How We Are Hungry
The next round of posts for the Scientiae blog carnival is themed "How We Are Hungry." I thought about writing about the history of food science, and how it started out as the generally disrespected field of home economics until it got too serious for mere women to be the ones working on it, but then I decided that would make me cranky.
Instead, because I'm a big food geek, this immediately got me thinking about food science, on many levels. Which, really, wasn't hard, because I've already thinking a lot about food and science and culture in the last year or so, thanks to a permaculture design intensive I attended last spring and Michael Pollan's excellent book The Omnivore's Dilemma (hereafter referred to as OD, because I'm lazy.) Also, I really want to eat at El Bulli someday, which is a whole different realm of food science, but today I'm going to focus on the growing end of things rather than molecular gastronomy, which really deserves a gushing post all its own. (And you'll note how I restrain from gnashing my teeth about how so many of the most respected chefs in the world are men...)
Now, for those of you who are big food geeks like me, the fallout from OD has been pretty fascinating. It inspired a great conversation between Pollan and John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods (see here for Pollan's letter and a link to Whole Foods' initial letter to him) about the ideals and goals of the organic food movement.
This is, of course, old news for those of us who are Pollan groupies (I can't be the only one, right??), but OD seems to have kicked the organic movement to another level. Then, earlier this month, Slow Food guru Carlo Petrini sparked a big controversy with his comments about the Ferry Building farmer's market in San Francisco. Check out this post on Ethicurean for a good summary of the issues.
And that kerfuffle (I love that word) led me to an interesting conversation last weekend about the promises and problems of the organic food movement. On the one hand, it's clear that organic farming involves far fewer noxious chemicals on our food, but on the other hand, not all organic farming cleaves to the ideal of truly earth-friendly growing practices. Furthermore, there is some question as to whether or not we can grow enough food to feed the earth's population if we're not using industrial farming practices, which get a lot more calories out of an acre than we used to be able to. On the other hand, at what cost? Some studies suggest that organically grown food is more nutritious. Here's a link to a NYT article discussing some of the studies and debates on that topic.)
I can't help thinking that there must be a limit to how many nutritious calories we can squeeze out of an acre of land, but one of my friends pointed out that, so far, in every newly large generation, enough of them are smart enough to figure out some new genius way to get most of them fed. Of course, that ignores the fact that millions of people in the world are already starving, but that, in turn, brings me to the point that makes all this relevant not only to the Scientiae carnival but to FairerScience.org:
Insofar as people tend to use science to address issues that are interesting and relevant to them, and insofar as women are disproportionately represented among those living in poverty and experiencing hunger as a way of life, finding ways to draw more women into the sciences is a clear way to increase the minds working on these issues. I'd certainly like to think that there's a way to grow enough food for everyone in the world in a sustainable way. And it's probably someone who's hungry for such a solution who will find it.