Food Studies: Science, It's What's For Dinner
A simple cure for science phobia: blowing up French fries in the lab and investigating the enzyme that keeps soft-centered chocolates soft.
Food Studies features the voices of volunteer student bloggers from a variety of different food- and agriculture-related programs at universities around the world. Don't miss Amy's last post, which explored the mysteries of iodine, including its radioactivity fighting powers.
As a student of nutrition and dietetics, I regularly share a lecture theater with students of biochemistry, molecular genetics, and neuroscience.
This is a fact that continues to completely freak me out.
When I did school the first time round, I dropped all the science subjects as quickly as I possibly could. By fifteen, I'd settled on French, English literature, and history. Science just wasn't for me. It was completely irrelevant, not to mention totally incomprehensible.
Yet here I am, fifteen years after my last chemistry and math exams, grappling with molecular this, that, and the other. And who knew? It's really brilliant.
The great thing about studying science in the context of food is that you can see it happening all around you, all day, every day. Studying science is no longer an intimidating bearded man writing incomprehensible equations on a blackboard. It's me, in my kitchen, cracking open an egg to see if what I'd read about protein was true, or reading the ingredients list on the backs of all the jars in the cupboard to verify the existence of a chemical I'd just learned about.
In the lab, it's blowing up chips [French fries] to see what's inside them. It's excitedly attempting to explain to my mum my latest eureka moment. Some recent highlights of our conversations: Why bananas turn from green to yellow (breakdown of the pigment chlorophyll), how soft-centered chocolates stay soft (the enzyme invertase), how to make blue cheese (inject the fungus penicillium roqueforti with a syringe!), and why our tummies make gurgling noises (swallowed air getting churned up with our dinner in the small intestine).
I wanted to study nutrition precisely because food is everywhere, so I think it's important that we understand it. The scientific concepts behind what I'm studying are complex (I may be 30, but there have been tears at homework time) but when you take them from the library to the kitchen or the supermarket, they become accessible.
Food manufacturers and adverts try to blind us with science (see Megan's latest Food Studies post for a perfect example) but really, this stuff is so tangible and so visible that it shouldn't just be for scientists. If things were explained properly, I can't see any reason why everybody couldn't understand a little bit more about these chemical substances we put into our bodies three times a day. When I qualify in a few years' time, I'll make it my mission.
To be continued...
Photo ("I am the eggman") courtesy of the author.