he said.
Britain's Muslim community is getting involved, too.
Sir Iqbal Sacranie is former secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain.
"We have already given a clear message that if anybody is able to identify persons who are involved, happen to know them, then of course they have a real legal and moral duty to inform the police," Sacranie says.
"Bearing in mind the Muslim community itself is not a law enforcement agency, we are part and parcel of society at large," he says. "This is a menace to all of us."
If there is any good news here, it's this: Research suggests that most European fighters who go to join wars in Iraq and Syria do not leave with the intention of returning to Europe to commit violent acts.
The majority of them go expecting to either build an Islamic state there, or die on the battlefield.