By Victoria Jaggard, SCIENCE Executive Editor
When I was still on the dating scene, I used to say that being vegetarian was a deal-breaker. I express love through food, and my cooking repertoire is built on a solid, meaty foundation: roast chicken, beef stew, chorizo con huevos y papas. So of course, I fell in love with a man who has been vegetarian since birth. Finding ways to adapt my favorite recipes for vegetarian needs has been a delightful and often delicious challenge, and I’ve loved learning new recipes to round out the menu. Apparently, that skill has prepared me well not only for my marriage, but also for surviving during a pandemic.
The U.S. is seeing products dwindle and prices rise for beef, pork, and other common meats as domestic processing plants and our global suppliers grapple with the coronavirus. Crucially, this is a huge safety concern for the people who work in these plants, many of which have become outbreak hot-spots. “This is an industry that’s not used to social distancing,” Ben Brown of Ohio State University tells our Sarah Gibbens. “When you start spreading [employees] out, you slow down the output.”
In a poll conducted by National Geographic and Morning Consult, 33 percent of Americans surveyed say they are preparing more meatless meals because of higher prices and limited options at grocery stores. Younger Americans are more likely to be exploring vegetarian options, with 43 percent of those between 18 and 34 saying they are adjusting their menus. Just a quarter of older Americans—26 percent of respondents over 65—say they are going meatless more often.
The problem isn’t entirely confined to meat, of course (pictured above, harvesting lettuce in California); dairy products, eggs, lettuce, and my beloved potatoes are also going to waste right now as the pandemic exposes many vulnerabilities in our national food supply chains. Booming business at local farms and Community Supported Agriculture offer some bright spots, but it’s clear that large-scale agriculture is at a crossroads.
In the long run, experts hope the pandemic will spur development of better contingency plans, since even after the pandemic passes, large farms will still be dealing with disruptions from climate change and international trade policies. And in the short term, it’s not the worst thing for public safety, the climate, and general health to get creative in the kitchen and to add more vegetarian dinners to the family meal plan.
Do you get this daily? If not, sign up here or forward to a friend.
Your Instagram photo of the day
Vertical green: How do you get greenery in a compact space? Go up! One hotel in Singapore, the Parkroyal Collection, contains over 15,000 square meters (almost four acres) of greenery, amounting to twice its land area. The Singapore Green Plan promotes conservation of natural resources and the use of green technology, says photographer Lucas Foglia, and nature is being reincorporated into the city. Foglia explored the benefits of designing with nature for a National Geographic article.
Subscriber exclusive: This is your brain on nature
Are you one of our 137 million Instagram followers? (If not, follow us now.)
Today in a minute
Landslide: Distant earthquakes have set up scores of undersea landslides in recent years in the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico, which can lead to significant leaks from offshore drilling, a new study shows. The frequency of the avalanches is much higher than previously recognized, raising concerns about the region’s nearly 2,000 offshore oil platforms as well as tens of thousands of miles of oil and gas pipelines. Most startling: Nearly 90 percent of the landslides occurred within minutes of an earthquake that had taken place more than 600 miles away, Maddie Stone reports for Nat Geo.
From grains of hail: That’s how Jupiter’s biggest moons formed, says a new study. Two researchers argue that gas giant planets Jupiter and Saturn had trapped in their orbits millimeter-size grains of hail produced during the solar system’s formation, the New York Times reports. Those grains coalesced into lunar bodies that today are considered potentially habitable.
R.I.P. Annie Glenn: When her husband became the first American to orbit Earth, Annie Glenn was thrust into the spotlight. She had a severe stutter. Her work to overcome it—and advocacy for people with speech and hearing impairment—inspired generations to follow. Glenn died of COVID-19 complications on Tuesday, the Associated Press reports. She was 100.
Sci fi to science: It launched from Florida. It carried three men to the moon. It splashed down in the Pacific. These details came from an 1865 novel by Jules Verne, but they inspired real-life space journeys, our latest science video shows.
This week in the night sky
Sunset planet show: About 30 minutes after sunset Thursday and Friday, look toward the low western sky for an impressive close encounter between the two innermost planets, Venus and Mercury. They will appear closest together about 45 minutes to an hour after sunset on May 21, when they will be separated by about one arc-degree—equal to the width of your little finger or index finger held at arm’s length. Binoculars will help you hunt down Mercury in the sunset glow, but it should be visible to your unaided eye once you know where to look next to super-bright Venus. If you can train a backyard telescope on the cosmic pair, you will notice a dramatic contrasting view between the two planets. Mercury will appear as a tiny version of the gibbous moon, while right next to it will be a much larger, razor-thin crescent Venus. —Andrew Fazekas
Subscriber exclusive: What Hubble is still giving us, long past its expiration date
The big takeaway
Clues to life beyond Earth: Explorers have chosen one of the deepest spots of the Pacific’s Mariana Trench to find types of organisms that could survive inhospitable places in space. Some of the microbes they are targeting appear to feed off chemicals produced when seafloor rocks react with water, Nadia Drake reports for Nat Geo. “It’s a glimpse of how life might exist billions of miles away from us, right now,” says filmmaker and National Geographic Explorer James Cameron. Above, a scanning electron microscopy image shows a sample from the Sirena Deep portion of the trench, in which fine-scale filaments can be seen in association with carbon-rich structures, interpreted as possible evidence of microbial groups.
In a few words
Did a friend forward this newsletter?
On Thursday, Rachael Bale covers the latest in animal news. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Whitney Johnson on photography, Debra Adams Simmons on history, and George Stone on travel.
Created by fire: Forty years ago, after the deadliest volcano eruption in the United States, a glacier formed in the shadows inside the crater of Mount St. Helens in Washington State. Scientists—and photographer Eric Guth—have explored its icy depths. “As the volcano belches out its heat,” writes Nat Geo’s Craig Welch, “gassy fumaroles melt vertical shafts, dome-shaped amphitheaters, and horizontal passageways through the overlying ice.” Above, a caver deploys a smoke flare in the recesses of one cave. Below, people emerge from a glacier cave in which Guth and the expedition team were forced to spend the night. Low ground cover had prevented a helicopter from landing.