Polar bears ‘running out of food’

High-tech tracking collars on nine female polar bears have measured the animals’ efforts to find food on the diminishing Arctic ice.

Each bear wore a collar – recording video, location and activity levels – for 8-12 days, while metabolic tracers tracked the bears’ energy use.

This revealed that most of the animals were unable to catch enough prey to meet their energy needs.

The team says wild bears have higher metabolic rates than thought.

GPS video-camera collars were applied to solitary adult female polar bears for 8 to 12 days in April, 2014-2016. These collars enabled researchers to understand the movements, behaviors, and foraging success of polar bears on the sea ice.Image copyrightANTHONY PAGANO/USGS
Image captionThe team tracked nine solitary female polar bears over 8-12 days

Moreover, climate change appears to be having dramatic effects on the Arctic sea-ice, forcing polar bears to move greater distances as they hunt, and making it harder for them to catch prey.

The vision of a polar bear plucking a vulnerable seal off an ice floe is something familiar to wildlife documentary fanatics. Earlier this winter, though, an image of an emaciated polar bear went viral, with many asking if this was the telltale image of climate change.

The authors of this study, published in the journal Science, point out that the animals do now need to travel further to find seals, and that this is likely to be an “important factor explaining declines in their body condition and survival” of polar bears.

Tracking every move

polar bear on sea iceImage copyrightATHONY PAGANO/USGS
Image captionPolar bears use the sea ice to hunt seals and, as it diminishes, have to travel further to find their food

In Spring of 2014, 2015, and 2016, Anthony Pagano, a researcher at the University of California Santa Cruz and his colleagues, set out to track the polar bears’ hunting and survival during this critical season. They captured nine females on the sea-ice of the Beaufort Sea and measured the metabolic rates of each bear using blood and urine samples.

They also fitted the bear with the GPS-camera collars, to record and film their activity.

“We found that polar bears actually have much higher energy demands than predicted. They need to be catching a lot of seals,” Mr Pagano explained.

The extent of Arctic sea-ice, as measured at its minimum in September, is decreasing at a rate of about 14% per decade, which is likely reducing polar bears’ access to seals. And their plight could be exacerbated by the need to alter hunting strategies with the seasons.

In the spring, the researchers explained polar bears are mostly preying on juvenile seals. But later in the year, after the bears’ long summer fast, those young seals are older and wiser, meaning polar bears are not able to catch as many.

“It’s thought that bears might catch a couple per month in the fall, compared to five to 10 per month in the spring and early summer,” Mr Pagano said.

“We now have the technology to learn how they are moving on the ice, their activity patterns, and their energy needs, so we can better understand the implications of these changes we are seeing in the sea-ice.”


Florence Knight’s perfect Christmas lunch: the best roast turkey recipe

The Sunday Times, 

Simple food is made easier by careful choice of ingredients and preparation, so that as little as possible needs to be done at the last minute: exactly as Christmas should be. It’s a good opportunity to stock up on carefully sourced vinegar, chutney and cheese — indulgences that might be overlooked at another time of year.

Cotechino, a rich pork sausage found in Italian delis, is the perfect antidote to a potentially dry turkey. Brining the bird, either dry or wet, needs no specialist equipment and keeps meat tender and flavourful (but isn’t essential if you’re short of time).

For roast potatoes, try getting hold of golden wonder or yukon gold. A few russet apples or a handful of fresh rosemary will make a welcome addition before they go into the oven. A glug of port gives depth to spiced red cabbage, though I always seem to manage to find the only whole clove left in the bowl — a pungent version of the traditional sixpence.

Get ahead: December 24

Dry-brine your turkey and make the turkey-stock base from the giblets.

2 Prepare and cook the red cabbage.

3 Prepare and cook the lentil stuffing (without the apples and fresh herbs).

4 Peel and parboil the potatoes and place evenly over a cake rack in the fridge overnight.

5 Cook and prepare the cotechino.

Let’s go! December 25

10.30am Clean and halve any larger sprouts. Clean the carrots, leaving 1cm green tops.

11.20am Heat the oven to 150C (170C non-fan). Take the turkey, cabbage, potatoes and stuffing out of the fridge.

11.50am Stuff and baste the turkey, then place in the oven.

1.45pm Caramelise the apples and chop the dill and parsley.

2pm Turn the oven up to 200C (220C non-fan). Heat the oil on trays in the oven.

2.10pm Place the potatoes in the oil and roast for 15 minutes. Turn and cook for a further 15 minutes.

2.30pm Remove the turkey and wrap it loosely with foil.

2.35pm Blanch the carrots for 5 minutes and cut larger ones in half. Reduce the oven to 190C (210C non-fan) and cook for 15 minutes.

2.40pm Remove the potatoes and place them in a warm oven.

2.45pm Put the sprouts in the oven at 220C (240C non-fan) for 10-15 minutes. Make the tray gravy and finish with the premade stock.

2.50pm Add the butter, treacle and walnuts to the carrots and cook for further 5 minutes. Heat the red cabbage and lentil stuffing on the hob. Stir the apples and fresh herbs through the stuffing. Once hot, cover and set aside.

3pm Add the butter, lemon zest and juice to the sprouts. Bring everything to the table and carve the turkey.

The best roast turkey

Norfolk bronze or black are some of the best-flavoured birds and are worth seeking out as a festive centrepiece. It’s very important the turkey is at room temperature before you start cooking it; a meat probe will give you peace of mind. As a general guide, allow 40 minutes’ cooking time per kg. If you can’t find cotechino, use any fresh Italian seasoned sausage with a high fat content.

Serves 6 people


  • 20g baking powder
  • 60g fine sea salt
  • 1 x 4kg turkey, at room temperature
  • 1kg cotechino (in bags)
  • 3 white onions, peeled and halved
  • 1 bulb of garlic, halved horizontally

01 Mix the baking powder and salt and rub the mixture all over the turkey skin. Leave in the fridge, uncovered, overnight or for up to 24 hours.

02 Heat the oven to 150C (170C non-fan). Lower the cotechino in its bags into a large pan and cover with cold water. Set over a medium heat and bring to the boil, simmering for 30 minutes. Remove the cotechino and set aside to cool in a bowl.

03 Open the bags and slit down the length of each sausage, removing and discarding the skins. Mash the sausage meat and, if preparing in advance, leave in the fridge overnight.

04 Remove the turkey from the fridge and, starting at the neck, loosen the skin with your hand. Spread the fat (it will have separated) of the cotechino beneath and over the skin, covering it well. Stuff the cotechino meat into the neck cavity, then the body cavity, leaving room for some air to circulate.

05 Place the onions and garlic into a roasting tin and sit a rack over them. Place the turkey on the rack, then into the oven for 2 hours.

06 Turn the oven up to 200C (220C non-fan) and roast for a further 30-40 minutes. The meat probe should read 75C. The juices should run clear when the thickest part of the thigh is pierced.

07 Take the turkey out of the oven, cover with foil and leave to rest for 30 minutes before carving.

The disease that could change how we drink coffee

coffee farm beans

If you landed in Bogota in the 1960s, one of the first things you would have probably seen outside the airport was a giant billboard. In a slightly menacing tone, it said: “Coffee rust is the enemy. Don’t bring plant materials from abroad”.

It was one of the first warnings about a foe that has been threatening Colombia’s coffee trade ever since.

Coffee rust is a disease with the power to cripple, or even wipe out, the country’s national product, the base of one of its biggest industries, and one of its most important sources of foreign currency. Last year alone, its coffee exports were worth $2.4bn (£1.8bn), and was 7.7% of all goods the country sold overseas. That makes Colombia the third largest producer of coffee in the world. In other words, if rust takes hold there and global supply dwindles, it will affect the price of the coffee we drink everywhere.

That’s why for the past few decades, Colombia’s scientists have been engaged in a little-known battle with the disease, staged from a small laboratory deep inside the mountains of Colombia’s coffee axis.

The question is, can Colombian coffee’s distinct flavours survive intact?

Coffee rust looks like a brown powder on the leaves (Credit: Getty Images)

Coffee rust looks like a brown powder on the leaves (Credit: Getty Images)

Coffee rust has plagued farmers for more than a century. When a tree gets infected by it, its leaves produce a brown, thin powder when scratched, pretty much like iron rust. The disease, caused by the fungus Hemileia vastatrix, also de-colours the bush’s leaves from a bright green to a brownish yellow. In the end, the tree loses all its leaves, as well as its ability to produce beans.

If left unattended, the disease can have dramatic consequences. In the late 19th Century, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and other countries in Southeast Asia were the major exporters of coffee in the world. In a matter of decades, the disease meant they practically stopped growing it.

Historians suggest that this is part of the reason why Britons prefer tea nowadays. “Sri Lanka moved over to tea production” since coffee was no longer profitable, explains Aaron Davis, head of coffee research at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Luckily for Asian producers, Britain was eager to switch its taste when their coffee supply vanished.

Beauty vs beast

What makes coffee rust a particular worry for Colombia is that it attacks the type of coffee that the country relies on – and that coffee lovers have got used to drinking.

Coffee comes in two varieties. We could call them ‘the beauty’ and ‘the beast’.

‘The beauty’ is Coffea arabica. Its seed gives a delicious and delicate brew, that sells at good prices in international markets. This is the variety that made Colombian coffee so famous.

Colombia is the third largest producer of coffee in the world (Credit: Getty Images)

Colombia is the third largest producer of coffee in the world (Credit: Getty Images)

‘The beast’ is Coffea canephora, also known as robusta. It is a tougher tree, with more resistant leaves, that is cheaper to grow and crop. It has a more rough and bitter taste; not very appealing for coffee connoisseurs and not as appreciated by the market as its gentler brother. As a result, it accounts only for a 37% of the world coffee production, according to the International Coffee Organisation.

Unfortunately, coffee rust attacks the ‘beauty’, but not the ‘beast’. Colombia only exports ‘beauties’, so switching has never been an option.

In the 1960s, a team of scientists at a research laboratory called Cenicafe set out to find a solution that drew on the best features of the two varieties – but it wouldn’t be straightforward.

The laboratory

To get to Cenicafe, you have to drive all the way to the top of a mountain; the twisting roads can make you sick if you are not used to them. The lab is nested there to keep its 89-year-worth body of research away from the force of nature: the prior building flooded after a volcano eruption in 1985.

It was set up by the Colombia’s National Federation of Coffee Growers (also known as Fedecafe), the coffee industry association in the country, and is considered a global flagship centre for the science of coffee.

“Cenicafe is what have allowed us to remain competitive and lower our risk”, explains Hernando Duque, technical director of Fedecafe. Its research helped domesticate and make viable many of the high-quality varieties that the country grows and the world enjoys.

Today, the laboratory’s work is regarded as the gold standard in the fight against “the most acute threat against coffee in the Americas”, says Michael Sheridan, director of sourcing and shared value at Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters, a specialty coffee importer in the US.


To get rated as a premium quality grade, farmers must focus on small details (Credit: Getty Images)

To save Colombia’s coffee, Cenicafe scientists in the 1960s realised that they needed to breed new varieties that could inherit both the distinctive taste and aroma of Colombian ‘beauty’, and the resistance genes of the ‘beast’.

To do so, they had to get those genes somewhere: ‘the beauty’ and ‘the beast’ don’t usually interbreed.

The solution, they found, would come from the other side of the world.

From Timor with love

At some point in recent history, something weird happened in Timor. Somewhere in this small island on the Indian Ocean, halfway between Indonesia and Australia, the ‘beauty’ and the ‘beast’ had an affair of sorts. As a result, the Timor hybrid was born.

The ‘beauty’ and the ‘beast’ had an affair of sorts. As a result, the Timor hybrid was born

This naturally occurring hybrid of arabica and robusta was found in 1927, and started to be harvested in 1940. It is not really a great tasting berry, but it had a crucial feature: unlike normal robusta, it can be bred again with arabica varieties, which means that it can transmit its rust resistance to them.

Coffee research centres around the world started to do just that, but there was a problem. The result did not taste very good, what meant that it was going to fail. If cultivators were not going to be paid at least as much money for the new varieties, they simply were not going to change their bushes.

coffee farm

Colombia’s coffee industry employs around 730,000 people, most of them on the deprived rural areas of the country (Credit: Getty Images)

Cenicafe begun its efforts to combat rust begun in 1968, knowing that rust from overseas would arrive in Colombia soon. It started a project to created cultivars of the bush that resist it. It was not just a matter of putting two varieties in a genetic blender. The real work was to interbreed five generations of trees, and select those that provided a better taste and more delicate aroma, as well as a shorter tree, good productivity for growers and resistant to different races of the Hemileia fungus.

In 1980, the centre released its first hybrid of Caturra – the dominant variety grown in the country – and the Timor hybrid. It was called Colombia, and it was good enough for it to be well accepted by growers and buyers, to the point that it still is around in many of the country’s coffee farms.

It was just in time. Three years later, coffee rust was first identified in Colombia.

A moving target

Achieving the Colombia variety was not going to be the end of the war against rust. Hemileia vastatrix has since evolved, and found a way to infest some of the formerly immune coffee bushes. While it maintains partial resistance, the fungus will inevitably break it.

There’s also the menace of climate change. Temperatures in the coldest part of the year are rising, which some scientists believe reduces the time the rust fungus takes to attack the leaves once it gets to the tree. As a result, future epidemics might be longer and more destructive.

With that in mind, Cenicafe has developed other varieties. In 2005, they released a new seed, called Castillo after Jaime Castillo Zapata, the lead scientist behind the development of Colombia. And in 2016, a third variety, named Cenicafe 1, also increased its resistance to other diseases.

The main idea is to make it more difficult for the fungus to fully break the tree’s resistance. This is achieved by including many different genes that offer invulnerability against the pathogen. If one of them is defeated by a new mutation of Hemielia, there are many others left.

coffee flavour tasting

In coffee flavour tasting, a score of more than 80 out of 100 is considered ‘specialty’ grade (Credit: Getty Images)

By increasing the gene pool, coffee scientists also aim at protecting the crops from other risks. “If you reduced genetic diversity, you have less resistance to climate, pests and diseases,” explains Davis.

Lack of diversity has proven disastrous to other commercial crops. Almost all bananas you can buy today in most parts of the world are clones from a single parent plant called Cavendish, initially bred in Britain in the 19th Century.

It was not the tastiest fruit, but it was resistant to the fungus that wiped out the world’s most popular variety in the mid-20th Century, the Gros Michel. The fungus mutated and now it can kill Cavendish, which means that the extinction of the banana as most of the world knows it is on the cards.

Coffee scientists have heard the cautionary tale. In the distant future when rust finally defeats Castillo and Colombia, hopefully other varieties will keep up the fight.

Beyond the seeds

If rust takes hold, there will also be human costs. Colombia’s coffee industry employs around 730,000 people, most of them on the deprived rural areas of the country.

Intelligentsia’s Sheridan spent many years deep inside Colombia as a development worker. He saw how small coffee farmers gamble everything for getting a good yield. They take very high risks, and if something goes wrong, their families pay a hefty toll.

Castillo is not a matter of luxury. It is a matter of necessity

That is why he believes varieties like Castillo made coffee viable for many small farmers, who now have a reasonably priced and less risky option. “It is not a matter of luxury. It is a matter of necessity,” he says.

The seed is only part of this story though. Getting growers to change to resistant varieties can be difficult. A single coffee bush can bear fruit at peak productivity for up to eight years, what means that most new seeds are not immediately adopted by cultivators once they are released.

Also, many growers have an emotional attachment to the varieties they already grow. They know the quirks of their trees, their ebbs and flows, and the precise ways they behave in the particular environments of their farms. Even when Castillo is grown in very similar way to Caturra, for some farmers planting a new seed can feel like hosting a stranger in your house.

coffee farm beans

If rust takes hold, can Colombian coffee’s distinct flavours survive intact? (Credit: Getty Images)

The change also has a monetary cost. As a team of Latin American coffee researchers wrote in a recent paper about the rust epidemic, variety replacement requires a large initial investment, and returns “no or very low yields for at least the first two years, and thus a greatly reduced income”.

Colombia has put forward a strategy for overcoming these hurdles. Fedecafe offers subsidies and loans to farmers for helping them buy resistant seeds, and technical advice on growing.

Still, the disease can wreak havoc on the industry. A 2008 outbreak still managed to wipe out up a quarter of the year’s crop in Colombia. Since then, the country has accelerated its efforts to make farmers grow Castillo.

Today, per Fedecafe’s figures, 76% of all coffee trees in Colombia are at least partially resistant to coffee rust, an increase achieved mostly by pushing Castillo among growers. And while other countries have seen their crops halved in recent outbreaks, Colombia maintains a single-digit prevalence of the disease.

This is why most people in the coffee world, from growers to scientists to buyers, regard Colombian efforts as the best in the world in the fight against rust. But not all of them – the taste of the new varieties has not been universally embraced.

Key numbers

Once a year, in front of a panel of cuppers (the expert tasters of this industry), coffee farmers put all their hard work on the line. Their goal is to reach a magic number: 80.

Tasters rate a coffee’s flavour with a score out of 100 – assessing fragrance, body, sweetness and more. A rating of 80 is the minimum to be considered “specialty”, and therefore sold at higher prices than the market average. Some buyers are even pickier: they demand an 83, or even an 87. Of course, they pay due premiums for the extra quality.

The coffee farmers’ goal is to reach a score of 80 for flavour

Beyond that, it’s the confirmation of the growers’ mastery in their craft, the score that puts them among the elite of coffee producers.

“It is very difficult to get there,” says Mauricio Castaneda, the eldest son of a family of coffee farmers. “You have to take care of a lot of small details.” In 2016, only 17% of the coffee exported by Colombia reached that mark.

Some people in the coffee market think that Castillo just doesn’t get that high. For years, some coffee cuppers have complained about the slightly lower quality and cup profile of Castillo over Caturra – a claim that could sink the viability of the resistant variety.

It has been a contentious issue inside the coffee community. For instance, for Alejandro Cadena, CEO of Caravela, a coffee trade company, “Castillo is not the most suitable variety for specialised, high quality markets.” He says that sometimes it can have some rubber notes in it, particularly when something was not done right in its process.

This keeps it away from the more high-priced, high-quality market, Cadena contends. “But for more commercial, high-volume, Castillo is an outstanding variety.”

A blind coffee tasting session (Credit: Jose Penarredonda)

A blind coffee tasting session (Credit: Jose Penarredonda)

Some others, like Sheridan, say that this is not really the case. He backs up his claims on a study he performed in the 2014 crop in Nariño, one of Colombia’s coffee growing states, where expert cuppers blind tested both varieties and did not find any significant difference.

While he is cautious to assert that this research cannot be extrapolated to other regions of Colombia and to other years’ crops, he claims that the market is giving many signs of appreciation for Castillo. Top baristas choose it in competitions, and it has a lot of prestige among international buyers. “It’s increasingly difficult in Colombia, when sourcing small holders’ coffee, to find batches that does not have some Castillo in them,” he says.

Top baristas choose Castillo in competitions

Castillo is also near Eduardo Florez’s heart. He is a Colombian entrepreneur who has a stall in the Borough Market in London, where he sells the coffee he roasts in his garage in Brighton. He sources small batches for his business, and has found some very special Castillos. “Once I saw one that had peach notes”, he points out, excited. “Imagine how delicate is that!”

At Florez’s garage, I decided to do my own (non-expert and non-representative) blind cupping. I tasted four samples at Florez’s garage without knowing the variety of each one.

One of them was complex and worth sipping many times: its fruit-like acidity and sweetness were in a dance of sorts, where each flavour did not cancel but complement and enhance each other. Another one, well, tasted like the office ‘joe’: the sort of brew you drink just to keep going. The other two were somewhere between the good one and the plain one.

But the one I liked the most? The one with the fruity flavours and sweetness? It was a Castillo.

By Jose Luis Penarredonda

Gail Borden’s breakthrough, life-saving invention of condensed milk was inspired by watching Shakers boil fruit

Throughout the ages, humans have tried to invent ways to preserve food over long periods so that it can be stored and used in times or places where fresh food isn’t available. One such invention modernized the dairy-products industry and helped save thousands of children. In the middle of the 19th century, a New York-born amateur inventor called Gail Borden revolutionized the process of condensing milk, making this essential product safer and more available to people.

Before 1856, milk was only available fresh. This posed a huge problem on ships, for example, as during longer voyages, they had to carry herds of cows to produce the fresh milk needed for the passengers, especially small children. The cows, which are not sea animals, often got seasick and didn’t produce the milk that was needed for the journey. Borden was on one such journey and saw how children suffered due to lack of milk on board.

Gail Borden had done many different things in his life. He started as a land surveyor and participated in the making of the first topographical map of Texas. Then, without any previous experience, he started working as an editor for a fairly successful newspaper, the Telegraph and Texas Register. After this experience, he went into politics for a while, before devoting himself to the improvement of the food-preservation process.

Gail Borden

Borden’s first food-related invention was a meat biscuit, a dehydrated-beef-meat essence that was inspired by the traditional Native American dried meat called pemmican. Although not very economically successful (the biscuit was unpalatable), this product brought Borden a gold medal at the 1851 London World’s Fair. On his way back from the exhibition, on a ship from London to New York, he witnessed something terrible. The cows on board the ship got seasick and then died from an infectious disease. This was not all. The children who drank the infected milk also died. Borden was horrified and decided to try and do something about this issue and stop the suffering.

Patent RE2103 for Improvements in Condensing Milk

Back in New York he closed himself up in his Brooklyn basement “laboratory” and started working out a way to preserve milk. He first took a gallon of milk and tried boiling it in an open pan. He boiled all the excessive water until only a small amount of milk essence was left. The result was a dark and disgusting substance that tasted like scorched molasses. He tried to taste it, but it was terrible. This wasn’t working, and he needed a different approach.

One day, he went to visit a Shaker Colony. He saw something interesting: The Shakers were boiling fruits in order to dehydrate them, and they used a special vacuum pan for this. Borden thought that he could do the same with milk. All liquids boil at lower temperatures when they are in an atmosphere in which the pressure is reduced. This means that Borden could boil the milk in a vacuum pan without burning it and without destroying its taste.

In the vacuum pan, milk boiled at 136 degrees Fahrenheit instead of 212 in normal conditions. This way, the milk still tasted nice and kept its color, but more importantly, it could be kept drinkable over long periods of time. Although Borden didn’t know about the existence of bacteria in milk, he claimed that milk is a “living fluid.” Contemporary scientists also knew that something in the air made milk go sour after a while.

Advertisement for Gail Borden’s Eagle Brand Condensed Milk from an 1898 guidebook for travelers in the Klondike Gold Rush

Gail Borden kept improving and refining his model of an industrial vacuum pan for condensing milk, and after three years of hard work, in 1856, he got the patent. This time, he decided not to make the same mistake as with the meat biscuit. He was determined to make a profit, but in the beginning, things didn’t go too well. His first two factories for condensed milk weren’t very productive, and people weren’t used to the taste of condensed milk. His financial backers wanted to see money on the table and withdrew, and he was forced to close the factories. Borden’s luck turned when he met Jeremiah Milbank, who was a wealthy New Yorker in the railroad and banking business. He saw great potential in condensed milk and decided to invest in it. Milbank gave Borden more than $100,000, and together they opened the New York Condensed Milk Company.

Sales of condensed milk immediately went up, and Borden’s condensed milk factories started to pop up everywhere around the states of New York and Illinois. When the Civil War began in 1861, condensed milk found another customer: the Union Army. The Union generals bought hundreds of tins of condensed milk for their soldiers. In just a few years, Borden managed to completely change the milk products industry.

Condensed milk can from Borden Milk Products with Spanish-language lettering, from the second half of the 20th century. Author: Museo del Objeto CC BY3.0

Besides being successful at sales, Borden wanted his company to have the highest production standards of the time. Before he started making condensed milk, almost nobody considered the importance of sanitary conditions. Cow keepers didn’t care at all. Many of the cows were diseased, and milk was transported to the local buyers in the same carts in which they carried manure. Back in those days, there was no sanitary inspection. Borden started to do things differently. His company was proud of the safety and purity of their milk, and he intended to keep things that way. That is why Borden sent his own sanitary inspectors to all the cow farms that distributed milk to his factories. They needed to follow his instructions if they wanted to work with him.

Borden demanded several things from the farmers he worked with. His inspectors had a checklist called “the Dairyman’s Ten Commandments.” The temperature of the milk wasn’t supposed to be over 52 degrees; the udders of the cows had to be cleaned before milking; the milk cans should be cleaned before use; and many other strict rules. In the beginning, farmers were reluctant to accept his rules, but soon they saw the benefit and agreed to make their farms and milk better.

Condensed milk made the world a healthier place and saved thousands of children and men. Mothers began to feed their children with Borden’s product (Eagle brand condensed milk) and the children who grew up drinking it were nicknamed “Eagle Brand Babies.”  Not entirely aware of the significance of his work, Borden sterilized milk decades before the criticality of the pasteurization of milk was scientifically proved. Most of Borden’s sanitary standards are still in use today, which speaks tons about the remarkable work he did for humanity.

By Boban Docevski

Actor James Cromwell was motivated to become a full vegan and animal advocate after playing Farmer Hoggett in “Babe”

Getty Images

Trivialized by many as a pig movie for children, Chris Noonan’s Babe proved many people wrong and captured the hearts and minds of children and adults alike. The touching story of a cute talking piglet, who wants to become a sheepdog, hit theaters around the world in 1995 and almost instantly went beyond expectations to become a true smash hit, earning over $250 million over the years.

But profit is least important when talking about such story whose emotional warmth can’t be bought with any money in the world. Who would’ve thought that we can learn so much about humans by watching this tiny pink piglet? Its story and adventures profoundly changed the lives of many people who went vegetarian after watching the movie. But no other human being experienced bigger change than James Oliver Cromwell, who portrayed the character of Farmer Hoggett in Babe. The movie that was released more than 20 years ago earned Cromwell an Oscar nomination, but also made him an outspoken vegan and animal rights advocate.

The wider audience knows the legendary actor as “the guy from Babe” but he’s never been too concerned about this because he gave some quite outstanding performances in other iconic movies such as Star Trek: First Contact, The Green Mile, LA Confidential, The Artist, American Horror Story: Asylum.

Cromwell has always been interested in acting and started his career in theater, performing in Shakespearean and experimental plays. His first TV appearance came in 1974 in the Rockford Files and one year later he made his film debut in Neil Simon’s Murder by Death. He appeared in several other films and television series, but finally achieved critical acclaim and got Academy Award recognition for his role as the kindly Farmer Hoggett in the movie Babe.

Adapted from Dick King-Smith’s book The Sheep-Pig, the movie takes place in Australia, and it is about a pig who wants to be a sheepdog. The movie is widely considered as one of the best family movies ever made and received seven Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture. Cromwell won an Oscar nomination for his masterful portrayal of Arthur Hoggett and, as mentioned above, it was this movie that made him an outspoken vegan and animal rights advocate.

Cromwell had been a vegetarian since the mid-1970s but became an ethical vegan in 1995 while filming Babe. In his interview with TakePart, the actor explains how he came to the decision:

I was doing a picture in Australia called ‘Babe,’ working with a lot of animals and animal trainers. I cared about their welfare and then, of course, you have lunch and it’s all there in front of you, and I thought, I should go the whole hog, so to speak. So I made that decision and kept that during the shooting. When I came back, I got involved with PETA, and of course, the film opened and it was very successful”.

The actor became involved with PETA’s campaign rescuing pigs from school 4-H programs, and he also appeared in a video that features a hidden-camera investigation at a pork supplier that he claims is used by Walmart.

As reported by the Guardian, in the video presented by animal rights group Mercy For Animals, Cromwell details a hidden-camera investigation which he says has uncovered “torture” at a pork supplier in Minnesota, used by America’s best-known retailer.

In February 2013, James Cromwell was arrested at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, for protesting about a school study that the animal rights group PETA says involves “abusive experiments” of cats. He was arrested for the second time in 2015, while protesting against the construction of a power station in Wawayanda, New York, near his home in Warwick. Last year he was among 18 others arrested during a protest against an energy company near Seneca Lake.

Babe inspired Cromwell to take ethical actions for the rights and well-being of animals through his diet and activism.

“I decided that to be able to talk about this [movie] with conviction, I needed to become a vegetarian,” he told the Vegetarian Times in 1998.

By Goran  Blazeski 

Eugene Allen: The African American butler who served under eight presidents, invited to state dinner by the Reagans


Eugene Allen was born in 1919 in the town of Scottsville on a Virginia plantation and grew up during the horrific time of Southern segregation. He first worked as a waiter at a Virginia resort and later, in Washington, D.C., during the Great Depression, he found a job at a country club. In 1942, he met his future wife, Helen,  whom he married the following year and they had a son named Charles.

It was in the early 1950s when Allen was told about a job opening in the White House. At the time he was satisfied with his employment at the Washington country club, however, he decided to give it a try and the interviewer immediately liked him. He got the job and in the beginning worked as a pantry worker, a job that included cleaning silverware, dishwashing, and stocking, but he was eventually promoted to the position of butler.

In the course of his work, for 34 years Allen served under eight U.S. presidents, beginning with Harry S. Truman. Allen, who went by the nickname Gene, had a down to earth, unassuming persona and was respected by many. He was a trustworthy person who, without seeking it out, had intimate knowledge of the inner affairs of the White House. Reportedly, he witnessed first-hand both offensive as well as respectful presidential remarks regarding race, and over time he observed the growing presence of African-Americans among the executive staff.

Moreover, he became highly aware of the changing perspective on race in political arenas. Honoring the people around him with impeccable service, he became entwined in notable moments in history.

Eugene Allen with the Reagans

During his service, Allen met famous people like the composer Duke Ellington and civil right leader Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the presidents. With some of the presidents, he went on journeys while with others he shared personal occasions, such as a birthday party with Gerald Ford as they were born on the same day. After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Allen was invited to the funeral; however, he chose to carry on with his duties, staying at the White House to serve the attendees as they arrived from the funeral service. Nevertheless, he was quite affected by Kennedy’s death. His son recalled, “My father came home late on the day that President Kennedy had been shot. But then he got up and put his coat back on. He said, ‘I’ve got to go back to work.’ But in the hallway, he fell against the wall and started crying. That was the first time in my life I had ever seen my father cry.”

During the Reagan Administration, he was promoted to maître d’hôtel, the most prestigious rank of butlers who serve in the White House. That same year, First Lady Nancy Reagan invited him and his wife to attend a state dinner for the West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Helen was quite nervous because she thought that she didn’t know how to make small talk with the invited guests, but her son Charles encouraged her.

Eugene Allen retired as the head butler in 1986. His life story and character were the inspiration for the idea and storyline of Lee Daniels’ film The Butler in 2013. The film is only partly based on the real Allen.

The north (top) and south (bottom) sides of the White House in Washington, DC Author:(top) Cezary p (bottom) MattWade CC BY-SA 3.0

Both Allen and his wife were Obama supporters but Helen died shortly before Obama won the presidential election in 2008. Prior to Obama’s inauguration, Allen received a VIP invitation, which he gladly accepted and later cried when he watched the ceremony.

Allen died in 2010, due to kidney failure, at the age of 90 in Takoma Park, Maryland.

By  Magda Origjanska