In Retrospect

As The Chemistry of Food comes to an end, you look back and say what? Oh how much I have learned. The class was nothing like I expected but at the same time everything I expected. The chemistry side of the class gives a new light to the subject and me a new respect for it. Learning about such complicated processes that take place in front of your eyes everyday has provided some much needed insight into something we all take for granted. I can definitely say that I now look at food in a totally different way, in healthier way, a more respectful way, an altogether better way. I can make better choices based on the knowledge I have acquired during these three weeks. One thing that I would change is to add more experiments and if possible more field trips. I would definitely keep both trips to distilleries because it is really interesting to see the differences between the two. And as bad as it might sound to get up SOOO early for these trips, it was positively worth it. I stand by my statement that this class should be made into a semester long class. Integrating more of the chemistry aspects and going more in depth about the processes behind the making of food and the industrial food chain would be a different and interesting way too earn some science credit, in a way that should appeal to most everyone. For the future of this class it would be nice to talk more about the readings we do, as they are very relatable to our lives and valid to our discussions. Overall the class was close to the best three weeks of school since I was in elementary school.

Bourbon Here, Bourbon There, Bourbon Everywhere!!!

Kentucky can be pegged by its bourbon. Most bourbon is made in Kentucky. We have the best climate and the best water. We visited two small distilleries: Wilderness Trace Distillery and Maker’s Mark Distillery. Though they make the same product and the processes are similar, the outcomes are drastically different. As far as scale goes Wilderness Trace is much smaller than Maker’s Mark but in the bigger picture Maker’s Mark is also a very small operation. If you think about it though, the smaller the better. With smaller local distilleries the process by which the spirit is made can be more closely watched for consistency and quality. The grains used to make the bourbon are similar, but that is mainly because the classification of bourbon is special in that it must be comprised of at least 51% corn. Maker’s Mark uses a very high percentage of corn compared to the other ingredients. The quantities if ingredients, aside from the corn specification, are really just a matter of location and preference. Both distilleries use copper in the distillation process which has its benefits. Maker’s Mark goes through an extra process to double distill their spirit. Both distilleries use non-GMO grain in the production of their bourbon which is increasingly hard to do seeing the prevalence of GMO grains. Both distilleries have quality checks in place to ensure a good product. Wilderness Trace however has not been in operation long enough to have any matured spirits for sale. Another good thing that the two share is the use of local grain where they can such as the corn and wheat. Maker’s mark also distributes most of its product to consumers overseas. While small differences separate the two distilleries they both use similar processes and ingredients to produce their own unique spirit that people will continue to purchase because they know that both of those names mean the upmost in consistency and quality.

Artificial Flavorings: How do you know anything you taste is real?

Artificial flavorings are  everywhere and in everything. Most products can put them under “natural and artificial flavoring” on package labeling, but they don’t have to tell you exactly what that means. Lots of things might have artificial flavorings that you might not even suspect. Methyl salicylate is a naturally occurring ester of salicylic acid and methanol. It is also known oil of wintergreen. It was discovered in the mid 1800s by a French chemist as an ester. Wintergreen oil, in its pure form, is toxic. This compound is found in many oral hygiene products such as Listerine mouthwash and toothpastes as well as chewing gum and dipping tobacco. In products like these the concentration of methyl salicylate must be less than 0.04% by federal regulations. Any higher concentration than that can be potentially dangerous. Higher concentrations of methyl salicylate are used in muscle and point pain relief products such as Bengay because methyl salicylate has properties similar to aspirin. As small as one teaspoon of methyl salicylate has a salicylate equivalent to more than twenty three 300 milligram aspirin. Wintergreen oil is obtained by steam distillation of the leaves of wintergreen plants, the main plant that naturally produces it. While wintergreen oil is only about 98% methyl salicylate, methyl salicylate can be synthetically produced. There are safety concerns surrounding the use of methyl salicylate. Since your body metabolizes it into salicylates topical uses should be monitored. A 17 year old runner died from excessive use of muscle pain relief products after her body absorbed to much of the methyl salicylate. The uses of methyl salicylate in food are monitored because there is known risk associated with the use of methyl salicylate in large concentrations. Artificial flavorings are an easy and cheap way to add flavor to food and other products and aren’t going away any time soon.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methyl_salicylate

Unforgettable

Almost everything I have learned in this class I will ever forget. The most interesting thing I have learned so far is the process of making bourbon. Though I am underage I understand small details that surround the process. After this class I know so much related to it. Both my father and my grandfather worked at a distillery when I was younger. As a child I didn’t think much about their work except that I hated the smell that was in the air about the time they were making the mash. As a part of a family that doesn’t have much to do with alcohol it has never been something at the forefront of my mind. After the visit to the Wilderness Trace Distillery and the presentation by the other centreterm class I am highly looking forward to the visit to Maker’s Mark. (Hopefully the weather will allow it) All of the science that goes into the alcohol making process is interesting and shows a very different side of science. It provides a new way to think about alcohol, instead of what bad consequences can come from it. Behind all that are all kinds of people that are passionate about what they do and know what they are doing. There are positing that are more related to the process and those that deal more on the side of science as related to the quality of the product. After seeing how interesting and rewarding the bourbon and other alcohol making processes can be is it would be a potential career choice. At the current time I am very unsure of what I would like to do or be and finding the things that interest me such as this will help point me in the right direction for my future.

Bourbon

Kentucky can easily be called horse country, but it could also be called bourbon country. Bourbon whiskey, by its name, is whiskey, but the name “bourbon” means something more than that. To be classified as a bourbon several federal standards must be met. First, it must be comprised of at least fifty one percent corn. Other grains such as wheat, rye and barley are added in lesser amounts based on regional availability or preference. Then the distilled spirit must be aged in new, charred oak barrels for at least two years, though most bourbons are aged between six and eight years. The duration of aging depends on the achievement of a particular flavor profile as desired by the distiller and other things like achieving the right alcohol content. Some bourbons are aged ten years or more increasing their flavor profiles and rarity. Visiting Wilderness Trace Distillery provided me with much knowledge in the bourbon making process along with images that fit the process for better understanding. Several things we learned today made the process of making bourbon clearer and pointed out the benefits of being a small scale distillery. The distillery’s lack of need to use a method of final filtration is neat seeing that just by using a better initial product that they can save that extra time and money that other, larger distilleries must undergo. One of the most interesting facts today was the answer to the question as to why copper is used. The fact that the spirit would turn black, though not dangerous, is unsightly and unwanted by both distillers and consumers. The additional fact that Kentucky’s climate and water are mostly ideal for bourbon production is interesting because it furthers the initial statement that Kentucky is bourbon country because we can and do do it very well.

Ever-changing Views

All my experiences in the class so far have changed my views of food in some way. Most of them are good but some are bad. I mean bad in a different way than one would originally come to think. Bad is negative but those instances of negative views are the ones that are most important because they are the ones people tend to turn a blind eye to. Marksbury Farms, Food Inc., and The Omnivore’s Dilemma have all provided eye opening knowledge into the American food chain. It is one that is industrial to the extreme. These experiences shed light on how much we as a country don’t pay attention to in regards to something that should be of the upmost importance to all of us. Fundamental changes need to be made to our food system. The food itself is so often changing and large cooperations are doing everything in their power to keep this and other knowledge away from the public. The way I view food has changed in such a way that I know more about the journey that my food travels before it even ends up with me. Learning about small scale food and agriculture is most interesting because it most heavily relates to me and my current views in food. Seeing the possibilities that can occur when you do something you like and do it well like Marksbury Farms makes me want to be able to become a more self sustaining farm. We have almost everything we could need to no longer rely on outside sources. If more people thought about their food in a better way and just decided to do something about it, like buying local everywhere they can, everything would change because we as consumers get a say because we are who they serve. These changes will happen as the small floods of information come out regarding our current food system.

Of the Crisis

Our unsettling of American can be categorized in many ways. The crisis could be one of culture, agriculture or character. While they all play some role the combination of a crisis of culture and a crisis of character seem to do the most devastation. This volatile combination produces people that are destructive and don’t know it or know and don’t care combined with changing times. Berry brings a valid point that the farms have become “increasingly mechanized” (Berry 40) in comparison to how they were years ago. But to who go the blame for this? We lay the blame on our own shoulders as a change in our culture and inadvertently in our  character. “The holdings are larger, the owners are fewer” (Berry 40) says Berry referring to the changes to an area of his boyhood. The change relates largely to a crisis of character because there are no human beings that partake in no acts of destruction. By nature humans are machines that cleverly rearrange the outcome of something destructive. As Berry points out, we are not merely evenly divided into the good and the evil as no one does no evil, but there is a difference among people. It would be unfair to lump all people together since some are worse than others and some know and realize these factors. One other important factor is how one views acts of destruction. People view various acts that can be labeled as destruction under a wide range of arguments, from necessary (which may help them compensate for feeling bad because they realize the destructive potential) to just reality (as taking a passive approach because what could they possibly do about it anyway). In this way it is easiest to see how the crisis is both cultural and character-oriented at the same time. The patterns related to our culture thrown in with our ever-changing and growing need for the increased efficiency of “progress” drives our unsettling destruction.

Berry , Wendell. The Unsettling of America. 3rd Ed. San Francisco : Sierra Club        Books, 1977. 17-48. Print.

Dinner Table Conversation

GMOs or genetically modified organisms comprise most of our foods these days. They are in almost everything and you would never know, and probably didn’t until recently when people started making a hype about their potential dangers. As a person who has lived in a rural area on a farm most of her life the topic of GMOs is not a foreign one. The dinner table conversation at my house usually consists of what is happening at our farm, but mainly it involves our livestock. But that is not foreign thing to the topic of GMOs either because corn is one of the main genetically modified foods because it is one of our staple foods. Corn can be manipulated in so many ways and rearranged to get varying outcome. The horses and cattle on my farm do not eat this genetically modified grain; they eat grass, as they were meant to. Although I haven’t particularly ran into any evidence of the possible health risks that GMOs might pose, even the word leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I do believe we would be much better off without them. The agricultural problems they pose, such as their ability to resist pesticide, far out weigh their benefits. Disease among GMOs is sometimes devastating because if one plant becomes sick then they all are at risk because they are all merely copies of each other. GMOs should follow the same restrictions as other foods and possibly have more because they need to be sure they that they are not a harm to us. Certain restrictions and regulations need to be in place to protect consumers. Food labels should be required because if an individual doesn’t want to eat GMOs they should have the right to know what foods contain them. Keeping people in the dark for longer will only cause a greater uprising later.

Progress

Science has also been a main interest of mine; I like to know how things work. Not do much the mechanical aspects, but the things we can not see with our own eyes. Food science is one of the most interesting parts of science because we eat to live, and if you are like me I live to eat. Science could be considered an abstract thing, detached from our lives. This class however, has severed that detachment. I see the food I eat every day and look at it  in new ways. I understand some of the properties that surround some of our most highly used foods. Learning about eggs was one of my favorite topics, though I don’t enjoy them in their normal form. All the ways that they can be integrated in recipes and how they change the composition of foods is very interesting. There are parts of the class that do change my ways of thinking for the worse, such as the way we Americans eat these days, and how. The industrial food chain by which we get most of our food is appalling. Then there are some parts that I can reckon with, the ones relating to the local farming aspects. Learning chemistry in a way that relates to something all of us think about multiple times a day is great because it ties them together because we all forget how important the food we eat is. Knowing the chemistry behind the foods we eat can help us make better choices about what we eat. That was one of my main goals for this class. I have always been curious as to why some foods are better for you that others. I have no doubt that this class would be a good class to have during a regular semester as there is so much to learn on the topic of the chemistry of food.

The Same but Different

As a girl long associated with the hard work and long days of a farm I understand and agree that major differences exist between seemingly similar foods. During peak seasons of the various fruits and vegetables grown on my farm I despise entering my local traditional grocery store. Piles upon piles of fruits that have traveled miles, likely picked and shipped unripe and treated with harsh pesticides, just to sit unappetizingly in bins to trap unknowing consumers. I don’t have to be told the difference in taste between a fresh local strawberry and one from a shelf at Walmart. Pollan certainly agrees that his meal differs, in key ways, to the one from McDonalds. Knowing where your food comes from even eases the mind about its nutritional and taste value. The origin of the chicken and corn in chapter fourteen is not only known but Pollan actually saw and had a part in acquiring it. One can be proud of food they themselves picked or helped grow. Pollan goes into quite interesting  detail about how the nutrition of food can differ. Even the foods we value as healthy can have dramatically lower concentrations of what we value you them for. I believe that not only is the taste dramatically different in locally produced foods but so is the way your body responds to and uses the foods. locally grown and produced foods contain natural forms of the vitamins and essential nutrients whereas heavily processed  foods often contain many synthetic forms that have been added after the natural nutrients have been removed by harsh industrial methods. One great thing that Pollan brings to the table, literally, is that the price, based on the better nutritional value of the food, is comparable to prices of the industrial food at your supermarket. There is no doubt that many benefits arise from local foods.