Has Tobacco Ever Been Cultivated as a Food Source?

iStock/DanBrandenburg
iStock/DanBrandenburg

One of the most profitable American crops is something you won’t find in the produce aisle. Though tobacco production has declined in recent years, the crop still abundant, with farmers in the U.S. growing more than 710 million pounds of the plant in 2017. Tobacco is surprisingly nutritious—but it's also toxic in its pure state, which is why throughout its history, humans have been more interested in the plant as something to smoke rather than something to eat.

Native Americans discovered the psychoactive effects of nicotine relatively early in human history. The oldest archaeological evidence of tobacco residue in a smoke pipe dates back 3000 years ago—around the same time people in modern Alabama, where the pipe was found, began cultivating foods like sunflower and squash. It's even possible that the desire to grow tobacco spurred agriculture in the area, even though it was never a food source.

We know why Native Americans cultivated the plant—smoking it played an important role in sacred rituals—but how they learned it was something that was enjoyable to smoke in the first place is less clear. It may be that South American herbalists stumbled upon its dopamine-boosting effects when studying plant life in their environment. In order to know which plants were poisonous and which had medicinal benefits, herbalists experimented with every plant they could find, and after sniffing ground-up tobacco leaves they may have realized it was something special. Another possibility is that someone came across a wild tobacco plant that had caught fire accidentally and discovered the pleasure of inhaling the smoke that way.

Tobacco gained new levels of popularity when the first European explorers arrived on American shores in the 15th and 16th centuries. Native tribes shared tobacco pipes with the visitors and gave them the dried leaves and seeds to take home with them. In 1612, John Rolfe planted the first commercial tobacco crop in Virginia, and with scientific evidence of the dire health risks still centuries away, recreational tobacco use spread across the world.

People have chewed, smoked, and snorted tobacco to reap the desired effects, but it's never been common to eat it. European colonists at Jamestown cultivated the plant before they started growing other crops, and following a winter when two-thirds of the residents starved to death, authorities mandated that farmers must grow food in addition to tobacco.

Though it isn't a produce item, tobacco does have some impressive nutritional qualities. The plant contains Fraction-1-protein (F-1-p): a type of protein that's odorless, colorless, and non-allergenic with a cholesterol-lowering amino acid composition. Tobacco F-1-p has proven more beneficial than the same protein extracted from soy, corn, and dairy, and it may be one of the healthiest proteins found in nature.

Unfortunately, tobacco also contains the toxic chemical nicotine (a natural pesticide) which negates any nutritional properties it has. Even if someone tried to eat the leaves in their raw state, they would get sick or possibly even die from nicotine poisoning. That's why when European colonists were starving to death, they didn't try turning their tobacco crops into salads.

Today the dangers of tobacco are indisputable, but the crop has the potential to save lives as a food source. When extracted from the plant, tobacco F-1-p is completely safe to consume, and it can be cheaply sourced from the many farms already growing tobacco around the world. Though the nutritional benefits of tobacco have been known for years, it's still an untapped resource—largely thanks to the stigma attached to the crop.

What’s the Difference Between Crocheting and Knitting?

djedzura/iStock via Getty Images
djedzura/iStock via Getty Images

With blustery days officially upon us, the most pressing question about your sweaters, scarves, hats, and mittens is probably: “Are these keeping me warm?” If you’re a DIY enthusiast, or just a detail-oriented person in general, your next question might be: “Were these knitted or crocheted?”

Knitting and crocheting are both calming crafts that involve yarn, produce cozy garments and other items, and can even boost your mental well-being. Having said that, they do have a few specific differences.

To knit, you need needles. The size, material, and number of those needles depends on the project; though most traditional garments are made using two needles, it’s also possible to knit with just one needle, or as many as five. But regardless of the other variables, one or both ends of your knitting needles will always be pointed.

While crocheting calls for a similar long, thin tool that varies in size and material, it has a hooked end—and you only ever need one. According to The Spruce Crafts, even if you hear people refer to the tool as a crochet needle, they’re really talking about a crochet hook.

crotchet hook and garment
jessicacasetorres/iStock via Getty Images

Part of the reason you only use one hook brings us to the next difference between crocheting and knitting: When crocheting, there’s only one “active loop” on your hook at any given time, whereas knitting entails lining up loops down the length of your needles and passing them between needles. The blog Darn Good Yarn explains that since each loop is attached to a long row of stitches, accidentally “dropping” one off the end of your needle might unravel the entire row.

Of course, you have a better chance of avoiding that type of manual error if you’re using a knitting machine or loom, which both exist. Crocheting, on the other hand, has to be done by hand. Since machines can create garments with extremely small stitches, some knit clothes can be much more lightweight or close-fitting than anything you’d be able to crochet—and knitted clothes can also be mass-produced.

When it comes to what the items actually look like, crochet stitches characteristically look more like knots, while knit stitches seem flatter and less bulky. However, materials and techniques have come a long way over the years, and now there’s more crossover between what you’re able to knit and crochet. According to The Spruce Crafts, socks and T-shirts—traditionally both garments that would be knitted—can now technically be crocheted.

knitting needles and garment
Sedan504/iStock via Getty Images

And, believe it or not, knitting and crocheting can even be used to depict complicated mathematical concepts: see what a crocheted hyperbolic plane, Lorenz manifold, and more look like here.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

What Happens to Leftover Campaign Funds When a Candidate Drops Out?

After nearly one year of campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, Kamala Harris has officially bowed out of the 2020 election. She's not the only would-be president to call it quits so far. So what happens to all the leftover campaign funds when a candidate drops out?

One thing's for sure: Upset candidates can't console themselves by putting the dough toward a new yacht and sailing off to recuperate. The Federal Election Commission has strict rules about what federal candidates can and can't do with leftover campaign money, and the biggest directive is that they can't pocket it for personal use.

Here's what a campaign committee is allowed to do with any lingering cash: it can donate the funds to charities or political parties; it can contribute $2000 per election to other candidates; and it can save the money in case the candidate chooses to run again. However, those regulations don't apply to the relatively new super PACs (Political Action Committees); this is only the third election where they have played a role, and there are currently no rules to stipulate what happens to that money beyond that it cannot go to fund another federal candidate. Much of that money tends to be returned to its original donors, used to wrap up the failed campaign, or donated to back a state-level candidate. The goal, however, is always to spend all of that money.

Running a campaign is an expensive proposition—Barack Obama spent nearly $750 million on his 2008 White House bid, and in 2012 he spent $985 million on reelection while challenger Mitt Romney spent $992 million—and insufficient cash is often a reason campaigns go belly up.

As for winning (or sometimes losing) politicians, they'll often put their leftover funds toward their next race. If they choose not to run, they have to abide by the same FEC rules. Wonder why this law is in effect? Until 1993, U.S. Representatives who took office before January 8, 1980, were allowed to keep any leftover campaign cash when they retired, but a study showed that a third of Congress kept and spent millions in campaign donations on personal items like clothing, jewelry, artwork, personal travel, and dry cleaning. Embarrassed, Congress passed a law negating this custom for the House; the Senate already had provisions in place so this wouldn't happen.

In reality though, officials can usually find a way to make that cash still work for them (and state laws differ from federal ones). After Chris Christie won reelection as New Jersey's governor in 2014, his campaign was granted permission to use some of its remaining war chest to cover the legal fees Christie incurred during the Bridgegate scandal. And this was well before he dropped $26.7 million on his failed 2016 presidential bid.

An earlier version of this article originally ran in 2012.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER