Thursday, February 7, 2013

Frequently Asked Questions as a Food Science Student

Food Science is a severely underrated field. While many understand the importance of eating, few understand the processes and technologies responsible for the food on your plate. When I tell people that I am studying Food Science I often find myself lacking the time it takes to explain what exactly this is. So in no particular order, here are the questions I am most frequently asked and my answers.

"So you're going to be a nutritionist/dietician?"

No. But to be honest, that was a path that I considered a few years ago when my grandpa's health started to decline. His diet consisted of mostly pork, beef, and butter, with some bread here and there and needless to say, he's not doing so well now. This inspired me to encourage a more balanced diet to my parents and siblings but I soon realized that giving encouragement and support to people who don't want it won't get you anywhere. They will continue to eat potato chips everyday if they want to. Generally, a nutritionist's job is to provide education and practical instruction to people in areas like sports nutrition, nutrient deficiencies, and use of nutrition to cure and prevent disease. They often work with schools, public health agencies and community organizations. Clinical dieticians have a similar role but work with physicians to prepare meal plans for special diets such as cancer patients, those with high blood pressure, and diabetics. I like food and studying how it works in the human body, but the aspect of meeting with patients who can be stubborn and critical of your plans for them is discouraging and can feel hopeless at times when they refuse to follow your advice. I would much rather provide people with information so that they can educate and motivate themselves to eat what's right for them.

"So you're going to be a Chef?"

As someone who has worked in the restaurant industry since 16, I know that the life of a chef can be exciting. You're able to use a your creativity to make something new and exciting, the stress of the kitchen is exhilarating, and chances are your sous chef knows a guy who knows a guy that can get you any type of drug you can think of. But while I love experimenting with new food and trying new dishes, the life of a chef is not for me. And anyone who has read Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain knows exactly what I'm talking about. The Food Network and shows like Top Chef have glamorized the job of a chef to the point where everyone thinks that all you need is talent, some personality, and a good back story. But what they don't show you is that before they were famous, these chefs worked 15+ hour long days, constantly on their feet, surrounded by hot stoves and ovens. Days off are never guaranteed and taking a break is out of the question even if it is required by law because this is a kitchen, not a corporate environment. They've also burned and cut themselves, and have probably sliced off a good chunk of flesh more than once. Not to mention the damage to your ego that occurs when someone sends back your food. So, no, I am not going to become a chef. I will, however, continue to cook and will gladly eat food made by chefs.

"What are you going to do with that?"

Food scientists can do a number of things. Which of them do I want to do? I don't know yet, but as I continue my education, I'm sure I'll figure our what I want to do.

"What's the deal with ____? Are they ok to eat?"

Chances are, if you're asking me this question, then there isn't enough scientific evidence to draw a definite conclusion (eg. plant-derived saturated fats and GMOs). And sorry, I can't answer your question because I'm not a registered dietician or nutritionist. But I'd be happy to point you in the direction of some peer-reviewed papers that may be helpful in your decision!

"So you're going to work for Monsanto and make those GMO things?"

First of all, I would need to improve my molecular genetics skills drastically before even considering a job at any biotechnology company. Second, please don't turn this into an hour-long discussion on why genetically modified organisms are "bad" when, like any company and their product, there are pros and cons to using it. No matter how many arguments you have against it and no matter how many scientific studies I use to counter them, it's obvious that neither of us are going to budge on our opinions. In my opinion, when it comes to the debate of GMOs, there is no right or wrong answer.

So these are my FAQs, but I'm interested in what yours are. Is there anything that people constantly ask you?