Food Job: Allergy Researcher

peaFortunate are those who do not suffer from an allergy. This is a health issue to be taken with the utmost seriousness.

Many people believe that they are allergic to specific foods, but in fact, genuine food allergies, which attack the body’s immune system and many become life threatening, show up in only one to two percent of the adult population.

A far more common experience is food intolerance–a disagreeable reaction that bears many of the symptoms of an allergy. Food intolerances are extremely unpleasant, but they won’t kill you.

The season also plays a significant role in the intensity of intolerance and allergic reaction to some foods. For example, someone who is allergic to cantaloupe may be more susceptible in the spring and fall when the increase in airborne pollen can trigger symptomsContinue reading

Living Without Our Tools

There seems to be a romance about living in the past. I’m always baffled by that.

We somehow forget our current technology was not with us; not our cell phones, not the familiar microwave oven, essential to our heat it up fast!, fast!, fast! lifestyle, which arrived in our kitchens in the 1970s.

A little science and technology can go a long way in the kitchen, even for those who have trouble boiling water.

Cuisinart Cookbook by Irena Chalmers_With the introduction of the Cuisinart food processor into the kitchens of the clumsy and the inept, the  universe of culinary possibility stretched into infinity. Suddenly we could all call ourselves Julia.

It was David Kamp who best described the Cuisinart’s impact in his wonderful, The United States of ArugulaContinue reading

Careers in Food Science

food scienceScience reaches ever more extensively into the world of food. As nations address issues related to world hunger, there is an urgent need to learn how to grow food more efficiently, to grow it in inhospitable lands, and to invent new methods of irrigation.

There are unlimited possibilities for employment in many fields relating to food science. They loom large once you accept the premise that growing, preparing, and cooking food is a marriage of science and art. Whether you are more interested in the medicinal value of herbs or flavors developed in chemistry labs, science and technology offer numerous ways to turn your appreciation of food into a profession.

In Discover magazine, Jeffrey Klugar writes that, “In the United States alone, there are more than 75 science-based companies churning out artificial flavors. Each of these labs serves hundreds of brand-name food manufacturers, who include their inventions into nearly everything we eat, from frozen dinners and tacos to Tootsie Rolls.”

Do you have a job in food science? Can you share any insights on what you do and how you found your job?

Obesity — Figures Expanding

All American Banana Split

All American Banana Split

Telling Tales: On the first day I came to America, I met Fred. He invited me to have lunch in a small restaurant in the Village (in NYC). I wanted to have a banana split as I had seen one on the movies.

When it came, I thought the waiter was just showing it to me and would take it in the back and serve a small portion. I gasped when I realized the whole thing was for me. I declared I could never eat such a huge thing.

And then I did.

I didn’t share but maybe I should have.

Food Job: Childhood Obesity Researcher

First Lady Michelle Obama launched the Let’s Move! Initiative before a gathering of 800 invited chefs in the Rose Garden of the White House. She said, “This is an initiative to reverse the devastating long-term consequences of childhood obesity and to improve the quality of the food served in public schools.”

She encouraged all invited guests to join in the challenge by saying, “You are all at the heart of this initiative . . . You know more about food than almost anyone—other than grandmas—and you’ve got the visibility and the enthusiasm to match that knowledge.”


My Lunch with President Jimmy Carter

President Jimmy Carter, 1993

I am glued to the Democratic Convention, absorbing one brilliant speech after another and relishing every word of commentary too.

I was very happy to listen to President Jimmy Carter, and to see him looking so well at age 88.

Long ago, I listened to him speak on the radio. I was so mesmerized, I parked my car to hear every word. I’ve continued to admire him ever since.

Much later I wrote a Letter to the Editor of The New York Times. (How bold of me!) I expressed my opinion that genetic engineering was our best hope for the future of agriculture.

To my surprise and delight, I received an invitation to join then former President Carter for lunch in Plains, Georgia.

As you probably know, he has supported research at Emory University to isolate the protein that causes peanut allergy. He (and Julia Child) believed in science and technology to solve some of our problems as we struggle to feed a hungry world on diminishing expanses of fertile farmland.

I just want to describe the lunch itself though. We met in a small store-front cafeteria.The buffet table consisted of a row of six or seven industrial metal pans in which the tepid food was immersed in dirty water beneath floating globules of grease. The iceberg salad was dressed with something that tasted of strawberry shampoo.

We spoke about the possibility of establishing a peanut festival in Plains along the lines of the garlic festival in Gilroy, CA.  The Prez ate with gusto. I noodled.

When we approached the cashier, he waved away my wallet with a wide smile and pulled out his own.  My lunch tab came to $1.67. His was $1.59. (He got a discount because he attended church the previous Sunday.)

This lunch meeting remains among my most cherished memories.

And may I mention that my short letter to the Times resulted in a food job I loved. I worked for IFIC, International Food Information Council, a non-profit foundation in Washington. My task was to speak to the media about agriculture and marine biotechnology.

Food Job for you: Science writer? Peanut allergy researcher?



Food Job: Obesity Researcher

For thousands of years human beings have adapted to the elements. We have hunted and gathered, sowed and preaped and toiled from dawn to dusk to get enough food to eat. And when finally we are on our own at the supermarket and can choose virtually any food in the univers, what do we want to eat more than anything?

A cookie.

One theory to account for this is that we have not surpassed our ancestors physiologically. Our brain does not know how to tell us when to stop eating junk because the subject never came up among our Cro-Magnon ancestors, who were programmed to eat anything that didn’t eat them first and were equipped to store fat for times of famine.

We can’t explain away our almost desperate yearning for a cookie by claiming to possess a sweet tooth. A more plausible theory is that when we are starving, inborn instinct makes us seek out high-calorie, high-fat, quick-energy foods.

Imagining we are starving is a relative thing, especially when we know there is a cookie or candy bar nearby.

Seeing is Believing

Television is another phenomenon our ancestors didn’t have to contend with. The excitement of seeing a pizza flashing on the screen alerts our appetite control center, which in turn sends fast and furious messages to the salivary glands to get ready for the feast. EAT? Is the question. NOW is the answer. NO is not even an option. Hungry is the consequence of the sighting of food, even if we have barely rested our fork from the prvious meal.

An Appetite for Sugar

Hunger is not the same as appetite and has almost nothing to do with taste. Hunger relates to a drop in the level of blood sugar and the physical need for food.  Appetite relates to the desire for food, and taste is the ability to to differentiate one food from another.

None of this thinking goes even the smallest step to explaining why we think we are hungry so soon after eating Chinese food. One hypothesis is that the meal doesn’t end properly — meaning there is no chocolate cake and no ice cream. We find ourselves (unless we are of Chinese heritage,) with a subconscious sense of loss and longing. Naturally this feeling of deprivation leads us to think we are hungry when in fact we are just being peevish.

A cookie usually solves the problem.