NYC Sends Revel Scooters Down to Hell Where They Belong

Illustration for article titled NYC Sends Revel Scooters Down to Hell Where They Belong

Photo: Drew Angerer (Getty Images)

With a top speed of 30 mph and a growing body of malfunction-based lawsuits and traffic incident data working against them, Revel’s fleet of app-rentable mopeds is, as of today, no longer operating in its home city of New York. Who, besides absolutely everyone, could have seen this coming.

After a second rider was killed in the span of only eight days, Mayor Bill de Blasio (who, if you’re reading this—resign) got in touch with Revel CEO Frank Reig to make “very clear it’s an unsatisfactory and unacceptable situation.” Shortly thereafter, Revel voluntarily ended its service in the city.

Revel launched its fleet of 1,000-odd mopeds in May of 2019, also during de Blasio’s tenure as mayor. The decision to greenlight what were effectively diet motorcycles always struck me, personally, as odd and irresponsible when New York has largely been resistant to other “new mobility” options that have amounted to very expensive litter in many other American cities.

According to a tweet posted by the company this morning, it intends to restart service once the city is satisfied Revel can operate safely.

While signing up for Revel required a valid driver’s license, the company did not require riders to known much of anything about riding a moped—an altogether different and riskier task in a busy city. (It offers free lessons “if you are an inexperienced moped rider,” which one imagines is most people, the same demographic of people likely to ignore that offer.)

As of July 5, the NYPD has data on 25 collisions involving Revels this year, CBS reports—less than 3% of all incidents involving a scooter or motorcycle of any kind.

We’ve reached out to learn if Revel intends to leave the bikes on the street for the time being or collect and store them somewhere. Their website still lists the company as operating in Miami, Oakland, Austin, and Washington, D.C., and there do not yet appear to be plans to end those services.

Vertical Farms Could Grow All the Wheat We Need—But at a Cost

Wheat being harvested in an open field. It could be a thing of the past someday.

Wheat being harvested in an open field. It could be a thing of the past someday.
Photo: Christopher Furlong (Getty Images)

For years, vertical farming has captured headlines, including on this very website. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday shows the practice could revolutionize the world’s ability to grow wheat.

The global population eats a lot of wheat. It’s the most widely grown crop in the world, and it accounts for approximately 20% of the calories and proteins in the average human diet. As the global population grows, we’ll need more of it to sustain humanity. With arable land a premium, the new study looks at if vertical farming—a method of growing crops in vertically stacked layers—could help.

To find out, the authors created two growth simulation models of a 10-layer vertical farm set up with optimal artificial light, temperatures, and carbon dioxide levels. They found that the simulation could yield up to a whopping 1,940 metric tons of wheat per hectare of ground per year. For context, the current average wheat yield is just 3.2 metric tons per hectare of land.

It makes sense that the authors would be looking into this now. Globally, one in nine people already face hunger, and the problem could become more acute as the population increases. The world could have to produce more than 60% more wheat to account for population growth. That won’t be easy; rising temperatures and other changes in growing seasons driven by the climate crisis are lowering crop yields around the world.

The new study offers an insight into how address some of these problems. But right now, scientists are only offering simulations. Actually bringing these massive wheat crop yields to fruition would come with massive challenges.

For one, vertical farming is wildly expensive. It requires massive amounts of energy to work, especially because unlike traditional farming, it requires artificial lighting systems. The authors say their simulated systems would provide a light intensity for the crops 30 to 50% greater than directly overhead sunlight. Watering systems and technology to ensure optimal temperature and air quality conditions in these indoor environments would also be costly—not to mention energy-intensive. Depending on how the systems are powered, that could be a problem for the climate. Previous research shows that powering these systems could require vastly more energy than our current high-emissions food system.

“No one has ever attempted to grow food crops under artificial lighting that’s as strong as sunlight, much less stronger, for the simple reason that it would require too much energy,” Stan Cox, a scientist and plant breeder at the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, said in an email.

The new study’s authors note that recent innovations in solar energy are lowering the costs of electricity and lighting is becoming more efficient, but note crops grown this way are still not likely to be economically competitive with current market prices of agriculture. Cox found that to be an understatement.

“A decade ago, given the amount of light wheat plants require to produce one pound of grain, I calculated that growing the entire U.S. wheat crop indoors would consume eight times the country’s entire annual electricity output,” he said. “That was before recent advances in lighting efficiency. So, hey, maybe it would now use up only four to five times our total electricity supply! For one crop!”

Innovations in automation, the authors note, could further lower the costs of vertical farming. That may be true, but in our current economic system, that could be a problem for farmworkers, who are already seeing their pay get cut. For these reasons and more, vertical farming has been a controversial topic in agricultural and environmental circles.

The new study’s authors note that there are also many unanswered questions about growing wheat in indoor facilities. It’s not clear, for instance, what the nutritional value and quality of indoor-farmed wheat would be, or what diseases could arise in such facilities.

Though their projected crop yields are exciting, even if vertical farming does work, it can’t be the only solution to our agricultural issues. Other systemic changes, including reducing food waste, moving away from meat-centric agricultural systems, diversifying crops, and improving soil health, should also play a role.

“Under specific circumstances, and if the energy cost and profitability issues can be resolved, indoor vertical wheat farming might be attractive,” the authors conclude. “Nonetheless, the outcomes described here may contribute only a relatively small fraction (yet to be determined) of the global grain production needed to achieve global food security in the near future.”

How Do I Stop Tapping My Foot, Biting My Nails, or Twirling My Hair?

Illustration for article titled How Do I Stop Tapping My Foot, Biting My Nails, or Twirling My Hair?

Illustration: Benjamin Currie/Gizmodo

Remember offices? Assuming that you do, and that you at some point worked in one, you’ve likely spent at least some time itemizing your colleagues’ annoying/conspicuous habits, or having your annoying/conspicuous habits itemized. Every ostensible workplace meeting is at the same time a showcase for a wide range of half-conscious behaviors including but not limited to foot-tapping, nail-biting, hair- and/or pen-twirling, etc. That anything ever managed to get with all those sneakers clacking on the linoleum and all those moist nail shards flying through the air remains a mystery of pre-virus life. But even without the presence of judgemental coworkers, there are reasons to want to quit these kinds of habits. For this week’s Giz Asks, we talked to a number of experts about how you might go about doing that.

Flint Espil

Clinical Assistant Professor, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University, who researches the etiology and treatment of tic disorders, OCD and body-focused repetitive behaviors

 Foot-tapping, nail-biting, and hair-twirling are among what we call body-focused repetitive behaviors. There’s certainly a spectrum: for some people these behaviors aren’t a big deal, and for others they might interfere with their lives or cause significant distress.

If these behaviors become problematic there is a standard approach many find effective, which stems from research beginning in the early 1970s and spanning the last 50 years. It’s a behavioral therapy technique called habit reversal training, which is a three step process.

The first step is to become more aware of when and where you’re engaging in the behavior. I encourage people to create a kind of journal: when they catch themselves (or others catch them) engaging in the behavior, they can note down where they were, what they were doing or thinking about, and any other factors associated with the situation. They should also note any other movements in a potential chain of behaviors that culminate in the problem (e.g., examining or rubbing fingernails, running hand through hair, searching or rubbing skin for “imperfections”, etc.). This provides people an opportunity to do some detective work but also tends to increase awareness of the behavior itself. Maybe they are stressed out because they have a big test the next day, or a big proposal at work, and the hair-twirling or foot-tapping is serving as a kind of stress release. Or maybe they are more likely to do it when they are zoned out or bored.

Once you have a good idea of when and where it’s happening, you can change those variables in order to decrease the likelihood of the behavior. If the behavior is providing stress relief, I encourage people to seek out alternate practices—meditation, relaxed breathing, exercise, or whatever works for folks. If the behavior functions to relieve boredom or restlessness it may be helpful for people to have items in their immediate environment to keep their hands busy, or they may need to break their day up in a way that prevents them from sitting for extended periods of time.

The second part of habit reversal training is to create a competing behavior that interferes with your ability to twirl your hair, pick your skin, tap your foot, etc. For hair twirling, a common competing behavior is folding one’s arms or clasping their fingers together as soon as they notice their hand creeping toward their hair, or if they catch themselves engaged in the twirling itself. We typically tell people to hold this competing behavior for about a minute, or until the urge to engage in the problematic behavior subsides.

The third part of habit reversal training is social support: you enlist the help of family or significant others or roommates to prompt you to use your replacement behavior if they notice the body-focused repetitive behavior. This is especially helpful for people who are less aware of when and where their problematic habits are occurring. If you decide to do this, be sure to have an agreed-upon method for prompting in order to minimize the likelihood of arguments.

Carol Mathews

Professor and Vice Chair for Strategic Development in the Department of Psychiatry and Director of the Center for OCD, Anxiety and Related Disorders at the University of Florida

Habits are deliberate movements, but they’re done semi-consciously. You don’t say, ‘I’m going to bite my nails today’—you do it automatically. At the same time, these behaviors are under your control. So the first thing to do is to bring them fully into consciousness.

It’s easy to say, once you’re aware of your habits, ‘I’ll just stop.’ But it’s very hard—often, you’ll just go back to doing them. What’s helpful in these cases is to put a kind of barrier in place. You can put bad-tasting nail polish or vinegar on your hands if you bite your fingernails, or, if you tap your feet, you can put taps on the bottom of your shoes; the taste and sound (respectively) bring the habit into consciousness.

The next step is to consciously focus on substituting these behaviors for a limited period of time. If you find you’re biting your nails in particular trigger situations—watching a movie, for example—you can consciously give your hands something else to do. I tell my patients who have nail-biting problems to learn to knit or crochet, because you can do that while watching television. If your issue is foot-tapping, you can try to cross your legs to make foot-tapping difficult.

If you’re in a setting where you can’t sit with your legs crossed, or can’t crochet, there are more subtle techniques. If you’re in a meeting, you can put your feet firmly on the ground and give yourself 60 seconds to just keep your feet there; or you can sit on your hands, or pick up a notepad. You can also make a conscious effort to say: okay, i’m not going to bite my nails or tap my foot for 60 seconds, and then give yourself permission to go back to it. But sometimes 60 seconds is plenty, and you don’t go back to it—you get busy doing something else.

These kinds of habits are distinguished from tics in the sense that you have control over them. It’s an active act to teach someone with a tic disorder to suppress their tics: we can use similar approaches, but a tic is a little bit more like a sneeze, where you may know it’s coming but you may not be able to stop it. You can learn techniques to identify when it’s coming in and either supporess or modify it, but it’s an involuntary behavior.

Katharine Phillips

Professor, Psychiatry, NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine

Foot tapping, nail biting, hair twirling, and other similar behaviors are sometimes called body-focused repetitive behaviors. Many of these behaviors are simple habits that aren’t problematic and don’t need treatment. But when they are repetitive, difficult to stop, and cause significant distress or impairment in functioning, they rise to the level of a mental health disorder; in such cases, treatment with a professional is recommended and can be very helpful. Two of these problematic types of body-focused repetitive behaviors are classified as separate mental health conditions in the field’s diagnostic manual (DSM-5): trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder) and excoriation (skin-picking) disorder. In some cases, these disorders are severe—for example, they can cause extensive hair loss or serious skin infections.

Usually, the first-line treatment for problematic body focused-repetitive behaviors is a behavioral technique called habit reversal training. This treatment typically entails awareness training (via daily self-monitoring and identifying triggers of the unwanted behavior), stimulus control (modifying or avoiding triggers), and engaging in a “competing response” (doing something else with your hands like squishing a koosh ball or clenching your fist). Some therapists add elements such as relaxation training or therapy to help you better manage difficult emotions. Habit reversal training can also be used for less-problematic body-focused repetitive behaviors, such as those that are simply annoying.

For more problematic behaviors, a natural supplement, NAC (N-Acetylcysteine), can decrease hair pulling, skin picking, and similar body-focused repetitive behaviors. I recommend Swanson brand and about a 3 month trial. NAC can be started at 600 mg per day and then gradually increased to as much as 1,200 mg twice a day or even 1,800 mg twice a day if needed. You should consult your doctor about taking it and get advice about dosing. If your symptoms cause significant distress or impairment in functioning, you could also try a serotonin-reuptake inhibitor (SRI) medication, such as fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), or escitalopram (Lexapro). These are widely used prescription medications that can be effective for problematic body-focused repetitive behaviors. Trying an SRI medication is especially appealing if you also have other symptoms or disorders that are likely to improve with an SRI (such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or body dysmorphic disorder). Another class of medications called atypical antipsychotics (but in reality they can effectively treat a very broad range of symptoms) can also be helpful, but they are usually reserved for more severe repetitive behaviors or when other symptoms are present that may benefit from them. As with all medications or supplements, a prescribing clinician should carefully weigh the pros and cons of each option for each individual.

Antonia Caretto

Clinical psychologist with extensive experience treating OCD in children, teens, and adults in inpatient and outpatient settings

Though one might consider foot tapping, hair twirling, and nail biting as “nervous habits,” they may not have the same origin nor solution. It is likely that each of these behaviors would be worsened by stress and therefore good stress management techniques would be the first logical intervention. Stress management includes things like yoga and relaxation, breathing exercises and mindfulness, but can also include positive social interactions, adequate sleep, a healthy diet, and regular exercise.

While foot tapping may be driven by anxiety, in some instances it can be a medication side effect or caused by a medical/neurological condition such as restless leg syndrome or dementia. A psychologist would be able to help you identify when the tapping occurs and suggest possible techniques to stop the habit.

Hair twirling often proceeds hair pulling in those with Trichotillomania and treatment for that is very specific. For ‘garden variety’ hair twirling one could try finding something else to keep the hands occupied or even temporarily use an obstacle (baseball cap) to make the habit more conscious and breakable.

Nail biting is considered a body focused repetitive behavior and is often driven by perfectionism. In these instances, the nail appears or feels not perfect and the biting is an effort to fix the flaw. Cognitive-behavioral therapy that addresses the thinking errors and the compulsion is necessary to address nail biting.

Each of these observable behaviors could also be symptomatic of a motor tic. Genetic predisposition or vulnerability is often found in those with tics (someone else in the family also tics). People with tics often report an urge or feeling prior to the movement but can learn a competing response.

With each of these behaviors, increased awareness is the first step and finding an alternative behavior is a reasonable thing to try. Avoiding triggers can help and adding relaxation is strongly suggested. A self-reflective cost-benefit analysis of the behavior can help with motivation to change. Setting small reasonable, obtainable goals is essential for any behavior change plan and supportive others can be a real bonus.

Seeing a mental health professional with a strong background in applied behavioral analysis and cognitive-behavioral therapy can help clarify the problem and get you on your way to a solution!

Sara O’Brien

Associate Professor, Psychology, Knox College, whose primary research interests include the assessment, classification, and diagnosis of mood and anxiety disorders

Research suggests that rewarding ourselves for a behavior increases the likelihood of that behavior happening again. Think of a small way to reward yourself for each time you don’t engage in the habit you are trying to break—if you like M&M’s as much as I do perhaps you grab a handful of them each time you don’t twirl your hair during the meeting. Over time, you’ll be less likely to twirl your hair, further breaking that automatic connection.

It’s also important to note that while habits like these are very common and usually harmless, there are severe forms that result in serious physical, psychological and social consequences. Trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder) and excoriation (skin-picking disorder), for example, are clinical diagnoses that should be treated by a professional with relevant experience, as there are effective treatments based on many of the principles described above.

Finally, what triggers these behaviors in the first place? Both everyday and more severe expressions can be brought about by internal thoughts or emotions (e.g., anxiety, excitement, anger, boredom) and/or external circumstances (e.g., specific people, places, or situations). Self-monitoring can help you identify what the triggers are so you can address them. If you find that you are twirling your hair during the meeting because the meeting stresses you out, it might be important to not only work on reducing hair twirling but also tackle the cause of the stress.

Margo Thienemann

Clinical Professor, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University

You might tap/jitter your foot because of anxiety or impatience; for someone with trouble focusing, it could be a way to help tune out other distractions. The fact that it may annoy others would be the reason to stop; in itself that could be motivating enough and effective. But if foot tapping/bouncing helps you focus, and you are not bothering anyone, maybe you don’t need to stop.

If you tap your foot when you’re anxious or impatient, try to think of why you might be feeling that way and whether or not those feelings are rational. (What is coming up? How important is it? How time-sensitive is it? What can you control about it? What about it is outside your control? What are possible outcomes?) Once you’ve put it into perspective, you could practice some mindfulness meditation, or distract yourself from the thing that is bothering you, rather than tap your foot.

Biting nails is similar. It is not a good idea from any point of view: it’s not socially acceptable, it’s not an effective way of grooming, it can cause harm to nails and cuticles, and it puts one at an increased risk of getting sick (especially now, with COVID-19). If it’s a habit, then work to break it. For nail biting and some other repetitive body-focused disorders, treatment guidelines, resources and support are available at the Trichotillomania Learning Center/TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Disorders.

I suppose that twirling the hair as a “one-off” could be like foot-tapping too—it might annoy others to be around. If it is a habit, causes hair to break or come out, then I recommend the above website.

Tics are common and usually transient, typically occurring in school-age children and more commonly in boys. If they last more than a month, then a visit is warranted to the healthcare provider for evaluation, as well as to identify possible other troubles that can come with tics, such as ADHD, OCD, handwriting difficulties. If, in children, tics start very suddenly, at the same other severe emotional symptoms, sleep trouble, bedwetting or frequent urination, they may be part of a syndrome called Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococcal Infection (PANDAS) or Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome (PANS). If this occurs, it is important to go to one’s healthcare provider for a diagnostic evaluation, treatment of a triggering infection if found, and other support.

Do you have a burning question for Giz Asks? Email us at

Want a different kind of swab test? Shop DNA kits on sale all weekend.

Products featured here are selected by our partners at StackCommerce.If you buy something through links on our site, Mashable may earn an affiliate commission.

From kits for yourself to ones for your dog, these sales are worth checking out.
From kits for yourself to ones for your dog, these sales are worth checking out.

Image: DNA My Dog

Remember when taking a swab test meant finding out whether or not you’re related to the Golden State killer?

Swab tests are looking pretty different these days. But you can still take one for the sake of knowing more about your ancestry if you choose (and it doesn’t go up your nose, either). Whether you want to figure out if you’re from royal lineage or discover the unique breakdown of your mutt’s mixed breeds, these DNA kits can get you the intel you need. Take your pick:

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Living DNA Full Ancestry DNA Kit

Featured in The New York Times and Reader’s Digest, Living DNA offers a full ancestry kit that helps you uncover your ancestry from 80,000 years ago until recent times. It delivers results for over 150 regions, allowing you to experience your ancestry at different points through history and discover the migration paths of your distant relatives. How cool is that? Get it on sale for $75.99.

Vitagene DNA Ancestry Premium Test Kit and Health Plan Voucher

This kit offers a unique look at both your genetics and ancestry. You’ll discover how genetics influence your diet, understand which supplements and workouts work best for your body type, and gain a deeper understanding of how your genes inform your global ancestry. The premium kit also comes with a detailed report that lets you in on your genetic risk for common skin conditions, including acne, eczema, photoaging, and more. You can get it on sale for $99.99, but if you want to do away with the skin report, you can still get the normal test kit for $79.99.

MiaDNA Diet and Nutrition Kit

If you can’t figure out why all those fad diets and workouts don’t work, maybe your DNA will tell you. This kit helps you gain a better understanding of how your DNA impacts your fitness journey so you can make better decisions when it comes to taking care of your health. You’ll find out why your body reacts to certain foods and how your genes impact your ability to gain weight. It’s on sale for $119.99.

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Offering more than just a simple DNA test, this kit yields five premium DNA health tests with just a single sample. It uses a medical-grade collection device and delivers highly-accurate results with the best clinical-grade process and patent-protected methodologies. Thanks to state-of-the-art analysis tech, you get to know more about yourself and improve the efficiency of your lifestyle, diet, and exercise routine. Get it on sale for $39.99.

Well-Being and Ancestry Kit

This kit offers the best of both worlds: you’ll be able to explore 500 years of your family ancestry from all over the world (complete with sub-regional breakdown) and unfurl the genetic variants that impact the way your body metabolizes vitamins and minerals. Not only will you discover where you truly came from, but you’ll also receive tips on how you can improve your overall wellbeing. For a limited time, you can get it on sale for $149.

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This test was specifically designed to assist you in making healthier choices. It examines the influence your genes may have on how you process vitamins and minerals from food and even delivers a personalized vitamin plan that you incorporate in your routine. For a limited time, it’s on sale for $38.99.

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Embark Dog DNA Test Kit

If you’re disappointed that you didn’t come from royal lineage, you have another chance in your dog. With this kit, you can discover what breed your pooch really is. It offers an all-inclusive report on your dog’s genetic background which covers its breed, ancestry, and even relatives. Get it on sale for $174.99.

DNA My Dog Breed Identification Test

With a simple cheek swab, this test will help you get to know your little four-legged friend better. Just under two weeks after sending in the sample, you’ll receive detailed reports that indicate your dog’s unique characteristics, from its personality traits and DNA composition to its specific breed mix and predisposition to disease. You can grab it on sale for $59.99

But if you want more than just an overview of your dog’s characteristics, there’s also an option to get a full genetic screening which offers a report that lists down all the breeds found in your dog’s DNA by percentage, as well as a custom results certificate and comprehensive report of your furry friend’s genetic health risks and physical traits. Get it on sale for $178.99.

Have you just adopted a dog? This online training can help your fluffy friend.

Products featured here are selected by our partners at StackCommerce.If you buy something through links on our site, Mashable may earn an affiliate commission.

The Complete Guide to Puppy and Dog Training bundle is on sale for under £25.
The Complete Guide to Puppy and Dog Training bundle is on sale for under £25.

Image: pexels

TL;DR: The Complete Guide to Puppy and Dog Training bundle is on sale for £23.57 as of July 25, saving you 97% on list price.

Remember March? Although it feels like a lifetime ago, it has somehow only been four months. That’s when we all started realising just what lockdown really meant: loneliness. As a result, pet adoption inquiries boomed and many centres actually ran out of adoptable animals. Seriously. It was the feel-good pandemic story we all needed.

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Got a puppy that cries and howls throughout the night? There’s a lesson for that. Does your new four-legged friend not play well with your other pets? You’ll discover just how to recognise dominant and submissive signals so you can avoid potential scuffles. There’s even a course on running a dog training business – you know, in case you find that you’re oddly good at this. 

Originally £910, you can save well over 90% and get this training guide for just £23.57.

The Not Company, a maker of plant-based meat and dairy substitutes in Chile, will soon be worth $250M

The Not Company, Latin America’s leading contender in the plant-based meat and dairy substitute market, is about to close on an $85 million round of funding that would value it at $250 million, according to sources familiar with the company’s plans.

The latest round of funding comes on the heels of a series of successes for the Santiago-based business. In the two years since NotCo launched on the global stage, the company has expanded beyond its mayonnaise product into milk, ice cream, and hamburgers. Other products, including a chicken meat substitute are also on the product roadmap, according to people familiar with the company.

NotCo is already selling several products in Chile, Argentina and Latin America’s largest market — Brazil — and has signed a blockbuster deal with Burger King to be the chain’s supplier of plant-based burgers. It’s in this Burger King deal that NotCo’s approach to protein formulation is paying dividends, sources said. The company is responsible for selling 48 sandwiches per store per day in the locations where it’s supplying its products, according to one person familiar with the data. That figure outperforms Impossible Foods per-store sales, the person said.

NotCo is also now selling its burgers in grocery stores in Argentina and Chile. And while the company is not break even yet, sources said that by December 2021 it could be — or potentially even cash flow positive.

NotCo co-founders Karim Pichara, Matias Muchnick, and Pablo Zamora. Image Credit: The Not Company

With the growth both in sales and its diversification into new products, it’s little wonder that investors have taken note.

Sources said that the consumer brand focused private equity firm L Catterton Partners and the Biz Stone-backed Future Positive were likely investors in the new financing round for the company. Previous investors in NotCo include Bezos Expeditions, the personal investment firm of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the London-based CPG investment firm, The Craftory, IndieBio and SOS Ventures.

Alternatives to animal products are a huge (and still growing) category for venture investors. Earlier this month Perfect Day closed on a second tranche of $160 million for that company’s latest round of financing, bringing that company’s total capital raised to $361.5 million, according to Crunchbase. Perfect Day then turned around and launched a consumer food business called the Urgent Company.

These recent rounds confirm our reporting in Extra Crunch about where investors are focusing their time as they try to create a more sustainable future for the food industry. Read more about the path they’re charting.

Meanwhile large food chains continue to experiment with plant-based menu items and push even further afield into cell-based meat using cultures from animals. KFC recently announced that it would be expanding its experiment with Beyond Meat’s chicken substitute in the U.S. — and would also be experimenting with cultured meat in Moscow.

Behind all of this activity is an acknowledgement that consumer tastes are changing, interest in plant-based diets are growing, and animal agriculture is having profound effects on the world’s climate.

As the website ClimateNexus notes, animal agriculture is the second-largest contributor to human-made greenhouse gas emissions after fossil fuels. It’s also a leading cause of deforestation, water and air pollution, and biodiversity loss.

There are 70 billion animals raised annually for human consumption, which occupy one-third of the planet’s land arable and habitable land surface, and consume 16% of the world’s freshwater supply. Reducing meat consumption in the world’s diet could have huge implications for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. If Americans were to replace beef with plant-based substitutes, some studies suggest it would reduce emissions by 1,911 pounds of carbon dioxide.

Cooks Venture raises $10 million in Series A funding

Cooks Venture has raised $10 million in Series A funding led by SJF Ventures and Cultivian Sandbox, with participation from Larry Schwartz and John Roulac.

At its most basic level, Cooks Venture provides a proprietary breed of chicken to grocery stores for consumption. The company also lists Fresh Direct and direct online sales to its distribution channels. But it’s far more complex than that.

For one, Cooks Venture spent years researching the genetic lines of chickens to develop its own breed of heirloom chickens. Why? Cooks Venture chickens grow more slowly, can live in a wider range of climates, get sick less frequently, and most importantly, can thrive on a much more diverse diet than your average chicken.

These features breed (see what I did there?) their own benefits. For one, this new proprietary breed (called Heritage breed) can be sold to emerging nations that perhaps can’t afford to build state-of-the-art temperature-controlled facilities or don’t have access to tons of corn (but do have access to yucca or quinoa) for feed. Cooks Venture also color sexes its chickens, making it easier for a farm without advanced infrastructure to quickly tell the difference between male and female chickens, which have different uses.

Secondly, feed for livestock is a huge source of demand on the agricultural industry, but much of that demand is for a small number of grains, like corn.

With Cooks Venture Heritage chickens, which can eat a wide variety of foods, farmers can practice regenerative agriculture and run a biodiverse farm with a reliable place to sell those yields.

As part of the fundraising deal, Cooks Venture has also partnered with FoodID.

The platform tests for the presence of antibiotics and other adulterants in near real time, providing a solution to the problem of label fraud.

Cooks Venture founder and CEO Matt Wadiak (cofounder of Blue Apron) explained that the USDA runs what is called a follicle test, “and one of the issues [they’ve] determined with this kind of testing is that the thresholds for those tests will never lead to a positive test.”

He said the same animal (that wouldn’t test positive in the USDA’s test) would be found to test positive for various proteins and antibiotics when submitted to FoodID’s mass spectrometer test. Moreover, your basic mass spectrometer test takes a few weeks to offer results, which by then means that the flock has already been slaughtered and is in the midst of being processed and sent off to stores. The FoodID test can be done in near real time.

Wadiak says that food fraud is one of the biggest challenges to Cooks Venture, which goes above and beyond to provide healthy chickens to customers. If other products can simply fake it, it’s all the more difficult for Cooks Venture to stand out at the point of sale.

Cooks Venture says that, through this partnership, it’s the first company in America to test for synthetic inputs and the only company that can independently validate that it never uses antibiotics and provides verified non-GMO feed to its birds.

The company has significantly expanded since its $12 million fundraise in September 2019, serving broad swaths of California, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Seattle, Oregon, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Northeast.

The Cooks Venture team is made up of about 240 people, 42 percent of whom are female and 52 percent of whom are people of color. The leadership team, made up of 11 people, includes six women and two people of color.

20+ apps and websites to help you live a more sustainable life

Moving forward requires focus. Mashable’s Social Good Series is dedicated to exploring pathways to a greater good, spotlighting issues that are essential to making the world a better place.

So you want to live a cleaner, greener, more sustainable life? 

OK, let’s do this! 

But suddenly giving up meat completely, or never buying single-use plastic again, is easier said than done. To make aspects of your life more sustainable, it’s best to start small and build on those changes until you’ve incorporated healthier habits (for the planet and yourself) into everyday choices. And it’s important to note that while you can lessen your personal impact, meaningful change will only come with widespread adoption by large companies.

You can embark on your sustainable journey in many different ways, and accessible, mostly free technology is there to help you do that. Here are some things you can do paired with apps (and a few websites) to jumpstart your greener lifestyle, no matter where you choose to start.

Apps to help you go vegetarian 

Going vegan or vegetarian is a big commitment, but if you stick with it, you’ll be noticeably reducing your environmental impact. Raising animals for meat requires significant resources (most notably for cow, goat, and sheep farms) — for instance, 1,800 gallons of water for every pound of beef. Fruits and vegetables take a fraction of that. A meat-free diet can cut back on the amount of water used to grow and raise your food by 55 percent. 

But since ingredients like honey, milk, or meat byproducts, like gelatin, sneak into a lot of food items, sometimes it’s not so easy to tell if a food is vegan or not. That’s where apps like Is it vegan?, come in. Type the UPC, or Universal Product Code, of a packaged item (like Oreo cookies, for example) from its barcode into the free app, or simply scan the barcode. A “vegan-o-meter” reports whether your item is fully vegan or not at all. The app works for measuring vegetarian products as well with a vegetarian meter. The app only works for foods that have a barcode, but that’s generally where you’ll find it most useful anyway.

20+ apps and websites to help you live a more sustainable life

Mmmmm Oreos.

Mmmmm Oreos.

Another free app that’ll confirm you aren’t eating any animal products is Vegan Pocket, which also lets you scan packaged items with a barcode. The app has a section for vegan recipes, too. 



Image: screenshots green kitchen / veggie weekend / easy vegetarian / mashable composite

Once you’ve committed to a vegan lifestyle or to eating fewer animal products, recipe apps give ideas on what to cook and prepare without relying on a meat protein as the main dish. Here are a few good vegetarian apps to try:

  • Green Kitchen ($3.99) — This recipe-filled app includes ingredient lists and step-by-step instructions for veggie-only dishes.

  • Veggie Weekend (free) — Another recipe app, this has more than 100 ideas for vegans and vegetarians. Each recipe page has a digital timer and nutrition information. 

  • Easy Vegetarian (free) — For Android users only, this offers a collection of more than 200 recipes, each with a shopping list.

For more detailed meal planning, the free Vegetarian Meal Plan app does just that: helps you build shopping lists for your week of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks selected ahead of time. You won’t slip up, since you’ll be prepared with a stocked-up fridge and pantry.

Apps to help you eat less meat 

Even if you don’t go full vegetarian or vegan, it’s still helpful to eat less meat. The free Less app is about helping you reduce the amount of meat you eat, not eliminating it entirely. It lets you keep track of when you eat meat, and which type you’ve consumed, in a calendar-like tracker. You’ll get feedback on your environmental impact for, ideally, some positive reinforcement: Who doesn’t like to hear they helped save gallons of water or acres of the rainforest? The app also sends push notifications asking if you’ve stayed away from a meaty meal to help remind you of your goal.

Another free meat tracker app is No Meat Today, which displays a calendar of your meat-less days and calls out when you went ham on some, well, ham. You set your own target meat-diet, so whether you’re trying to be more flexitarian (that’s a diet with some meat, but often veggie-only) or keep to fish, the app will confirm you’re striking the right balance or highlight where you can do better.

Even if you only do Meatless Mondays, going one day a week without meat in your meals, you can make a difference in your personal sustainability. Plus, fake meat options, like tasty burgers from Beyond and Impossible, almost make lowering your consumption of the real stuff too easy.

Apps to help eat sustainably 

For those moments when you don’t know if the sushi you ordered is part of the problem, contributing to overfishing, species decimation, or other disruptions to the ocean ecosystem and habitats, turn to some apps.

The free Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch app is like those old-school wallet guides that tell you which fish to choose and which to avoid for the sake of the planet, but it’s handily on your phone. Search for different fish names or sushi dishes in the app, which then helps you make decisions of what to buy when grocery shopping or while ordering from a restaurant. The app also gives restaurant and shopping recs for businesses that serve ocean-friendly seafood. 

Beyond seafood decisions, apps like the free Chocolate List help you decide what type of food to buy (in this case, chocolate), based on sustainability. The free Seasonal Food Guide app helps you find local fruits and vegetables that are in season based on your location, so you aren’t buying produce that had to be shipped long distances just for your cucumber salad. 

Wasted food means wasted energy, resources, and money. A recent report from waste services consulting firm RTS titled “Food Waste in America in 2020” notes that thrown-out food generates greenhouse gases, including methane, carbon dioxide, and chlorofluorocarbons. Rotting food in landfills produces nitrogen that can cause algae blooms. And the process of making all that food that ends up as waste, according to the World Wildlife Federation, causes the equivalent of emissions from 37 million cars. But there are things you can do to bring down the 80 billion pounds of food thrown away in the U.S. every year, including attempting to use all the food you buy and shopping smarter.

Food-sharing apps like Olio allow you to give your unused food to neighbors or find food you can use yourself. Take a picture of the food offering, whether it’s half a sack of potatoes or an extra loaf of bread, and post it on the app. Your listing will show up when other users search for what’s available nearby. After requests come in, you can arrange a meeting or drop-off to hand over your food. If you’re seeking someone’s leftovers, you can search the app for what’s around. Listings come up all over the world, but you may be the only one using the app near where you’re based. So a food swap may not be available, unless you get your neighbors on board, too.

More than 43 billion pounds of food from grocery stores goes to the trash every year, according to the Natural Resources Defense Counsel. But free apps like FlashFood provide information that helps you shop for items nearing their expiration dates, so you can save those granola bars from getting dumped. The app currently lists stores in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, and throughout Canada, that post deals for about-to-expire food. If those locations work for you, you can buy through the app and then pick up your order at the participating store. 

Apps to recycle better

You probably know how to put containers into bins, but recycling properly is actually harder than it should be. Americans recycle about 66 million tons each year, the EPA estimates. But the New York Times found that one major U.S. waste services company takes approximately 25 percent of what’s recycled and puts it into landfills, since it’s contaminated or not actually recyclable. 

One way to make sure your recycling is actually recycled is to use an app like iRecycle, which helps you figure out how and where to recycle not-so-common items, like an old boombox or gardening equipment. Open the app and search for different items or categories (electronics, gardening, automotive, construction, and many more). If you’re in the U.S., a list and map will show all the different locations and facilities that accept those items near you. It’s not all newspapers and soda cans. 

Shop wisely.

Shop wisely.

Shop package-free with help from these apps and websites

Only 3 million tons, or 8.4 percent, of the plastic generated each year in the U.S. gets recycled, according to EPA data. Better to use less of it to start with. Start reusing packaging and bags with the help of Zero Waste Home’s free app, which lets you search for stores that sell in bulk to help cut back on plastic and other packaging materials. You can filter for cleaning products, spices, baking items, and more.

Bulk shopping, baby.

Bulk shopping, baby.

Image: zerowastehome / screenshot

There are other ways to shop package-free, like bringing your own bags or containers. The free Litterless website offers a state-by-state guide for zero-waste grocery shopping to find spots that sell in bulk or are Bring Your Own Containers (BYOC)-friendly.

Support sustainable businesses and products

Being careful about where you shop and spend your money is a top-level way to support and promote sustainable practices in business. Check out websites like Project Wren, which lets you search for companies that purchase carbon offsets, meaning they pay into climate change projects and funds to balance out the greenhouse gases they generate and emit. It’s hard to find companies that don’t generate any emissions, although that would be ideal. These companies aren’t eliminating emissions directly, but they are giving money to organizations and efforts to cut back on greenhouse gases. 

Project Wren does have a carbon footprint calculator to see how much you’re wasting and should contribute to offsets personally, but these calculations are mostly a ruse to shift emissions blame onto individuals instead of large corporations. Stick to Project Wren’s free business search feature to find companies that are funding reforestation projects, rainforest protection, clean cooking fuel for refugees, or other waste-reducing efforts.

Another website, Climate Neutral, lets you search, free of charge, for companies that the nonprofit certifies as carbon neutral. That doesn’t mean the company doesn’t emit anything, but instead that it takes part in offset programs and other waste reduction efforts. 

For example, take Ridgeline Outdoors, an outdoor gear retailer. Climate Neutral analyzes its emissions, and then sees how much it offsets, usually through carbon credits. Ridgeline spent $125,500 to offset a year of emissions based on different costs for those credits. The company also submits an annual action plan on how it’ll cut back on emissions from deliveries or employee commutes to setting out even bigger commitments, like changing to less wasteful manufacturers. Only then does it get a neutral label each year.

To really make sure you are a responsible shopper, the free HowGood app rates products from a box of lentils to a can of tuna on how sustainable the farming and growing, production and shipping, and overall company practices are for that brand or product. You scan the product’s barcode or search the HowGood database to find out if it’s been rated. (Rankings are “good, great, or best” — or no positive feedback.) You’ll see how well that tuna can comes in for its growing, processing, and corporate guidelines and practices.

This tuna doesn't earn any positive ratings.

This tuna doesn’t earn any positive ratings.

Image: howgood / screengrab

Try to stay in the green.

Try to stay in the green.

Image: healthy living / screengrab

Another scanner app from the Environmental Working Group is the free Healthy Living app, which lets you scan or search food or cosmetic products to see how clean the company is, from the ingredients it uses in its products to how they’re produced. Similar to HowGood, Healthy Living gives a green-to-red rating on ingredients, nutrition, and processing concern. Overall, you want a lower, “greener” score out of 10. 

These may all seem like small steps, but every conscious choice helps your personal green journey.  If you only start tracking your meat intake or shopping at bulk stores because of an app download, your life is becoming a shade greener. And from that, you can do even more (like vote).

Im Comedian Caleb Hearon and This Is How I Eat

How I EatHow I EatThe How I Eat series asks chefs, food personalities, and just plain interesting people how they keep themselves fed. We also ask for photos of their fridge, because we’re into that kind of thing.

Comedian Caleb Hearon is probably my favorite person on Twitter. His front-facing videos are hilarious and relatable, but there’s something special about the uncanny way he portrays social discomfort without being unkind. Having recently moved from Chicago to Los Angeles (in the middle of a pandemic), Caleb is getting used to a lot of change, but he was able to hop on the phone to discuss chicken wings, his secret chili ingredient, and the worst meal he’s ever had.

How did you eat when you were traveling across the country in the middle of a pandemic?

Badly. The best meal we had was when we went from Colorado to Utah in one day. We had a nice Airbnb, so we looked up a bunch of places before we got there. Then as soon as we got to this town in Utah, we went to a steakhouse and got steak and pasta and took it back to our Airbnb and ate on the deck. That was really nice.

The scary thing was in Utah—at least the part that we were in—the place was packed. The patio was full, the dining room was full, really no one was wearing masks. Everyone was going about business like normal. And my mom was like “Do you want to eat here?” and I was like “God, no.” And she was like “Great, me neither.” I was so glad we were on the same page. No way, dude.

Have you been cooking at home more, or have you been ordering in more?

Cooking more, but that wasn’t a high bar to meet. Before COVID, I was doing multiple shows a week, sometimes more than one a night. On the way out the door in the morning, I might grab a granola bar and then go to my day job. Sometimes I would take groceries to work and make stuff there, but a lot of times I would eat out because it was a social thing. I would eat out at night because I had shows and I didn’t have time to go home. But I was definitely cooking more during the beginning of quarantine, and then towards the time when I started started packing up I was ordering out from all of my favorite spots in Chicago that I was going to miss. But it’s changed a lot, because I’m not staying out until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning doing shows, and I’m getting up at, for me, a decent time and getting a decent breakfast. I’ll just really take my time. One thing I’ve been doing a lot—Are you Costco person? Are you a Costco fan?

I love Costco.

I love it. They have those packages of three different types of salmon. They’ll have a row of dill, a row that are cracked pepper, and a row that’s just plain salmon, and it’s all sliced up. I love to get that and a really hearty wholegrain bread with seeds—the kind that’s really chunky. Toast the bread, put a little layer of cream cheese on each slice, put down some different flavors of the salmon, and then do capers, and eat that as a breakfast toast. Have some iced coffee. I always have iced coffee in the fridge. There’s a Silk almond creamer that is vanilla-flavored that is so good; I love to make a little iced coffee situation with that.

I usually will go pretty late in the day without having lunch because I’m having a big breakfast. Around two or three o’clock I’ll be like “Oh shit, I should eat something.” So I’ll have a salad or ramen. I’ll take a bag of ramen and put curry powder and soy sauce and some sriracha in it and really make it good. I love a peanut sauce. I’ll put it on any kind of any kind of Asian noodle. Or if I order Thai noodles of any kind—like phat kee mao or something—I always get a side of peanut sauce too. Especially if I’m trying a new place. I’m like “If the noodle isn’t very good, at least I have a peanut sauce to make it better.”

One thing that has changed a lot is my roommate that I moved out to L.A. with is a vegetarian. So I have been eating a lot more vegetable-forward meals. At Costco I’ll get veggie pot stickers instead of meat ones, but I did go back and get the meat ones eventually because I was like “Damn. I miss those.” Or she’ll make a veggie stir fry and I’ll have that for dinner because it’s what she made.

It’s kind of a cop out for me to be like “Oh, I was too busy to eat healthy before.” You can make time, but I’m less stressed because I don’t have to run around everywhere and I’m like “Oh, I would like to have a nice meal.” And it’s just kind of normal, right? It’s a thing that I might have enjoyed in normal before-life. I think a reason that I find myself eating healthier during this is I don’t feel like I’ve had a second in the last several months where I haven’t been thinking about health. Some part of me is like “If you get COVID and you’ve been eating vegetables, it will be better.” And it’s not realistic! It’s not valid! But I’m like “If you’re eating vegetables you won’t get it.”

In a couple of your videos there’s a focus on awkward restaurant interactions. My favorite is the one where you’re taking someone to a restaurant that they didn’t really want to go to. Are you that person?

That video was actually inspired by—she will be so mad at me for this—one of my best friends in the world, Katie. A bunch of our friends went to St. Louis because two of our friends from college were getting married. We stayed with Katie because her family lives in St. Louis. There couldn’t have been more build up! She was like “I’m going to take you guys to the most amazing, authentic, untouchable, undeniable Mexican restaurant you’ve ever been to in your life. It’s a staple in my family. We do not see each other without going. The people who work there may as well be family…” We were like “Alright girl, we we will go.” No one even suggested the idea of doing something else because she would die if we didn’t go.

We go to—and I want to be fair—I think it’s the ugliest restaurant I’ve ever seen in my life. We go to this restaurant and it’s so ugly and I was like “You know what? Really good places be that way sometimes. It’s probably ugly on the outside, but a real find!” We go in. No one seats us. No one greets us. We finally take our own table in the back. It’s dingy, there are flickering lights. They bring the water. Each one has one melted ice cube. The whole experience from top to bottom is terrible. Two of our friends are vegetarians and they get vegetarian tacos. The vegetarian tacos they bring out are two hard shell tacos with a cooked vegetable mix that was clearly from a frozen bag. And it wasn’t all the way cooked—just cauliflower in a hard taco shell. I’ve never had a worse meal in my life. We could not stop laughing. Our friend Katie—of course, we’re dragging her the entire meal—the whole time she’s just on the defense. She’s like “It’s really odd! They might be new ownership!” And we’ve never let it go. That poor girl. It’s probably one of those things where her family always loved it, and they know exactly what to get. We probably also did happen to come on an off day, you know what I mean?

The other video I love is the one where you’re on a date having fun with the server. Do you have fun with the server?

I do have fun with the server. I did go on a date with a guy who—he didn’t turn out to be charming like the story goes—but I just knew instantly. We had this super fun, cute server. She was like my mom’s age and she clearly had been working there forever. She was so on top of it; she knew the menu like the back of her hand. We were joking around and like having a good time. I love when someone’s having a good time at work, even though you totally don’t have to because those jobs suck a lot of the time. I’m having a blast with her and this guy I’m on a date with—it’s our first date—is just like “Yeah. Diet Coke. Thanks.” And then she leaves and he doesn’t say anything but he’s kind of rolling his eyes, like it was a task to have an interaction with this fun server.

And I was like “Oh, this will never work.” It’s so boring. Maybe this is just me being a hypersensitive liberal, but it feels classist for you to be like “Ugh, now I have to engage with the help.” Did it really burden you to smile at a waiter? What is wrong with you?

Are you enjoying the food scene in L.A.?

Well, not really yet. We we ordered from a Thai restaurant that was pretty good when we first got here. It was in Burbank. It was one of the only places that was open after curfew, which I think is illegal, but they were doing what they were doing. All I know about Burbank is the planes fly on the fucking streets out there and no one is talking about it. But let’s see. I found a cheap chicken wing place in my neighborhood that is really not quality, but it is doing what I need it to do right now.

When I was in L.A. in January for shows I was like “I want to take the rental car one day. I want no work, no meetings, no anything. I want to just take the rental car and drive up the coast.” We drove up the Pacific Coast Highway and stopped at little places, and looked at the water and got out and walked around, and went up into the mountains, and were mostly listening to music. And then we just happened upon this little restaurant right by the coast called Neptune’s Net. It was all outdoors—everyone was sitting at picnic tables and there were a bunch of bikers there. I don’t know if it’s a regular biker spot, but there happened to be a ton of them. There was a surfing spot right across the highway so a bunch of people were throwing their surfboards down and coming over. I was like “This is the cutest thing that’s ever happened to me.” I feel like I had crab cakes. I had great seafood of some kind. That was the last L.A. food experience I had, which was before I even moved here.

Speaking of seafood, I noticed in your Twitter profile pic, it seems you’re holding a bag of shrimp?

Yeah! That’s at Asian Cajun in Chicago. It’s my favorite boil place. They do seafood boil, so that was probably what I normally ate, which was the everything sauce—which is all of their flavors—and shrimp and sausage and corn.

Illustration for article titled Im Comedian Caleb Hearon and This Is How I Eat

Photo: Caleb Hearon

There’s a seafood boil place in Chicago that a lot of people like called Low Country, and it’s perfectly fine, but it’s always so busy. It’s a very particular type of clientele, it’s expensive. And then there’s the one that I’m at in my profile picture—Asian Cajun—that’s a little bit further away, but in the same-ish neighborhood, cheaper, family owned, way cooler, a much more diverse clientele, way quirkier space. I love finding the place that’s my place. It’s so much fun to live in a place long enough to be like “If you want this thing, I’ll tell you where we should go and where we shouldn’t go.”

I’ve been thinking about what that’s going to look like post-COVID. A lot of people are going to lose their special spots. Not to completely bring down the tone of this conversation.

No! It’s completely valid. My mom and my stepdad were really worried about the one restaurant in the town that they live near. It’s a little corner restaurant where everyone goes to eat, and they know the owner, and everyone hangs out there. That restaurant may as well be a community center. It’s really not just about food. It’s where everyone goes when they get off work. It’s where people go when there’s a wedding or a funeral, like anything. Luckily, I think they’re okay and they’re reopened now and they’re doing better. But people are going to be missing those spots. It sucks.

Do you have any strong opinions about a particular food?

I am very particular about chicken wings. I hate a jumbo chicken wing. People are like “The bigger, the better!” When they’re so big, it’s a bad ratio, because the sauce is only on the outside. It starts to mess with the ratio and now you’re just eating chicken. I love a smaller chicken wing and a lot of people complain because they’re like “Oh, too small.” Well, get more. You can get more of them if you need to.

Have you tried cooking chicken wings in quarantine?

I have perfected, over the years, a recipe that I really like for chicken wings and a process that I really like. But I haven’t really done it during quarantine. There’s no particular reason, I guess, other than I’ve just been kind of scared of meat because I’ve heard some stuff about meat packing plants during COVID. Not that I don’t trust folks to be careful, but in the back of my mind I’m like, “Well, maybe I just don’t risk it.”

But when I’m making wings I do a brown sugar and honey buffalo sauce. Anytime I’m making a sauce that’s not Buffalo, I do the same thing. I do a honey-soy-sriracha sauce when I make shrimp or salmon. I love to mix honey and a hot sauce to do a little situation. If it’s not honey, it’s molasses. It just gives it a kick, and a thickness, and if you cook it long enough it gets really sticky and kind of starts to caramelize.

Illustration for article titled Im Comedian Caleb Hearon and This Is How I Eat

Photo: Caleb Hearon

I’m very particular about ranch dressing. I make my own. My mom worked at a bar when I was growing up, putting herself through college. She worked at the one bar in our hometown that had these great chicken wings. She started making the ranch. It’s not special. It’s not super unique. I’m not like a chef. It’s the Hidden Valley Ranch packet, but instead of making it the way they make it—16 ounces of sour cream and the packet—I do the 16 ounces of sour cream, the packet, a little bit of salt, a pinch of garlic powder and then add like 3/4 cup of mayonnaise, which makes it thicker and better. If I want something from a restaurant that I’m going to want ranch with, I make sure that I have the stuff to make my own. So much ranch is so runny and bad, and it drives me insane! I hate it! I think this is a very Midwestern thing, at least that’s what people have told me—but I love it with pizza. Ranch and pizza is so good.

I love it too, and it horrifies people from areas with pizza identities. There’s something to be said for freeing yourself from pizza rules and letting yourself enjoy new flavor combinations.

Right. Being from the Midwest—and maybe this isn’t entirely about being from the Midwest, surely some of this is just growing up poor—but my favorite dishes growing up were like tater tot casserole, which is ground beef, tater tots, and cream of mushroom; and Beanie Weenies, which is pork and beans, cut up hot dogs, and brown sugar. Truly atrocious food.

Did you ever have the cocktail sausages with the grape jelly and Heinz sauce?

Yes. You have to. And—this is a big cooking secret—when I make chili, I always put grape jelly in it. You have to, have to, have to put grape jelly in your chili. I love to make any chili recipe using the Heinz chili sauce, and subbing turkey for beef, and adding a cup and a half or two cups of grape jelly. It is so good.

Have you ever heard of a pear salad? It’s like half of a canned pear with a dollop of mayonnaise, and a sprinkling of shredded cheddar cheese on top.

Oh, my word.

I thought the mayonnaise was cottage cheese, and I love mayonnaise but unexpected mayonnaise is not my favorite. 

That’s like if you go through a drive through somewhere and you’re like “I always get Dr. Pepper from here,” but for some reason you said the wrong thing or they gave you the wrong thing, you take a big drink thinking you’re getting Dr. Pepper and then it’s unsweet tea and your body just freaks out. Your body is like “What’s happening? I’m being poisoned.” And no, you’re not. Your brain just thought you were getting something else. It’s visceral. It will just ruin me for like five minutes. I’m like I have no idea what’s going on.

The World Will Need More Than Fancy Whoppers to Fix Its Methane Problem

We need fewer of these in the future.

We need fewer of these in the future.
Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

Burger King just launched a low-methane Whopper, made by changing cows’ diets, with a super cringe ad campaign. It’s meant to be a small fix for a serious problem: Methane has a short-term heating effect 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

But it can’t be the only effort to stem methane (it’s also wholly inadequate, which we’ll get to in a bit). New research found that global emissions have reached an all-time high, and agriculture—especially animal agriculture—is largely to blame. The research, conducted by Stanford University’s Global Carbon Project and published in Earth System Science Data and Environmental Research Letters on Wednesday, found global annual methane emissions increased 9 percent from 2000 to 2017.

In terms of warming potential, those additional methane emissions are akin to doubling the total carbon dioxide emissions of Germany or France. More than half of those emissions come from human activities, including the fossil fuel industry, which is responsible for about a third of anthropogenically produced methane. We need to curb methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by banning fracking and phasing out of fossil fuels. On Wednesday, the U.S. saw a win on that front after a court slapped down the Trump administration’s proposed rollback of a methane regulation. An even bigger source of methane emissions, though, is agriculture.

The biggest sources of agricultural methane emissions is raising ruminants, a type of mammal that includes cows and sheep. In the U.S., beef production is responsible for over a third of agriculture-related emissions, and most of that is from the methane that cows release by burping.

It’s the emissions from cow burps that Burger King says it’s aiming to tackle with their new low-methane Whopper. The company said it can reduce a cow’s daily methane impact by about 33% by adding lemongrass to the animals’ diet. But Jan Dutkiewicz, a postdoctoral fellow at Concordia University and visiting fellow in the Animal Law and Policy Program at Harvard University, said that figure is hugely misleading and based on research conducted by Restaurant Brand International, Burger King’s parent company as opposed to being peer-reviewed. In addition, the research says the 33% figure actually only applies to the year-long or so fattening period when a cow is taken to a feedlot to prepare for slaughter, not its entire life.

“That’s actually only a really small part of the cow’s life,” Dutkiewicz told Earther. “So if you’re reducing methane emissions during only that period 33% … that’s nowhere near as significant, that’s snake oil.”

Studies have found that changing cow diets can reduce methane emissions to an extent. There’s evidence that adding a chemical compound called 3-nitrooxypropanol to livestock feed reduces methane emissions in sheep and cattle up to 30%. One study found that feeding cows algae can make an even bigger difference, reducing the methane they emit by up to 60%. None of these options have been proven to work at scale, but there is potential to apply them more broadly.

Beyond beef, there are also still other major sources of methane the world’s farms need to get under control. Kari Hamerschlag, the deputy director of Friends of the Earth food program, told Earther that about a quarter of methane emissions from the sector come from rice. Microscopic organisms that live in rice paddies produce the greenhouse gas, especially when the soil they’re on is flooded and waterlogged. Studies show there are ways to manage that, though. In the middle of the planting season, farmers can drain the water in rice fields so that water only reaches the roots and also seed rice in dried fields before they get flooded.

There’s also some evidence that regenerative agriculture which strategically places plant life to sink greenhouse gas emissions, can reduce methane, though some scientists believe that can’t be scaled because it requires entirely too much land. Hamerschlag said the best way to quickly stem methane emissions is tying farm subsidies with the “implementation of healthy soil practices that sequester carbon.”

The number one way to lower methane pollution, however, is to reduce how many cows we produce for meat and dairy. The world is already at nearly three times its carrying capacity when it comes to producing livestock anyways. If a cow isn’t raised for food, no methane gets emitted in the first place.

“It’s really that simple,” said Dutkiewicz.