Numlock News: October 18, 2023 • Lunchables, Pepper X, Killers of the Flower Moon
By Walt Hickey
Thanks to everyone who came out last night in San Francisco! One week away from my book release, so every preorder counts. If you want to hear some more about the book, I was so thrilled to appear on Numberphile and 2 Fast 2 Forever talking a little about it, you should absolutely check those podcasts out they’re really fun.
The federal lunch program provides about 5 billion lunches a year, and thanks to a dedicated campaign on the part of large food conglomerates, ultra-processed food like Lunchables are finding their way into official school food, so much so that Kraft Heinz smells a growth opportunity hawking their processed meals to kids through federal programs. The USDA values the school lunch market at $14.2 billion annually, and so far just two versions of Lunchables — a turkey and cheese combo and a pizza combo — manage to meet the light Agriculture Department standards regarding whole grains, protein, fruit and vegetable. The turkey alone contains 14 ingredients. Many districts won’t serve them, some citing the sodium content, others the price; North Kansas City would have gone for them, but they were quoted at $2.32 per package, which is too much of the $4 per lunch that public schools are allotted.
Water. Capsaicin. Very good tasting. These were the ingredients chosen to make the perfect spicy pepper. But Ed Currie accidentally produced a new pepper from the concoction: Pepper X. Thus, the new hottest pepper was born, supplanting the South Carolinian’s previous prized piquant pepper, the now-iconic Carolina Reaper. On October 9, Pepper X was certified as the hottest pepper, coming in at 2.69 million Scoville Heat Units. For perspective, a jalapeno is about 5,000 Scoville Heat Units, a habanero is about 100,000, pepper spray is around 1.6 million units, the Carolina Reaper came in at 1.64 million units, and bear spray is usually around 2.2 million units. Pepper X is a crossbreed of a Carolina Reaper and another pepper that Currie obtained and is being understandably coy about.
One of the earliest-known existing medical texts is a scroll written in ancient Egyptian hieratic script describing 34 snakes and the effects their bites have. The scroll dates to the 6th century B.C.E., but is thought to be a copy of an older text. Here’s what’s particularly exciting about this scroll, though: A new study published in Environmental Archaeology used an ecological modeling technique to try to figure out what the snakes actually are, and as a result can with a great deal of confidence identify 10 of the species of snakes. Also interesting is that none of those snakes even live in Egypt anymore, showing how animals can migrate over the course of centuries and complicate archaeologists’ attempts to figure out what exactly the ancients were going on about. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take the exact wrong lesson from this very interesting study and talk about how mermaids definitely exist, they just don’t like the warm waters, obviously.
The Brazilian Public Prosecutor’s Office has opened a case into the Bank of Brazil, the fourth-largest savings entity in the country, to investigate the institution’s ties to the slave trade in the years around its creation. This is a big deal: On one hand, the bank has 75 million clients, which is roughly a third of Brazil’s population. On the other, half of Brazil’s 215 million people are descendants of the 5 million people who were enslaved and brought across the Atlantic and into the country. That is a major portion of the population — contrast the 13 percent of U.S. citizens that can say the same — and as a result will determine what role the Bank of Brazil held in the slave trade and what accountability it owes to the people of the country.
California passed a law last week to ban Red No. 3, a synthetic food coloring, along with another three food additives. This puts pressure on both the industry as well as the federal government to make a move. Red No. 3 was banned in cosmetics in 1990 after evidence emerged it caused cancer in rats, and since then the science of what it does in food hasn’t been great. While groups like the National Confectioners Association insist vibrant colors are important to their industry, the dye is pretty much all over the food supply and several studies have linked dyes to behavioral issues.
Killers of the Flower Moon
Martin Scorsese’s upcoming film Killers of the Flower Moon stars Lily Gladstone, a Native American actress, and a new analysis of 62,224 speaking characters across 1,600 theatrically-released films from 2007 to 2022 finds that is a devastating rarity. Indeed, the only Native American lead character across those films over the course of 16 years was Blu Hunt, who appeared as the lead Dani Moonstar in The New Mutants. Native Americans are 1.3 percent of the real-life American population, but accounted for 0.25 percent of all speaking characters in American film. Jarringly, only 99 out of 133 Native American movie roles are actually played by actual Native Americans over the course of the film.
Texas has 8,000 dams, and 62 percent of them are privately owned. Of those private dams, 12 percent are on the 14 major rivers of the state, and while they were originally built for irrigation purposes, increasingly it’s just rich guys wanting to turn rivers into their private lakes for recreational purposes. Indeed, 21 percent of private dams in Texas exist for the sake of recreation, and one new one on the South Llano River is drawing a lot of controversy from a community that opposes the former CEO of Phillips 66 who would like to create a pond the size of six Olympic swimming pools. The 4 million gallons — 12 acre-feet per year — can be had for $155 per acre-foot per year.
This week in the Live at New York Comic Con Sunday edition, I spoke to John Jackson Miller, who runs Comichron, which is a one-of-a-kind data project that tracks the entire history of comic books in North America. He’s a historian who tracks one of the most important mediums of pop culture, and today he is blaring the siren: this is the dark ages. We have never known less about the comics market than we do today. From a historian’s perspective, this is the worst time in decades. The whole interview is unlocked, and you should check it out. John, besides his historical work, also has several cool books out and some particularly fun stuff out soon, and you should preorder Star Wars: The Living Force.