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Taste of Reason

What is science-based cuisine? To some, it may invoke the whiz-bang trickery of so-called modernist cooking, or maybe the space age promise of pushbutton food in pill form. But what it is is a frame of mind, a way of thinking.

Just what is food, anyway? While many will discuss food strictly in terms of nutrition, the deep social role of food is both pervasive and undeniable. As humans, we build our earliest social contracts by sharing food, and develop an uneasy distrust of those that don't eat the same things we do. Food is communication, literally visceral in both physiological and psychological senses, and this role often overshadows the nutritive aspects. Flavors and smells anchor our memories, and form the glue of shared experiences.

Which is probably why many popular notions about food remain tenaciously entrenched in social consciousness, even in the absence of objective proof, or outright debunking. Fad diets. Fear of MSG and other "chemicals". Organic foods, and the shifting definition thereof. Biodynamism. Paleo. Raw milk. Nitrites. Conspiracy stories about big ag. Demonization of "processed foods". Alkaline water. All have their adherents, despite what science says.

Pseudoscience and myths abound in the food cultures all over the world, practices which are passed on by tradition, and stubbornly resistant to reasoning. Even scientists, as human as we are, fall into these traps as we step away from our areas of expertise. But we can make headway into this. At the moment, our notions of food resemble the early days of medicine. Before the advent of science-based medicine, all sorts of practices were employed, such as trepanning and bleeding (the barbershop pole represents the fact that in the past, any barber also claims to be a surgeon, and people went there to be bled of their "bad blood"). Establishing a science-based medicine beachhead in the morass of shamanism and superstition took many years, and a concerted effort to earn the respect of laypeople — and by no means is the struggle over, as antivaxxers, acupuncturists, chiropractic, and homeopathy continue to endanger lives.

In parallel, in the arena of food, science is seldom consistently invoked. Relegated to the sterile fringes, romantic and pastoral images of food and food practices eschew scientific analysis, choosing instead adherence without analysis. What we need is a frame of mind that embraces science and appreciates evidence as it pertains to food, and food practices - and when such a tradition takes root, it'll form its own cuisine. A science-based cuisine.

Let's journey there.

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