Providing Food for a Nation and World: A Question of Balance


Food science is part of an inter-linked system that provides the fuel that powers the human race. The fact that there is a “Paleolithic Diet” demonstrates that our food supply is as basic to our existence as the air we breathe and water we drink. Speculating as a food scientist with no credentials in Anthropology, I would surmise that the daily task of obtaining food was a major, if not the major, concern of daily life for hunter-gatherers. My recent reading of Undaunted Courage (Simon and Schuster, 1996) by Stephen Ambrose, about the Lewis and Clark Expedition, brought to light the challenges of living off the land. Even with the advantage of guns to kill game and local people to trade with for food, putting the “meat on the table” (probably more correctly lap) was a constant challenge with starvation ever looming as a result of a few unlucky days of hunting. Agriculture developed as a way to provide a constant food supply, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Our food supply has become exceedingly complex. In one part of the world we are concerned about too much food (or at least too many calories), while in another part, there is too little. Moreover, continued population growth would predict that there will be a continued need to optimize the food supply to simply keep up with an expanding and diverse world population. A simple model for a food supply can be represented by the following figure.

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While some may argue, I would propose that the basic elements of a food supply are to provide nutrients and bioactive compounds (e.g., antioxidants) in a safe form that is enjoyable to a population. We live or die on the nutrients, bioactive compounds and safety, but one of the big reasons we purchase food is that it suites our taste.

Also included in the model is an outer ring of sustainability, vegan, and value priced to signify a set of considerations that also go into one's purchasing decisions. The “many others” category was included to denote that other factors such as organic or Kosher, to name a few, also go into the decision process by various populations.

This model speaks to the multidiscipline nature of understanding foods and the need for a balanced approach. Safe foods that have unacceptable taste are just as undesirable as excellent tasting foods that are not safe.

One of the challenges of food science, and the Journal of Food Science, is that we tend to take a single discipline approach to research. The reasoning is generally presented as to fully understand a phenomenon you need to dig deeper and deeper into the science and establish the mechanism. Indeed, our individual sections of the Journal of Food Science reflect this model. Attempting to publish a good manuscript that covers a range of the four key areas shown in the model provides several challenges. First, which section is the most appropriate? Second, has the desire for breadth resulted in insufficient depth for the publication to be a true contribution to the science of food? Lastly, reviewers tend to focus on their expertise so there is an exceptional challenge to pleasing all reviewers in a multidisciplinary manuscript.

The question of balance comes in with specific products constituting the food supply, and also in how to conduct and report on scientific investigations of food. What are the best approaches to create foods that are safe, healthy, enjoyable, and affordable, while at the same time based on sustainable production and manufacturing practices that provide a reasonable living for the practitioners? Likewise, how do we address the multifaceted nature of food from a research approach that explains the detailed mechanism(s) of individual phenomena and connections with all the elements important to foods? Finally, more to the concern of the Journal of Food Science, how do we present those findings? To find an answer you have to start with a question….. looks like we have a good start.

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Sincerely,

E. Allen Foegeding, Ph.D.

Editor in Chief

Ancillary