Confessions of a Food Scientist: What exactly happened?

Out of all the love affairs in life, my love with food has been the best and the longest! I somehow think I am not the only one with such strong love for food, because I read that life began when Eve ate the apple 🙂

Before I jump into my first topic, a little background….

The way we eat has been constantly evolving along with the evolution of humans. As Harari explains in Sapiens, human history has been shaped by three major revolutions: the Cognitive Revolution (70,000 years ago when we learned to hunt as a team), the Agricultural Revolution (10,000 years ago when we began cultivating crops and domesticating animals), and the Scientific Revolution (500 years ago when we started making progress in science and technology). Evolution led to Civilization which led to Industrialization and Globalization. I am no Historian or Economist, so without delving too much into these terminologies we coined for processes that happened along the way, as we evolved, so did our food and how we ate.

As the population started to climb steadily, so did the need for more food and hence came the demand for mass production. We started playing with food and fire, then bread, wine, cheese, oil, pickles, noodles, chocolate and the list goes on as per our 2 million year history with processed food. While arguments can still be made about how the food industry evolved in the times of technological progress and the food revolutions that followed, for the context of this article, we will jump to get to know processed foods a bit better.

Let’s deconstruct the term “Processed Foods”:

Definition of the word “Process”: perform a series of mechanical or chemical operations on (something) in order to change or preserve it.

A few ways of Processing of food that happens both at an industrial level and at home (with some examples):

  • Drying (Fruits, Vegetables)
  • Cleaning and sorting (Grains, Lentils)
  • Fermentation (Yogurt, Kombucha, Cheese, Tofu, more importantly Wine)
  • Curing (Sausages)
  • Canning (Pickles, Jams, Preserves)
  • Refrigeration/Freezing (Dairy, non-dairy milks have way more processing steps)
  • Filtration (Water, Milk, Juice)
  • Crystallization (Raw cane sugar, coconut sugar, refined sugar — all sugars go through this process)
  • Evaporation (Maple Syrup)
  • Mixing/Blending (Bread, Dough, Ice-cream)
  • Centrifugation (Cream, Butter)
  • Grinding/Cutting/Size reduction (No example needed)

This list shows some but not all of the different types of processes that are applied to food to make produce edible, safe and preserve it for a longer time. These are also applied to create exciting new products based on the market demands. So, to say that all processed foods are bad and grouping them as unsafe is misleading.

I am by no means trying to convince anyone that processed foods are the best or that all processed foods are equal, but hoping to do some social good by sharing my knowledge gained through education and 12 plus years of experience working with products in the food industry, and to create awareness around some misconceptions that is being spread in the world wide web (with some inspiration from friends who always come to me for advice while food shopping).

There will be more educational information on ingredients and interpreting food labels in the future posts, but as  we are preparing to feed 10 billion in 2020, it is important that we continue exploring ways of preserving and processing food, while focusing on food waste as well.

Food GradsConfession Corner:

  1. I ate 4 tbsp of Pistachio Icecream and 2 squares of milk chocolate while writing this 🙂
  2. I listened to Alpha Waves Music on YouTube
  3. I stayed up till 2 AM writing
  4. I am sharing all this because I heard vulnerability is beautiful 🙂

On a fun note, if you think you can survive without eating processed foods, please challenge me! I would love to chat over an unprocessed dinner (in person, if you live in Toronto, Canada). I am always up for a healthy challenge!

If this inspires you to remotely pause and nod your head for even a second or while you read or talk about processed foods, please leave a comment if this was helpful. Feedback and questions are always welcome!

Foodie Forever,

Sujala

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