Chicken Taquitos (NRC – Part 2)

This week of the NRC project features chicken³ (no, that’s not a footnote).

I had chicken taquitos for dinner the other night. Trader Joe’s, a grocery store with its headquarters in Monrovia, CA, prides itself on having “innovative, hard-to-find and great-tasting foods”. Well, as I found from examining the ingredients listed on the taquitos box, their food really is quite innovative. With these delicious meat tubes, they have achieved chicken inception. Chicken within chicken…within chicken. Chicken³.

This is the list of ingredients on the box (I put them into a bullet-ed list here, but on the box it’s listed in brackets, all in one paragraph):

  • chicken
    • chicken
    • water
    • flavoring
    • chicken base
      • chicken meat in natural chicken juices
      • salt
      • sugar
      • corn syrup solids
      • chicken fat
      • flavoring
      • autolyzed yeast extract
      • tumeric
    • chicken fat
    • spices
    • sodium phosphate
  • tortilla
    • corn
    • water
    • lime
  • soybean oil
  • modified food starch

What the (chicken) fluff. Isn’t that kind of ridiculous that the chicken is ‘incepted’ into itself? This makes the meat included in these delicious pipes of carne seem very processed, amirite? What is the deal with processed food anyway? A lot of people say it’s bad for you, but what is the true deal? This is a question I want to answer in this project.

At first glances, sodium phosphate looks a bit ominous. That said, sodium phosphate is just the name of a chemical compound. A fancy -ate or -ide name doesn’t necessarily mean eating it will have a negative impact on your health. For example, you could go around calling the stuff you put on your food every day sodium chloride but it’s no more dangerous to your health than calling it salt. There’s a fair amount of people who would say that “chemicals” are bad for you. Pray tell, what do you define as a chemical? Definitely, there are substances that are bad for you (e.g. too much “nitrate” in your drinking water from nearby agricultural run-off) but it seems there is too much alarmism about BIG BAD CHEMICALS IN YOUR FOOD. Another question I want to answer in this project, how do you define bad chemicals in food?

This is only one dish and already my NRC is looking like it’s going to get complicated. Bring it on!

As part of my fact-finding mission so far, I have emailed Trader Joe’s and the Water, Sewer and Street Bureau of Arlington County. I haven’t heard back from Trader-J’s but I am going to have a call with someone who was listed on my email as “Water Quality” in the next week to talk about dat H-two-Oh.

These first few weeks of the project have been focused on overall questions. I have been thinking about how I want to approach the whole thing. Do I list all the things I consume every single day (e.g. keeping a consumption journal?) or do I focus on specific case studies as I did in this post? Maybe I’ll do both. Who knows what the future holds! You just gotta keep checking back to find out.


Where does it come from? (NRC – Part 1)

Hello lovely people!

I just finished a book called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. In it, Rubin sets out on a year-long project to determine the meaning of “happiness” and to boost it in her own life. At the beginning, she set out personal commandments for herself, such as “Be Gretchen”. She made a resolutions chart with concrete actions that would improve her happiness and fulfill these personal commandments. Each month, using these commandments and resolutions, she focused on improving a specific area of her life. The book is phenomenal and had great insights into personal happiness.

As I read it, I realized what one of my resolutions would be.

I frequently think about overpopulation. It really scares me. I think that human consumption of natural resources will damage the world irreparably if it continues unchecked. There are many scientists out there who argue that we have already gone too far. All in all, it makes me feel lousy and I want to do something about it.

My mini-“happiness project” is going to be aimed at answering the question: where does it come from?

In this project, I aim to determine the actual amount of natural resources (e.g. coal, water etc.) that I am using, sometimes implicitly, when I consume goods, be it food, clothes or running the AC in my apartment. As I was trained as an engineer in school, this particularly excites me because I’ll be using equations to quantify the “natural resources costs” of my consumption (YAY MATH!).

I do not think this will be easy, or that I will even be able to comprehensively determine the exact NRC, or natural resources cost, of all of my actions. I foresee needing to call various companies to determine where their products come from and how they were produced. 

This is just the start of my quest for increased understanding of this massive trend. There is so much debate these days about global warming, climate change and our effect on this planet. I always find it hard to see what is the absolute truth. Looking at it from a scientific method perspective, to determine the “truth” you need data and an outcome that can be repeated. I’m going to focus on the data from my own life and go from there.

Here I go!

Let’s start off with my toilet because it involves two of my passions, drinking water and wastewater (yep, you have some normal passions there Ariel…). Every time I flush, 1.6 gallons (6 litres) of potable water is sucked down into the sewer system. I have been up for 2 hours this morning, and I have already used the toilet 3 times (I drink a lot of coffee…). That’s 4.8 gallons (18 litres) right there. I also use toilet paper. I’ve counted the number of squares I pulled out on two occasions. The first occasion, I counted 12 squares. On the second, I counted 10. From this sample, I average at 11 squares. 

For each time I use and flush the toilet in my home, 1.6 gallons of potable water and 11 squares move from my toilet bowl into the sewer system. To calculate the cost of this action, I need to determine the cost from the very beginning.

  • Where did the water in my toilet originate in nature?
  • What treatment process did it undergo before being pumped into the distribution system of my county?
  • How much energy was spent getting that water from the treatment facility to my toilet bowl?
  • How about the toilet paper, what tree(s) is it made of?
  • How were those trees cut down and processed?
  • How did the raw material get to the factory that makes toilet paper?
  • How did that toilet paper get to the store where I bought it?
  • Once the waste is in the sewer system, how did it get to the wastewater treatment plant?
  • What is the treatment process of waste at the plant?
  • How was it discharged back into nature?

There you have it, answering this list of questions is my homework. I’ll report back with my findings soon!


Chlorine gas a thing of the past! Electrochlorination is NOW!

Chlorination began in the early 1900’s and since then diseases such as dysentery, cholera, and typhoid have significantly decreased to almost 0% in 1950. It was a very impressive discovery with tremendous affects on sociey. Since then, electrochlorination is a newer more updated way to treat drinking water. It does not harm the environment and does not have any by-products like basic chlorination has. It is much safer to handle, is nontoxic, relatively easy to make and is a more natural way to treat drinking water.

Electrochlorination runs an electrical current in salt water to produce hypochlorite. It is considered to be a type of desalination and is a rather simple process. Saltwater is put into electrolyzer cells (after solids are removed). It is then moved through various channels that range in decreasing thickness and are charged with positive and negative low current DC. The reaction is a production of sodium hypochlorite and hydrogen gas, which has between 0.7-1% chlorine. It uses chlorine, a very common drinking water disinfection, in a hypochlorate solution that is dispersed within the system. The hydrogen gas is then removed and the solution is stored. It uses no chemicals!!

Electrochlorination follow this simple equation:

NaCl + H2O + Energy -> NaOCl + H2

Electrochlorination systems are usually used by large water utility companies before the water is pumped to households, but it is becoming more available to smaller populations and there are several installation engineering companies that design specifically for the clients needs .

It has several advantages:

  • Low costs
  • Used worldwide
  • Nontoxic because it is salt based
  • Easy to store
  • Safe to produce
  • Low maintenance
  • Long life cycle
  • Approved as a disinfection from the CDC
  • Reduces scaling because of a lower pH

Disadvantages are:

  • Effects biofilm in hot water pipes and tanks
  • Effect on bacteria is limited in the long term
  • Smell and taste is changed
  • Less effective with pH’s higher than 7.5Image

NOT too bad huh?!

Life Straw! Mini Water Purifier

My dream company to work for!! One day, one day… Check them out, absolutely incredible!!

Awesome Stuff To Buy Online

This is really neat invention that will allow you to drink water from questionable sources when you’re out on a long hike and don’t want to carry too much weight. It filters at least 99.9% of waterborne bacteria. This is very impressive but expected if you are filtering particles up to 0.2 microns.

Considering it’s only $25, it’s a great buy for anyone that likes be out in the wild for longer periods of time. You never know what may happen and water is a first priority. Although not the worst of the 7 enemies of survival, it surely will kill you the fastest and it is only a result of poor planning and preparation!

This lab instructor has balls enough to use this straw to drink from poo water! Watch Video

If you check out their Website, it looks like they have more plans than just using the…

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Innovative, creative, and simple ways to can water good enough to drink!!

Innovative, creative, and simple ways to can water good enough to drink!!


Fascinating!! Intelligent design, purposeful meaning, interesting aesthetic, and future driven, how buildings should be made.

Fascinating!! Intelligent design, purposeful meaning, interesting aesthetic, and future driven, how buildings should be made.wbrfrontview

Greenhouse your water…say what?


The use of solar is becoming increasingly poplar as a source of energy. By capturing this technology and manipulating it to treat water is rather simple. It has been used since the 1800’s when it was invented to deliver drinking water to miners using a high nitrate brackish influent. Since then, solar distillation is increasingly becoming a common method for supplying clean drinking water.

The method is really simple: solar heat increases water temperature to where it is evaporated into the atmosphere, captured and collected. It is basically creating a man-made cloud and making it rain. This ‘collected rain’ will be free from salt and microbes, making it then, safe to consume.

Dirty water is put into a container or basin that has a blacked out bottom. Then it is covered with glass that is at an angle, allowing the clean water to collect or drain. The sun heats the water causing evaporation and condensation to collect on the glass. Since it is covered at an angle the condensed water moves down the angle cover to collect in a separate container. Water in the feed should be added in order to clean out the basin.

The size of these systems can be large or small, however their production is somewhat limited. A system set up for a family can create up to 3 gallons a day. This is a great option for those communities that suffer from drought because these areas tend to have a hot climate great for distilling salt contaminated water sources. In some areas the contaminated water source has a built structure directly on the source to create a greenhouse-like effect.

The technology is remarkably simple and somewhat inexpensive. The basin where the feed water is located should be shallow and of a dark color such as black in order to absorb the heat. Choosing a cover such as glass allows for the solar energy to go through without becoming the same temperature as the basin, hence the creation of condensation.

There is a possibility of recontamination in the catchment system, so it is recommended using a PVC plastic piping made specifically for water systems. The reason being that some PVC pipes degrade in time thus releasing various chemicals which can be dangerous to consume. There are pipes made specifically for water systems and are manufactured to avoid this danger and would be clearly identified at any hardware store. Another way to minimize contamination is to leave the materials to build the solar distiller in the sun for approximately a week so that any chemicals will be ‘burned’ off and released without it entering into the water system. Also, a disadvantage of this process is that the gathered water is tasteless. By adding a small amount of chlorine (5 drop per liter) or by allowing the water to flow through marble to obtain some lost minerals. Both of these methods will make the water taste better.

The United Nations states that the cost of solar distilled water is $3-6 per 1,000 gallons. This is less than buying bottled water, but a bit more expensive than the average municipal supplied water. However, although it is a little more expensive, there is more guarantee of cleanliness in the context of variations of municipal drinking water quality around the world.

According to the University of Central Florida, who specializes in solar distillation research, ‘if it costs about $40-60 per square meter to build the still and it is worth roughly $15 USD per 1,000 gallons, the still should pay for itself in 2,500 to 4,000 days or 7-11 years.” This is a great idea as the prices of water rise and the valuable resource becomes scarcer.

Distillation by solar energy has been used for a rather long time and is widely accepted by both water quality engineers and those communities/families/persons who use and maintain these systems. This choice for obtaining clean drinking water is most effective where somewhat clean water is difficult to come by or where there is a shortage in water supply. This is because it may be most beneficial to pump and purify where water is more plentiful.

The simplicity of this method and the result of quality drinking water is ideal in humanitarian assistance and natural disaster emergencies. It is worthy of being a viable option to increase clean water consumption.


Fracking: is it really that evil?

I went to San Diego last weekend. On my flight back, I sat next to a frack hand. He works in natural gas extraction, or “fracking“. He was flying to North Dakota to go work at a natural gas extraction site. In undergrad, I watched Gasland which got my feathers all ruffled about the dangers of fracking. So my default reaction was one of shock and horror. How could he sell his soul to such an evil practice? Sure it pays well, but people can light their taps on fire! Fish die! Water is polluted!

…but is it really that bad?! (I’m asking because I really don’t know)

I asked my seatmate about how damaging fracking can be on the surrounding environment. The apparatus he works with sucks gas out of the earth 8000 feet below. He spoke of the heavy duty well casing that is put in so that the fracking fluid won’t leak into the surrounding groundwater system. Does that mean the well casing would have to be 8000 feet tall? That’s pretty steep. Also the fracking fluid is injected at redonkulously (technical term) high pressures. Wouldn’t that put a strain on the well casing that could cause cracking and therefore leaching of the fracking fluid?

There’s a lot of mystery surrounding fracking. It’s hard to get a straight answer from anyone. Trying to figure out the truth.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY H2DAYO! (it’s one month old!)

Feeling fracking crazy in D.C.,