Fast food is not in 15-year-old Koa Halpern's vocabulary, nor on his menu. A vegetarian from an environmentally concerned family, it was not until his family hosted an exchange student from Korea that he began to consider bringing his personal mantra to the masses.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
"The first thing she wanted to try when she arrived was American fast food—and she loved it," he says. "I was so intrigued by this that I wanted to understand why."
In trying to understand the crave-worthiness of fast food, Koa began to research the ingredients lists in some popular items and, he says, he was disturbed by what he found.
"I started doing experiments," says Koa. "I wanted to understand what the preservatives in fast food really did, so I made organic french fries and compared them with french fries from a well-known fast-food chain. The organic fries wilted in a few days and soon became covered in mold, but the fast-food fries looked as good as ever."
Koa left the fries on the plate for more than three years, observing how they were largely unchanged over time. "That experience taught me how processed fast food is. Not even mold will grow there," says the Colorado native, whose experience inspired him to start Fast Food Free, a nonprofit that teaches people what exactly is in fast food, and encourages them—particularly kids—to take a pledge not to eat it.
The goal, he says, is not just to fight childhood obesity or heart disease or even cancer—but all of those things together. To date, thousands have taken the online pledge, and Koa has been honored by Parenting magazine as a Kid Who Makes a Difference and identified by school-lunch evangelist Chef Ann Cooper as a Lunch Box Hero.
Check out this great video from Fast Food Free explaining the carbon footprint of a cheeseburger:
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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