Featured Video Play Icon

    Episode 34: UA Science Dean Joaquin Ruiz & Author Megan Kimble

    Airdate: June 21, 2015

    UA College of Science Dean Joaquin Ruiz lays down some science about climate change research, space missions, the Biosphere and other cool stuff happening at the UA. Then author and Edible Baja Arizona editor Megan Kimble talks about her new book, Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food.

    Here’s a transcript of the show:

    Hello, everyone. I’m Tucson Weekly senior writer Jim Nintzel, your host for Zona Politics. We’re veering off into science again, today, with my special guest, Joaquin Ruiz, the dean of the U of A College of Science Dean Ruiz oversees an award-winning team of scientists who are looking at everything from the tiny building blocks of atoms to monstrous black holes that are 13 billion light years away. Joaquin, thanks for joining us here on Zona Politics

     

    (Ruiz) It’s a pleasure to be here.

     

    (Nintzel) I’m constantly amazed by the stuff that comes out of the College of Science. Are there days where people come up to you and tell you something that just blows your mind?

     

    (Ruiz) Every day So the best part of my job is the conversations I have with faculty members about what they’re doing, and then finding ways to connect them with other folks who are doing similar things to make it even better But you’re right, it’s really extraordinary what happens in this college and in this university.

    (Nintzel) Talk a little bit about the impact of the College of Science on our local community.

     

    (Ruiz) I’m not an economist, so I can’t tell you the exact numbers and multipliers, but I can tell you that the budget that we have from the state in the College of Science is about $80 million, and we bring in a total of about almost $200 million worth of research every year That means that we employ people with federal funds that come and buy houses and things in the supermarket, it’s extraordinary.

     

    (Nintzel) and you’re working with some of the private sectors in the bio-sciences and all of that stuff that’s starting to …

     

    (Ruiz) That’s right. We have a strong partnerships with Ventana, in particular Sanofi, and of course Raytheon We’ve been doing some work with TEP, and I just wish there was more industry around that we could actually work with them because otherwise, we’re connected with Lockheed, and we’re connected with Exxon and we’re connected with the auto industry.

     

    (Nintzel) And there’s a real hunger to learn about science in this community. You do this lecture series every year. You fill up Centennial Hall. Why do you think this community’s so interested in science?

     

    (Ruiz) I don’t know, but I love it. Our community is a very wonderful place The first year that I did the lecture series which you’re alluding to, which is now ten years ago, we were hoping we would get 200 people in the room, and even that first year, by the end of the year, we had a thousand people coming to the lectures, and now, every lecture we have has 2,000 people, I mean we’re packed at Centennial Hall.

     

    I think part of it is that there are a lot of engineers and a lot of scientists that somehow know about Tucson and like it And they come and retire, and you look up most of the people that come to the lecture series they’re retired folks. So we have a subset of individuals that like Tucson and that learned about Tucson either because they work in Raytheon or the in the Air Force or whatever, and come and live here and they’re just thirsty for science.

     

    (Nintzel) Let’s talk a little bit about climate change. I keep seeing these glaciers melting, all this footage out there and it gets me a little worried. what do we know about where climate change is at this point.

     

    (Ruiz) Well, I mean we know a lot, and one of the disappointing things that comes back to haunt us is one, how little we know how to communicate, the scientists to the community because there’s still this feeling in the community that global climate change within the scientific community is still a big, raging debate. where it’s not.

     

    The consensus in the community that does climate change knows that it’s real, that the Earth is warming up, that the consequences of global climate change, the hammer of global climate change is water. Some places there’s going to be more water, other places less water and I think that the raging debates right now is not whether it’s happening or not, or whether humankind had something to do with it or not because we know that the answer to that is also “yes” , the raging debates are exactly what’s going to happen.

     

    The details of whether we have hurricanes this year, whether we can that’s because of growing climate change The details of the changes of global climate change and the rate of change is where the discussions are because our models are still cranking those data out So, as an example of that.

     

    I think that the change the rate of change in global climate change we see now was not expected to be that quick. ten years ago. So it’s actually worse than what we expected it to be when we first understood what was going on. So the rate of change is very fast. Now we’re all alarmed, in fact about how quickly the glaciers are melting. We’re alarmed about how quickly the ice sea of the North Pole is just sort of disappearing. So the changes are faster than we expected them to be.

     

    (Nintzel) And there was this recent discovery that maybe … there had been some thought that there might have been a pause because of the average global temperatures, and now scientists are saying maybe they made a mistake and there wasn’t a pause in the increase, and it has to do with temperatures taken out at sea.

     

    (Ruiz) That’s right. The challenge still is, there are a lot of the measurements that we’re that are global are by satellites, and in fact, the understanding how to correct for a bunch of stuff these measurements so that we can get global averages is a bit of a challenge so, at first these folks thought that it was also the seed stuff, but, again, it’s the measurements that we do that are global that we have the debates within the scientific community as to whether we’re getting the right data or not, because there have to be corrections, but, if you just go outside and you have your thermometers and you look at the historical data of warming, there is no doubt about the warming, period.

     

    (Nintzel) And, uh, is there something that can be done? To slow it down or reverse it?

     

    (Ruiz) Sure. The clearly to slow it down, we need to get rid of what we call greenhouse gases, alright? And I’d like to take a moment to just say that one of the problems we’ve had is that these gases aren’t like a glass that’s keeping the heat in the earth CO 2, methane, even water, what happens is that you get UV coming from space trapped by these molecules, and the molecules kick up heat, and that’s why small amounts of changes in the amount of these molecules in the atmosphere make such a big difference because there’s an amplifying effect of how they do that.

     

    The only way really that we could stop the earth from keeping warming up is if we get rid of these gases that are heating up the earth, or we cover it up with some stuff so that the sun rays aren’t as effectively hitting the earth as they are now, and all these have been discussed I mean, geoengineering, there’s a lot of discussion, now, as to whether we should be shooting some things like sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere to sort of stop the rays from coming in. All of this so there’s a tremendous amount of discussion, now, which was not happening even five years ago about how to slow it down Either through geoengineering as it’s called, but we need to stop producing these gases that are what we call greenhouse gases.

     

    (Nintzel) Let’s talk about outer space, the Osiris-reX project. You’re going on an asteroid hunt. We had Dr. Loretta in here a few weeks ago, but for folks who didn’t see that show explain this OSIRIS-REx project.

     

    (Ruiz) Well it’s actually quite exciting. Let me just take a minute to explain why it’s so important. We know from modeling when the earth was formed 4.5 billion years ago, that there was a long period when the Earth was being, when the whole solar system was being bombarded by very hard objects. We see evidence of that in planets that are dead or moons that are dead. So we look at our moon, we see all these craters. We don’t see them on the earth because we have erosion, we have water and they’ve all been, sort of gone away, but there was a period around 3.8 billion years ago where there were all these pieces of rock banging against all kinds of planets. Some of them …

    We believe that the Earth was hit by an object that was the size of Mars at least once. And when that happened, the earth was molten, or at least the surface of the Earth was molten, and we believe that early in the Earth’s history, when in one of these events, all the carbon was basically dissipated. It all sort of went away. So there’s a theory that the carbon that you and I are made out of was implanted in the earth after the earth was formed. So we’re all Martians. How about that? for diversity.

     

    So the question, but if you look at the carbon in the earth, there’s no way of getting at the primal primordial carbon of the Earth, because it gets ruined by bacteria and so on so we don’t really know what’s really there. So Dante and his co-principal investigator, a very good friend of mine that has now died created this proposal to NASA to go to an asteroid that’s rich in carbon collect the soil from the asteroid, and bring it back to the Earth so we can analyze it without it being contaminated, and that’s what that that’s all about, and then we can try to understand, really how Earth how life began on Earth.

     

    (Nintzel) It’s a long-term project that you launch in September

     

    (Ruiz) In September you’re invited to come to Cape Kennedy and watch the thing take off.

     

    (Nintzel) I’m gonna get my ticket right now

     

    (Ruiz) Please do that

     

    (Nintzel) I’m on board!

     

    How likely is it we’re going to get hit by an asteroid before we kill ourselves with global warming.

     

    (Ruiz) Oh, well, I don’t know. I mean, there are various ways of answering that question. We know that an asteroid hit the earth, the latest one that was big enough, about 6 million years ago, wiped out all the dinosaurs That was a good thing. Because at that point, mammals were basically snicker bars for dinosaurs. When the dinosaurs died then mammals sort of took over. But that was 60 million years ago.

     

    There was another event about 200 million years ago that wiped out about 95 percent of all the species on the earth. We don’t exactly know what that was, but we do think it was an asteroid as well. So, every so often, there is an asteroid that hits the earth that can make a mess of things. The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs was only six miles wide. I mean it’s not like it was big, but can you imagine something even bigger.

     

    And we are looking at the sky constantly to make sure that something like that doesn’t come our way, and there are all kinds of models of how and all kinds of people who worry about it, we actually discovered such a thing what would we do. And that’s an hour’s worth of conversation.

     

    (Nintzel)The U of A has a long history with the space program. You go way back to the start of when the nation started sending rockets up in space.

     

    (Ruiz) Well, right, I mean the big program for the university of ARizona, which, by the way, we bring in more money from NASA than any other university in the Country. It all started with a program by a gentleman called Kuyper who mapped the surface of the moon so that people from the Apollo mission knew where to land. That was the beginning of the strength of the program at the U of A in planetary sciences

     

    (Nintzel) And you still have a camera in orbit around Mars. ….. snapshots of the HiRISE.

     

    (Ruiz) That’s exactly right, and interestingly enough when we did the Phoenix mission to land on Mars the HiRISE which is a satellite that’s going around taking pictures of the mapping Mars, the original place that was chosen to land it when it was actually mapped by the HiRISE was basically a boulder field. The chances of that succeeding would have been zero if they actually went where they were thinking of going.

     

    (Nintzel) You guys purchased the Biosphere a few years back. How is that going.

     

    (Ruiz) It’s terrific! It’s interesting. What I like to tell people that like to listen or are afficionados of science is that what makes the U of A certainly unique is that we specialize in big science telescopes, going to mars, and with the Biosphere we’ve expanded our portfolio of big science into the environment. So we have now a program at the biosphere called the Landscape Evolution Observatory. It’s a ten-year program a fantastic project that was developed by atmospheric scientists, hydrologists, geoscientists.

     

    What happens to water in semi-arid environments as global climate change progresses. The question is very simple If you look at Tucson, for example, and we believe the models that come our way at what’s going to happen atmospheric scientists are pretty much convinced that the winter rain is going to go away. Because that’s an easy sort of model. The jetstream in the Pacific is going to move north, and it’s going to leave us hot and dry.

     

    The monsoons are more complicated because the system is very complicated. There’s water from the Pacific and water from the Gulf of Mexico and they don’t understand it very well. So some argue it’s going to rain more, some argue it’s going to rain less, some argue it’s going to rain more but in shorter periods. Anyway, if we lose the winter rains, the ecology that we live in and we love is going to change, because the plants that we have in our desert require not only a certain amount of rain, but a certain periodicity of rain, and if they change then, let’s assume we have a grassland instead of having a mesquite forest then, when it rains, the amount of rain that goes underground the amount of rain that runs off, the amount of rain that washes everything out is different.

     

    So trying to understand the available water that’s going to be around as vegetation changes is critical, and I think we’re the only program in the country that has a facility of the scale of the Biosphere where we can actually do experiements that really mean something. That by the time you do the experiement to really know what’s going on and not try to scale up from a ? to something very large

     

    (Nintzel) We’re just about out of time but I didn’t want to leave without mentioning that you recently lost a member of your College of Science Family, Raphael Sagarin struck by a truck driver out on Oracle Road.

     

    (Ruiz) That’s right. A tragedy. Ray was the leader in trying to figure out how to best use the ocean of the biosphere so that we could do research in the Quality of the Landscape Evolution Observatory and he not only left a big hole in the leadership of that, but he left a big hole in our hearts because he was a wonderful man.

     

    (Nintzel) It’s a very terrible loss Dean Joaquin Ruiz, I’m very sorry and I’m sure he will be missed There’s lots more we could talk about but we’re going to have to leave it there.

     

    MEGAN KIMBLE

     

    (Nintzel) Coming up next, Megan Kimble, author of “Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food.”

     

    (Kimble) I’m Megan Kimble, and I’m the author of “Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food.” A little over three years ago I set myself a challenge: one year without processed food This challenge took me on a journey into my kitchen and through our food system. There were a lot of reasons I stopped eating processed food, but the three main reasons were environmental, economic and health So what makes food processed. Part of what makes something like produce processed is how it’s grown. You have two melons side by side. They look the same. But a study shows that 60% of conventional produce, even after it’s washed, has pesticide residue

     

    Another way produce is processed is how it gets to you. There’s an enormous infrastructure of cold storage that moves produce from places like Chile to places like Tucson or Montana, and that requires a huge amount of resources. On the other hand, consider a watermelon from down the street. It goes into a farmer’s truck to a farmer’s market and maybe will sit in cold storage for a day before you get to it so, you look at any label in a supermarket soy lecithin is an emulsifier that is on a lot of these ingredient labels Okay, so what is an emulsifier? What is soy lecithin? If you have questions about all of these components, it’s probably processed. That sort of engineering creates a food that on the surface tastes very pleasurable, which tricks your body into eating more than it needs. Ultimately, what I learned is that by opting out of our industrial food system in small ways, through our day to day choices and by investing in our own communities, we can change our broken food system. Buy my book and learn how to be a part of the solution.

     

    (Nintzel) My next guest is Megan Kimball, the editor of Edible Baja Arizona, and the author of the newly released book, “Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming the Real Food.” Megan, welcome to Zona Politics.

     

    (Kimball) Thanks. It’s good to be here.

     

    (Nintzel) So this book is all about you taking one year off from eating any kind of processed food Where did the idea come from?

     

    (Kimball) Right, well I had been reading all the stuff about food that many of us had read, you know, how sort of destructive our food system is to the environment, how unhealthy processed food is to our bodies and sort of trying to figure out a way in. At the time that I started this, I was a graduate student earning a graduate-student’s salary. I was in this tiny little apartment, so a lot of the scenarios about local food felt kind of inaccessible to me, and so it was an attempt to find a way in. What could I do in my own life having already limited time and money.

     

    (Nintzel) When you’re talking about unprocessed food, you’ve got to figure out where to draw that line, and the book is really about how you figured out how to draw that line How did you do it?

     

    (Kimball) Yeah, the book is a really an exploration because of course all food is processed. Cooking is a kind of process, so, at the beginning of my year I set up this framework that a food was unprocessed if I could theoretically make it at home. So, for example, you can make wheatberries. You can grind them up. In fact I’ve got a little hand-crank grain grinder and ground them up into wheat flour. You could take that a step further and make refined white flour without bleach and chemicals and industrial machining. So that was the sort of framework.

     

    If I could imagine how a food was made, it was unprocessed. And so, what could you eat? I ate a lot of really delicious food, so I ate, you know cheese from the farmer’s market. I ate whole grains, I ate whole grain bread.

     

    I’m a member of the Tucson Community Support Agriculture Program so lots of fresh local vegetables. I drank wine and beer still. I tried to get it locally when possible, so I really ate kind of food, you know, food you know, food defined as so it really, once I set up that framework and figured out the things that I couldn’t buy at the supermarket any more, it became pretty easy.

     

    (Nintzel) Of course, people need to read the book to find out everything about it, but what did you learn about food as you went about this?

     

    (Kimball) Yeah. I mean one thing that I learned is how much crazy stuff is in our food once you start checking it turning it over and reading the ingredient label, it’s kind of shocking Sugar is in everything. There’s mustard and mayonnaise, often deli meats So I think just the processes of reading ingredient labels and trying to figure out what was in my food that alone changed by eating habits

     

    And then the other thing is just that because there’s such a wide spectrum of process, it’s kind of you know it’s really hard to decide what makes food too processed, and I think that’s such an individual decision that, you know, kind of trying to figure out for yourself people make decisions about that.

     

    (Nintzel) And did you really end up slaughtering sheep?

     

    (Kimball) I did end up slaughtering sheep. So the book is just about food and so you know I start with wheat, I do sugar, vegetables, salt. dairy, and I ended the year thinking about meat. I was raised by two vegetarians, so I kind of had to figure out a way into meat and how to figure out how I could eat it responsibly and locally and really understand what we killed and animals, and that’s really waht meat is, and so I did this workshop with Bean Tree Farm, which is a local farm outside of Tucson, and along with, I think, eight other people slaughtered the sheep, and it was a really transformative experience, and to answer maybe the follow up question, it actually was really helpful and understanding what’s involved, and so now I actually feel fine eating a little red meat.

     

    (Nintzel) Have you slaughtered any more sheep?

     

    (Kimball) I have not, no It’s not a regular part of my life these days.

     

    (Nintzel) A big background of the book is the issue of climate change, and how that, how the way we eat is really contributing to that and then, talk a little bit about that.

     

    (Kimball) Yeah, I mean that was a huge part of how I got into food. I was really interested in the environment. You know when I was in college and saw An Inconvenient Truth and like so (people) I had the realization of “Oh no! We have to do something.” And so I learned that the food system entails almost 40% of the greenhouse gases that we do in the United States, and so it’s a huge contributor to global warming and climate change, and the way that we farm today modern cultures of corn and soybeans are really not very good for the environment, not to mention animal and meat production So, my attempts at ? food with that only not only was for my own body and my own health, it was how do I participate in a food system that is more sustainable.

     

    (Nintzel) And what are the big things you these days is this whole farm-to-table movement, and the growing awareness about the importance of fresh foods, local foods How has this become such a big thing now?

     

    (Kimball) Yeah that’s a great question. I think a lot of people have the same realizations that I had, not only about the sort of larger food system and how large and incomprehensible it is for any one person to sort of engage with, and how really not transparent it is. I think that scares a lot of people It scares me, certainly, but also you know, people are realizing that food grown nearby tastes better. It’s just better food. You know, cheese made by a local cheese maker is fresher and the eggs are fresher, and so it’s just easier to eat healthy

     

    (Nintzel) And you talk also about the importance of just spending your money with local businesses and the economic impact of that

     

    (Kimball) Yeah that was basically the conclusion of my book, and I love the study by Local First Arizona, which is a local business coalition study says that everyone in the community of Tucson shifted just 10% of their spending to local business, collectively, we would pay $140 million in new revenue for the city. So what that means is that our consumer choices have an impact, particularly in the food system, you know there are a lot of local producers in Southern Arizona who are struggling to make ends meet and every consumer dollar helps them produce more food for our local foodshed.

     

    And so, I really believe in the power of money circulating through our community and make our community. It helps not only our local producers but also our firefighters and our roads and our city government, all of that has to do with how people in the community spend their money.

     

    (Nintzel) And how do people get closer to the local produers of food If there are persons watching and thinking “How do I get connected to these folks. What’s the best way.

     

    (Kimball) Yeah, I mean, going to a farmer’s market is a really great way to start to talk to the people selling food, asking where is your farm? How did you grow it? What kind of foods are you producing. Joining a CSA is another great way. It gets producers a reliable source of income, and you get, I think it’s a really great thing for your buck, in terms of getting local food for not as much money and I think just sort of paying attention. Going to local grocery stores like the Food Co-op on Fourth Avenue, and trying to figure out who’s producing what in our foodshed.

     

    (Nintzel) You are the founding editor of Edible Baja Arizona and as well as the author of this book, and for folks who are unfamiliar with what is the magazine all about.

     

    (Kimball) Right. It’s a magazine all about local food. Our tagline is “Celebrating Foodways of Tucson and the Borderlands,” so we cover all of Southern Arizona across into Sonora, everything about food and culture and food production and all the things that are surrounding this particular foodshed. It’s a free magazine. We print 26,000 copies every other month. So our next issue coming out will be our July-August issue. which is the start of our third year, which is really exciting.

     

    (Nintzel) So two years in business

     

    (Kimball) And we’re growing. We’re a 200 page magazine and we started at 76 pages. Thanks to the sort of support we have in this community for local foods (

     

    Nintzel) Certainly one of my favorite magazines here in town. What are people going to find in that next issue?

     

    (Kimball) We’re doing a few stories on that issue of local food production, how producers may grow more sustainable businesses that are sort of more profitable and for their livelihood. Also, I’m writing a story about local food distribution, about farmers’ markets and CSA programs and how to get more local food to more people. We have a story about, so we cover things not only food, but water is usually important to growing food, obviously and so we have a story about the pulse flow which happened a year ago this group worked to get water into the Colorado River Delta and so what are the impacts of that a year later. And then we have a lot of great profiles of local restaurants and chefs, and we have a gardening column in every issue. Essays, there’s lots of fun stuff, and beautiful photography by a great local photographer.

     

    (Nintzel) And the publisher is Doug Biggers. What’s that guy really like. I hear he’s kind of a tyrant.

     

    (Kimball) Doug’s wonderful.

     

    (Nintzel) We’ll leave it there. Thanks for coming by, Megan. The book is “Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food” That is our show. Many thanks also to Joaquin Ruiz the Dean of the U of A College of Science for joining us today and thanks to our supporters at the Arizona Inn and Hotel Congress as well as our media partners at the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce If you missed any part of our show, you can catch it at zonapolitics.com Be sure to look us up on Facebook. Thanks again for watching.