Food and Race Dialogue

food and race menu

Menu from the Eat Café from the Food and Race Dialogue

Yesterday I went to the Eat Café to participate in the Urban Consulate‘s discussion about Food and Race. What could be better, an opportunity to visit the Eat Café and find out what that was like, while hearing about the issues of food and race. The panelists were Dwayne Wharton from the Food Trust, Kirtrina Baxter from Soil Generation, and Noelle Warford of the Urban Tree Connection. I met lots of other people and at introductions realized that there were more interesting people in the room who would be fascinating to meet. I did get to chat to the founder of the Eat Café, Mariana Chilton.

food and race entre

Curried Vegetable Cakes with Sautéed Chard

One of the questions at the end of the dialogue asked what one thing would you lobby on. The panelists answered that they wanted land and resources for African Americans, and proper regulations about shelf life labeling, amongst other things. I woke up this morning realizing that I would ask for education. Properly funded and fully supported public education especially in the poorer neighborhoods. Education at all levels from pre-K to elderly, formal and informal. Make the inner city public schools something that the suburbanites desire and are jealous of. Also do the same for the rural school districts. Give all children access to the same resources and opportunities; science camps, art camps, drama camps. Additionally, while we are on the topic of food and race, make sure that food science, agriculture, cooking, nutrition, food culture, and food history is taught properly at all levels to all. Give them the opportunity to say “no, I’ve tried that and I don’t want to do it.” Let’s move away from the fact that only 10% of Americans like cooking, perhaps if more of us knew how to cook well, more of us would cook!


Music is Transformative

Just before I go to bed, I wanted to make some quick notes about the thoughts I had at the Béla Fleck and the Flecktones concert Thursday night. As I expected Béla and crew played at the top of their form. They were outstanding. (I won’t say anything about the support act as I have recovered from the painful death it put me through.)

So here are these four guys playing their hearts out and living the music. I had an epiphany: “What can I do to perform at this level of excellence?” Music is not the way as I lack motivation to practice, let alone the talent. So I wondered how I could teach with excellence at all times. What can I do to make sure that I give my students the best possible experience in the classroom? What would that mean? Don’t get me wrong, I am sure to make mistakes on the way, but I want to try.

Later at the concert one of the Flecktones [sorry cannot remember who] shared a story about Frank Gehry. In a recent biography, Frank Gehry’s therapist was interviewed and was quoted as saying that while regular people come to him to ask how they could be better people, better parents, better investors, better ME Me Me; Frank Gehry came asking how he could change the world.

So can I change the world? How would I want to change the world? If I knew that, perhaps I could find the lever I need to change the world.

Food is the answer. More people should know how their food gets from the farm to their mouths and understand the effects food has on their bodies. Everyone should know this. Everyone should be yelling and screaming that the food supply sucks. Mass produced food is too full of fat, salt, and sugar. Many prepared food lacks flavor and is of poor quality. Until we understand the effect of this food and start to complain loudly, processed food will not improve.

Even though I am a food scientist, I rarely buy prepared meals as I prefer spending the time to make high quality meals at home. Oh, I don’t make everything from scratch. I buy bread and ice cream. I buy chips and salsa, humus and falafel. Given time I could make, and have made, these at home; maybe not the chips and I still often make humus.  However, most of my meals are home cooked; usually starting with me chopping onions and mashing garlic. I can make meals in 15 min, including boiling pasta and, for Thanksgiving and Christmas I make meals that need to be started a few days ahead.

Despite Listeria monocytogenes in cantaloupes, food safety is not the issue. Knowing how food is produced is important as it allows us to realize that cantaloupes are grown and processed before reaching the supermarkets and therefore at risk of being contaminated. Knowing that food with a long shelf life has to be treated with preservatives, and probably heat treated to the extent that few vitamins remain is incredibly important. Knowing that if you make your own food you can limit that amount of sodium present and therefore reduce high blood pressure and risk of strokes is important.  Rather than complaining about high fructose corn syrup, realize that it is not only cheap but also extends shelf life. Then make your own whatever with sugar or honey; which would taste better anyway.

The Food Industry is not completely to blame for the quality of the food supply. There are many good people working in those multinational corporations who are creating and manufacturing healthy wholesome food. On a mass produced level, this is very difficult with many challenges. We have to accept that a main objective of most food companies is not philanthropy but making a profit. Given the low prices we expect to pay for food, most profits are based on cents in the dollar so the companies make money by selling large volumes. One good thing is that the food industry is not controlling the story on the sustainable locavore food movement like it did for the GMO food. Thus, food manufacturers are running to catch up with the likes of Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, Alice Walker and any customer of a local farmer’s market. So consumers and food activists can lead the way and, hopefully, change the food industry.

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones probably won’t tell you anything about food, but you should try and catch one of their concerts. Because of their extraordinary performance, I am going to be the best food science and nutrition educator I can.

Teaching Tuesdays: Starting Out (only a day late)

Now I’ve taught a whole week at my new County College (CC) I can make informed comparisons with my old Research University (RU).  The biggest differences is the number of contact hours and evening classes.

Previously,  I taught two courses a semester, and that was a lot for my department, with 7 – 8 credit hours depending whether the course had a laboratory or not.  Contact hours were more as I attended and taught every lab period.  Thus, one semester I had 9 contact hours (6 hours lecture and 3 hours lab) and the other semester I had fourteen contact hours (5 lecture hours and 9 lab hours) as food analysis had a double lab.  So far at CC I have three courses with release time for recruitment.  As one course does not have a lab that means I have fifteen contact hours – I should have eighteen.

I am teaching three evenings a week, whereas I never taught evenings at RU.  I actually quite like it except for the limitation on my social life.  I certainly prefer commuting at off-peak times.

As I taught an unpopular major at RU, most of my classes were small sometimes as few as 3 or 4 students, but often around 8-12.  I did teach one medium sized course which I set at 50 students after two years of trying to teach it with sixty-five students.  All my courses at CC are set at 24-26 students.  If they get more students, a new section will open.

Another major difference is that at CC I am contractually obliged to provide office hours – 5 h per week spread over three days. I’m doing slightly more than that as I am at work anyway.

Why I did a PhD

I did a PhD because I was bored as an assistant lab technician in the local agricultural college. The PhD fellowship was tax free and so I worked out I would be as well off as in “paid” employment and I would gain a PhD at the end of it.

Fortunately, I landed on my feet and haven’t looked back since.

I come from an academic family. I am a university brat – my dad is a professor (now emeritus). When I got my B.Sc. and my brother and I were celebrating; he raised a toast to my PhD. Which at the time I had no intention of doing. None. Never.

A few months later, I started dating and then living with a starting out faculty member. Not one of mine; different subject. Two years later, I was in a PhD program sans partner, but he drove me to it. Intellectual snobbery can go a long way.

This came up in a conversation yesterday with Suzanne (Zuska), and I thought I should share.

What got me into science?

I don’t write about this kind of personal topic very often. Reflective thinking and writing goes against 30 years of British culturization. However, eleven years of living in the US may be wearing down my resistance. After all, Americans have been in therapy since before I was born and are great at navel gazing. So why not join in? It might be of interest for others to see how I got started in science. Continue reading

Myers-Briggs Test

I am waiting for my take home finals to come in – they are due by noon tomorrow and then I will be swamped with grading again. It is at this time I wonder “What was I thinking, I must have been drinking” when I had the bright idea of this particular assignment. Never mind, all will be over by Friday pm. Fortunately, the TAs kept me in order and stopped me from letting the students write more than two pages.

In the meantime, I allowed myself to get distracted by a Myers-Briggs personality test. My Mum did her Masters in Educational psychology (or sociology) and I remember having fun doing questionnaires with her. So I am still a sucker for personality quizzes. This one came via Selva and the test is here, if you want to do it at your leisure.

Today’s results showed that I am a INFP. Continue reading


Grading GraphicAt this time of the semester, grading is taking over my life. Why is grading so hard? I’m not talking about the physical effort of sitting down with a numerous number of essays, reports, quizzes, exams etc. While that has its own challenges, what I find most challenging is deciding what is worth 100% [nothing?] and what is worth 90%, 85%… Continue reading