We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.

– Chief Seattle

Featured artist: The Babybirds

Dense Discovery
Dense Discovery

Welcome to Issue 277!

Feb 27 2024 | Link to this issue

Wikipedia defines ultra-processed food (UPF) as “an industrially formulated edible substance derived from natural food or synthesised from other organic compounds. The resulting products are designed to be highly profitable, convenient, and hyperpalatable.” An industrially formulated edible substance. Wow!

Tons of studies have linked regular consumption of UPFs to critical health conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer.

It is frightening to think that UPFs now account for 57% of all calories consumed in the US. An analysis of foods available in major US supermarkets found that 73% of them could be considered ultra-processed. UK and European numbers are only slightly better.

UPFs are the new tobacco, according to doctor, academic and BBC broadcaster Chris van Tulleken. In his excellent talk on the harsh reality of ultra-processed foods (h/t to Thomas), he points out that poor diet has overtaken tobacco as the leading cause of early death. He makes the case that obesity and diet-related diseases are what he calls ‘commerciogenic’ – driven by profit incentives, just like tobacco.

Unlike processed foods, which have been around for thousands of years, ultra-processed foods were never part of our diet until about 50 years ago. That’s when industrialised food manufacturers found a way to modify cheap food substances for maximum sensory experience and profit. As a result, we now ingest numerous molecules that are devoid of nutrition, highly addictive and completely foreign to our digestive tracts, causing all sorts of health problems. van Tulleken calls it the “commodification of ill health”.

In one of the most fascinating parts of the talk, he explains that the notion of ‘calories in, calories out’ – the idea that we can simply burn off excess calories through exercise – is not only wrong, it’s actually a phrase trademarked by Coca-Cola. van Tulleken compared the calorie intake of highly active hunter-gatherers in Tanzania with that of the average, much more inactive Westerner. He found that both burned about the same number of calories.

“If I were to move to Tanzania, I would spend many of those calories moving around, preparing, hunting and gathering food. In the UK, I still spend those calories, but I’m not moving. I seem to spend them on inflammation and anxiety, and on hormone levels that may be quite toxic. There is lots and lots of data coalescing around this. … We steal from reproductive and immune budgets.”

That’s pretty wild! We spend a lot of calories just dealing with the effects of modernity on our bodies!

van Tulleken is quick to point out that we shouldn’t blame ourselves. His children eat a lot of UPFs because food connects us to the people around us. To cut ourselves off from that completely would be to cut ourselves off from much of society.

Instead, van Tulleken calls for institutional food to be real food: hospitals, prisons, schools – they can all lead by example, serving nutritious, healthy food and setting us on the right path early on. To stop the financialisation of food we ought to establish and promote not-for-profit food companies.

Showing products from Mexico, where cute animals have been removed from cereal boxes and replaced with clear nutrition labels and health warnings, he suggests that the most impactful change would be to ban the world’s biggest food companies from influencing government policy.

“The number one change we need is a cultural change where we come to regard the companies that make our food as tobacco companies. Their money is dirty, and if [governments and researchers] accept their money, we become part of the marketing division of those companies. We need to disentangle all the charities that influence policy from the companies that make the food that is harming us.”Kai


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Apps & Sites

Cooked.wiki →

Clean up & save recipes

I love that there is an infinite amount of recipes available online. Sadly, cooking-related websites usually come with the worst possible user experience. With this handy web app, you can simply add ‘cooked.wiki/’ in front of any recipe URL and it will provide you with a clean, practical view of just the recipe that you can then edit and save.

Superlist →

To-do list app

Remember Wunderlist – the to-do list app that was sold to Microsoft and shortly after disappeared? (*sigh*) Some members of that original crew have just released – you guessed it – a new to-do list app. Superlist looks lovely and comes with the features you’d expect. Ticking off list items is arguably one of the biggest app segments already, and yet there seems to be an unquenchable appetite for more.

OnlySwitch →

Shortcuts for macOS

OnlySwitch is a macOS menu bar app that presents you with a series of toggle switches for easily and quickly enabling/disabling certain Mac features, shortcuts and utilities.

RocketLaunch →

Explore past & future rocket launches

For space and engineering geeks, RocketLaunch.org is a kind of wiki about all past and scheduled rocket launches from various launch sites around the world. I had no idea just how many launches there are throughout the year! Check this 2023 recap: 234 total launches with 45 humans sent to space.


Worthy Five: Emily Dela Cruz

Five recommendations by web developer and general enthusiast Emily Dela Cruz

A question worth asking:

Consider this: ‘Is this worth your energy?’ It’s my go-to question for pulling myself and others out of spiral states, especially during a gripe or worry session. This simple inquiry usually prompts myself and others to pause and reflect on what truly matters.

A book worth reading:

Explore the imaginative afterlives crafted by neuroscientist David Eagleman in Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives. Spoiler: While being a background character in others’ dreams isn’t my preference, the exploration is definitely intriguing.

A video worth watching:

I may not be a dancer myself, but Lip J’s waacking skills in her judge showcase at the Line Up dance battle event make me wish I were. Her performance is infused with musicality and emotion. Don’t miss those lightning-fast arm movements around the two-minute mark – truly incredible!

A phrase worth knowing:

In Pangasinan, the Filipino dialect my parents speak, the phrase ‘akauley kilad tan’ roughly translates to all of this: do what you will, it’s up to you, find a way. Often shared by my mum with a fond eye roll, it serves as a reminder to get off my butt, take action, and face challenges head-on.

A piece of advice worth passing on:

From Jocelyn K. Glei’s newsletter: Allow things (insights, situations, relationships, etc.) the time and space they need to ripen. This advice tempers the part of me that wants things to happen ASAP. Loosen your grip, stop pushing and prodding. Sometimes you need to step away and let everything naturally unfurl.

(Did you know? Friends of DD can respond to and engage with guest contributors like Emily Dela Cruz in one click.)


Books & Accessories

Limitarianism →

The case against extreme wealth

How much money is too much? What can be done to stop individuals amassing a limitless amount of wealth that distorts markets and democracies? In her new book, Ingrid Robeyns “unpacks the concept of a cap on wealth, where to draw the line, how to collect the excess and what to do with the money. In the process, Robeyns will ignite an urgent debate about wealth, one that calls into question the very forces we live by (capitalism and neoliberalism) and invites us to a radical reimagining of our world.”

Kinship (Set) →

Belonging in a world of relations

From the employee-owned, ecology-focused publisher Chelsea Green Publishing comes a beautiful box set with five volumes that each contain essays, interviews, poetry, and stories of solidarity that highlight the interdependence that exists between humans and nonhuman beings. The volumes are split into: planet, place, partners, persons, and practice. Enjoy more than 70 contributors, including Robin Wall Kimmerer (see DD171), Richard Powers, David Abram, J. Drew Lanham, and Sharon Blackie. (UK readers order from here.) Friends of DD enjoy a 35% discount. Become a Friend to access specials like this.


Overheard on Mastodon

Over 80% of iCloud storage is used on 12 megapixel photos of stuff in the grocery store followed by a text that says “is this the right one”.

@[email protected]


Food for Thought

The harsh reality of ultra processed food →


It’s fascinating and scary to think just how much the industrialisation and financialisation of food has transformed our diets and the way we think about food. Most of our calories now come from an entirely novel set of substances that are physically changing our bodies. Doctor and academic Chris van Tulleken is a wonderful speaker and you learn a lot about food, diets, and myths around eating and obesity. An eye-opening talk for those interested in better understanding how we fuel our bodies.

All Parasites Have Value →


Tara McMullin with another lovely piece on our societal beliefs around work and worthiness. She argues that a new cultural and personal narrative is needed to recognise the worth of those who aren’t ‘productive’ in a purely economic sense and calls for more sustainable work practices. “In our consumer economy, producing demand is even more important than producing supply. And there is no demand without people who can purchase what’s on offer. People can’t purchase what’s on offer without money – so keeping people employed maintains the market for the crap that gets produced. Instead of our work creating needed value for our communities, our work fuels our economic obsession with growth through consumption. For many of us, the part we play in the economy is this: we work to shop.”

How We Make Sense of Time →


If you enjoyed the talk by cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky (DD273) on how the language we speak shapes our view of the world, this essay offers some overlapping and some additional insights on how our concept of time is influenced by our understanding of physical space, with cultural variations playing a major role. “Aymara people spend much more time talking about past events than about future times. After all, they can tell whether last year was dry or wet – they were there and saw it with their eyes – and can discuss that with clarity and conviction. But how next year is going to be is anybody's guess – nobody has seen it, and so it is just a matter of futile speculation. The known past is therefore conceived as being visually in front of them and the unknown future out of view behind them.”


Aesthetically Pleasing

If you’re looking for some contemporary art prints for your walls, Drool has a nice collection of colourful, illustrated art at a reasonable price.

Enjoy the top 100 winners of the Close-up Photographer of the Year competition for 2023.

Watch Chinese craftspeople create beautiful teapots by hand.

ED Nimpkish is a typeface for logos or editorial designs that adds a unique twist and merges two distinct typographic styles into one cohesive narrative.


Notable Numbers


Just under 1 in 5 Americans (18%) believe in a conspiracy theory that claims Taylor Swift is part of a supposed covert government effort to help Biden win the 2024 presidential election. 71% of those identify with or lean toward the Republican Party.


Record hot seawater killed 78% of human-cultivated coral that scientists had placed in the Florida Keys in recent years in an effort to prop up a threatened species that’s highly vulnerable to climate change.


Dublin is set to become the latest European capital to bar through-traffic from its city centre. The plan set a goal of a 60% traffic reduction and promises to both ease current traffic congestion and allow for the creation of new pedestrian streets and plazas that will make Dublin’s heart a more pleasant place to linger.



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