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The Top n Math Videos Involving Food

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Romanesco, a cruciferous, fractal vegetable. Image: cyclonebill, via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s food week here on the Scientific American blog network. Food is a really important part of our health, and there’s a lot to learn about the science of food: taste, health, agriculture, how we eat. You could be reading enlightening, important articles about GMO labeling and antibiotic use in farming, or the first posts from the newly-launched blog Food Matters. But you could also be over here on my blog finding cool math videos about food. From fractal vegetables to Escher-printed cookies to Pi (or Tau) Day pies, there’s a lot to choose from! For some positive integer n, here are my top n foodalicious math videos.

Vi Hart

It’s no secret that I am a great admirer of Vi Hart, and she certainly doesn’t disappoint in the mathematical food category.

My favorite Vi Hart mathematical food video is definitely Flex Mex, the capstone to her Hexaflexagon series from last October. In this video, Vi teaches us how to make an intricately folded dish of tortillas, guacamole, beans, and cheese. Don’t worry too much about structural integrity: “The nature of the burrito is to be a delicious leaking mess regardless of whether it is cylindrical or hexaflexagonal.”

(FantasticTim1 takes the edible flexagon thing a step further in his video HexaflexagonPastry1, filling a hexaflexagonal pie crust with some sort of delicious looking jammy thing. Complete with rocking soundtrack.)

Last Thanksgiving, Vi Hart gave us a nice series of math food videos. The playlist includes recipes for optimal mashed potatoes, green bean “matherole,” Borromean onion rings, and a turduckenen-duckenen.

How to Eat Candy Buttons Like a Recreational Mathemusican, Math Improv: Fruit by the Foot, and Scary Sierpinski Skull Time involve arranging and/or eating copious amounts of candy in the pursuit of mathematical perfection.

Although SpongeBob’s pineapple under the sea is lodging and not food, Vi Hart’s Open Letter to Nickelodeon, Re: SpongeBob’s Pineapple Under the Sea is an entertaining explanation of the mathematical/botanical impossibility of the Nickelodeon character’s home.

Pi/Pie Day

You may have noticed that “pi” and “pie” are homophones. This fact alone can probably explain the relentless popularity of Pi Day. Naturally, there are quite a few Pi Day videos involving pie the dessert. Most of them are just recipes or people being hit in the face with pies (a surprisingly common occurrence on college campuses on March 14), but there are a few offerings with some actual mathematical content as well.

The best is probably Numberphile’s video Calculating Pi With Real Pies, which delivers just what it promises.

In Pi Is (still) Wrong, Vi Hart demonstrates the superiority of the constant tau while baking two pies.

Friday Pi Day by Asian Glow is a spoof of the Rebecca Black song “Friday.” It’s just about as cringe-worthy as one would expect, and it made me want a pizza.

Other Tasty Stuff

In Mathematically Correct Breakfast, Vi Hart’s father and mathematical sculptor George Hart shows us how to slice a bagel into two congruent halves that are linked together. His slicing technique yields more exposed bagel surface and therefore more room for cream cheese!

George Hart also demonstrates how to make Escher Cookies using rollers he made on a 3-D printer.

Until recently, 43 was the largest number of nuggets you couldn’t make using standard pack sizes at McDonalds. In the Numberphile video How to order 43 Chicken McNuggets, Dr. James Grime explores Frobenius numbers of chicken nuggets.(Not having ordered McNuggets in a while, I’m not sure whether the pack sizes are standard across the pond from the UK where Numberphile is created. American McDonalds restaurants may have different chicken nugget Frobenius numbers.)

Any discussion of mathematical food would be incomplete without Romanesco, a vegetable that tastes like a cross between broccoli and cauliflower and grows in an incredibly weird fractal pattern. The video Romanesco e Fibonacci by chinaqat is a surreal journey of fractal cruciferousness.

People love pizza; they don’t love math.” An anti-math Pizza Hut commercial, posted by mathematician Robert Talbert. (I had to include an anti-math video, right? Otherwise I’ll be accused of having a pro-math bias.)

Finally, it’s physics instead of math, but sixtysymbols has a video explaining the Sixth Dimension and the cosmological constant using a Cadbury Creme Egg. The video was part of a series of “eggsperiments” for Easter 2011.

Evelyn Lamb About the Author: Evelyn Lamb is a postdoc at the University of Utah. She writes about mathematics and other cool stuff. Follow on Twitter @evelynjlamb.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Helgav 10:21 am 09/6/2013

    What a creative article!

    What about the issue of calories? Not as in dieting: as in how many calories of fossil fuel energy go into one food calorie in our current farming system?

    Link to this
  2. 2. Kathy K. 7:50 pm 09/8/2013

    Thanks for all the wonderful video links! I’m totally sold on Tau. I don’t know how I missed the Tau Manifesto by Michael Hartl before now. I want one of his T-shirts to wear on Pi Day. :)

    Link to this

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