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Joseph Erbentraut
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Joseph Erbentraut covers promising innovations and challenges in the areas of food and water. In addition, they explore the evolving ways Americans are identifying and defining themselves.

They have been writing ever since their middle-school launch of the Sixth Grade Times, which offered in-depth coverage of school-wide assemblies, birthday parties and breaking playground gossip. Overseeing a staff of five with an angsty teenage fist, they sold issues for a dime apiece and caused quite a stir with one particular series of bag-lunch exposes.

A decade later, Erbentraut earned a B.A. in Journalism & Mass Communication from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and moved shortly thereafter to Chicago, where they have lived ever since.

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Entries by Joseph Erbentraut

I Failed at Whole30, And I Couldn't Be Happier

(5) Comments | Posted February 8, 2016 | 8:30 AM

When you take even two weeks off bread, the above photo is what it feels like when you chomp into a sandwich again.

It's been just over a month since I briefly dipped my toes in the Whole30 squad, and now that I've reached the other side and...

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Flint's Crisis Isn't Just Dirty Water -- They Need Better Food, Too

(0) Comments | Posted February 4, 2016 | 3:41 PM

Flint, Michigan, has remained in the national media spotlight for weeks as the city struggles with the devastating fallout from the contamination of its drinking water -- with many outlets not quite getting the story right when it comes to what life is like for people living...

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What Chipotle Needs To Do To Win Back Its Customers For Good

(0) Comments | Posted February 1, 2016 | 1:45 PM

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Monday that it has wrapped up its probe of Chipotle’s E. coli outbreaks, declaring them to be over with no new illnesses reported to the agency since December.

The news was welcome by the Denver-based...

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These Plants Don't Die When They Lose Water -- And Could Help Feed The World

(0) Comments | Posted January 28, 2016 | 2:27 PM

Jill Farrant is trying to accomplish something most would consider impossible.

As the University of Cape Town molecular biologist explained during a presentation at the TEDGlobal>Geneva conference last month, Farrant is currently working on harnessing the potential of a group of some 135 rare “resurrection plant” species that are able to lose practically all of their water without dying, making them extremely drought-resistant.

This is a timely concern in South Africa, which is currently in the midst of its worst drought in over a century. The extreme conditions mean that more than half the country's 50 million people are facing hunger due to the persistent drought conditions’ impact on the harvest of maize and other staple crops.

"Pretty amazing, huh?" Farrant questioned her TED audience after showing dramatic time-lapse videos of three seemingly dead plants greening and coming back to life. (At the 6:15 mark in the video above.) 

At the heart of Farrant’s research is figuring out what environmental and cellular signals allow genes present in the resurrection plants -- which are mainly found on the African continent, but also in Brazil -- to switch on and continue to survive even when facing stress such as drought conditions.

The same genes are present in all modern crops, Farrant explained in her TED talk, so the process could be mimicked through biotechnology in other crops like maize, a staple food in South Africa.

“I do this to make people aware of how important plants are,” she told The Huffington Post. “We really need to think about how we need to, in a quick space of time, make plants to help us survive future climate impacts. We’ve got to think big and out of the box.”

Of course, Farrant’s work is relevant to other parts of the world also facing drought conditions, as well. But she is focusing her work on making her homeland for food secure with a small-scale solution geared toward subsistence farmers at this time.

Farrant has an ultimate goal of developing three extremely drought-tolerant plants by the time she retires in 10 years. Her only obstacle? Money. South Africa’s rand has dropped dramatically in value, making the grants that support her research shrink along with it.

Still, she is optimistic her idea could catch on. Her work was also featured by the BBC’s “The Genius Behind” series last month and additional funding sources are pending.

“I’m offering a potential solution,” Farrant explained. “It’s not the most productive solution, but it will help people get food in Africa. To take this food into the world scale will take big finances and people in places like the U.S. to help us.”


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5 Reasons The Government's Nutrition Advice Isn't Working

(0) Comments | Posted January 26, 2016 | 5:51 PM

It’s been weeks since the latest federal dietary guidelines were released by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services.

Since then, a deluge of nutrition experts have expressed frustration and dismay that the guidelines didn't use stronger...

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This Food Safety Expert Says Chipotle Is 'Focused On Bulls**t'

(6) Comments | Posted January 22, 2016 | 11:36 AM

It’s been six months since the start of Chipotle’s food safety crisis -- a series of six outbreaks that have sickened at least 500 people.

The company has apologized for the outbreaks of norovirus and E. coli,

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What's Happening In Flint Could Happen In Lots Of Other Places

(1) Comments | Posted January 21, 2016 | 4:19 PM

President Barack Obama has called the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, “inexplicable and inexcusable.” A congressional hearing is pending. But Flint's 100,000 or so residents still have no idea when they will be able to safely drink the contaminated tap water they continue...

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It’s The Beginning Of The End For Meat Raised With Antibiotics

(1) Comments | Posted January 14, 2016 | 4:45 PM

Repeat after me: Antibiotic-free.

On the heels of news from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that sales of antibiotics for livestock rose 23 percent in recent years, the agriculture industry is bracing for regulators to set what are expected to...

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Why ‘Vegan’ Is No Longer Enough

(0) Comments | Posted January 13, 2016 | 5:07 PM

The next time you’re at a dinner party and someone identifies themselves as a climatarian, don’t look shocked.

Climatarians just had a big year. The term, referring to an individual whose diet is geared toward reducing the effects of climate change, was named by the...

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Why The Food Brands You Grew Up With Will Never Be The Same

(0) Comments | Posted January 11, 2016 | 5:08 PM

It’s been said again and again that 2015 was a year of revolution in the world of “Big Food.”

Major packaged-food brands like Kraft, General Mills, Campbell Soup Co. and other major industry players have been racing to remove artificial flavors...

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Here's More Proof The Push For Healthier School Lunches Is Working

(1) Comments | Posted December 30, 2015 | 3:07 PM

The federal government was criticized for sweeping changes to the national student lunch program when it launched the effort to make school meals healthier in 2012 -- but new research shows that skepticism may be unwarranted.

There have been widely shared reports of students

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Why It Matters That Shake Shack Is Switching To Cage-Free Eggs

(0) Comments | Posted December 21, 2015 | 1:26 PM

Score another win for the nation’s hens.

Fast-casual food chain Shake Shack on Monday joined the ever-growing list of major businesses that have announced plans to switch to using cage-free eggs.

The chain's company-owned locations will make the transition to cage-free...

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There's A Secret War Being Waged Over Your Drinking Water

(1) Comments | Posted December 16, 2015 | 3:35 PM

If the current catastrophe in Flint, Michigan, teaches us anything, it’s that the source of our drinking water is critically important -- if almost always overlooked, until something goes very, very wrong.

When it comes to the question of how we keep our...

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The ‘Extinction’ Of Bananas Shows Us Why Our Food System Needs Help

(0) Comments | Posted December 15, 2015 | 2:42 PM

Bananas, as we know them, could soon be no more.

According to a new report out last month, the popular Cavendish banana is now at risk of extinction thanks to the spread of a new strain of Panama disease, the same...

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The Problem Is Gross School Lunch. These High Schoolers Are Fixing It.

(4) Comments | Posted December 9, 2015 | 12:48 PM

A group of students at a Chicago public high school on the city’s northwest side is calling for higher quality, healthier food to be served at their cafeteria -- inspiring real change that could be felt citywide. 

“We want our school to be better,” Jacquez...

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The Genetic Revolution Could Curb World Hunger And Pesticide Use

(4) Comments | Posted December 8, 2015 | 3:46 PM

The genetic revolution is coming to your dinner plate.

Over the past year or so, researchers around the world have begun using a new gene-editing technique that has the potential to help stop world hunger, end the use of pesticides and improve...

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We Know How To Make Farms More Sustainable, But We're Not Doing It

(0) Comments | Posted December 7, 2015 | 1:59 PM

Two years ago, when acclaimed food journalist Michael Pollan trumpeted “the most encouraging ag research finding of recent years,” most would have guessed such a breakthrough coming from some sort of left-wing utopia, a Berkeley or an MIT.

Instead, the news Pollan was...

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We Tried The 'Food Of The Future.' We Don't Want To Live There.

(0) Comments | Posted December 3, 2015 | 10:23 AM

About three years ago, entrepreneur and “serial optimist” Simo Suoheimo got together with a group of friends with a goal in mind.

All of them were passionate about food and all of them wanted to create a new form of sustenance -- something particularly geared...

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Happy Thanksgiving! Your Turkey Leftovers Are Destroying The Planet.

(0) Comments | Posted November 24, 2015 | 5:35 PM

Thanksgiving is, of course, the annual day of overdoing it. But that excess can be felt in more ways than a slice of pumpkin pie too many. We’re all prone to prepare far too much food than is needed -- and a lot of that food isn’t eaten.

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If We’re Going To End Factory Farms, We Need To Eat Way Less Meat

(2) Comments | Posted November 23, 2015 | 3:40 PM

It's the kind of image that is really difficult to forget.

A disturbing undercover video shot by an animal rights activist released earlier this month showed pigs being subjected to horrific conditions inside one of the nation’s largest pork processing plants. The video...

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