Many prominent foodies now say that you shouldn't eat anything with ingredients a third grader can't pronounce. Matt Teegarden and his friends really, really want you to reconsider that stance:
Teegarden, a PhD candidate in food science at Ohio State University, thinks that folks in his field have been getting a bad rap in recent conversations about food safety. While 88 percent of scientists conclude that foods produced using genetic modification techniques are safe to eat, for example, only 37 percent of the general public surveyed by Pew felt the same way.
And instead of a balanced conversation about scientific consensus and reasonable expectations for safety, many food safety advocates make scientists the enemy. Lately, it seems that all too many restaurant chains are willing to capitalize on that fear by cutting out GMOs and "unnatural" ingredients.
"They’re promoting what they’re doing, these food chains, as a way to follow the consumer desire, which is fine," Teegarden told The Post. "But they’re doing it at the cost of sound science."
Along with nine fellow food scientists -- PhD students from Ohio State, North Carolina State, University of Arkansas, Virginia Tech, University of Tennessee, Penn State and University of Georgia, plus two recent graduates who have started working in the industry -- Teegarden hopes to release a series of easy-to-understand videos to give food scientists a better name.
"There's not a lot of positive voice for science out there," Teegarden said. "There seem to be some negative pictures painted about what food scientists are and what our motives are. So we're just hoping to start a better conversation about food science."
Teegarden understands that the new tools used to make food more abundant -- like genetic modification -- can be scary. "But when people get down on food processing, you know, when they want everything to be freshly picked and unprocessed," he said, "they have to remember, we need to feed everyone, at all income brackets -- we need to feed everyone."
In the group's second explainer video, they pronounce the names of some chemicals that are indeed scary sounding -- or at least difficult to say, even for PhD students.
But the chemical mouthfuls are just flavor chemicals, which of course occur naturally in anything that tastes like anything. Yes, flavors are chemicals! So is water. But you knew that, right?
Teegarden expressed an earnest desire to engage with the very people who vilify his profession.
"It's really good that people are asking questions," he said. "It's just really awesome that people are curious about their food. But the problem is that a lot of the people providing answers are cultivating this culture of fear. We just want to be part of that dialogue. The more we can engage everyone -- including the people who have negative views of science -- the more balanced a conversation we can have."