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Bad and getting worse

In Featured Posts, Obesity by Prof4 Comments

I know we have already covered the obesity topic, but the CDC just released their obesity report for 2016 and the news is bad, really bad.  Instead of reducing the adult obesity rate, its actually increased – up to nearly 40%.  For middle-aged adults, its above 40%.  Time to go back to the drawing board and come up with some fresh ideas, because whatever we’ve tried to slow down this trend is clearly not working.

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The western food industry in the developing world

In Featured Posts by Prof5 Comments

We discussed how the food industry can play an important role in addressing the world hunger problem.  Food scientist certainly know how to preserve foods and reduce spoilage and waste.  Food scientists know how to develop pasteurization and other technologies to make sure foods and beverages are safe. One concern of some nutritionists, however, is that some food companies may also view the developing world as just another market.  As noted in this recent article (October, 2016), they suggest that globalization, urbanization, and technological progress may lead to many of the same Western diseases that afflict the developed world. In other words, they ask, does the introduction of salty snack foods or sugary beverages really improve the lives of the intended populations?  They contend that sales of highly processed foods in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East grew at rates 25 – 30 times that of North America.  Soon they predict, obesity will be a problem, even while malnutrition remains a serious problem. It will certainly be a challenge for people in developing countries to avoid western diet temptations.  …

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Global warming and Prof’s nightmare

In Featured Posts by Prof9 Comments

As noted in class, climate change is already affecting important agricultural products.  Whether its drought or warming or sunlight hours, these changes can have profound effects on crops as well as in animal agriculture.  Unfortunately, several of these products are very dear to me, personally. Among the products perhaps most sensitive to a change of just a degree or two are wine grapes.  Interestingly, as noted in a series of  recent papers from 2016, there will be winners and losers.  The reason why Cabernet Sauvignon grapes do well in Bordeaux, for example, is because the temperature, moisture, and sunlight hours are perfect for that particular grape cultivar in that specific region of France.  If the climatic conditions are altered, then those grapes will not have the proper level of sweetness, acidity, or color necessary to make a good Bordeaux wine.  The same considerations exist for other grapes grown throughout the rest of the world.  Of course, as the temperature rises, colder regions (Nebraska?) may become the “new” Napa Valley. Then there are my two other “cannot-get-through-the-day-without” foods – coffee and …

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The Food Allergen Generation

In Featured Posts by Prof12 Comments

Throughout the semester we’ve discussed how food science has changed in the past century, the past 50 years, and even since you guys entered the scene 20 years ago. To this point, the food allergen issue is one you’ve been hearing about probably since you were in 1st grade.  But for your parents’ generation (and certainly mine), we never heard of food allergies and never knew someone who could get sick (or die) from eating peanuts.  Before your generation, there was no labeling and the food industry paid little attention to this issue. This situation, as you know, is completely different.  Next week, Dr. Steve Taylor will explain how we got to this point.  He will also lead you through case studies so you have a sense of the sometimes difficult decisions a food company could have to make when faced with the prospect of multi-million dollar recalls.  

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Biofuels of the future

In Featured Posts by Prof1 Comment

Next week, we will discuss the so-called “food versus fuel” issue.  Briefly, the issue addresses the practical, economic, and environmental questions related to the use of corn, soybeans, and other food crops for biofuels.  Of course, perhaps the most importantly issue is the moral question of whether food crops should be used at all for biofuels, given the  world hunger problem. Many plant, energy, and other scientists have long argued that other crops be used for biofuels.  Specifically, these so-called “energy crops” are defined as cellulosic plants that can be grown at low-cost, with few inputs and little maintenance for the expressed purpose to be used as biofuels.  They contain enough potential energy (i.e., carbohydrates that can be fermented to ethanol) to make economic sense.  Examples include woody or herbaceous plants and grasses (like switchgrass that grows so well in Nebraska). The challenge is that these crops must still be processed to convert the cellulose into fermentable sugars.  One possible way to address these concerns is via biotechnology.  I suppose that would make the biofuel GM, but would that really …

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Not your father’s food choice

In Featured Posts by Prof1 Comment

The food business operates on tight margins, meaning that the difference between the cost of the goods and what it receives from the sale of those goods is small.  Still, if a company can sell a lot of product, they can be profitable. As noted in this report, many of the great American food companies that sold iconic food products are now faced with sluggish sales and sagging profits.  This includes Cheerios and other breakfast cereals we grew up eating, Coca Cola, the taste that refreshes, and Kraft Mac and Cheese.  You might remember that the manufacturer of Twinkies even went bankrupt a few years ago. Now comes news of declining sales of another iconic American food product – Campbell’s Soup.  According to this report, even their organic line has been hurting. Business experts have suggested that Millennials simply do not share the same brand loyalty as their parents and grandparents, at least for food.  iPhones are another story. Nonetheless, this may explain why small food brands, especially those for natural, organic or healthy products are so popular among Millennials.  …

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Food icons go organic

In Featured Posts by Prof6 Comments

The list is long, so hold on to your peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  As we will discuss in class, the organic category has become so large that almost every major food company has introduced their own organic product line.  Below are some of the most recognizable food products, each with their own organic version. Hunts Tomatoes Healthy Choice frozen meals Orville Redenbachers popcorn Pam cooking spray Gatorade Heinz catsup Heinz beans Triscuit Ritz Fig Newton Chips Ahoy Dole bananas Welch’s grape juice Rice Krispies Raisin Bran Lay’s Potato Chips Tostitos Cheetos Gerber’s baby food Dannon yogurt Campbell’s Soup Lean Cuisine frozen meals Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Smucker’s jelly Smucker’s peanut butter Tropicana orange juice  

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Organic everything – way beyond chocolate cake

In Featured Posts by Prof9 Comments

As we begin our discussion on organic foods, we will address the reasons why so many consumers are willing to pay a premium for these foods.  One of the main reasons is that organic foods are thought by consumers to be healthier than conventional foods.  We will review the actual data on this question, but regardless, this perception certainly exists. It’s interesting that by attaching an “organic” label to a food, it suddenly becomes healthy.  Cookies, cake, ice cream, candy bars, potato chips – you name it, there is bound to be an organic version. From the “you can’t make this up” file, there is even organic cigarettes.  Indeed, according to this article published last September, in the tobacco-growing state of Virginia, tobacco has become the main organic commodity produced in that state.  There are now more farms and more sales in Virginia for tobacco than poultry or milk. Now I know organic versions of wine and beer are available, but as I was writing this I thought what could possibly be next.  Organic marijuana, perhaps?  Sure enough, it’s available in …

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More bad news for the soda industry

In Featured Posts, Obesity by Prof7 Comments

One third of Americans are now obese and another third are overweight.  Diabetes rates are not far behind.  Childhood obesity and diabetes, almost unheard of 50 years ago, have reached alarming levels. There is a lot of blame to go around – from fast food restaurants to school lunch and other government programs that encourage unhealthy diets.  Of course, the packaged foods industry has also received a lot of the blame. Soda pop producers have been especially singled out by many nutritionists and public health professionals for their role in promoting obesogenic diets.  I will be discussing this more on Wednesday, but most of you already know how pervasive pop consumption is in the U.S. and how many calories we consume as  sports drinks, soda pop, and other sugary beverages.  Even with consumers cutting back on their pop consumption, each one of us still drinks, on average, more than 35 gallons per year. Last year, a major controversy on this very topic occurred after the prestigious journal JAMA Internal Medicine published an study critical of the sugar industry.  Specifically, that …

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Pay now or pay later

In Featured Posts by Prof5 Comments

Obesity is not the only so-called life-style disease, but it certainly is the poster child for such diseases.  That’s because nearly every other life-style disease, from type 2 diabetes to heart disease, hypertension, and cancer, are all related to an obesogenic life-style. To remind you, life-style diseases are those caused by daily habits and our regular routine. The main contributing factors are poor diet, lack of exercise, and general physical inactivity.  Even posture (i.e., sitting at your desk at work and your couch at home) and poor sleep habits are part of the syndrome. This means that successful solutions to the obesity problem will not likely be based only on dietary changes.  Rather, we (meaning future food scientists as well as public health experts) will need to be broad-thinking and creative in order to change entire life-styles. It may be naïve to suggest that building more sidewalks, bike trails, and public swimming pools and playgrounds have a role in the obesity issue, but that is exactly the discussion we need to have.  Likewise, incentives for grocery stores to open locations …

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Our sorry state of obesity

In Featured Posts by Prof2 Comments

Every year, obesity data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control are presented as a report called the “State of Obesity”.  The 2017 report was released last week.  The news is mostly bad. For example, more than one-third (nearly 38%) of U.S. adults are now considered obese.  For women it’s even worse (40%). The rates also vary considerably state-to-state, with Colorado the lowest (22%) and West Virginia the highest (38%).  Indeed, of the top ten heaviest states, 8 are in the South. Nebraska, if you are interested, ranks in the middle. As we will discuss in class, obesity is correlated with other health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.  Childhood obesity is especially alarming.   That’s why this is the most serious public health problem in the U.S. We can argue all day about whether or not food scientists have contributed to this problem.  However, we can also consider ways that food scientists might contribute solutions to this problem.  This is also why we will devote several lectures to this topic.  

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Why we eat what we eat and why can’t we stop?

In Featured Posts by Prof4 Comments

Why we eat what we eat – this has been the question we’ve been discussing the past several lectures. As we’ve learned, there are complex cultural, social, psychological, personal, and biological components to this seemingly simple question.  The next topic is no less complicated – why, as a society, do we eat so much that nearly 70% of our population is overweight or obese? As we address this important question, we will re-visit many of the issues raised in this first section.  For example, does the pervasive advertising of junk food affect our eating habits?  Does our family environment have an effect?  What role does personal choice have?  

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Trending

In Featured Posts by Prof4 Comments

Despite the role of biology in determining what we eat, our eating habits are profoundly influenced by food trends.  Thus, try as many of us do to avoid being just another “follower”, we often make food choices based on fads, fashion, and what everyone else is eating. As food writer David Sax suggested, while “we do have a choice about what we put in our mouths, the reality is that our appetite is collective”. There is clearly some truth (maybe a lot) in this.  Consider all of the foods we probably did not grow up eating, but which so many of us now eat routinely – sushi (at least 5 sushi restaurants in Lincoln), kombucha tea, and of course upscale coffee drinks are everywhere.  

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Hungry? There’s an app for that

In Featured Posts, Front page by Prof4 Comments

In the past few lectures, we’ve discussed cultural and social attitudes that influence what we eat.  Another factor that has a profound influence on eating behavior, but is less obvious perhaps, is technology. I was thinking about this the other day while ordering restaurant food from my computer.  Who, after all, hasn’t ordered food from a smart phone app or tablet?  What is interesting, however, is that the technology changes not only how we order, but what and how much we order.  Researchers have shown, for example, that ordering food on-line can lead to larger orders, and importantly, more calories per meal.  Why do you think this is the case?  

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Eating socially

In Featured Posts by Prof2 Comments

As noted in class, eating habits are profoundly influenced by social situations.  Nonetheless, many of these social influences fly under the radar, and we don’t realize that what we eat is affected by social circumstances. For example, we’ve all been out with friends to a nice restaurant, and when the dessert cart arrives, we look around to see who is indulging. Indeed, that’s one reason why the social phenomenon of “sharing” is so common at dessert time. There is also an eating phenomenon called “modeling”.  Again, this is very common, but we usually aren’t aware of it.  It occurs when you decide what (or how much) you will eat based on someone else’s eating choices.  The “model” can be your dining companion, but can also be a stranger at another table. When you were younger, your parents or older siblings were probably your primary food models. However, according to the research, college students are likely to choose peers as models.  The peer factor is one of the main reasons for why college students change their eating behavior once they arrive …

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Depressing food

In Featured Posts, Food and Culture, Front page by Prof2 Comments

As college students, you certainly know what it’s like to eat on a budget.  Perhaps the three most important requirement are that food should be filling, use simple ingredients, and above all, be cheap. Not that long ago, I was listening the the NPR show “Fresh Air“, and two authors describe how Americans ate during the Great Depression of the 1930s.  That was a time when there was great poverty and families struggled to put food on the table.  With the best of intentions, home economists and school lunch managers developed recipes and food plans that did indeed fill stomachs and stretched budgets.  In hindsight, however, these foods were awful, both in culinary terms and nutritionally. There was a lot of creamed stuff. As we begin our first unit on “food and culture”, it might be instructive to think about the economic and other social factors that influence what you eat.  

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Dorm food culture

In Featured Posts, Front page by Prof3 Comments

More than 7,000 students live in UNL dormitories. That’s nearly a fourth of the student population.  Most of those students also eat their meals in dorm cafeterias. Years ago when I was a freshman (way back in the 1970s), dorm food was awful, an opinion that was widely-held on campus. The vegetables were canned and overcooked, the breads were tasteless, and the meats were hardly recognizable.  Then there was the weird but predictable menu rotation.  Monday there would baked chicken, Tuesday there would be chicken and gravy, on Wednesday we would get chicken a la king, and perhaps Thursday chicken soup. What amazed me the most however, was the discovery that there were always a handful of students who actually liked dorm food.  How bad their food at home must have been, I thought, for them to consider dorm food likeable, much less edible. The times, it appears, have changed.  Dorm cafeterias at many college campuses now feature fresh, healthy, and tasty items.  Recently, the niche.com website posted the top 25 colleges ranked for dorm food for 2017 (UNL was …

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That eclipse is making me hungry

In Featured Posts, Front page, Leftovers by Prof0 Comments

The food science eclipse-viewing deck party was a big hit.  The eclipse was perfectly visible, and there was lots of great food.  In fact, at first, the partial eclipse had a banana look, and as I was standing next to Dr. Hallen-Adams, our department’s fungi expert, it also looked like a Fusarium mold spore.  The total eclipse may have even reminded you of an Oreo or a Moon Pie.  Any other food look-alike suggestions?

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Wild Kingdom

In Featured Posts by Prof0 Comments

If you live on planet earth, you probably know that there will be a total eclipse of the sun on Monday, with all of Nebraska along the path.  Many of us will put on the goofy sunglasses and observe this rare natural event.  If all goes according to plan, sometime around 1:00 pm, CDT, darkness will envelop UNL (insert joke of your choice here). Of course, most of us more-or-less understand why the eclipse occurs (something about the moon getting in between the earth and the sun).  Thus, there should not be too many people surprised when things go dark in the middle of the day. But what about animals?  Whether domesticated or wild, animals rely on natural cues, especially daylight or darkness, to know when it’s time for eating, sleeping, and other forms of activity.  Some animals are nocturnal, meaning they are only active at night and sleep during the day. Some biologists predict that animals will revert to their night time routine.  This may mean that wild birds and animals return to their nesting spots.  Domesticated animals, including …

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Top Ten reasons why you should study food science at UNL

In Featured Posts, Front page by Prof0 Comments

10. Brand new, state-of-the-art building with modern labs, high-tech classrooms, and student lounges. 9. We speak Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Chinese, Arabic, Hebrew, Hindi, Nepalese, Thai, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Tamil, and English. 8. We know the secret formula for Coca Cola, the 11 secret herbs and spices in KFC, and why Twinkies last forever. 7. We know which bacteria are in the food we eat, AND we also know which bacteria come out the other end. 6. Your parents will be happy to know that 100% of our students get food science jobs that pay real money. 5. Guys – 3:1 female to male student ratio.  Ladies – did I mention the good jobs? 4. Teachers that excel at research and researchers that excel at teaching 3. We know how to spell Streptococcus thermophilus, lipoxygenase, and carrageenan. 2. We’re on a first name basis with Famous Amos, Cracker Jack, and Slim Jim. 1. Your classmates will be as smart as you.