September 3, 2013 | 5
Do you ever wonder about the science behind your food? We do, too. Our group of writers serves up juicy topics like genetic engineering, gut bacteria and the chemical reactions that occur during cooking. Together, we’ll peer inside factory farms, dark jungles, cafeterias, laboratories and those trendy molecular gastronomy spots. Grab a bite, and sit down at the table to learn why Food Matters.
Counter Culture: A Look At Foods Around The World
The food bug bit me at an early age and I decided to bite it right back.
Over the years, I’ve been exploring the cuisines of Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Europe and America. Along the way, I obtained a Masters in Social Anthropology of Development from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies and became interested in the relationship between food and culture.
Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once wrote, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” Food does more than nourish; it unites, divides, conquers, rebels and conforms. I’ll be looking at how society’s stories are told through its food, along with some science and recipes thrown in for good measure.
I’ve written for SciAm’s Guest Blog before, so here’s a taste of what’s to come:
Food: From Seed to Supper
Hello Readers. Welcome to my web log at Scientific American’s Food Matters. Here, I will explore topics related to food, farming and genetics.
I work at the at the University of California, Davis where I am a Professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and the Genome Center and Director of the Laboratory for Crop Genetics Innovation and Scientific Literacy (CGI). I also serve as Director of Grass Genetics at the Joint BioEnergy Institute.
Although I have spent most of career as a basic research scientist, I was drawn into world of science writing in 1997 by the former Editor-in-Chief of Scientific American, John Rennie, who asked me to write a story about the discovery of the rice Xa21 immune receptor.
It was a great opportunity and since then I have written about The scientific life, organic farming, genetically engineered (GE) crops, ten things about GE crops to scratch from your worry list, What does GMO really mean, sustainable agriculture, the power of genetics to improve the lives of the poor and malnourished, plant breeding and genetics, and even about glow in the dark zebra fish.
On Food Matters, I will post many more stories about food, farming and genetics. I will also highlight the writings of environmentalists, prize winning journalists such as Keith Kloor, Jon Entine, Amy Harmon, Michael Specter, and other colleagues who are helping make the science behind food and farming accessible to the public. Finally you will hear from and about farmers, readers and chefs who have much to contribute to the dialog about how your food gets from the field to fork.
I am delighted to join the team at Food Matters. Together we will cook up a storm.
Earning a Place at the Table
The change came about, as most changes do, when I’d flown the coop. Between my second and third years in college, I gave myself a new label: vegetarian.
“Oh, I’ll still eat eggs and fish,” I remember telling my neighbor, a retired wildlife specialist, during a winter break. I offered evidence supporting my decision — less carbon pollution, better use of limited arable land, healthier ecosystems — with a self-righteous flair. He listened politely. The twinkle in his eye brightened.
“Good for you,” Jeff Jackson told me. “You know, in most parts of the world, people are grateful to eat whatever is available to them.” Jeff’s gentle reality check on my heady ideology stayed with me ever since.
On this new Food Matters blog, my aim is to write about food, agriculture, human health and ecology in such a way that readers will want to linger at the table long after the last morsel of fact has been examined and consumed (or pushed in refusal to the edge of the plate). Our collective body of scientific knowledge shifts incrementally, while whole landslides of opinion charge us from every direction, from every funding source, from every institution and every brand every day.
In the saturated online ecosystem of food and health writing, I hope Food Matters earns a place at the table as the thoughtful guest who weighs in on topics only with scientific studies in hand — and with a well-meaning twinkle in the eye. And a warm welcome to my fellow esteemed colleagues here on the new blog.
Of Food and Foreignness
I’m Kevin Bonham and I’m a graduate student at Harvard University, working on my PhD in immunology – the science of how our bodies recognize and respond to foreign things that enter our bodies. Most people think about the immune system in the context of infectious disease, so it might not be immediately obvious why an immunologist should be part of a food blog. Sure, there are a lot of infectious microbes that hitch a ride on the things we eat and drink (and I’ll spend plenty of time writing about those), but I know there’s only so much people can stand to read about fecal-oral transmission.
Yet eating food is among our most fundamental interactions with the outside world, and one of the principal conundrums facing our immune system. Our bodies must be capable of attacking foreign invaders, but we can’t mount an immune response every time we eat a cheeseburger. Our gut must be permeable to the nutrients we consume, but that makes it a tempting target for pathogens that mean to consume us. And it’s not even as simple as attacking only living invaders, since our guts (and most other surfaces of our bodies) are teaming with microbes, most of which are not harmful, and many of which are actually helpful.
From food allergies to inflammatory bowel disease, from cholera to E. coli, from our mouths to our colon, I’ll write about how our bodies interact with the world outside, how we defend our turf, kill our enemies and keep our friends safe, as well as how all of these processes frequently go horribly wrong. Oh, and occasionally I’ll write about GMOs and beer.
You can find some of my previous writing at my old blog, We, Beasties, and I plan to keep writing about not-food-related immunology, public health and infectious disease at Red Wine and Lariam. You can find me and interact with me on Google+ (my favorite!), reddit or twitter. Don’t be shy!
The Fruits and Flaws of Modern Eating
I love food. I love the tastes, the smells, the sounds, the colors and the textures. There are few foods I don’t like, and I’ll try anything at least once, as long as it doesn’t involve fetal animals or bird heads. I love the significance food holds for individuals, families and cultures. I love how food makes us feel, but also the things our bodies and minds can do using the energy and nourishment that it provides.
Professionally I’m interested in food as a public health issue. In the developed world, we have far too much bad stuff, and not enough of the good stuff. The relatively sudden access to more than enough energy is a brand-new situation for the human animal. This overabundance has profound effects on our health, our culture, our environment and our economy.
In Food Matters, I will explore the societal solutions to this societal problem, but will also write about things that I’m just curious about, like the ancestral relationship between Spam and soppresata. I am thrilled (and a little intimidated) to be counted among a group of such smart, accomplished writers, scientists, and thinkers. I think you will see work here that is challenging, enlightening, and entertaining.
Mostly I hope that this blog’s empirical approach to food will answer the greatest question facing us today: Can our knowledge of chemistry, evolution, physiology and physics help us understand why the application of melted cheese and insertion into a tortilla makes any food instantly better?
Food: a Chemical Affair
See Arr Oh
Well hello there, Scientific American readers!
Allow me to introduce myself: My name’s See Arr Oh, and I’m a small dog who blogs about chemistry. In reality, my owner holds a
Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Big State University, and works for a tiny little biotech outside Metro Area, U.S.A.
Perhaps you’ve read my other blog, over at Just Like Cooking? When I started blogging, I wanted to meld two subjects near and dear to my heart: synthetic chemistry, and eating. After all, whether or not it crosses your mind, we’re all noshing on nitrogen, chewing on carbon, smacking down sodium, and om-nom-nomming oxygen all day long.
I’ve written a bit about this before, both at SciAm’s Guest Blog (pink slime, cochineal), and a few more over at my place (super tasters, olive oil, Kraft Mac and Cheese, moringa, sweeteners, maple syrup, gum, poop, Coke, and two book reviews).
The food we eat begins (and ends) as a collection of molecules that we ‘return’ to the environment, minus the energy that keeps us all alive. For Food Matters, I want to explore the whole process from an atomic point of view. Questions asked may include:
How do plants get their nutrients? Why do we use pesticides, and what do they do? What about drugs for livestock or poultry? Why use preservatives? What happens to foods as they’re fried, brewed, fermented, baked, boiled, chopped, or mass-produced? How do we digest our food? And what happens to those nutrients as they get absorbed into our bodies?
I hope you’ll come back often to see what our talented team has cooked up for you at Food Matters.
Salud. Bon appetit. Kampai. To your health.
Food as Fuel: What’s Really Happening in Your Body?
Six years ago, I took a chemistry class taught by a former food scientist at Kraft. I’ve been fascinated by the science of food ever since.
After getting my bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and contemplating both food science and medicine, I decided I’d explore the world of food and science through writing. Currently, I’m doing that as a master’s student in the health and medical journalism program at the University of Georgia, where I also work in the Office of Research Communications.
Coming from a biochemistry background, many of the things I’m curious about relate to the way food affects the body. Nutrition isn’t just a question of whether to eat pizza or a salad (or peanut butter – a personal favorite). At its core, the science of eating involves complex chemical processes inside our cells. As diet is increasingly considered as a way to prevent disease, understanding what’s actually happening inside our bodies becomes more important than ever.
Whether an ice cream junkie or a raw food enthusiast, everyone eats, and in this blog I hope to take a closer look at what happens once that food hits your stomach (and maybe follow some other food-related rabbit trails along the way).