College of Arts and Sciences | Biology of Food
C105 | 28849 | Bonner, J.
COLL-C 105 28849 Biology of Food (Bonner, J.: Biology) (N & M) (3 cr.)
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 chemicals, and then build
them into our own bodies. We literally are what we eat. And yet, so
much of our food has been cut and ground and separated and mixed and
packaged so thoroughly that it bears little resemblance to the
original living things from which it came. Food has become a
commodity; the American diet is determined more by the Stock Market
than by thoughtful consideration of those animals, plants, and
microbes that go into the food-like substances we purchase and consume.
A "healthy diet" contains the right balance of the nutrients we need.
Because we are animals, and cannot "make our own food" by
photosynthesis the way plants do, we must obtain these nutrients from
food. But nutrients are chemicals, and we can't see what happens to
them after we eat them. Nor can we see what those chemicals are doing
in the plants, animals, and microbes that are our food. Examined the
right way, however, we can visualize these things. When we do, we find
that these chemicals do much the same things in plants, animals, and
microbes as they do in us. At a chemical level, we literally eat what
we are. To understand our relationship with food, with processed
food-like substances, and with "dietary supplements" of an uncertain
nature, we must examine the biological roles of different nutrients.
Knowing their roles in our own bodies and in other species enables us
to make informed decisions about what we eat.
The plants and animals that are our foods are also part of the larger
scheme of the world's ecology. Growing our foods, and harvesting from
wild populations, should be done sustainably - but are they? Are
large-scale methods of food production sound, or will inescapable
evolutionary forces lead to crisis? Can we choose any dietary pattern
we like on a whim, or to make a social or political statement, or does
our own evolutionary history impose constraints on our options? Can
we improve our crops by genetic modification, and how much genetic
manipulation have we already done without realizing it? This course
is designed to give us the biological background to address questions
like these. The course is woven around food and cooking, with recipes
for specific dishes and from different cuisines. Each provides an
entry point for discussion, to ensure that the biology is strongly
linked to its real-world relevance. We will write papers to help us
internalize concepts, rather than take exams over memorized
terminology. On Fridays, we will discuss topics suggested by students.