This is the End

To me, Centre Term represents the opportunity to broaden one’s horizons, to take a class purely to satisfy the thrill of learning. Based on this criteria, Centre Term has been immensely successful.

Not only has the journey been successful, it has been enjoyable. The most enjoyable part of the class would definitely have to be working with my group on the video project. It was fun to work on a large scale project with such a lighthearted group of guys. I expected the video project to be a lot more like drudgery, but as it turned out, working on the video was my favorite part of the class. Not only was my group enjoyable, but it was also really nice to be able to eat the food we prepared. In my opinion, the food we made was delicious. Indeed, if I had to put my finger on the time when I had the most fun during class, it would definitely be working on the video project.

The most challenging aspect of this course was my lack of familiarity with chemistry. I felt that I was handicapped by not taking a chemistry class since Junior year of high school. Obviously I knew chemistry would be heavily involved in the class The Chemistry of Food but I figured it would either be basic in nature or the class would spend ample time covering the pertinent chemistry knowledge. Maybe we did both of those things in class, but with my lack of knowledge, it sure felt like we didn’t.

This leads me to the advice I would give to future students. I would recommend that the incoming students take chemistry during their first semester at Centre, or at the very least, take AP chemistry in high school, but doing both would probably be ideal. In my case, I did neither of those two things, and I felt it put unnecessary strain on my learning of the subject matter. It really helps me learn when I have a broad, sturdy base of knowledge to apply the specific situations to. Not only does that help me remember the information better, but it also allows me to think clearly and make educated guesses on topics that I might be unsure about. Because I didn’t have the chemistry background, the class was undoubtedly harder.

While the course work wasn’t overly intense, it was harder than I wanted it to be. In regards to grades, I am a perfectionist. I am disappointed with anything less than an A. Its not like my grade was insanely low, I had an 88% on the progress report, but I still wanted higher. It is sad that I couldn’t get the grade I wanted, and I think that was in no small part related to my lack of understanding of the chemical processes at work.

As a whole, I would have to label Centre Term as a success. In the short time frame of three weeks, I definitely grew as a person. I know all good things must come to an end, but I am sad my time in The Chemistry of Food is over.

The Same But Different

Over Centre Term, I’ve been to a place I never thought I would go, a distillery. As luck would have it, in these few weeks I’ve been to a distillery twice: once to Wilderness Trace and once to Maker’s Mark. While the end product is the same, relatively, the distilleries themselves were quite different from one another. While both businesses touted their superior product, the differences in how they made their product was the most interesting to me. Wilderness Trace focused more on the science and chemistry of the process, while Maker’s Mark put more of an emphasis on the pedigree of their brand.

The basic simple similarities would be the basic steps they took to create their bourbon. Obviously there were small differences between what they did, like Maker’s Mark’s bourbon undergoing the fermenting process in a large old barrel instead of a steel one, but for the most part, the processes were the same. For example, Wilderness Trace and Maker’s Mark both utilized the pot still and column still in the distillation process. Both businesses also had a sense of locality. They made efforts to reduce the distance their ingredients had to travel in order to be used. They took pride in the notion that they were supporting their neighbors instead of simply shopping for the cheapest price.

What I found most interesting in my trips to the distilleries was the differences the two businesses had. They both made bourbon, but their mentalities were different from the other. Maker’s Mark talked about how the founding family had a long history as brewers, that notion even made it into their logo. Indeed, they even use the same strain of yeast that they brought from Europe. Wilderness Trace being 8 weeks old can’t rely on the pedigree of their brand, so instead they focus intensely upon the science of the process. There was this drive to chemically perfect the creation of bourbon that Maker’s Mark didn’t seem to possess. That is not to say that Maker’s Mark didn’t strive to make a wholesome product through science, it just wasn’t at the same magnitude as Wilderness Trace Distillery.

Without a doubt I immensely enjoyed my two bourbon distillery field trip experiences. I was shocked that even though they both made bourbon, the two distilleries were so different. While I never expected to go to a distillery, it was an awesome experience and I’m glad I went.

Sucralose

Sucralose is an artificial sweetener. The flavor of sucralose is derived sugar, specifically sucrose. It is made by replacing three hydroxyl group with chlorine atoms. The result is a artificial sweetener that is about six hundred times sweeter than regular sugar. The name sucralose is marketed to the public by is Splenda.

Splenda has two noted benefits to the consumer: it is good for teeth, when compaired to regular sugar, and it is not harmful to people with diabetes. It is good for teeth, relatively, because the bacteria present in everyone’s mouths do not feed on sucralose. This is because the bacteria does not recognize the compound as sugar, and as such does not produce the decay on your teeth. It is good for people with diabetes is similar to the reason as to why it is not harmful to your teeth. Your body does not recognize the sucralose and does not metabolize it accordingly. Because of this, no insulin levels are altered,

While sucralose does have some advantages, it does come with disadvantages as well. First, the caloric value is slightly misleading. As previously stated, sucralose is six hundred times sweeter than sugar. Being so much sweeter, it cannot be packaged solely by itself. To resolve this issue, Splenda is packaged with 1% sucralose and 99% maltodextrin and dextrose. These are sugars that add volume to the packet and act mostly as filler. These sugars also add calories, meaning that one packet of splenda contains 3.66 calories, as compared to their zero calorie marketing standard. Next, is the potential weight gain due to the compound not being recognized as a sugar. Because the body does not recognize the substance as sugar, there is little utilization of the nutrients in the food and therefore some of the food that would otherwise be used by the body is now improperly metabolized.

Sucralose is a product that is not fully understood by either the public or by scientists. The FDA labels sucralose as not dangerous, but this is based off relatively short term studies, so while the potential is smaller, there is a chance that something more malign might arise from the compound. Be that as it may, the artificial sweetener shouldn’t really be avoided until there is more definitive proof on the subject.

Unforgettable Moments from Centre Term

While there is a tendency to forget information you’ve learned, especially over a long period of time, there are a few things you will never forget. I’ve learned a wide array of facts , and hopefully I’ll remember most of them, but I know that I will never forget some of it. Specifically, I know that I’ll never forget what I learned about was trans-fats.

The most prominent of the three fats, in my mind, was trans-fats. The reason why I’ll always remember trans fats was because of how bad trans-fats are for you. In class, we learned that you body lacks the tools to properly digest the fats, and therefore, they will stay with you forever. There is no getting rid of the trans-fats you eat. Also, if there are less that .5 grams of trans-fat, the food company can write that it contains zero grams of trans-fat. Trans-fats have hydrogen bonds on each side of the molecule chain, so they act more like saturated fats, such as having a higher melting point than unsaturated fats, or lasting longer/having a longer shelf-life than unsaturated fats. With all the negative aspects to trans-fats, it is unsurprising that the FDA is moving to ban trans-fats from all foods.

I think that I’ll remember about trans-fats specifically is because of the underhanded nature of the whole process. I have a tendency to always remember something if I learn that I’m being lied to (i.e. trans-fats actually being present in food). Also, I’m more likely to remember some fact or piece of information if it is more absolute in nature (i.e. you can’t ever get rid of the trans-fats that you eat).

This Centre Term I have learned alot, and while hopefully I will remember most the knowledge I’ve gained, I know that the chance of that occurring is unlikely. However, I know that I will always remember the information about trans-fats. I believe that this is the one thing that I will never forget.

BYOB: Brewing Your Own Bourbon

Throughout my day trip to Wild Trace Distillery, I was repeatedly struck by the amount of planning that goes into making the alcoholic beverages that millions enjoy. Also, that strict rules surrounding the bourbon making process were equally intriguing. First off, to be bourbon, the drink must be at least 51% corn, with the remainder being up to the individual distiller, in Wild Trace Distillery’s case, the remainder was wheat in order to support local agriculture and reduce carbon emissions. Also, to be classified as bourbon, the barrel must be new for each batch, an old barrel cannot be reused to store bourbon.

The most notable point of the trip was how simple the process seemed to be. Basically, one adds yeast to mash, corn/wheat/barley etc. and water, to begin the fermentation process. The yeast breaks down the mash creating ethanol, the most desired byproduct of the reaction, and other byproducts, some bad some good. Next the distillation process begins, purifying the alcohol by removing unwanted additives. From there the brew is stored in a barrel for 3 to 4 years.

This simplicity, mind you, must be taken with a grain of salt. Undoubtedly I am skipping over steps and oversimplifying the steps that I do talk about, but I still feel my point stands. Obviously I was not privy to the specifics and there was undoubtedly more going on beneath the surface, but the chemistry that the tour guides told the class was not all the complex. Maybe I am being arrogant, but I feel that given enough time and explanation I too could make bourbon, although the quality might be lower than the batches made by PhD chemists and engineers. All in all, the whole process made me marvel at the power of chemistry. Indeed, none of the steps that went into making bourbon were extremely novel, but there does still seem to be a certain magic to the process. With chemistry, one can recreate that magic for himself/herself. To me, the Wild Trace Distillery represented chemistry manifesting itself into something useful and tangible, something that millions can enjoy.

My Perception of Food

The way I view food has undoubtedly changed. From my experiences I’ve had in class, watching Food, Inc., reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, visiting Marksbury Farms, and learning about GMOs, denying that my opinion on food has changed would be ludicrous. While industrial farms in Food, Inc. and Marksbury Farms are both involved in the grim business of slaughtering animals, Marksbury Farms seemed to try to ennoble the act by performing their job with a touch of reverence.I do indeed applaud the gentle and humane touch they bring to their profession, I can’t help but marvel at the feat large food processing plants accomplish each and every day. Now I understand just how much corn has penetrated the lives of every American in the country, and the troubles the come with it. I have to say that food has indeed taken on a new form because of my experiences in the class.

Though the food I eat everyday has taken on a new form, that form is just as appealing to me as it was when I was ignorant to the food’s processes. Just tonight, I went out to eat and had chicken fingers. Looking back, it is probable that the chicken on my plate came from a large industrial meat processing plant, but at the time did I think about that? No, I did not. I was hungry and enjoying the company I had. In some ways, I view that as a failure on my part, but honestly, I genuinely don’t believe my experience was novel. Just as a teenager might write off the dangers of texting while driving with the claim “It happened to others, but it won’t happen to me,” American consumers, myself included, seem to distance themselves from the realities of what goes into food. When I watched Food, Inc. I was unsettled, but not once did I think that I could be eating the flesh of those mistreated chickens. Those depictions affected others, not me, and I unconsciously carry that attitude with me to the dinner table. In a selfish way, my view of food has indeed changed, but my actions in acquiring food most certainly haven’t.

A Prepackaged Opinion & a Crisis of Agriculture

First off, I want to preface my post with by voicing my disagreement with Wendell Berry. I find it strange that the man who is so strongly against the dumbing down of the American public is at the same time trying to give his reader prepackaged opinions. What I mean is that instead of giving the reader facts and letting them make their own decisions, Berry makes the decisions for him. For example, he tells his reader that “the fact is…[the average American citizen] is probably the most unhappy average citizen in the history of the world” (Berry, 20). By giving one “the facts,” or in other words, highly unsubstantiated opinions, Berry’s intense bias forces the reader to see complex issues in a one dimensional manner, only in black and white.

While I do think Wendell Berry has some serious flaws in his arguments, he still has valid opinions at times, and in one particular instance, the crisis of agriculture in the America, he is spot on. I agree that “The established agriculture has shifted its emphasis, and its interest, from quality to quantity” (42). With the shift from small scale farming to large scale industrial farming, something has been lost, and that something is the people. Simply from a practical sense, with smaller percentages of farmers now working to provide a higher percentages of one’s food, less time can be spent worrying about quality. Now with the trend of farmers growing a single crop repetitively or alternating between two crops, the balance of nature has been offset in order to produce more of an individual cash crop. Once companies and farmers alike start looking at  food sources as profit, steps aren’t taken to improve the quality of the crop, steps are taken to ensure highest yield, no matter what, to boost revenue.

This ambition to see quantity placed above quality for bigger profit margins is one frequently taken by companies such as Monsanto. By ruthlessly chasing and suing potential violators of patent laws, Monsanto intimidates farmers into submission.This is an issue stemming from a crisis of agriculture and more specifically, stemming from the notion of quantity over quality because by intimidating the farmers, they will assuredly always buy more seeds, but also farmers might grow more of the crop in hopes that in doing so, they will please Monsanto and ward off any potential litigation. Indeed, by pursuing quantity over quality situations like the ones with Monsanto can arise not only lowering quality, but also scaring the precious few farmers that still exist.

While Berry is not the most impartial in his arguments and chooses to delve more into heavy-handed opinions, he still is good at making his reader think. In my case, after thinking about the current state of agriculture within the United States it seems that Wendell Berry is on point in his assessments, even though his book is decades old. Although I do not like his prepackaged opinions, at times, it is hard to deny their validity.

Berry, Wendell. (1977). The Unsettling of America.

GMO: Good to Go

My family doesn’t exactly sit down for dinner together very often with all of my siblings living away from home, but if we were somehow grouped together I could imagine how I would tell them about GMO’s. First off, I have enough faith in my family that I would assume that they all understand what a GMO is. Maybe they wouldn’t know the acronym, but I would wager that they had a rough idea of what being a GMO entailed.

With an understanding of my audience I would most likely talk about the specifics of creating a GMO. Mentioning how scientists insert desired genes into by a combination of the wanted gene with an antibiotic, I would then explain how the antibiotic marker gene was integral to the process. By killing all the bacteria without the antibiotic, only the desired bacteria would be present in the food. I could imagine my brother bringing up how the overuse of antibiotics would be dangerous because it would create more antibiotic resistant bacteria dangerous to humans. Telling him that scientists have found no feasible way for  DNA to go from a plant to the belly of animal, I would imagine the discussion would stall there with a back and forth between how one could be sure that there was no way for the DNA to jump.

If for some reason the conversation didn’t end in an argument or get off topic, I would switch to talking about how companies didn’t have to label foods with GMOs. Personally, I would feel that educating the consumer is a good thing and a label would probably be the smartest thing to do, but I’m not sure how I would respond to the critique that a group of people can churn out a feeling of hysteria, which would unnecessarily damage GMOs reputation. The FDA did approve the GMOs and say there was no noticeable health risks associated with them, which means that, in their opinion, labels aren’t required. I can definitely appreciate not scaring ignorant people with contentious issues, but ultimately I don’t think I should be the one to make the decision, so I would fall back on letting the customer choose. All things considered, it seems to be the most fair to everyone.

If I was allowed to talk at my family for a while about GMOs the conversation would go down something like that. I would emphasize that the process of installing a crop with GMOs was safe and would also talk about how I felt that labels should be added to foods with GMOs. In the real world, with unknowable variables, people, this conversation would most likely be very different, but hopefully the message that GMO are good to go.

What I’ve Learned So Far….

Before I took this class, I saw science as this as this great force of progress. I knew that with advancements in science came advancements in society, but this idea was mostly an abstraction. I knew physics helped us discover the universe we live in, but I don’t really understand how. With this class, I got a small piece of understanding about why science is so useful and such a benefit to society. For example. I can understand the controversy surrounding trans-fats and why we should aim for unsaturated fats over saturated fats.

One of my main goals in this class was to reacquaint myself with chemistry, and while we are learning some chemistry it is in small quantities and in some cases it is over my head. As it stands right now, this class hasn’t really transformed the way I think about science in regards to chemistry. Although, I do appreciate the rigor the subject possess because even though I find the specifics of the chemistry we learn to be slightly confusing, I really enjoy learning about it. I enjoy to be challenged over being bored, and in this class I am definitely challenged into rethinking my viewpoint of chemistry and science as a whole.Hopefully by the end of the term, I can say I have gained some preparation for a chemistry course that I plan to take next fall term.

The last way the class has transformed how I think about science is the record keeping that comes with a science course. The lab journals were definitely a new thing to me. While they can, in my opinion, be cumbersome at times, I do understand the necessity of them if one wished to pursue a field in clinical science.

Overall, the class has changed the way I understand science, and with that new understanding, I feel I can appreciate the discipline more so now than I did before.

Ignorance is Not a Bliss: The Satisfaction from Knowing Your Food

When Pollan contemplates the meal for his family and friends, one can get a sense of the reverence he feels for his food. An overall sense of rightness pervaded the meal he was to enjoy. Even down to the ingredients, everything tasted as it should; “When chickens get to live like chickens, they’ll taste like chickens, too” (Pollan, 271). Compare this to his meal at McDonald’s where he had no idea, ultimately, where his food came from, he was just left with the knowledge that it came form corn. There was no appreciation on his part for what he was eating because the eating experience at McDonald’s was so impersonal. Pollan could not appreciate what went into his meal because he did not know what went into his meal. He was eating a strange meat made in an even stranger way.

This is not the case for the meal in which he had a hand in making. He knew, definitively, what he was eating and how it was made, even to the point where he chose to hold back information from those he ate with. By all means, he was integral not only to the preparation of his food, but also in its production. Because he knew what went into his meal, he could be appreciative of all the pieces that went into the dinner. He killed two chickens and uses several of their eggs, but ultimately that sacrifice had meaning to him. In essence, his “entire meal would be a celebration of the chicken” (265). Pollan had respect for the chicken, and one could get a sense that feeling was manifested in his interaction with his friends and family.

The difference between the meal at McDonald’s to the one he prepared himself, was a difference between convenience and contentment. At McDonald’s the expectation is not to get a quality,healthy meal. No, you go to McDonald’s to eat quickly, to eat conveniently, and hopefully to eat something that taste good. You go there to get rid yourself of a biological urge, then go back to whatever it is that you were doing originally. With a meal such as Pollan’s, the expectation is different; The meal is an event in and of itself. You get to enjoy not only the taste of the meal, but you get to enjoy it with others, and coupled with that meal, there is a satisfaction that you knew what you actually ate. If Pollan’s writings prove anything, it is that understanding what you are eating leaves you with a strong feeling of contentment.

 

Pollan, Michael. (2006). The Omnivore’s Dilemma.