What is Food?
by Tammera J. Karr, Ph.D.
Have you ever really asked the question “What is Food?” Many may already be making rude noises thinking what a silly question, everyone knows what food is. Humor me here and ask as I did this question to students, the answers may surprise you, or not.
When I ask “what is food”, the answers were the classic ones – “something that gives you energy”, “something to make me not hungry”, “something that tastes good”. When I asked for specifics then, I hear – pizza, french fries, hamburgers, macaroni and cheese, ice cream, burrito, chips, hotdogs, and sometimes apples.Now in the loose sense of the word this is indeed a list of foods, abet limited. To be precise they are dishes that are part of or make up a meal, with the exception of the apple, which is a natural unprocessed food.
The formal definition is: material consisting essentially of protein, carbohydrate, and fat used in the body of an organism to sustain growth, repair, and vital processes and to furnish energy; also – something that nourishes, sustains, or supplies – nutriment in solid form.
When I ask myself this question, the words that come to mind are; culture, economy, stability, politics, industry, science, freedom and health. Strange you might think or you have decided I have gone completely around the bend. Let me explain.
Better living through science came about in the 1940s and 1950s, with it a flurry of science developed around food, and along with that the expansion and development of industry and commerce. All of which influenced the economy, politics and culture of the United States.
When a grain crop in Oregon (2013) or Montana is contaminated by GMO as happened in September 2014, the cost isn’t as small or simple as you might think. “genetically engineered wheat has surfaced at a second unauthorized location in the U.S., the Agriculture Department said, raising new questions about agricultural companies’ oversight of biotech crops. The USDA said September 26, that it began an investigation into genetically engineered plants discovered in July at Montana State University’s Southern Agricultural Research Center. The finding came as the USDA said it closed its investigation into the detection of genetically engineered wheat in Oregon in 2013.” (Wall Street Journal)(USDA News Releases)
Each time these little oops’ happen, the economic ripple doesn’t stop with the farmers losing their high value export contracts to Russia, China, Japan, S. Korea and so forth. Nor does it always benefit our neighbor to the north that is also competing for the same grain export contracts. When I think about all the jobs and businesses impacted small and large I see – shipping companies, truck drivers, repair shops, lawyers, commodity brokers, advertisers, equipment manufacturers, fuel companies, retailers, state and county revenue funds, on and on and on….Who isn’t touched by food, jobs and lifestyles are so interwoven with food we forget just how many folks a farmer really feeds. In the case of genetically modified products being played with the unforeseen consequences are far reaching on levels beyond manufacturing labels and personal health.
Food, isn’t just a piece of fruit, sirloin steak or artisan bread that we smack our lips over or fantasize about, it is what fuels our creativity, independence, intellect, and civilization. Our food makes or breaks our empire just as it did the Romans, Mesopotamians and Stalin’s armies. I’m all for science, but I prefer not being the lab rat or the next generation. Biotec foods may be the answer to world hunger or population control, they may revolutionize agriculture or destroy it – the consequences of the use of GMO in our everyday food supply has only been going on for ten years, how long did it take for the dangers of Agent Orange to be realized or DDT?
This is just a few of the questions going through my head. From can openers to Armageddon – the answer on “what is food?” may very well be more than a hamburger with the works.