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Gates Foundation: The Story of Food

Random thoughts I have while looking at sweet potatoes:

"You'd look great as a plate of fries."

"Honestly, who was the first to decide to put marshmallows all over you?"


"Wait. Are these yams?"

A thought I have never had: This type of potato saves lives.

As it turns out, they might actually do just that.

Image via iStock.

Welsy Anena's mother is convinced that orange sweet potatoes saved her daughter's life.  

Not in a "thanks for the side dish, I was so hungry!" kind of way. In an actual life-saving way.

Her daughter, Welsy, had been so sick as a baby, and in and out of a Ugandan hospital — sometimes in such serious condition, her mom didn't know if she'd even make it. But when her baby started being fed orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, her health turned around and now she's a vibrant, healthier kid. Whoa.

Her mom's story isn't the only one that depicts sweet potatoes as an edible hero.

You see, Welsy suffered from Vitamin A deficiency — the leading cause of preventable blindness in developing countries. In Uganda, 1 out of every 3 kids under 5 suffers from Vitamin A deficiency, resulting in almost 30,000 child deaths every year. And that's just in one country.

Orange sweet potatoes can help.

Image via International Potato Center, used with permission.

While orange sweet potatoes are common in the United States, they are very new in Africa.

For hundreds of years, Africans have had their own version of a sweet potato: white and yellow in color, very starchy and firm, and frankly, a terrible source of vitamin A.

That's a heavy contrast from the type of sweet potatoes we find in our grocery stores in the U.S., where they are carrot-colored and known for their vitamins and nutrients, especially their vitamin A.

Researchers had an idea: If orange sweet potatoes combat vitamin A deficiency, what would happen if they could get communities to eat them instead?

Maybe it could help prevent blindness and death in kids. They're finding out.

For the past 15 years, the International Potato Center (CIP) has been leading the way on introducing the orange-fleshed sweet potato in Africa.

Image via the International Potato Center, used with permission.

It's been an adventure and easier said than done. Africans initially scoffed at the idea of orange sweet potatoes. No way. The potatoes had a weird texture and weren't what they were used to eating. They were also grown differently from their traditional type of sweet potatoes. All signs pointed to no. Can you blame them?

The research team from CIP took note and developed a starchier version of the orange sweet potato that still contained more vitamin A than other potatoes, but tasted more in line with what Africans were accustomed to.

Once they had the potato how they wanted it, they had to get people to want to eat it.

They created widespread marketing campaigns that, according to Smithsonian magazine, included radio advertisements and visits to villages in vehicles with sweet potatoes painted on the side.

They traveled around the region teaching about the sweet potato's nutrition.

Image via the International Potato Center, used with permission.

And showed the power of eating them through pictures and words.

Image via the International Potato Center, used with permission.

They made sure to have a big presence at exhibitions and community-wide events.

Image via the International Potato Center, used with permission.

Children's songs were written and performed about the potatoes.

Image via the International Potato Center, used with permission.

The campaign worked. And it's still working today.

Today, the orange-fleshed sweet potato has reached 2.2 million households, which amounts to roughly 10 million people in Africa.

Scientists are super optimistic at the ability to reduce vitamin A deficiency through this new exposure to the potato. They project that by 2023, 30 million children could be saved from blindness and death because of it.

"We have evidence that  eating 125g of orange-flesh sweet potato provides a child the amount of vitamin A required to prevent blindness from vitamin A deficiency," wrote Joel Ranck, head of communications for the CIP, in an email."125g is about the size of one small sweetpotato."

It's no wonder the research team, comprised of Dr. Jan Low, Maria Andrade, and Robert Mwanga from the CIP, and Howarth Bouis of Harvest Plus, just won the 2016 World Food Prize for their work on this initiative. Bravo!

Image via the International Potato Center, used with permission.

Together they have built new excitement and hope surrounding child nutrition and preventable blindness in the 14 countries where the orange-flesh sweet potato is now available, with more countries to come.

Agnes Amony, a Ugandan farmer told Harvest Plus, "I began feeding my child on these nutritious foods following the knowledge I attained in the recommended feeding practices for children under five. My child began gaining weight steadily and I am in no doubt that these foods have saved my child’s life. I am forever grateful and will never stop feeding my child on these food crops."

Every step counts. Or, in this case, every bite.

See more on how the orange-flesh sweet potato could, in fact, change the world:

Brandon Conway sounds remarkably like Michael Jackson when he sings.

When Michael Jackson died 13 years ago, the pop music world lost a legend. However markedly mysterious and controversial his personal life was, his contributions to music will go down in history as some of the most influential of all time.

Part of what made him such a beloved singer was the uniqueness of his voice. From the time he was a young child singing lead for The Jackson 5, his high-pitched vocals stood out. Hearing him sing live was impressive, his pitch-perfect performances always entertaining.

No one could ever really be compared to MJ, or so we thought. Out of the blue, a guy showed up on TikTok recently with a casual performance that sounds so much like the King of Pop it's blowing people away.

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Bobby McFerrin demonstrated the power of the pentatonic scale without saying a word.

Bobby McFerrin is best known for his hit song “Don’t Worry Be Happy,” which showcased his one-man vocal and body percussion skills (and got stuck in our heads for years). But his musicality extends far beyond the catchy pop tune that made him a household name. The things he can do with his voice are unmatched and his range of musical styles and genres is impressive.

The Kennedy Center describes him: “With a four-octave range and a vast array of vocal techniques, Bobby McFerrin is no mere singer; he is music's last true Renaissance man, a vocal explorer who has combined jazz, folk and a multitude of world music influences - choral, a cappella, and classical music - with his own ingredients.”

McFerrin is also a music educator, and one of his most memorable lessons is a simple, three-minute interactive demonstration in which he doesn’t say a single word.

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1989 video brings back strong memories for Gen Xers who came of age in the '80s.

It was the year we saw violence in Tiananmen Square and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. The year we got Meg Ryan in "When Harry Met Sally" and Michael Keaton in Tim Burton's "Batman." The year "Seinfeld" and "The Simpsons" debuted on TV, with no clue as to how successful they would become. The year that gave us New Kids on the Block and Paula Abdul while Madonna and Janet Jackson were enjoying their heyday.

The jeans were pegged, the shoulders were padded and the hair was feathered and huge. It was 1989—the peak of Gen X youth coming of age.

A viral video of a group of high school students sitting at their desks in 1989—undoubtedly filmed by some geeky kid in the AV club who probably went on to found an internet startup—has gone viral across social media, tapping straight into Gen X's memory banks. For those of us who were in high school at the time, it's like hopping into a time machine.

The show "Stranger Things" has given young folks of today a pretty good glimpse of that era, but if you want to see exactly what the late '80s looked like for real, here it is:

Oh so many mullets. And the Skid Row soundtrack is just the icing on this nostalgia cake. (Hair band power ballads were ubiquitous, kids.)

I swear I went to high school with every person in this video. Like, I couldn't have scripted a more perfect representation of my classmates (which is funny considering that this video came from Paramus High School in New Jersey and I went to high school on the opposite side of the country).

Comments have poured in on Reddit from both Gen Xers who lived through this era and those who have questions.

First, the confirmations:

"Can confirm. I was a freshman that year, and not only did everyone look exactly like this (Metallica shirt included), I also looked like this. 😱😅"

"I graduated in ‘89, and while I didn’t go to this school, I know every person in this room."

"It's like I can virtually smell the AquaNet and WhiteRain hairspray from here...."

"I remember every time you went to the bathroom you were hit with a wall of hairspray and when the wind blew you looked like you had wings."

Then the observations about how differently we responded to cameras back then.

"Also look how uncomfortable our generation was in front of the camera! I mean I still am! To see kids now immediately pose as soon as a phone is pointed at them is insanity to me 🤣"

"Born in 84 and growing up in the late 80’s and 90’s, it’s hard to explain to younger people that video cameras weren’t everywhere and you didn’t count on seeing yourself in what was being filmed. You just smiled and went on with your life."

Which, of course, led to some inevitable "ah the good old days" laments:

"Life was better before the Internet. There, I said it."

"Not a single cell phone to be seen. Oh the freedom."

"It's so nice to be reminded what life was like before cell phones absorbed and isolated social gatherings."

But perhaps the most common response was how old those teens looked.

"Why do they all look like they're in their 30's?"

"Everyone in this video is simultaneously 17 and 49 years old."

"Now we know why they always use 30 y/o actors in high school movies."

As some people pointed out, there is an explanation for why they look old to us. It has more to do with how we interpret the fashion than how old they actually look.

Ah, what a fun little trip down memory lane for those of us who lived it. (Let's just all agree to never bring back those hairstyles, though, k?)