How Much Do You Actually Know About What You’re Putting in Your Mouth?

A little background in food science can turn you into a next-level foodie

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Frank Kehren

The philosophical field of epistemology, literally the “study of knowledge,” puts a lot of stock in “justified belief," the idea that our thoughts and beliefs cannot be considered “knowledge” unless our beliefs are “justified.” In other words, knowledge has three conditions: 1) an idea, P, must be true; 2) you must believe that P is true; and 3) that belief is justifiable—there's proof of some sort that you have access to that lets you know that it is true.

Sometimes, emotion gets in the way of this process, and people miss getting from point 2—belief—to point 3—justifiable belief. For example, for some, food is more than just something needed stay alive—food is their thing. But these strong feelings can be a problem if people think that their beliefs—“I'm Annie the Foodie, and I really like cheese”—automatically justifies claims like “Cheese is good for you" or “Locally sourced food is better for you.”

Let's say that you really love cheese, and you want to be able to tell people all about how great cheese is. How to convert your belief into epistimologically sound knowledge? 

Maybe try a little science.

If you've got an internet connection and a little bit of free time, McGill University is putting on a free open college program all about the science of food. Taught by the popular Canadian science communicator Joe Schwarcz and colleagues, says McGill, “This course will shed light on the molecules that constitute our macro and micro nutrients and will attempt to clarify a number of the food issues using the best science available. Other topics to be presented will include the diet-cancer relationship, the link between diet and cardiovascular disease, food-borne illnesses, food additives and weight control.”

McGill gives the option to either audit the course, or to dig right in and do all the homework. Either way, the course, which starts on January 22 and will run about 14 weeks, should give a crash course on the basics of food science.

With just a little science, brunch-table debates about the importance of locally sourced food in feeding our ever-growing population will be just that much more justified.

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