Science allows us to understand how to grow and recreate our food. Food are made out of a series of codes, encoded in genetic inheritance substance called DNA.
Without science, we do not know what is DNA, what is nature selection and how our food can be grown? We will not know the difference and what made up the diversity in human traits. Food crops and livestock are not an exceptional. Food is a product of science by nature selection.
There are two types of genetic codes -the visible and the invisible genetic inheritance materials in a living organism. The visible inheritance materials are translated into a characteristic or traits that we can observed, for example, a crop has 5 petals of flower, round leaf, green leaf etc. The invisible inheritance materials remains not visible as they are not meant to be translated.
As human, we focus on the visible traits because we want our food to taste the same and look the same. We grew food that is best meet our preference -we are essentially selecting specific traits to meet our needs. As time passed by, we learnt to perform selective farming of specific traits, say sweet watermelon, to meet our needs. While we enjoy sweet watermelon, we may have lose the diversification of the other watermelon that we previously enjoyed. Or is it a very important issue to most of us? After all, we just want a sweet watermelon.
The second example, lab-grown beef. Science allow us to understand the structure and genetic materials of a cells and how to produce an environment that can duplicate where the cells are usually grown. Thus, growing beef inside a laboratory environment using normal (non-genetically modified) beef cell as the starting material, is not impossible. It is made possible because scientist understand how a cell can be grown. Would you eat lab-grown beef meat, as an alternative to farmed beef?
Food is a product of science -we are essential consuming a series of genetic codes through our meals. So, what are you having for dinner?
Recently, a post by a food activist seeking for thoughts on how do we change our food system caught my eye. It was a very simple question that says "What do you think is the fastest way to change our food system?" The post received a huge number of comments that I think it is important to me as a food scientist, to learn regardless of the truthfulness of the comments -whether it is a misperception or the truth. I describe them as a mini consumer's feedback studies, which is free! Some of the comments are pretty helpful, while some are not.
While food activist sometimes may not understand the complete scientific background of the information that they share, it is important to note their importance in gaining valuable thoughts from the consumers (although these feedback needs to be reevaluated for accuracy). If I were to post such a question, I bet I don't have such capability to gain even 1% of the amount of social influence.
Sometimes, me and my friend joke about this -maybe we should make them a food scientist so that they can understand what they share and help to provide unbiased comments to the folks out there who like to understand the food systems. While it is easy to comments from the eye of an outsider, it really takes the perspective of an insider to understand why and how things are the way they are. Let's not forget the role of food activist in improving our food system.
We often heard of food recalls from the news. Whether it is a contaminant, an allergen or a foreign material, food recalls is one of the news that disappoints me. Often, the first thing that came into my mind is how did that happened (and maybe why does it happen again ?) -that is the consumer side of me.
Thinking about it again, here is the good news: It shows that the system in-place can work to prevent further harm to consumers. Food recall component is one of the built-in modules that is a part of food safety management system. It is important to understand that food safety management system is designed to minimize harm to the consumers although we do see recalls all around the year. Typically, the modules require a biannual mock recall covering ingredients, packaging materials, work-in-progress and finished products traceability exercise. The traceability exercise is to trace and ensure that the faulty items are recovered 100% without causing further harm to the consumer. In short, the mock recall exercise helps food manufacturer to prepare for "rainy days" (actual recall) to keep our food system safe.
That is not just it. Food recalls involves communication to the broader group of consumers because it is important to inform the consumer so that they are aware of the risk for the consumption of the product -the transparency factors. Failing to communicate the facts of the recall and the actions that the consumer (and the company) should take can often delay the recall process and consequently, the health of the consumers. Trust me, it is not easy tasks to decide on initiating a food recall based on voluntary initiatives, given the consideration of the branding damage to the food producers or distributors. However, we do see so many voluntary food recalls from the manufacturers so kudos for doing that!
The next question is why can't we prevent food recall ? There are many reasons that can cause food recalls. While food safety management system is based on minimizing the risk, at times, there are unpredictable risks that the manufacturers may not aware when they sell the product to the consumers and only discover it at the later stage, and result in a food recall. In short, when the core food safety management system fail, the second backup system (food recall) kicks on to help protect consumer's health.
Here is what you can do if you have a product that is being recalled:
Disclaimer: This article is based on Felicia's personal thoughts and may not include extensive commentary on the topic of food recall.
Ever wonder why berries come in the shades of red, purple and blue colors. These color shades represent a natural components call anthocyanins.
Anthocyanins compounds were found to be highly beneficial to human health particularly on their function as an antioxidants to sequester free radicals in human body. Free radical exist naturally as a by-product of human metabolism. Excessive free radicals can damages human cell, tissues and organ, and are thought to be a cause of cancer development. In a simpler words, antioxidants acts by a compound that binds and neutralize the free radicals in human body.
Today, anthocyanins compounds can be used as natural food colorants to meet consumer demands for natural food coloring agents.
In most part of the world, our food sources came from food derived from crops (plants) and livestocks (animals). In some part of the world, some people's food source derived from insects and to a lesser extend, testing of lab-grown foods. This article share some of the food sources that we have, extending slightly beyond the application of crops and livestocks in non-food applications.
Crops refers to the plant derived foods that can come from the leaves, the roots, legumes, fruits, flowers and the stalks of the plant. In fact, plant derived products also used in different non-food applications such as household detergents, rubber, clothes, soy-based ink, furniture and fuels.
Similarly, livestocks also play a role on non-food products as you may see on the below slide.
They are part of the animal kingdom, although they are not part of our livestocks. In some part of the world, reptiles such as snake and crocodile are hunt for the meats and inner organs. Here is the catch according to the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology, people can catch certain diseases such as trichinosis, pentastomiasis, gnathostomiasis and sparganosis (2010).
Hmmm... yum or disgusting! Do you know that natural red color, carmine derived from cochineal are the more stable than natural beets color? In the food industry, we need stable color so that consumer (including myself) don't freak out when our food's color deteriorate. The Chinese, in some part of the world, eat fried crickets as part of their tradition. In fact, there is even a cricket farms for insects such as crickets, as insect protein are known with high protein content. Feeling curious -check this out! Insect protein powder may just be an ingredients of sport supplementation for protein for body building purpose.
Lab grown meat
Of course, one of the most highly debated food source is lab-grown meat. Lab meat burger patty anyone-check out this youtube video? Similar to how we can grow human cells for experimental purpose, we can grow meat that we can eat in the lab.
Looks like we got multiple sources of food that we can consume. What are you comfortable consuming and why? Share your thoughts in the comment section.