What the Heck is Food Technology?
When my kids were younger, the “Seven Wonders of the World” would sometimes be discussed in school – y’know, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Pyramid of Giza, and so on. Afterwards, they and their classmates would be challenged to come up with a list of 7 modern wonders. Technological achievements like computers, space travel, flight, television and splitting the atom always made these lists. I always found it odd that our modern system of food processing and distribution – a network that’s intrinsic to our very survival – never even got an honorable mention. It was taken completely for granted – and not just by the kids, but also by their teachers.
This is pretty typical. It’s something most people don’t think twice about – processed food is so ubiquitous, it’s invisible. We’re so accustomed to the relative safety, variety, and reliability of our food supply, that it’s only news when the system breaks down. Even then, such events are temporary and local, so they’re soon forgotten.
It’s rather different for me: rather than being blind to it, I’m hyper-aware of it. This is because my degrees are in Food Science. That’s not nutrition, by the way: it’s food technology.
It’s an odd pairing: most people don’t think of technology as something related to food. I have an especially vivid memory of a conversation I had years ago with the mechanic working on my car. I was in grad school at the time, and he asked me what I was studying…so I told him.
He looked at me with this deer-caught-in-the-headlights expression on his face. He was obviously unclear on the concept, so I tried framing it this way:
Me: “Have you ever wondered how you go from an ear of corn to a box of Corn Flakes…and how you make each box of Corn Flakes look, taste, smell and crunch exactly like every other box of Corn Flakes, year after year?”
Him: “No, never.”
He still had that clueless look on his face, and that worried me some, as he’d just gotten through fixing my brakes!
But that’s the essence of it, really. Raw agricultural products are living (or once living) things, and everything that’s done to them: freezing, heating, fermenting, drying, grinding, extracting, extruding, etc. has an effect. The mass production of food products involves biochemistry, organic chemistry, physical chemistry, engineering, microbiology, toxicology, enzymology…and yes, even psychology.
At this point, you might be asking: what does this have to do with losing weight and getting in shape?
In my experience, it matters A LOT. There’s more to food than just the number of calories, and grams of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
This is a topic I’ll be posting about a lot in the future, to explore what’s in everyone’s favorite foods, and to dissect the often confusing subject of what constitutes a “healthy” food. When you understand food, it’s a lot easier to make good choices and resist the lure of bad ones.