Can you imagine a world without Food Science?
Let’s imagine a world without Food Science through breakfast. Breakfast would be something like this: cured meat, flapjacks from local grains, eggs from your chickens, fruit if it is summer, and coffee. Unless you live in a specific region of the country, you would not have oranges juice (OJ). Your coffee also may contain other grains, burnt vegetables, or even horse liver. Yes, this actually happened!
Breakfast without Food Science could be without OJ and include Coffee with horse liver?!
Now, I want to point out that I’m being a bit dramatic to make a point. Regardless, we likely would be much more dependent on local food. We would also have infinite less options.
Food science has evolved throughout time and has changed the way we eat dramatically. The first innovation around food was preservation through drying and smoking.
The first form of food preservation was drying and smoking.
Drying was used to “preserve” meat from spoilage. It is effective to prevent what we now know as botulism. Smoking was paired with drying as an additional antimicrobial, but was not effective alone.
War and Industrialization impacted the way we eat today
The Industrial Revolution exponentially increased scientific developments around Food and Food Processing. The next breakthrough in Food Science was canning. Canning was developed in France by Nicolas Appert during the Napoleonic Wars. Commercial canning started in the early 1800s as food was packaged and sent to the French Navy.
Canning is one of the big innovations that changed the world! Canning preserves food by heating the food to sterilization. That sterilized product is packaged in airtight containers.
Food Science emerged when food production moved from home preparation to factory manufacturing
Until the 1820, the main concerns with food products were around spoilage. With the arrival of mass food production and canning, the concern shifted to adulteration. Adulteration, or intentional contamination, of food products became quite prevalent. People started adding horse liver to coffee like I mentioned in the intro, yuck!
As mass food production increased, so did scientific discoveries. One of my favorite food explorers is George Washington Carver. Carver worked on many products like peanuts and sweet potatoes. His work greatly affected the livelihoods of millions. In the early 1900s, Carver developed so many products derived from peanuts that he became known as the “Peanut Man”.
People started researching what they were eating to develop new products and processes
Next, there was the American Industrial Revolution. During this time, steam engines were designed to increase production efficiency. With increase efficiency, came increased research.
Linking back to what’s trending now, baking! Today we are seeing a massive increase in the people baking at home. Baking powder and yeast were first mass produced in the 1850s and 1860s respectively. Self-rising flour first came on the market in the 1890s.
As Food Production became mainstream, so did adulteration
The United States continued to see increased adulteration and contamination. The United States Department of Agriculture or USDA was established 1862 to oversee Food production and Agriculture Research. Next the 1902 Pure Food & Drug Act was passed and eventually the Food and Drug Administration, FDA. was established. The FDA was established to monitor the US food supply and prevent misbranded. They also check and stop adulterated foods. The USDA and FDA are the key regulatory agencies for the Food Industry.
Illness and war accelerated scientific discoveries
We all know the song, “War, uh, what is it good for? Absolutely Nothing. ” Well war has been good for something. War accelerated the need for food innovation.
Another example was during World War One. First, the US was short of nearly all commodities because we were selling them to our allies. The government formed the U.S. Foods Administration. Then, the US Foods Administration propagandized “Food will win the War”, it also no longer exists. Next, rationing was imposed and concepts such as “Meatless Mondays” and “Wheatless Wednesdays” were implemented. Meatless Monday is over 100 years old! Ultimately, products like Crisco were developed due to lard shortages.
In addition, the Spanish flu hit at the end of the First World War. Following the aftermath, consumers started developing a heightened awareness of health. Orange juice was known to contain two hot nutritional properties at the time, calcium and vitamin C. By the 1930s, OJ became a breakfast staple, second to coffee. Before the war, OJ was not consumed widely. Side note, 675,000 Americans died from the Spanish flu pandemic! Eek.
Due to the Spanish flu, consumers started developing a heightened awareness of health. Orange Juice was known to contain two hot nutritional properties at the time, calcium and vitamin C.
The next World War, WWII, brought similar conditions with rations. The strained food supply increased innovation for food products and production. Women moved into the workforce to replace men who were deployed during the war. Working women had less time to prepare meals, so quick and easy foods were created. Demand and creation of convenient foods are still very common today.
Demand for quick and easy foods are still very common today
In the last decade or so, Food Scientists have come under attack from the media. Newspapers, magazines, blogs, and television have published stories about how food scientists are creating addictive food that is potentially making us obese and ultimately sick.
Food scientists try to create food that is pleasant to eat, but that is not the only factor. Food scientists also make food safe, appealing, and accessible for a diverse consumer group.
New food products must be pleasant to eat, safe and appealing to consumers
However, it is true that most of today’s packaged food may contain food additives on the label. Food additives include preservatives, coloring and sweetener.
The food we eat affects the quality of our lives. Luckily, from a safety perspective we don’t have to worry about whether a product or ingredient is safe today. I recommend a plant based diet while minimizing packaged and processed foods.
Food choices we make today are greatly different from those of our ancestors.
To start, our ancestors had significantly few options. Our ancestors ate what was available to them at that given point of the day. Options were limited to what animals were caught and plants that were gathered when we were hunters and gatherers. Even 100 years ago, there were few to no options for packaged food so most people ate locally farmed or homegrown foods.
Think about how different life is after only 100 years. Now, we have so much variety of foods to pick from that many of us are confused on what to eat. Every day we have to decide things like what to eat, whether to cook or not, how to cook it, and is this food healthy?
The evolution of Food Preparation and Processing explains why Food Science is so important
Food Science has greatly increased the variety of options when it comes to food. At most grocery stores, there are over 30 types of cereal. We also have products that are microwavable or instant. Food research and development created these products.
We are lucky that for the most part in developed countries our food is now safe to eat. Food scientists also work on issues affecting other parts of the world.
Hmm, do food scientists fill foods with chemicals to make them addictive?
Unfortunately, food scientists have endured a bad reputation over the last few years. True, today’s packaged food may contain food additives. Perhaps some preservatives, coloring, sweeteners are used.
However, as consumers we must remember that even today, safe and affordable foods are not accessible to everyone around the world. It is the job of a food scientist to make food safe, appealing, and accessible for a diverse consumer group.
Food scientists have greatly affected the world’s food supply.
- Fight global hunger and malnutrition = Food Scientists developed products like Incaparina. Incaparina was developed in the 1960s for both children and groups with nutritional deficiencies.
- New Food Products = Food Scientists work to meet consumer desires while balancing safety, cost, quality, and taste! 5% of new food products are successful. Food scientists are busy!
Top 5 Food Innovations that changed the world
Polled scientists in the field agreed these Food Innovations impacted the world the most:
- Canning – Mentioned above, was really groundbreaking for food processing
- Microwave – Quick cooking
- Freeze-dried products – Think about instant coffee + tea
- Milk in boxes – Dramatically increased the shelf life so more accessible to a wider audience
- Packaged Juices – Safely getting juices to consumers
What’s all this mean for you?
Food Science emerged when food production moved from home preparation to factory manufacturing. Food innovation has developed with industrial technology. Few people today grow and process all of the their own food.
We live in a world where we don’t have to worry about getting foodborne illness often. We also have exotic, new, exciting foods and ingredient options.
Understanding more about what you eat is also important for healthy living.
Now, back to the original question. Can you imagine a world without Food Science? What do you think are the top world changing Innovations in Food? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Cured & Smoke Foods. https://extension.usu.edu/foodpreservation/howdoi/cure_smoke. Retrieved 28 June 2020
How Did We Can? https://www.nal.usda.gov/exhibits/ipd/canning/timeline-table. Retrieved 28 June 2020
How Canned Food Revolutionized The Way We Eat. https://www.history.com/news/what-it-says-on-the-tin-a-brief-history-of-canned-food. Retrieved 28 June 2020
George Washington Carver. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/george-washington-carver. Retrieved 28 June 2020
The History of FDA’s Fight for Consumer Protection and Public Health. https://www.fda.gov/about-fda/history-fdas-fight-consumer-protection-and-public-health. Retrieved 28 June 2020
About the U.S. Department of Agriculture. https://www.usda.gov/our-agency/about-usda#:~:text=On%20May%2015%2C%201862%2C%20President,economic%20development%2C%20science%2C%20natural%20resource. Retrieved 28 June 2020
The Forgotten Fascinating Saga of Crisco. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2012/01/09/144918710/the-forgotten-fascinating-saga-of-crisco. Retrieved 28 June 2020. Retrieved 28 June 2020
How WWI food propaganda forever changed the way Americans eat. https://thetakeout.com/how-wwi-food-propaganda-forever-changed-the-way-america-1798259481. Retrieved 28 June 2020
The juicy history of the orange in America. https://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/fl-xpm-2008-05-22-0805200422-story.html. Retrieved 28 June 2020