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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Maybe We Shouldn't Eat: Revolutions In Subsisting

We’re all familiar with the concept of something needing fuel to keep it going. Just as a power station requires gas or coal to power its turbines and generate energy, so we need fuel – in the form of food – to power our continued existence.
The foods we eat provide us with a range of nutrients: vitamins, minerals, water, fat, carbohydrates, fibre, and protein. These nutrients are put to different uses — as building materials to construct the tissues and organs from which our bodies are made; as the components of the molecular machinery that keeps our cells running as they should. All of these uses are unified by a common theme: a requirement for energy to make them happen. And this is where one particular type of nutrient comes into its own. Step forward the carbohydrates.
- See more at:
We’re all familiar with the concept of something needing fuel to keep it going. Just as a power station requires gas or coal to power its turbines and generate energy, so we need fuel – in the form of food – to power our continued existence.
The foods we eat provide us with a range of nutrients: vitamins, minerals, water, fat, carbohydrates, fibre, and protein. These nutrients are put to different uses — as building materials to construct the tissues and organs from which our bodies are made; as the components of the molecular machinery that keeps our cells running as they should. All of these uses are unified by a common theme: a requirement for energy to make them happen. And this is where one particular type of nutrient comes into its own. Step forward the carbohydrates.
- See more at:
We’re all familiar with the concept of something needing fuel to keep it going. Just as a power station requires gas or coal to power its turbines and generate energy, so we need fuel – in the form of food – to power our continued existence. - See more at:

Why do we have to eat food?

I can hear you know. You are probably saying something like this: "What an idiot! The old man has finally slipped off his rocker. This is the last post of his I'm reading." I think I'm posing the question for a purpose that is not so obvious.

Give me just a minute to explain a few things about this entry.

First of all, I know you understand food is the fuel that keeps us going. Without food to power our existence, we would die. Nutrients provided by food act as the building materials for our tissues and organs. Our bodies depend upon these nutrients. Vitamins, minerals, water, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, protein -- all are components of the machinery that keeps our cells running.

But since the dawn of mankind, acquiring, preparing, and eating food have been some of the most perplexing problems humans have faced. For many individuals around the world, food and all that leads to its consummation is as so problematic that the struggle to eat requires the majority of their resources.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that nearly 870 million people of the 7.1 billion people in the world, or one in eight, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2010-2012. Almost all the hungry people, 852 million, live in developing countries, representing 15 percent of the population of developing counties.

Even in the United States, the "Land of Milk and Honey," 49.0 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 33.1 million adults and 15.9 million children. Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food, but rather the continued prevalence of poverty. (A. Coleman-Jensen, M. Nord, M. & A. Singh. Household Food Security in the United States in 2012. 2013) 

Let me narrow my focus to the United States and turn this essay away from hunger. What about the people who eat plenty of food every day yet think nothing about what and how they eat? Will we continue to maintain traditional methods of eating in a future focused on health and proper nutrition?

Acquiring Food and Eating

Human beings are still, and always have been, a species that spends considerable energy acquiring foodstuffs. Getting food on the table requires a hunt, no matter whether you are a self-subsiting hunter/gatherer and gardener, a supermarket shopper, or someone who consistently dines away from home.

Maybe more of us should consider acquiring our own food from natural sources. In reality, few have the ability to do this. Even if we could subsist primarily by hunting and gardening, the expense and huge time commitment would be daunting. Large sums of money are required for purchasing transportation, guns, ammunition, seeds, fertilizers, tools, and other essentials. And, since people must work to get a paycheck, few have the time to be self-subsistent.

After all, to do so means committing to long hours of work in planning and laboring while hunting, cultivating, and preparing the food. And, self-subsistent eaters are dependent upon nature for assistance to produce a successful yield of crops and game. In fact, we must consider many of us simply do not have the natural resources and the "know how" to survive.

But, those of us who continue to buy our food from the market pay much more money for our processed food than those self-subsiding individuals who labor long hours getting the raw materials to the table.

Although shopping for food is much more convenient than hunting and gardening, it requires considerable funds. In fact, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows U.S. citizens spend spend 14% of their income on food (8.3% at home and 5.8% at restaurants). And, that is a bargain compared to the majority of the rest of the world. For example, the Japanese spend 21.8% of their income on food.

Also, going to the market does take quite a chunk of time from our schedule. It requires making grocery lists, acquiring transportation to and from the store, comparing brands and prices, and carefully selecting nutritious foods.

Most of us consider going to the market to be a big chore. The average time an American spends in the market while grocery shopping, not including time spent getting to and from the store, is 41 minutes. (American Time Use Survey, 2008)  Women account for nearly two-thirds of all American grocery shoppers: on a typical day 17 percent of all women go grocery shopping, compared with only 10 percent of men.

Then, of course, we all love to chow down on our food, no matter the means of acquisition, What about time and energy spent preparing meals? The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, on average, an American spends 53 minutes in food preparation and associate cleanup each day.

How much time during the day do we spend consuming our expensive food? According to the ATUS statistics, Americans age 15 and older spend 67 minutes on an average day in "primary" eating and drinking beverages and, in addition another 16 minutes and 42 minutes drinking beverages (except for plain water) as secondary activities. 

What the Future May Hold

I think the question "Why do we eat food?" begs an answer. Why? Hunting, gardening, and shopping for food in their many complications from source to table is old-fashioned and largely detrimental. The United States enjoys one of the most plentiful food supplies in the world. But with abundance comes overeating and, ultimately, weight gain and related health problems.

As the rate of obesity in American adults has increased in recent decades from 13% in 1962 to 35.7% in 2010 (and to 17% of American children), obesity is a major health issue. In addition, what and how we eat cause other complications as we waste our precious time and money.

 ("National Obesity Trends." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2010)
In an age when people are uber health conscious, "eating food," as we typically define the process, may be unnecessary. Many other things have changed and gotten more efficient, but we still haven’t figured out how to get healthy food to everyone. Maybe it's time for a food revolution. And, maybe that revolution is already in the making.

What if eating was as simple as putting gas in a car? Here are some futuristic food trends. Read about these innovations, and I think you may acquire a new perspective on spending time and money for food. Many thanks to Liz Neporent of ABC News for some good content in this information. Click on her informative article. The interactive website address is below.

(Liz Neporent. "5 Futuristic Food Trends." ABC News. November 21, 2013)

1. 3D Printing

Several companies are already experimenting with printing foods like chocolate and pasta by mixing together a series of dry ingredients to use as a sort of edible ink. Yes, "edible ink." At this time, most 3D food printers can only print out basic foods that require only one or two ingredients. A few can print with up to six ingredients at a time. But, as they get more sophisticated, experts predict they'll be able to print out complete customized meals on demand.

In the future, 3D-printed edibles will give every consumer the ability to print exactly what they crave. They also will revolutionize space travel opening up new frontiers of exploration. Long distance space travel requires 15-plus years of shelf life, but this new technology could extend that shelf life to 30 years.

Anjan Contractor’s company, Systems and Materials Research Corporation, recently acquired a six month, $125,000 grant from NASA to create a prototype a universal food synthesizer.

But, Contractor sees a more everyday use for 3D technology

"Contractor sees a day when every kitchen has a 3D printer, and the earth’s 12 billion people feed themselves customized, nutritionally-appropriate meals synthesized one layer at a time, from cartridges of powder and oils they buy at the corner grocery store.

"Contractor’s vision would mean the end of food waste, because the powder his system will use is shelf-stable for up to 30 years, so that each cartridge, whether it contains sugars, complex carbohydrates, protein or some other basic building block, would be fully exhausted before being returned to the store."

(Christopher Mims. The Audacious Plan to End Hunger with 3D Printed Food." 
Quartz May 21, 2013)

Food synthesizers would also create new ways of producing the basic calories on which we all rely. For example, could we get all our protein from insects? After all, a powder is a powder, and the inputs could be anything that contain the right organic molecules.

Taste? Contractor says the "good stuff" is currently expensive, yet so is buying groceries today. And, the price will likely come down as technology finds new answers to novel questions.

And, yes, there is 3D pizza. Pizza is actually an ideal candidate for 3D printing because it can be printed in distinct layers, so it only requires the print head to extrude one substance at a time. From dough to sauce to toppings, 3D pizza can be printed to specifications. Viva la powder!

2. In-Vitro Meat

PETA should endorse this technology with open arms. Dutch scientists have already grown hamburger from the muscle tissue of a cow. Although not particularly tasty to some who have sampled the fare, if perfected, in-vitro could end the suffering of farm animals and help fight world hunger. In addition to flavor, cost and time are also major stumbling blocks -- the test tube burger took two years and $325,000 to create.

In-vitro meat requires less food input (instead of growing a whole animal with bones and brains,  only enough calories and  nutrients to grow the muscle are required. In-vitro also would save real estate and water while producing less solid waste and no methane gas.

In-vitro production would be much cleaner. Imagine the eradication of mad-cow, swine and bird flu, and e-coli contamination.

How would strict vegetarians and vegans classify the meat? Who knows?

3. Multi-tasking Plants

French fries and ketchup from one plant? We have plants that produce combination vegetables already. One vegetable, a potato and a tomato in one, is known as a TomTato. British seed catalog Thompson & Morgan settled on the name. It will only be sold in the U.K. for now as an annual.

The multi-tasking plant is not genetically engineered in the modern sense of the word. Instead it's a hybrid made by grafting the two plants together. Normally this is a difficult horticultural feat to accomplish, but it's possible in this case because the tomato and potato are closely related and share enough genetic traits to happily cohabitate on the same stem.

A similar plant in New Zealand produces the Potato Tom. It looks like a standard tomato plant, sprouting more than 500 cherry tomatoes. But pulling it out of the soil reveals a full-grown patch of white potatoes hanging from the roots. 

4. Molecular Gastronomy

Imagine eating apple caviar made by submerging apple juice that's been mixed with the chemical sodium alginate into a bath of calcium to form a sphere. The juice transforms into tiny balls with thin, barely detectable membranes that burst in the mouth like fish eggs.

Molecular gastronomy refers to using culinary and science skills together to produce food. It is a modern style of cooking that is practiced by both scientists and food professionals in many professional kitchens and labs, and it takes advantage of many technical innovations from the scientific disciplines. A little physics and chemistry are used to transform the tastes and textures of food.

Molecular gastronomy experiments have resulted in new innovative dishes like hot gelatins, airs, faux caviar, spherical ravioli, crab ice cream and olive oil spiral. Heston Blumenthal from The Fat Duck restaurant discovered the ability of fat to hold flavor and created a dish that had three flavors -basil, olive and onion - with each taste being perceived in sequence. 

Cooking with chemicals? It doesn't sound healthy? The truth is that the "chemicals" used in molecular gastronomy are all of biological origin. Even though they have been purified and some of them processed, the raw material origin is usually marine, plant, animal or microbial. These additives have been approved by EU standards and are used in very, very small amounts.

The science lab equipment used in the process just helps modern gastronomy cooks do simple things like maintaining the constrant temperature of the cooking water (water bath), quickly cooling food at extremely low temperatures  (liquid nitrogen), or extracting flavor from food (evaporator).

Just read this for a general idea about possibilities:

"Cocktails in ice spheres. Caviar made of olive oil. Disappearing transparent raviolis. Sound cool? Well these are all examples of Molecular Gastronomy. Molecular Gastronomy blends physics and chemistry to transform the tastes and textures of food. The result? New and innovative dining experiences.

"The term Molecular Gastronomy is commonly used to describe a style of cuisine in which chefs explore culinary possibilities by borrowing tools from the science lab and ingredients from the food industry.  Formally, the term molecular gastronomy refers to the scientific discipline that studies the physical and chemical processes that occur while cooking. Molecular gastronomy seeks to investigate and explain the chemical reasons behind the transformation of ingredients, as well as the social, artistic and technical components of culinary and gastronomic phenomena."

 ("What Is Molecular Gastronomy?" 2013)

5. Soylent

Most people hate to take time to cook. How about subsisting on an inexpensive, 33-ingredient, grayish-colored liquid supplement? It is a meal replacement called Soylent designed to provide all the essential nutrients. And it can be customized for the individual -- individual preferences, individual allergies and individual disease management.

Rob Rhinehart, the chief operating officer of the company Solylent that makes the product, says it's possible to subsist on Soylent exclusively but most of the testers who tried it, drank it for breakfast and lunch, then had a regular meal for dinner. He claims the product is much more than a convenience: it's an answer to world hunger problems.

Rhinehart researched exactly what the body needs to survive, down to the biochemical level. His mixture is composed of lots of vitamins and minerals including calcium, potassium, zinc, vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K.

“It started as a personal need for myself,” says Rhinehart, a 24-year-old software engineer based in San Francisco. “My diet before was pretty poor. I ate mainly convenient cheap foods because I wasn’t really that into food.”

Rhinehart has secured $1.5 million in seed funding and millions of pre-orders for the drink he developed. Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, described by Forbes as some of the most powerful people in tech, all want to get in on the product.

Solylent is  currently classified as a supplement rather than food, and it is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Even though some claim it's not too "yummy," the company has 1.5 million pre-orders, and the product ships in January, 2014.

Soylent may sound like the elixir for good health, but some dieticians have serious concerns about the lack of evidence to support it. Other people express concerns about taking the pleasureable  experience out of eating, which may be counterintuitive because savoring a meal helps release hormones that regulate satiety and suppression of appetite.

But, other similar nutrient-dense products that don't spoil have already staples for treating severe malnutrition in developing countries. One of these products, Plumpy'Nut, was developed by the French company Nutriset that partners with nonprofits to get the product to children who need it. It is said to have a 90% success rate in rehabilitating starving and malnourished children.

Plumpy’Nut is now one of the most commonly used treatments for kids under age 5 suffering from severe malnutrition in parts of Africa.The product is a high-calorie mixture of peanuts, sugar, milk powder, whey, vitamins and minerals, soy oil and palm oil. The milk powder is a formula called F100 that was developed over 17 years as nutritional rehabilitation for malnutrition. Plumpy’Nut doesn’t need to be refrigerated or mixed with water, which makes it easy to transport and safely consume.

(Alexandra Sifferlin, "Soylent: Is the ‘Food of the Future’ Really a Nutrition Solution?"  
Time Magazine. June 10, 2013)

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