Food for thought: Expert discusses history of food science at symposium

Tuesday, March 6, 2012 | 7:27 p.m. CST; updated 7:50 p.m. CDT, Monday, April 1, 2013

COLUMBIA — Kicking off the 8th annual Life Sciences and Society Symposium: Food Sense, Ingolf Gruen, program and undergraduate adviser chair of Food Science at MU, asked the audience, "What did you eat for breakfast this morning?" 

"Now, what did your great, great, great, great, great, great grandparents eat for breakfast?" he asked. 

If you go

What: The Life Sciences and Society Symposium: Food Sense focuses on how our taste for food is molded by various biological, cultural, economic and social triggers. Experts in various fields will speak on why we choose to eat the way we do. 

When:  March 16–18

Where: Various locations on MU's campus. For a schedule of events, check out the symposium's website.

Admission: Free 

"From modern age to the age of our ancestors, what really changed is not the type of food, but the quality of food," Gruen said. "Our food today is much safer." 

Throughout his presentation, Gruen discussed how the different realms and revolutions of food science have significantly impacted, changed and improved the way in which we consume our food. 

Gruen talked about the four major areas of food science: food processing, food microbiology, food chemistry and sensory science, and discussed major contributions to each.

"Food science is very similar to other sciences," Gruen said. "Knowledge right now in this field is increasing exponentially." 

But differing from other sciences, nothing is really invented in food science, Gruen said.

"It's more important to ask what major scientific discoveries influenced food science and the way we choose to eat," Gruen said. "Food science is an applied science." 

Food processing 

As the father of canning, Nicolas Appert, a confectioner and chef, made substantial strides in food science by preserving food by boiling food in glass jars, Gruen said. 

"This invention moved food science forward a great deal," Gruen said. "What he did with preservation is essentially what we do now." 

The quality and safety of food greatly improved after Appert initiated the idea of food preservation, which allowed food to be non-perishable for a long period of time, Gruen said.

Food microbiology

Food microbiology focuses on how microorganisms can affect the quality and safety of food, Gruen said. Rapid food spoilage in the nineteenth century caused detriment to people's health, which ultimately led to the invention of pasteurization. 

"Louis Pasteur was the inventor of pasteurization," Gruen said. "Pasteur lost three children due to salmonella typhi, which caused him to focus on disease and come up with a sterilization process." 

Gruen said pasteurization destroyed the harmful microorganisms that were to blame for the disease that took the lives of Pasteur's three children. 

Food chemistry

During the year without summer in 1816, Justus von Liebig saw many people around him suffer from the lack of harvest due to the overwhelming amount of volcanic activity and low temperatures, Gruen said. 

"Liebeg was an organic chemist who went more into agriculture chemistry," Gruen said. "He was considered the father of the fertilizer industry." 

Liebig's primary notion was that nutrients could serve as chemicals and therefore better the land of the area, Gruen said. 

Sensory science 

David R. Perryman developed the nine-point hedonic scale, which measures the acceptance of various types of food, Gruen said.

"Every single food you eat was once tested using the nine-point hedonic scale," Gruen said. "This scale is based on liking and acceptance, not preference." 

The scale assesses liking and acceptance based on ranking food from "like extremely" to "dislike extremely." Perryman opened the door to food acceptance testing, Gruen said. 

About the symposium

The symposium highlights how individual taste for food is shaped by a variety of exterior factors, such as biological triggers, cultural norms and societial surroundings, according to the symposium's website. 

Through this examination, the symposium will delve into the capability of  how individuals, communities and societies can make healthy food choices, according to the website.

"We are bringing in people who are experts in their respective fields," Stefani Engelstein, director of the symposium, said. "We are excited about the symposium because we are able to get different fields talking to each other instead of just talking within their field." 

The symposium will bring together experts in nutrition, taste science, psychology, cultural studies, marketing analysis and food-science journalism, according to the website. 

The 8th Annual Life Sciences and Society Symposium will take place March 16-18. 

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