event reports 2012
There's nothing quite like actually attending a Monsterfest event, but if you weren't able to get along, we hope these brief synopses will be of interest. And if you were there, you might enjoy viewing the Powerpoint presentations used by the speakers.
Monday 18 June - Herbs for Health? - Dr James McLay, University of Aberdeen
In a session in which he didn't pull any punches, Dr James McLay explained exactly why we should all go home and empty our cupboards of all those vitamin/mineral/herbal supplements and so-called 'remedies'.
While many of the elements found in them are essential for health, we should get them from a healthy diet: in supplement form they are often dangerously concentrated, at levels that are very far from 'natural', and properly conducted tests have shown that their use is often associated with early mortality. Other tests have shown that many of them seriously disrupt the effectiveness of proper medications that you may be taking.
And that's where tests have been conducted at all: many have not been properly tested, and their effects in the body are simply unknown - which means that those extravagant claims made for their health-giving properties are unfounded.
James's advice? Save your money, throw the supplements away, and don't trust untested 'remedies'.
Lots more information in James's Powerpoint presentation, which you can view or download by clicking here.
Tuesday 19 June - Securing the Food Supply - Prof Geoff Squire, James Hutton Institute, Dundee
Geoff gave us a fascinating overview of man's struggle throughout the ages to produce enough food, and made a good case for the humans who first domesticated crops and animals being the greatest inventors ever (though the discovers of the Haber Bosch Process, i.e. the process by which nitrogen can be turned into fertiliser, are also very strong contenders for the title, in his view).
Scotland, along with the rest of Northern Europe, only achieved food security for the first time in the 1960s: it is a very recent phenomenon, and was mostly down to the availability of oil.
There are no food crops native to Scotland, and the UK more generally is no longer a food-producing economy, which means we now import more than half of the food we eat. Even the humble baked beans on toast require no fewer than 12 different crops - and not one of them is grown here. Most of our cereal production is either used to produce alcohol, or is exported. Almost all the wheat acreage we see as we're out and about is used for the production of lager; and most of the barley we grow is used for either whisky or animal feed.
At the same time, the natural capital of the soil - i.e. its ability to produce crops - is declining.
This leaves us in a precarious situation: dependent on global transport systems, which are themselves dependent on precarious factors such as world peace, international relations and a lack of natural catastrophes such as major volcanic eruptions, not to mention a constant supply of affordable oil.
Geoff warned of serious crises ahead if action is not taken, and taken soon. However, the good news is that there are things all of us can do to help the situation:
Reduce food waste
Find out where food comes from before we buy it
Buy local produce
Grow our own
Compost (helps with the problem of natural capital in the soil)
Demand change - from retailers and from politicians
And try to get a good understanding of the underlying issues.
And you can find out about an eating plan that is healthy, cheap and planet-friendly by clicking here.
Wednesday 20 June - Scientific Approaches to Weight Loss - Dr Alex Johnstone, Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health, Aberdeen
This event proved highly popular, and who can be surprised at that? Alex has spent many years scientifically investigating the effectiveness of various types of weight loss diet and her advice can be summarised as follows:
1. You WILL underestimate your calorie consumption unless you keep a food diary and scrupulously record EVERY mouthful you eat or drink!
2. Aim for weight loss of 1-2 kg per week.
3. The best approach for weight loss, appetite control and longer-term gut health, seems to a LOW CALORIE, LOW FAT diet, that is HIGH in protein and MODERATE in carbohydrates. (Very low carb diets can result in loss of healthy gut flora over time.)
It's important not to lose muscle tone as you diet, so remember to stay active too - doing whatever kind of exercise appeals to you (simple walking is fine).
You can find out more by clicking here to view or download Alex's Powerpoint presentation.
Thursday 21 June - The Chemistry of Cooking - Dr Elizabeth Barron-Majerik, Inverness College
Liz really does have the knack of bringing chemistry to life! In this lively session, she shared a host of cookery tips that make perfect sense once you understand the chemistry of food and cooking:
You know that instruction to fry meat quickly over a high heat to seal in the juices? It's a myth! The juices flood out just the same.
Did you know you can add a little cream of tartar or lemon juice to beaten egg white? - it helps stabilise the foam.
Why do some containers of stock or soup tell you not to boil the contents? Because boiling proteins shatters them and causes the soup or stock to go cloudy.
And if you do happen to boil your stock and it does go cloudy, you can clear it again by dropping an egg white into it. The egg white attaches itself to the shattered proteins in the stock and floats to the top, where you can skim them all off.
Why do foods cook so much faster in a pressure cooker? Because the pressure cooker is completely enclosed, which means that the air inside it gets heated too. (Cooking onions in a pressure cooker also stops them repeating on you next day - because the compound in the onion that causes the problem gets broken down at 121 degrees C!)
Why is some meat white, while some is dark? You typically get white meat from muscles that have been used for short bursts of energy rather than sustained activity. Chickens don't fly much, so their wing meat is white; but they do walk around a lot, so their leg meat is darker. Similarly, duck meat is darker because they tend to move much more than chickens do.
While fresh pineapple can help tenderise meat if you use it (or its juice) in a marinade, once it has been cooked or tinned, it will actually toughen it.
Liz explained the chemistry behind all these facts and far more too, and left us all absolutely fascinated and eager to get to our kitchens!
We will be posting Liz's Powerpoint presentation here in due course, but please bear with us a little, as we need to let her finish moving house first!
Friday 22 June - The Dark Secrets of Chocolate - Dr Luisa Ostertag, Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health, Aberdeen
Inspired by the Kuna Indians of Panama, who experience very low levels of cardiovascular disease when following their traditional cocoa-rich diet but become just as prone to it as the rest of us when they adopt a typical western diet, Luisa has conducted an in-depth study of the effects of dark chocolate on cardiovascular health.
She is the first to point out that Kuna Indians are not consuming their cocoa in the form of chocolate: indeed, the very fresh, unprocessed, straight-from-the-tree form of cocoa powder that they consume in large quantities is simply not available here. So very pure forms of dark chocolate are the closest we can get.
Nor would she like to urge us all to go out and start eating lots of dark chocolate! That would be unhealthy in other ways. Still, the research did confirm that the purest forms of dark chocolate (look for those with high proportions of cocoa, and with real cocoa butter), did have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular health.
Find out more about it by taking a look at Luisa's Powerpoint presentation. It's not only packed with detailed information (including a fascinating section on what is involved in conducting a scientific research trial), but it's also quite stunningly beautiful.
Saturday 23 June - Monster Science Family Day - Midmills
We all had huge fun at Saturday's Monster Science Family Day. More than 400 people joined us for an action-packed, fun-filled array of hands-on activities and family-friendly talks about all kinds of aspects of food.
Nick Martin and some of his helpers from the exotic animal rescue charity Creatures Great and Small had brought along some of their animals - from this enormous Burmese Python ... to this Pygmy Gecko which, despite its tiny tiny size, has over 300 bones in its body! That's nearly 4 times as many as a human!
Meanwhile, in our Food Physics lab, people were having great fun getting to grips with cornflour paste ... and marvelling at the size of these ENORMOUS marshmallows! (The secret? All the air had been pumped out of the glass flask, which meant there was no longer any air pressing down on them and squashing them!)
Maybe not the most appetising sights in the world, but in our Composting Room we could see exactly what happens as food decomposes, and how we can use those processes to help us enrich the soil and grow more food! That photo on the right is of the 'wormery': after a while, the worm eggs in your compost heap hatch out - and the worms then eat decomposing food, and it's their nutrient-rich poo that makes the finished compost so useful in your garden!
Big smiley faces at the session about cavemen and what they ate ... and how that compares to how we live today!
2 young volunteers go crackers trying to chew and swallow 2 cream crackers in 1 minute at the Glasgow Science Centre's Blood and Body Bits show.
Yum ... recreating the contents of our stomachs in a big clear plastic bag ... and here's our eager volunteer who's going to squelch it all together and mix it up ...
Sunday 24 June - The Horrible Science Show - Nick Arnold
Nearly 400 people crammed into the Ironworks for our star event, the Horrible Science Show with Nick Arnold, where they learnt about the equivalent of 2 elephants that are weighing down on us all the time, the horrible things that go on in our digestive system, centrifugal force, the 40,000 tiny creatures that have made their homes in our pillows and feast on our skin flakes and saliva (oh yes, and their own poo!), and the horrible methods of Victorian amputations!
This brave young volunteer got rather wet ...
... but STILL the volunteers kept coming!