Food, Health and Sustainability

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This coming school year, I'm enrolled in a program at The Evergreen State College called Food, Health and Sustainability. At Evergreen, the core of the curriculum is based on interdisciplinary programs, rather than separate individual courses like those in most schools. In this case, the program is full time and runs for three quarters.

Here's the description from the online catalog:

What should we eat? What is the difference between conventional and organic foods? Why is there an outcry over genetically modified foods? What is local food? Why does journalist Michael Pollan call this the American "Age of Nutritionism?" Why is there hunger?

This program takes a scientific approach to food and cooking. Topics span a broad range, from molecular biology to ecology of agriculture and marine foodstuffs. We'll examine the coevolution of humans and food, Pacific Northwest Native foodways, the connection between diet and health, and the transformation of food through the processes of cooking, baking and fermentation. Throughout history, food and cooking have not only been essential for human sustenance, but have played a central role in economic and cultural life. This interdisciplinary exploration of the biology and chemistry of food takes a broad ecological systems approach, while also incorporating political, historical, cultural and anthropological perspectives. Structural issues of food security and sovereignty both local and global will also be explored.

Students will directly apply major concepts learned in lectures to experiments in the laboratory and kitchen. Field trips will provide opportunities for observing food production and processing in the local community, as well as edible landscapes of the Pacific Northwest. Workshops and seminar discussions will focus on topics addressed by such authors as Michael Pollan, Gary Paul Nabhan and Harold McGee.

Fall quarter focuses on the production of foods such as vegetables, fruits, grains, fish and shellfish. We'll explore the biochemistry of food, beginning with basic chemical concepts, before moving onto the structure of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. We'll also consider the role of evolution in the selection of plant and animal species used as food by different human populations, as well as systems of Native American Pacific Northwest coastal food procurement and production.

Winter quarter concentrates on cooking and nutrition. We will study food quality issues, and examine what happens at a biochemical and biophysical level during the process of cooking and processing. We will discuss how factors like nutritional content, heavy metal, and parasite and pesticide contamination affect food quality. We explore how our bodies digest and recover nutrients, and consider the physiological roles of vitamins and antioxidants, as well as the complex relationship between diet, disease and genetics. Finally, we will study the physiology of taste and smell, critical for the appreciation of food.

Spring quarter focuses on the biochemistry of fermentation, and the production microbiology and chemistry of fermented foods. Specific topics include yeast varieties (e.g., "killer yeast"); bacterial, yeast, and mixed fermentations (e.g., malolactic fermentation, lambic fermentation); and aging and extraction methods.

I'm looking forward to this class to end my undergraduate career.