Explain like I'm five

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Jennifer
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Explain like I'm five

Post by Jennifer »

Reddit has a cool (IMO) subforum called "Explain like I'm five," where people can ask questions and request simple, easy-to-understand answers. Here's something I've been wondering about, and maybe someone here can explain it: I remember reading about compost heaps and mulch piles -- things were you pile stuff like raked leaves, grass clippings, apple cores and other unwanted plant matter, so that it rots and becomes rich soil or whatever. ALL such articles will tell you: you must ONLY ever put plant-based waste in a mulch pile, no animal-based waste: no leftover meat, bones, fat/gristle, milk, eggs or anything.

So I wonder: what is it that ALL "animal waste" has that "plant waste" lacks, so that you CAN put "plant waste" on a mulch pile, but CANNOT put "animal waste" there?
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Ellie
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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by Ellie »

You can compost bones, meat, and eggs. You might not want to compost bones and meat, though. Bones take a long time to break down and so may still be whole when you're ready to actually use the compost. Meat will attract flies and maggots and scavengers before it has a chance to break down.

Eggs are fine to compost; eggshells are really good for compost actually.
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Highway
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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by Highway »

It can smell bad (nobody wants to smell rotting meat).

It can attract unwanted animals and pests, like flies.

It can create higher heat, making the compost pile less hospitable to helpful bacteria, consequently slowing down your compost action.

It can throw the balance of nitrogen off, requiring other steps to counteract the excess nitrogen (adding carbon).

It's less of a "can't ever do it" and more of a "it makes it a lot more complicated and stinky".
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Jennifer
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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by Jennifer »

Highway wrote:
07 May 2019, 17:59
It can smell bad (nobody wants to smell rotting meat). It can attract unwanted animals and pests, like flies.
Right, but what is it specifically that MAKES it smell bad, that you won't find in plants? What attracts the flies, that plants don't have? Etc.
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Jennifer
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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by Jennifer »

Ellie wrote:
07 May 2019, 17:55
You can compost bones, meat, and eggs. You might not want to compost bones and meat, though. Bones take a long time to break down and so may still be whole when you're ready to actually use the compost. Meat will attract flies and maggots and scavengers before it has a chance to break down.

Eggs are fine to compost; eggshells are really good for compost actually.
Now that you mention it, I do recall reading something about eggshells being good for gardeners. So, okay, subtract all mention of "eggs" from my first post. Regarding bones -- well, if nothing else, I know they might not break down because some can actually be fossilized, so presumably, if I wanted to add bones to my hypothetical compost heap, I'd at least want to first pulverize it into bone meal -- similar to how, if you want to eat and get nutrients and calories out of corn, you're better off crushing it into cornmeal first, rather than eat corn on the cob where you end up pooping out undigested corn-kernels later.

But that still leaves meat: what specifically is it about rotting meat -- or "all muscle fibers and internal organs from all animals" -- that attracts scavengers and maggots, whereas equally rotting plant stuff does not? Or, perhaps: what is it about dead plants that does NOT attract those scavengers and maggots, or REPELS scavengers and maggots, compared to dead animals?
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lunchstealer
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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by lunchstealer »

Jennifer wrote:
07 May 2019, 18:24
Ellie wrote:
07 May 2019, 17:55
You can compost bones, meat, and eggs. You might not want to compost bones and meat, though. Bones take a long time to break down and so may still be whole when you're ready to actually use the compost. Meat will attract flies and maggots and scavengers before it has a chance to break down.

Eggs are fine to compost; eggshells are really good for compost actually.
Now that you mention it, I do recall reading something about eggshells being good for gardeners. So, okay, subtract all mention of "eggs" from my first post. Regarding bones -- well, if nothing else, I know they might not break down because some can actually be fossilized, so presumably, if I wanted to add bones to my hypothetical compost heap, I'd at least want to first pulverize it into bone meal -- similar to how, if you want to eat and get nutrients and calories out of corn, you're better off crushing it into cornmeal first, rather than eat corn on the cob where you end up pooping out undigested corn-kernels later.

But that still leaves meat: what specifically is it about rotting meat -- or "all muscle fibers and internal organs from all animals" -- that attracts scavengers and maggots, whereas equally rotting plant stuff does not? Or, perhaps: what is it about dead plants that does NOT attract those scavengers and maggots, or REPELS scavengers and maggots, compared to dead animals?
IANAEAHOTHSLBBIDAPA so take this with a grain of salt, but I expect that the biggest difference is the ratio of lipids, proteins, easily digestible simple carbs, and very long chain carbohydrates, especially cellulose. It's the high amount of cellulose that slows down anything trying to go nutso on the lipids and proteins. In the animal products, especially non-bone trimmings but also in bone marrow, there's a shitton of lipids and proteins that can cause a very different flora to grow, and they tend to digest quickly and produce a lot of volatile and aromatic compounds - things that smell.

This is an educated WAG.
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Jennifer
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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by Jennifer »

lunchstealer wrote:
07 May 2019, 19:33

-snip-

This is an educated WAG.
But one that makes sense to me: 'tis the cellulose in plants and absent from animal meat-parts that makes the difference. Thanks!
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thoreau
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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by thoreau »

I'm not an expert on this either, but my understanding is that efficiently digesting cellulose requires specialists, and gut bacteria often help.

Also, the rate of nitrogen fixation is a key limiting factor in many ecosystems, so it's no surprise that when you dump protein-rich animal flesh into an ecosystem everyone's like "Party-time! Woo!" while polysaccharides just don't get most organisms nearly as excited. Plants can fix carbon all day and grow giant structures that most other organisms won't bother chomping on (seriously, hardly any animals eat wood) but ecosystems have whole tiers of animals that specialize in chasing after moving clumps of protein (i.e. predators chasing animal prey).

And if you look at the grazing animals that do eat nothing but leaves, they can still be picky about which types of plants they want, and they have to eat all the damn time, while carnivores can hunt more sporadically. Meat is just so nutritional that a whole bunch of animals and micro-organisms will converge on it, while complex carbs are much less appetizing. They are dense in energy but not much else.

Yeah, human civilizations are built on complex carbs (grain harvests), but peasants who couldn't get enough protein (whether from meat, dairy, legumes, or some other appropriate plant product) always wound up sickly. Even today, we have tons of obese people who eat too many carbs but have nutritional problems that go way beyond obesity, because carbs just don't give you much else. Protein is essential for survival, and lipids can give you so much beyond energy.
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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by D.A. Ridgely »

thoreau wrote:
07 May 2019, 19:47
I'm not an expert on this either, but my understanding is that efficiently digesting cellulose requires specialists, and gut bacteria often help.

Also, the rate of nitrogen fixation is a key limiting factor in many ecosystems, so it's no surprise that when you dump protein-rich animal flesh into an ecosystem everyone's like "Party-time! Woo!" while polysaccharides just don't get most organisms nearly as excited. Plants can fix carbon all day and grow giant structures that most other organisms won't bother chomping on (seriously, hardly any animals eat wood) but ecosystems have whole tiers of animals that specialize in chasing after moving clumps of protein (i.e. predators chasing animal prey).

And if you look at the grazing animals that do eat nothing but leaves, they can still be picky about which types of plants they want, and they have to eat all the damn time, while carnivores can hunt more sporadically. Meat is just so nutritional that a whole bunch of animals and micro-organisms will converge on it, while complex carbs are much less appetizing. They are dense in energy but not much else.

Yeah, human civilizations are built on complex carbs (grain harvests), but peasants who couldn't get enough protein (whether from meat, dairy, legumes, or some other appropriate plant product) always wound up sickly. Even today, we have tons of obese people who eat too many carbs but have nutritional problems that go way beyond obesity, because carbs just don't give you much else. Protein is essential for survival, and lipids can give you so much beyond energy.
I'm going to run this past a five year old and see what he thinks.

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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by JD »

thoreau wrote:
07 May 2019, 19:47
(seriously, hardly any animals eat wood)
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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by Jennifer »

Another question -- no doubt inspired by monstrously hot and humid summertime conditions -- what is the difference between a live person and a dead person? Not from a legal or philosophical perspective, but from the perspective of the microbes and fungi responsible for decay? If I were to drop dead right now, outdoors with no air conditioning, I'd start to rot almost immediately. Presumably the immediate local environment is chockful of the spores and bugs responsible for decay -- if I had an electron microscope I'd likely see them on the bodies of every person in the state, including myself -- but my living body fights off those microbes in ways which a dead body cannot. What is my living body actually doing that a dead body does not?
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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by D.A. Ridgely »

Jennifer wrote:
23 Jul 2019, 16:46
Another question -- no doubt inspired by monstrously hot and humid summertime conditions -- what is the difference between a live person and a dead person? Not from a legal or philosophical perspective, but from the perspective of the microbes and fungi responsible for decay? If I were to drop dead right now, outdoors with no air conditioning, I'd start to rot almost immediately. Presumably the immediate local environment is chockful of the spores and bugs responsible for decay -- if I had an electron microscope I'd likely see them on the bodies of every person in the state, including myself -- but my living body fights off those microbes in ways which a dead body cannot. What is my living body actually doing that a dead body does not?
Fighting off the microbes, etc. that are attacking your still living cells, making new cells and, equally importantly, taking out the garbage, i.e., removing dead tissue, all of which requires oxygen and nutrients, none of which continues to be delivered once the pulmonary and circulatory and alimentary systems cease functioning. Is that what you're really asking?

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JasonL
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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by JasonL »

There is stuff happening in a live person's cells that actively shoves out chemicals. When you die those chemicals build up and start breaking down your body. In part your body winds up doing something to itself like your stomach does to food that sits in stomach chemicals, and in part your body stops creating conditions that are bad for bacteria, so bacteria also come to the party and start digesting you too.

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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by thoreau »

Besides active immune responses to microbes that would like to eat us, apparently mammals' body temperatures are too high for most fungi. Fungi mostly prefer cool environments. There are exceptions, but they're rare. They find it much easier to eat dead things (it's not like ecosystems have a shortage of dead organisms) rather than evolve to compete with the defensive strategies of living things.

Temperature is apparently a big part of the reason why most of the infections that we get are bacterial and viral, not fungal.
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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by Jennifer »

D.A. Ridgely wrote:
23 Jul 2019, 16:54
Jennifer wrote:
23 Jul 2019, 16:46
Another question -- no doubt inspired by monstrously hot and humid summertime conditions -- what is the difference between a live person and a dead person? Not from a legal or philosophical perspective, but from the perspective of the microbes and fungi responsible for decay? If I were to drop dead right now, outdoors with no air conditioning, I'd start to rot almost immediately. Presumably the immediate local environment is chockful of the spores and bugs responsible for decay -- if I had an electron microscope I'd likely see them on the bodies of every person in the state, including myself -- but my living body fights off those microbes in ways which a dead body cannot. What is my living body actually doing that a dead body does not?
Fighting off the microbes, etc. that are attacking your still living cells, making new cells and, equally importantly, taking out the garbage, i.e., removing dead tissue, all of which requires oxygen and nutrients, none of which continues to be delivered once the pulmonary and circulatory and alimentary systems cease functioning. Is that what you're really asking?
Close, but not quite. What PRECISELY changes, the moment you go from "living" to "dead?" Like, if you want to know what makes a shining lightbulb go dark, "cutting off the electricity" is the answer.
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thoreau
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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by thoreau »

JasonL wrote:
23 Jul 2019, 16:59
There is stuff happening in a live person's cells that actively shoves out chemicals. When you die those chemicals build up and start breaking down your body. In part your body winds up doing something to itself like your stomach does to food that sits in stomach chemicals, and in part your body stops creating conditions that are bad for bacteria, so bacteria also come to the party and start digesting you too.
This is also a good point. So much of what your body does is just mop up extra chemicals put out by some other process, to keep everything in balance. Upset the balance and your body will break itself down into a form more digestible by microbes.

And the body will also be chilled to a more palatable temperature for fungi.
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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by D.A. Ridgely »

Jennifer wrote:
23 Jul 2019, 17:14
D.A. Ridgely wrote:
23 Jul 2019, 16:54
Jennifer wrote:
23 Jul 2019, 16:46
Another question -- no doubt inspired by monstrously hot and humid summertime conditions -- what is the difference between a live person and a dead person? Not from a legal or philosophical perspective, but from the perspective of the microbes and fungi responsible for decay? If I were to drop dead right now, outdoors with no air conditioning, I'd start to rot almost immediately. Presumably the immediate local environment is chockful of the spores and bugs responsible for decay -- if I had an electron microscope I'd likely see them on the bodies of every person in the state, including myself -- but my living body fights off those microbes in ways which a dead body cannot. What is my living body actually doing that a dead body does not?
Fighting off the microbes, etc. that are attacking your still living cells, making new cells and, equally importantly, taking out the garbage, i.e., removing dead tissue, all of which requires oxygen and nutrients, none of which continues to be delivered once the pulmonary and circulatory and alimentary systems cease functioning. Is that what you're really asking?
Close, but not quite. What PRECISELY changes, the moment you go from "living" to "dead?" Like, if you want to know what makes a shining lightbulb go dark, "cutting off the electricity" is the answer.
Ah, well, nothing precisely changes from the moment you go from "living" to "dead" because there is no precise moment when that happens. Deprived of oxygen and nutrients as your organic systems cease to function, all the cells in your body begin to die and do so fairly quickly, but they do not do so all at once and our current legal definition of death is to some extent purely arbitrary. Rather than a system in which electricity, traveling but for resistance at the speed of light, is shut off, the more apt analogy is to a water supply being cut off. The water continues to trickle along whatever paths it formerly flowed, but the riverbeds, etc. do not immediately go dry.

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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by Ellie »

Jennifer wrote:
23 Jul 2019, 17:14
What PRECISELY changes, the moment you go from "living" to "dead?"
You become registered to vote in Chicago.
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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by Warren »

Ellie wrote:
23 Jul 2019, 19:07
Jennifer wrote:
23 Jul 2019, 17:14
What PRECISELY changes, the moment you go from "living" to "dead?"
You become registered to vote in Chicago.
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Re: Explain like I'm five

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Jennifer wrote:
23 Jul 2019, 17:14
Close, but not quite. What PRECISELY changes, the moment you go from "living" to "dead?" Like, if you want to know what makes a shining lightbulb go dark, "cutting off the electricity" is the answer.
That's not a clearly defined thing, beyond that those processes stop working. Life is a big series of interdependent processes, and we call a living thing "dead" when something goes wrong enough and all those processes stop. Even our definition of "stop" can evolve—see the old definition of "their heart stopped" vs brain death. ATP synthesis might be one of the more basic and universal cellular functions, but it's not the thing that cuts off everything else in a multicellular organism, but instead the function that shuts down in cells because major body functions (breathing, blood circulation, digestion, etc.) have failed to provide them oxygen and/or nutrients.
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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by thoreau »

Jennifer wrote:
23 Jul 2019, 17:14
What PRECISELY changes, the moment you go from "living" to "dead?"
From my observation, brain death is usually when people start getting promotions at work.
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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by Aresen »

thoreau wrote:
23 Jul 2019, 22:52
Jennifer wrote:
23 Jul 2019, 17:14
What PRECISELY changes, the moment you go from "living" to "dead?"
From my observation, brain death is usually when people start getting promotions at work.
I've always wondered about the 'Little Black Pill' theory of government officers: Every successful politician, on achieving his/her goal of being elected, is forced to swallow a little black pill before being sworn in. Said little black pill wipes out every bit of intellect and integrity the politician ever had.

In view of the results of November 8, 2016, October 19, 2015, and today, this hypothesis no longer seems necessary.
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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by D.A. Ridgely »

Also, we must distinguish between dead and mostly dead. Have fun storming the castle!

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Re: Explain like I'm five

Post by Ellie »

Warren wrote:
23 Jul 2019, 19:27
Ellie wrote:
23 Jul 2019, 19:07
Jennifer wrote:
23 Jul 2019, 17:14
What PRECISELY changes, the moment you go from "living" to "dead?"
You become registered to vote in Chicago.
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I'm more proud of that than anything else I've ever written or accomplished :lol:
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