The most intimate relationship people have with other organisms is to eat them. We kill animals, plants, and microbes, put them into our mouths, break them down into their component molecules, and then build them into our own bodies. We literally are what we eat. However, so few of us raise our own food even these close relationships are invisible. Nor can we see what happens to the food once we eat it. What do you really know about the life of a chicken, a cow, a potato, or an orange tree? Where do they live, what processes regulate their lives? How do their lives determine which parts we eat, and why those parts are good food (while other parts might be poisonous)? The knowledge of how eating, a daily act, connects you with other organisms will give you the information necessary to appreciate and control these interactions in a more meaningful way.
By examining how organisms we use as food evolve, grow, reproduce, and interact, and how we use the molecules that we obtain from food, we will deal with many basic principles of biology. Among the foods we will study are bread, milk, eggs, meat, vegetables, fruits, seeds, and fermented products, like beer and wine. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, by Harold McGee, provides background reading to supplement a collection of writings that will be available in a course packet. Students will participate in class discussions about current food controversies, about various diets, and about why different foods contain the molecules that they do. There will be four papers, one on each segment of the course, with opportunities to rewrite each one.