Food Science is a Thing. That Exists.

Warning: rant with mature language follows.

In the recent year, I have severely pissed off a few people, both in person and over the internet, even to the point of getting myself kicked out of a couple of Facebook groups of real-life significance (meaning: not just people I knew over the internet).  And you know what?  I am entirely ok with that.

Why am I ok with something like that?  Simply put, because I can’t abide woo and pseudoscience, and I strongly disagree with the as-of-recently prevalent idea that someone’s ignorance is as good as my knowledge (paraphrasing Asimov here, obviously).  I’ve had it stated to my face that “there isn’t any really any science out there in regards to healthy eating” and that “it’s all an opinion and I know what I believe”.  So, essentially, all my education and work experience don’t matter.  Some asshat who’s read something on the internet obviously knows better, even if their degree is in music or mathematics (both excellent empirical research based disciplines that deal extensively with nutrition, as is well-known /sarcasm).

Image credit - James Kennedy (click on image for link)
About those chemicals. Image credit – James Kennedy (click on image for link)

Well excuse the flying fuck out of me.  Food science and nutritional science are things.  That exist.  And I am beyond fucking tired of people assuming that knowing how to use a chopping board entitles them to tell me to my face that my profession and the body of scientific knowledge it deals with do not exist or matter, based on a thing they read on the internet about some dude in India has cured his testicle cancer and survived to be 158 years old on pure juice of roots he dug out in a sacred Himalayan forest using nothing but his teeth.

This sort of garbage is what has given the world anti-vaxxers who bring back near-extinct diseases, people who torture their autistic children with bleach enemas, and ignorant peasants who destroy test fields of Golden Rice intended to help their kids not go blind or die.  It’s the sort of bullshit that makes people like FraudBroad and Dr. Oz and Mercola rich at the expense of people who don’t know any better.  It’s the kind of ideas that perpetuate websites dispensing diet advice to people which may well cause health problems (excessive use of juice instead of consuming whole fruit and vegetables may cause or exacebrate NAFLD, for example). It’s the sort of thing which vilifies people who cannot afford ‘organic’ (quotation marks intended) foods because they ‘do harm to their children’, and the sort of advice that turns cancer patients to coffee enemas and away from actual medical intervention (with nearly-universally fatal results). In short, it’s entitled ignorance and I have had enough.

Which is why, instead of happily writing about delicious and not-necessarily-good-for-you-but-awesome-to-eat food, today I write about bullshit, unhappily.  For the record, the thing that got me kicked out of ostensibly ‘foodies” groups, was me standing up against pseudoscientific crap and defending things like refined oil for cooking (no it’s not rancid, and no it’s not the devil), GMOs (sugar from GMO sugar beets is chemically identical to sugar from non-GMO sugar beets, and if you think otherwise you’ve failed basic chemistry), mentioning that actually, everything you eat (and everything around you, really) is made of chemicals, many of which have names you can’t easily pronounce (but I may be able to), and speaking up against a whole host of garbage ideas – in my case it was not agreeing with Weston-Price Foundation *cough*cult*cough* on (a lot of) scientific points regarding biology, chemistry and nutrition.  And yes, in case you wonder, I do own that cookbook and I have read it (it’s occasionally useful for looking up old-timey recipes and techniques).  And in case you are curious, it involved one of the adherents to their way of life getting some buddy of hers in Russia to send me hatemail all the way from Moscow.  I was flattered, really, that some Russian dude thought to lecture me in English (I can read Russian, bozo) about how I probably don’t know how to get along with Scandinavians and how I am too loud and ‘likely recently moved there’.  (“Behold the field in which I grow my fucks”  and also, fact-checking is a thing, asshole.)

Anyway, all of this brings me to another point of my rant, and this blog.  I make no secret of the fact that due to my own sensitivity to sugar and predisposition towards diabetes II, I try to eat somewhat low-carbohydrate diet and avoid too much sugar*.  Which is to say that some recipes on this blog will be low in carbohydrates, and some are cheesecake and fudge.  Why is that?  Because while I try to eat a lot of greenery and vegetables and fresh meats and dairy, and I don’t hit the by-the-kilogram candy shops, I do have dessert on occasion, and when I do I want it to be real dessert so by Little Green Apples and all that is holy, if I am eating dessert, it won’t be some fat-free sugar-free abomination.  I may not eat a bucketful of it (and in fact I usually don’t), but when I do eat it, it will be awesome.  And it’ll have sugar.  It might be maple sugar, coconut sugar, honey or simply fucking white sugar, and it’ll be there for the sake of my health.  Mental health.  I’m no psychologist but most of them will tell you that it’s not healthy to have hangups about food, because that way lie eating disorders, among other things.  And this blog (and my life) isn’t about promoting any one diet (because metabolisms differ, and frankly what is great for one person may well leave another one exhausted and miserable), and it’s certainly not about pushing anyone towards an eating disorder – or diabetes.  And while we are on the subject of diabetes…

*…it is important to note that I don’t say that I avoid ‘refined sugar’.  Repeat after this food scientist: sugar is fucking sugar.  The nutritional difference between your ‘non-GMO organic unrefined cane juice gathered by native barefoot women in handspun textiles’ and my box of local beet white caster sugar is about 0.3% of its weight.  Sensory difference would be a pretty color and probably a nice aroma.  Marketing difference would be fancy-ass (and not necessarily good for environment) packaging and a huge price markup.  But the important thing to make clear here is that just because the sugar is made of coconut nectar, ground-up dates, sap of a maple tree, or it’s raw honey or whatever doesn’t make it any less, you know, sugar.  That your body responds to by producing insulin.  Sugar that is not so awesome for (the average) you, and pretty bad for (some of the other you and) me.  So for the love of everything, stop thinking that ‘natural sweeteners’ that aren’t white sugar are going to save anyone from obesity and that your ‘no refined sugar’ cookies aren’t anything but a dessert.  And honestly, if you are going to make cookies, make good cookies.  Otherwise, make a bowl of oatmeal with a pinch of salt and a dab of butter, and call it healthy food.  At least then it’ll be true.

The point of this rant is mostly to get this off my chest, and also to make it clear that on this blog, I will neither sell you any ‘organic’ (read: grown with different set of pesticides!) food ideas, nor peddle any woo if I can help it.  If you come here looking for The Truth (‘they’ don’t want you to know about!) about how to cure your vaginal itch/toenail fungus/tooth cavities, this is not the blog and these are not the posts you are looking for.

I will write the truth about food science and food to the best of my knowledge, and reference it if I should make any claims (not that I tend to).  This blog isn’t a ‘vegan blog’, a ‘Paleo blog’, an ‘Atkins blog’ or ‘low-fat/light cooking’ blog.  It’s not a ‘green juicing’ or ‘clean eating’ blog.  It’s a blog by a food scientist about food, and making it easier, more accessible, healthier and more delicious.  It’s also about me showing off pretty photos of things I cooked (and anyone who knows me knows that I am lazy) in hopes of inspiring people to cook for themselves, and to try things – and, while we are at it, this blog is not about making things sound more complicated than they are.  Because food, even healthy food, isn’t difficult.  It can be, but it doesn’t actually have to be.

Now, access to fresh produce is something you and I might take for granted, but to many urban poor it’s not a reality, and that is a morass of sociopolitical problems I am not fully qualified to address.  What I mean is – I am not a political scientist.  I know how to put a good meal together out of simple ingredients, not how to ensure everyone has access to them.  (This is how one admits that there are things outside one’s expertise in a graceful manner.)  I might, at some point, ask someone more qualified in that field to write a guest post about that other problem.  But I DO know that one phenomenon that prevents/slows down getting that access to fresh food for more people is the entitled never-gone-hungry population who screams that GMOs are evil and ‘Big Ag’ is killing their unvaccinated children with cookies, because this sort of behavior and resulting media and marketing hype drive up the price of fresh produce unnecessarily.  And all I can say to these people without descending into (more) profanity in four languages is – you have access to fucking tomatoes.  Be happy about that, and for the love of the urban-wasteland or starving rural poor, shut the fuck up.  You might think that your degree from Google-U entitles you to your opinions, but guess what?  This food scientist has no time for any of your pseudoscientific shit.  Nor is that likely to change short of actual scientific evidence to the contrary.

I could go on and rant far longer, but I would just be repeating myself without any structure and that makes for unproductive writing and boring reading.  Instead, I think I will have to write a series of blog posts speaking about various such topics separately and in detail (by all means, leave me a comment and let me know if there’s something you want me to talk about – I will be happy to write about what people want to hear!).

In the meantime, I will leave you with that one quote from The Onion – “just eat a goddamn vegetable once in a while“.

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5 thoughts on “Food Science is a Thing. That Exists.

  1. Entertaining rant. Thanks. What you have described is a fairly modern phenomenon. For the first time in human history even “poor” humans are rich enough and have enough leisure time to make complete asses of themselves on the so-called “social” media. Google and Wikipedia have created “experts” out of laymen, and the internet has bred a generation of narcissists who spend all their free time (and much of their work time) arguing with other narcissists — anonymously and very, very angrily. This culture of commentary has become an actual lifestyle for hundreds of millions who treat conversation as a life-and-death struggle. And you know what? In the entire history of internet warfare, I don’t believe a single partisan has ever changed his mind. All this anger and frustration and propaganda is symptomatic of a wider cultural crisis. It’s a job for the philosophers who, we must concede, have proven time and again throughout history to be unequal to the task.

    1. Ahh, you wax poetic about idiots on the internet. I believe, however, that while arguing on the internet is a modern phenomenon (of necessity since internet is), stupid people arguing their misguided ideas are not new at all. The snake oil salesmen of Wild West and those who swore by their remedies, and more than half of medicine from ancient times speak to us of the power of belief in total gobbledigook.

      Perhaps what I write is not going to convince anyone, but perhaps, just perhaps, it’ll at least make even one person doubt that what they know is possibly not The Truth and the One Truth, and I will be happy.

      1. I was listening to a show on the BBC yesterday about Jainism. Its adherents are “allowed” to eat above-the-ground vegetables because fewer “souls” are harmed that way. Root vegetables are strictly forbidden because there are an “infinite” number of “souls” below the earth’s surface, and the last thing you want to do if you’re a Jain is murder an infinite number of souls. The Jains reject the concept of personal property, and as a result are wholly dependent on others for their survival. They call this “liberation,” though I would call it parasitism. Oddly, that word was never uttered in the BBC’s glowing and reverential treatment of this mystical cult. I couldn’t help but notice that, for a non-absolutist religion, they sure have a lot of rules about cooking. But at least they aren’t arguing about it all day on Reddit!

      2. I used to work in food industry in the UK where they would occasionally want me to ‘vet’ things in accordance to various weird religious practices, from Kosher to Hindu to Jainism.

        I always found Jainism to be particularly annoying because of all the hypocrisy. It’s the same thing that bothers me about vegans – they are going to drive other animals (like me) insane trying to avoid traces of anything that touched an animal in their food – and then happily murder as many plants as they feel like without feeling any reverence for the lives of plants. I happen to like plants, so I found it deeply offensive on a philosophical level – plants are not only the only living things that can make organic compounts out of inorganic (in sufficient quantity and quality to matter to humans), but they also provide us with the oxygen we breathe. Without them we cannot live – yet it’s perfectly ok to murder a carrot so long as you are sanctimonious enough about it not being an animal. Way to think you are better than other living things!

        … but this is a rant for another time. ;)

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