We're Running Out of Precious Helium!

We all love helium.  My college roommates would inhale helium in science labs and then do hilarious impersonations of Donald Duck.  We buy helium tanks to fill birthday balloons to create the festive ambiance at kids’ parties.  But according to astrophysicist Ethan Siegel, we will soon exhaust the world’s supply of helium. 

Although helium is the second most abundant element in the universe (hydrogen is #1), keeping it on Earth is difficult because it is the second lightest element.  This means that it is lighter than air – hence its levitation qualities that we love – so once released, it heads up to outer space.

Unfortunately for us, it takes hundreds of millions of years to produce helium by radioactive decay deep at the core of the earth.  In other words, if we don’t conserve helium soon, we will run out and won’t be able to produce it again within our lifetime. Helium is needed as a coolant for particle accelerators, MRI machines, superconductors, and other uses.

So don’t buy helium balloons for parties, graduations, or other celebrations.  Instead bundle balloons together creating a bouquet and hang them from the ceiling or attach them to rods as table decorations.


Can We Really Discriminate Against Ugly Food?

Ever notice the perfectly stacked apples and other fruit in the produce section of the grocery store has perfect fruit?  You’ll never find a misshapened apple or any miscolored veggies in the store.  Some stores even spray wax on apples, peppers, and other fruit to make them shiny. Until I planted a fruit orchard 7 years ago, I assumed that fruit generally grew in these perfect shapes.  I remember when I grew my first “weird” carrot in my garden that looked like twins because it had 2 carrots that grew out of one top.  I thought that to be an anomaly – something I should photograph and send off to friends for some oohs and awes.

After the advent of the assembly line when industries became streamlined, we became removed from basic things like growing our own food. We came to expect to buy perfect strawberries and unblemished tomatoes.  With 2 working parents in the home, nobody had time to start gardens when you could pick up veggies at the corner store.  Then marketing made perfect fruit and veggies expected by consumers.  

Growing up in a city and living on the beach in Malibu where we had 2’ by 4’ of dirt next to our carport – seriously – we obviously didn’t have a veggie garden.  My mother planted tomatoes in big pots on her deck but that was it. In college, I remember how I didn’t know how strawberries grew: did they grow on bushes, vines, or trees? I know that’s embarrassing to admit now, and that’s why when I had children, we picked strawberries at Gizdich Ranch in Watsonville every year until they went off to college.  I was determined that they would know where their produce came from.

While this may sound like an extreme case of ignorance, the concept of expecting perfect fruit is not. Europe has started a movement to stop food waste by getting farmers to sell “ugly” food at a discount rather than to landfill them. After all, most produce that we eat is chopped and mixed with other ingredients so their colors or shapes really don’t have anything to do with the quality of the food. Getting food manufacturing companies and grocery stores to purchase this ugly produce will offer savings to consumers and more profits for manufacturers.

America is beginning to recognize this potential market for huge profits while preventing food waste.  I’ll be blogging about other ways to prevent food waste in future blogs. 

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