When Drought Reigns, Diets Can Turn Poisonous

This time of year, most of the Western world is focusing on holiday indulgences: how many presents to buy, how many lights and candles to festoon the home, and how many sweets and feasts to offer family and friends. However, for many people in drought-stricken Africa, food and water will be in perilously short supply this season. So short, in fact, that some people in Ethiopia are already making the grass pea—a cousin of the sweet pea—a dietary staple.

Although that sounds benign, it could be dangerous. Ordinarily, herders plant this legume as forage for their livestock. And in small quantities, the grass peas—the plant’s seeds—are safe ingredients of recipes of cuisines from Afghan to Chinese. As such, the legume serves as a low-cost base for stews, breads, and gruel. However, when eaten to excess—as happens in arid Ethiopia and many other regions of the world when drought persists—grass-pea consumption may lead to permanent paralysis because the seeds contain an unusual neurotoxin.


Tooling Up for Hydroponics

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