I enjoy food very much. I grew up on an ever-changing diet subject to my mother’s latest discovery of a “natural” foods fad, and money was usually stretched–with up to eleven people to feed–so I learned to be creative with the ingredients I had.
Lately I’ve been seeing articles posted on Facebook from two very distinct groups of friends. I have mostly conservative mothers and young adults posting a variety of things about alternative medicine and natural foods. Some are harmless, some are reasonable, some blatantly lie, and a few verge on dangerous.
The other group of friends are skeptics, of all ages, who post articles exposing the bad science and outright lies behind some common fads. Most of those happen to be reports of scientific studies, whereas the first group often gets their data from blogs and bad websites run by the “persecuted” quack doctors or alternative medicine celebrities.
So while I was making myself a mac-n-cheese spaghetti pizza burrito, I started thinking about how incredible our scientific advancements have been for producing food. We, as a global community, have the means to easily eliminate starvation, if we could somehow apply as much focus and resources to the issue as we do to fighting wars. It’s science that got us here.
One of the main complaints against non-organic and processed foods is that they have a lot of synthetic chemicals in them. For the most part, this is fearmongering based on the inability to understand what those big scientific words mean. But you know, if you list out all the individual ingredients that go into a banana:
What people don’t comprehend is that we have food additives because we broke down food, understood what was in it and what our bodies need, and figured out how to mass-manufacture the needed chemicals, and distribute them to millions of people who would otherwise be deficient in those substances.
And there seems to be some hangup on the word “chemical”. Get over it. Water is a chemical, and so is hydrochloric acid. We are made of chemicals.
So science is figuring out ways to make life better for everyone in the world, and some people repay that with suspicion, conspiracy theories, and attacking anything produced by science for being unnatural.
Let’s face it, everything about your life is unnatural. If you love the natural world so much, feel free to go build a cabin with your own two hands and live in it without electricity or plumbing. I can see the appeal, although I like my modern bed and computer too much. But even if you dislike human-made artificial copies of what nature does, that isn’t a reason to fear it.
Someone has broken down the dietary needs of an average adult into the simple chemicals, and created Soylent. It’s basically what you’d have if you took some food that perfectly represented all the chemicals your body needs for a day, and blended it up into individual molecules. This is a really cool scientific development.
Imagine all the scientific progress that led to the possibility of understanding exactly what basic chemicals our bodies need to function properly. By breaking down food, we can figure out what sort of food is a good source of which chemical. The result should be customizable food that allows all people on earth to get important chemicals through a food supply that is accessible and affordable to them.
We can grow a lot more food a lot more cheaply than many decades ago, but not everyone has unrestricted access to every sort of food as rich Americans do. For a society that feeds itself with rice, a plant disease could wipe out their crops and cause people to starve. Scientists investigate to find out how the disease works and what chemical would stop it. Whether through spraying a chemical over the crops, or modifying the plants to produce the chemical themselves, we can protect the food supply of millions of people.
Food additives and GMOs also help us make sure that people get all the chemicals they need to be as healthy as possible. If you can modify a plant’s genes to make it produce more of a certain important chemical, that’s a lot faster than taking the natural route of selectively breeding them until they evolve greater amounts of the chemical. Or, in processed foods, simply add whatever chemical is lacking in the area where a lot of people eat that food.
It’s a brilliant idea and even greater things are in the future. Someone has already grown actual meat in a lab, and people ate it, and they said it tasted like an average burger. At some point perhaps we’ll get so good at sculpting food from the basic chemicals or cells that accurate copies of natural foods can be produced in a factory, freeing up farmland for the return of forests, freeing animals from dying for our food if you’re into that cause, and feeding everyone on earth. Fundamentally, lots of things could happen that start with the letter F.
Scientific food is awesome, and while it isn’t perfect, going “all natural” isn’t exactly a route for success. The world’s population could not be sustained if all our food was grown organically. And besides that, organic farmers use plenty of pesticides…natural ones, which occasionally turn out to be dangerous poisons, or the same chemical as a synthetic pesticide, but obtained “naturally” and used in higher amounts. Buying organic food is a waste of money.
Let’s embrace the science that has saved so many lives. If we make it a priority, it will make our world so much better. Good science is what fixes social problems. The free and curiosity-driven pursuit of knowledge produces brilliant solutions to many problems, which is why a social investment in good education is one of the most important reasons to form a government, and one of the best ways to improve our world.
With an ignorant populace, great scientific advancement can be dangerous. By educating everyone about the discoveries we make, it allows our society to make better use of it…for example, generating power with nuclear technology rather than making bombs.