Food myths and food science

Food (and cooking) probably has more myths than almost any other subject (can even put the combined conspiracy theories of Michelle Bachmann and FauxNews to shame). It has more wacky nonsense ideas than even Orly Taitz could invent. Food is loaded with nonsense, once again a mixture of insanity (or just ignorance) and cynical manipulation (selling you snake oil for a hugely inflated price).

At the same time relatively little of science or scientific method has traditionally been part of the food conversation, but in the constant search of novelty it seems to all the fashion these days. I draw a line with Alton Brown popularizing food geek on FoodTV but on the even bigger money making side we have “molecular gastronomy” fad, leading to all sorts of expensive must-have kitchen devices and ingredients. The Internet, of course, fuels a lot of this because: a) we can get lots of information (most of it wrong), b) we can find all sorts of unusual things to buy even Whole Foods or Sur La Table can’t match, c) we can spend lots of money but then have lots of oneupsmanship topics on the tip of our tongue to impress (aka irritate) other foodies, and, d) we have lots of other foodies to talk to, in blogs and discussion panels, given we’ve bored all those near us to death with our ramblings.

So by a series of chance events (and a little xmas gift money to spend) I’m the midst of my own fog of simultaneously reading. I suppose it started by chance viewing of Cook’s Country TV show (almost as high as AB on the geek scale) but also some pop science TV show on gastronomy that revealed my personal dream (were I equally rich and could blow my fortune on toys) as Nathan Myhrvold’s 22lb opus, five volume, Modernist Cuisine, (imagine hiring your personal staff of cooks and scientists and photographers just to play in a kitchen with every imaginable toy). Not having $451.47 to spend (nor even $103.23 for the home version, at least just with only one book) I started looking for other books.

As usual the brilliant marketing ploy known as Kindle (with all those free samples) sucked me into blowing my xmas gift money, but as a consequence I’m getting various points of view. You see, not everyone is excited by all this and things much of it is just a way to separate fools from their money, in short people with more money than brains who will believe every culinary rumor they find on the Internet. So here they are:

The Critic

Michael Specter: Denialism (boy does he hate Whole Foods)

The Professor

Robert Wolke: What Einstein Told His Cook (does he have fun debunking some trendy myths and even old scams)

The Super Chefs/Scientists

various: the kitchen as laboratory (whatever you call it, lots of chemicals and weird stuff in the kitchen)

The Thorough Geeks

America’s Test Kitchen: The Science of Good Cooking (more experiments and tips that you can possibly assimilate but some very interesting unconventional ideas Grandma didn’t teach you)

It’s really fun mashing all these up together and flipping (just like channel surfing, being the typical male who can’t watch the same program for more than 20 milliseconds) while grinding away on exercise equipment burning up all the calories any of these books would load on me. I guess like my virtual Pacific Crest Trail hike (as an incentive to do boring exercise) I’m now on my virtual gastronomy tour, but it’s also fun getting some contrasting (and contradictory) opinions. Who said politics or religion are the only things to argue about?



About dmill96

old fat (but now getting trim and fit) guy, who used to create software in Silicon Valley (almost before it was called that), who used to go backpacking and bicycling and cross-country skiing and now geodashes, drives AWD in Wyoming, takes pictures, and writes long blog posts and does xizquvjyk.
This entry was posted in musing, opinion and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Food myths and food science

  1. Nona says:

    What was your favorite meal your mother cooked? Unfortunately, perhaps it was my good fortune, my mother wasn’t much of a cook. In self defense, I learned to cook and could put a full meal on the table by the time I was 12. Cooking the old fashion way – by taste, sight, smell is how I learned to cook. I have stuck to the tried and true ways for so long, that I recently just got my first pastry blender. Additionally, I have become quite apt in xizquvjyk.

    • dmill96 says:

      xizquvjyk, really? Maybe you can tell me what it is. 🙂 Long ago I learned that as a trick to really check if search engines are indexing your pages since there are not many hits on xizquvjyk except here (Google now says 332 results which is about right).

      • Nona says:

        Actually Doug, I thought it was code for bullshit. The first word I tried to teach to all my nieces and nephews. Geeze, by now, one would have thought you’d know when I am pulling your leg. Sincerely, Nona

  2. dmill96 says:

    That’s hard to say since most meals, that I can even recall, were pretty bad, although somewhat typical of the time. The only cooking I learned while young was cookies (from Grandmother) and cakes (from my dad’s secretary) and maybe a little grilling from my dad. My wife and I still laugh about making vegetables for my mother (now 98) for the dinners we bring over that we cook them to death, literally hours of boiling something like green beans, with bacon of course. I once was showing off and made some very nice haricot vert (which I told her was snob language for tender young green beans) quickly steamed with shallot and she almost wouldn’t eat them. It’s not just her lack of teeth today, she always liked vegetables as mush. I despised green beans until someone told me to try some right off the plant and I couldn’t believe it was the same thing.

    I didn’t really try cooking much until Julia Child made it the fad (I was living in Boston at the time and actually bumped into her (hard to miss) at store while shopping for cooking stuff for presents for my sister and I vaguely knew who she was, even though her original show was on the public TV in Boston. But my sister got hooked at that point and so that was my start at at least trying to expand. In one of the books I’m reading they comment that throughout history we’ve had relatively few ingredients (literally until modern container shipping, even back in mid-20th century when food was relatively available, it was still a narrow range of choices, esp. anything fresh). So the book said, that cooks then actually were probably better in many ways because they had less good ingredients, cruder tools, and less instruction, BUT MORE PRACTICE. I know with bread making, after quite a few tries I have a lot more “feel” for the dough now (still just an amateur though).

    I once saw an Alton Brown doing his normal geeky thing with biscuits side-by-side with his grandmother who thought she’d probably made biscuits several thousand times (and never measured anything) and Alton is doing all his precise science-y approach and at the end decides hers are probably better.

    So I suspect the best of both worlds would have been the old apprentice learning method and lots of practice but then being open enough to embrace some of the modern stuff (I actually looked to see if I could get liquid nitrogen (hard, at least in quantities suitable for home use) because it sounded like it really was possible to make better ice cream).

    So I don’t fault my mother’s cooking (typical of her era and birth location) but interestingly she believes it’s all good and so never took any interest in learning anything new once that was more commonplace.

  3. conns says:

    Thanks for one’s marvelous posting! I quite enjoyed reading it, you can be a great author. I will remember to bookmark your blog and definitely will come back at some point. I want to encourage you to definitely continue your great job, have a nice holiday weekend!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s