The Science We Eat

 Once again, the experiences I’m having here at Cornell just makes me realize how ignorant I am about food and farming.  The more I’m learning about plants and food production, the entire concept of what’s natural and what isn’t really gets blurred more and more.  It’s also kind of bothers me how “informed” consumers really are.

I had the opportunity to take a tour of the Cornell Research Station in Geneva, New York.  It’s a place where all kinds of research is taking place to help study various crops from grapes and berries, renewable biofuels, and a gene and crop bank.  It was also the place where the biotech papaya was saved.

Here is a just a few of the different research and breeding activities happening there.

In each of the above photos, there is a huge variety grapes, berries, and apples.  The colors, texture, shapes, and tastes are all completely different despite all being of the same fruit variety.  It really makes you realize how we as humans have manipulated everything we eat.

Many of the professors speaking to us are world renown for their knowledge and expertise with breeding these products.  They use a lot of technical know how of applying both conventional breeding techniques with a vast amount of information from gene mapping of these crops to determine the expressions of certain genes.  

It’s not GMO development that they are seeking but using the power of genetics to understand how the breed the best plants that consumers and growers desire.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a conventional farmer or an organic farmer, all want good products from strong, disease and pest resistant plants.  

There is an amazing amount of science that is going into every food that we eat.  Some research focuses on disease and pest resistance.  With those traits bred into a crop, it means stronger plants that need less sprays and hopefully increased yields.  Other research focuses on plant architecture such as decreased thorns to make it easier to harvest.  Flavor and texture factors are also a major consideration with crop breeding and genetics. The varieties are also gene mapped to learn the locations of the traits too.  This is high tech science in things we eat everyday regardless of the way it’s grown.  

The tour I took at Geneva really fascinated me about how much there is to know about the foods we eat.  We are so accustomed to simply driving to the store and selecting out our food.  I wonder how many consumers think about how those varieties got on those produce shelves.

The trend now is to eat natural.  When you look at what really is natural in the wild and what’s in the market, there is a stark difference.  Then if we actually taste what is wild, it’s clear why we don’t eat those products.  

I also start to realize how much science is going into our entire food supply that is unnoticed by consumers.  While there is a seemingly loud contingent of people demanding the right to know about GMO, they don’t even know about the thousands of years of science that even developed our current varieties.  The fact that scientists who understand this technology advancement are being attacked by these activists is even beyond me.

Our American foodie culture loves the latest and greatest heirloom produce or new breed of vegetable but are clueless of the amount of science needed to develop that novel vegetable.  If we want to have unique fresh produce, we need to go back and ask questions about how we even got our food variety.  It’s one thing to demand the right to know but you’ve got to really know to appreciate the amount of science we eat every single day of our lives.

What kind of science did you consume today?



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