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Big Food Freaking Out About 'Fed Up'

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Big Food Freaking Out About 'Fed Up'

If you search for "Fed Up movie" on Google, the first link you see is not the film’s website, but rather a page from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) called "Fed Up Facts." It’s a silly and desperate attempt by Big Food to respond to the star-power that has Katie Couric appearing all over the mainstream media spreading a message that the food industry doesn’t want you to hear. (GMA denies that “the food industry purposely advertises unhealthy foods to children.” It must happen by accident.)

The film really pulls no punches aiming to dispel the junk food industry’s strongest talking points: it’s all a matter of personal responsibility; we can just exercise our way to health; and we don’t need government regulation. Even Let’s Move is criticized for placing too much emphasis on physical activity and industry partnerships. But as I told the filmmakers, the first lady is in the wrong wing of the White House. (That quote didn’t make the final cut, alas. See this review saying the film lacks policy solutions, which I mostly agree with.)

Two more things I would have done differently: Less emphasis on the children’s personal stories, and a broader critique of food industry marketing practices instead of the strong messaging about sugar. When we focus too much on any single ingredient in the food supply, that plays right into the hands of industry, as manufacturers can simply find a replacement. (Although it is amusing to see the candy lobby squirm.) The film is promoting a challenge to give up sugar for 10 days. I would suggest an “eat real food” challenge instead. Or better yet, let’s challenge the junk food industry to stop marketing to children for 10 days. Imagine the peace and quiet parents would enjoy.

But these are minor concerns compared to the power of having Katie Couric appear on Good Morning America explaining to millions of viewers ideas that folks like Marion Nestle and I have been promoting for years: such as, how tinkering with processed food isn’t going to fix the problem, and neither will partnering with the food industry.

Huge thanks to Laurie David, Katie Couric, director Stephanie Soechtig and the rest of the Fed Up team for this important film, and for scaring the living daylights out of Big Food in the process. Please go see it, and take someone with you who isn’t already convinced, and then get politically active. We rarely have an opportunity like this to tell the truth about Big Food—in a real movie theater!

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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