Recent developments in food science range from controversial genetic modifications of plant structure to incredible food preparations to new technologies and tactics for educating the public about food.
Education and information are of great important to the average consumer because substantial information can mean the difference between improving one’s health through better food habits or being taken in by convincing advertising for products or habits that are not only unhelpful, but which may be unsafe.
Food education combines with Internet access so that we now have the technology for rapid recalls of unsafe foods, for finding the nutritional value of foods, for determining whether allergies or medical disorders make some foods harmful, or for finding out if the claims made about nutritional products in advertising includes deceptive, unproven, or erroneous information. Nothing is more profitable or malleable than the mass of otherwise well-educated, skeptical and informed citizens who will buy into the latest nutrition trend or fad.
In the area of food preparation, there are “robo chefs” who were built to test new dexterity and capacity in robotics development. The chefs are now capable of cooking pancakes, serving food and drink, and chopping vegetables.
Liquid nitrogen allows some chefs to create unreal delicacies by forming food in ways that could not be done otherwise. Cooking food in vacuums creates texture and flavor heretofore unavailable. Convection ovens, improved microwaves, and improved technology for freezing and preserving foods are having a great impact on our daily lives.
Developments in the area of genetic and biological plant modification have been going on for a while. And it will take a while to find out what happens. Genetic modification is simply a faster way of getting beneficial features of a plant than generations of plant propagation used to do. The problem is that with such rapid evolution, targeting specific improvements, such as pest resistance, ripples can go out through entire ecosystems. As a certain hungry moth starves out, birds that eat the moth have to look elsewhere, and so on. Neither the moth nor the bird will be able to modify themselves as quickly as the plant has been modified. Finally, as seeds broadcast themselves naturally in bird droppings or by wind, for example, genetically modified plants can intrude into non-modified fields in uncontrolled fashions. In summary, tweaking one part of the food chain can result in changes to the entire food chain.
Finally, no food issues create more discussion, outrage, or hysteria than tainted food. Advancements are being made in food safety inspections with new and improved lab equipment for sampling and analyzing foods. Innovations in examining food at the microscopic and sub-cellular level, or in the smallest quantities imaginable, are being researched. Innovative programs are being developed for inspecting the movement, production and processing of food. New methods, tools and substances for insuring proper cleanliness and hygiene are being tested.
All of these developments can either delight, help or harm us. But we can be assured that scientists are working on improving education, preservation, quality, safety, nutrition, and all aspects of our food supply.
Homaro Cantu’s Wierd Science