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New Study Suggests Salmonella Epidemic May Have Wiped Out the Aztec Empire

A mysterious epidemic killed nearly 80% of Mexico’s population between 1545 and 1550.

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Salmonella, the dangerous bacteria caused by contaminated food (and the reason the CDC cautions against eating undercooked eggs), has now been connected to an ancient epidemic, which may have contributed to the annihilation of the Aztec empire almost 500 years ago.

The disease was named cocoliztli, meaning “pest,” in the native Aztec tongue. It proved to be far more than a nuisance, however, as between 1545 and 1550 CE it decimated an estimated 80% of the civilization’s population — a population already struggling with European arrival and an extreme drought.

A mysterious epidemic killed nearly 80% of Mexico’s population between 1545 and 1550.
(Image: By Daphne Breemen via Wikimedia Commons)

This ancient illness, in addition to today’s symptoms of diarrhea and vomiting, led to body-covering red spots and horrific bleeding. The cause of the cocoliztli epidemic has remained a mystery for centuries, a topic of constant debate, but research has finally shed light on the mysterious pestilence.

With the help of a new algorithm and DNA from ten Aztec skeletons, the epidemic at least partially responsible for the civilization’s demise has been linked to a Salmonella variantSalmonella enterica Paratyphi C, according to paper published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

The bodies themselves date back to the 1540s and were exhumed from an ancient cemetery in Oaxaca, Mexico thought to have been specifically connected with the epidemic.  Discovered within each set of ancient DNA lay traces of the Salmonella bacterium.

 Today, Salmonella (commonly associated with food-poisoning though not always its direct cause) represents something of an afterthought — worrisome, but not often cause for great alarm.

Though now its symptoms are certainly uncomfortable, the rarity of Salmonella poisoning and the advent of modern medicine mean the risk of death due to the bacterium is very, very low.

Evidently, this was not the case during the 16th century.

Natalie is a senior English major at Saint Louis University with a minor in French. She serves as the co-editor-in-chief of the school's literary magazine, Kiln, and its undergraduate research journal, Via. She also acts as the Arts Editor for the university's newspaper and works as a writing consultant at the school's English Language Center.

Food

Cheeseburger Happy Meals Will No Longer be a Thing

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In an effort to make their kids’ meals a tad bit healthier by reducing excess calories, sodium, and saturated fat, McDonald’s is making a few changes to their beloved Happy Meal and saying goodbye to staple items, including cheeseburgers and chocolate milk.

On Thursday, the fast food giant announced on Twitter that they will be cutting and changing items on their menu to will focus on, “nutrition criteria, simplifying ingredients, transparent nutrition information, recommended food groups, and responsible marketing.”

While diners can still request the “banished” menu items, McDonald’s believes that not listing the item will reduce how often they are ordered. In fact, according to the company, when soda was removed from the Happy Meal section of its menu boards in 2013, there was a 14% increase in the number of Happy Meals with water, milk, or juice as the choice of beverage.

We can expect to see several changes to the Happy Meal menu in the U.S. this year. The meals will have 600 calories or less, with only 10% of those calories coming from saturated fats and 10% from added sugar, and the meals are to have less than 650 milligrams of sodium. The six-piece chicken nugget Happy Meal will switched out with the kids sized fries, cutting the amount of calories and sodium in the serving of fries by half.

By June 2018, 100% of the meal combinations offered in the U.S. will be 600 calories or less, and all those combinations with be compliant with the new criteria for added sugar and saturated fat. However, 22% of the meals will not be compliant with the new sodium criteria, yet.

The evolution of the Happy Meal does not stop there. Currently, 28% of the Happy Meal combinations offered on the menu boards in 20 of McDonald’s major market meet the new criteria. By the end of 2022, McDonald’s aims to have at least 50% or more of the Happy Meals listed on menus worldwide follow the new nutrition criteria. These changes will result in an average reduction of 20% in calories, 50% in added sugars, 14% in saturated fat, and/or 17% in sodium, depending on each customer’s meal selection.

Even the Happy Meals toys are also going to be taking a hit. By 2019, children in more than 100 markets will have the option of choosing a book or a toy year-round with their Happy Meal.

“We recognize the opportunity that we have to support families as one of the most visited restaurants in the world, and remain committed to elevating our food, celebrating the joy of reading, and helping those in need through Ronald McDonald House Charities,” said McDonald’s president and CEO Steve Easterbrook in the press statement released Thursday. “Given our scale and reach, we hope these actions will bring more choices to consumers and uniquely benefit millions of families, which are important steps as we build a better McDonald’s.”

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Food

University of Wisconsin Students are NOT Happy About Freshmen Meal Plan

UW-Madison students blocked the school’s biggest dining hall in a protest yesterday.

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Some students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are really upset about the school’s meal plan for incoming freshmen. A group of students blocked access to the school’s largest dining hall yesterday in protest over a plan that will make it mandatory for incoming freshman living in UW residence halls to deposit a minimum of $1,400 into a meal plan account.

The Daily Cardinal reported:

Protesters read testimonies describing how the meal plan will negatively impact low-income students and those with dietary restrictions, as well as chanted slogans like “I can’t eat” before marching through the market area of the dining hall and eventually blocking the entrance to the market for about 15 minutes.

The plan was announced in December and is scheduled to billed to students on a quarterly basis, depending on the number of meals a students consumes.

Student Rena Newman was also upset that students were not informed of the policy in what she felt was a proper way, telling the Badger-Herald  “We didn’t find out about this policy through transparency. We found out through a news story after the policy had already been implemented.”

No student representative was part of the decision making process, by all accounts.

University officials said they were aware of the planned protest and welcomed the students views and respect their right to express them.

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Business

Dunkin’ to Stop Using Foam Cups by 2020

And it’s about time, too.

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There has always been something different about getting coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s a no-frill — but super tasty — alternative to Starbucks or your local brewer, with down home, no-frills feel.

And they serve their brew in those foam cups. Comforting and easy to grab, sure, but not very good for the environment.

Dunkin’ announced today that those polystyrene foam cups will be completely phased out from its stores globally by 2020, reducing the waste stream by millions.

Foam packaging of any kind decomposes very slowly, washes into waterways and can harm sea life and other creatures who depend on the water supply to live.

McDonald’s also said it will get rid of any remaining foam cups in the next few years as well, though they have already drastically reduced dependance on them.

So raise one to Dunkin’ for taking a step in an environmentally friendly direction.

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