Scientific American eats

A new group blog will explore the science of food

Scientific American has been on a food spree recently. Its September issue is food-themed, with pieces ranging from the conflicting science of GMOs to a Gary Taubes feature on obesity, and its website has been running food-themed content all week.

And this food focus is continuing with an ongoing blog. Launched on Tuesday, “Food Matters” aims to cover the topic comprehensively, posting on food-related topics ranging from agricultural technology to nutrition science to the culture of eating.

Though primordially basic, food is a difficult topic to unpack, one of the reasons Scientific American blogging editor Bora Zivkovik decided to staff the blog with a group of writers rather than an individual.

“No single person can cover, and cover well, a topic that is so complex as food, because it has so many angles and areas and sub-disciplines in it,” said, Zivkovik in a chat with The New York Times’ Andy Revkin.

To hit at all aspects of a topic that ranges from the political to the cultural, Zivkovik recruited a wide variety of writers, including specialists in immunology, plant pathology, and biochemistry.

“I started the fishing expedition almost a year ago,” Zivkovik wrote on his Tumblr. “[I] dug around the archives of various food blogs, asked people I trust, discussed articles on Twitter to see what people think, “tested” potential candidates on the Guest Blog, and discussed the choices with my colleagues in the editorial newsroom at SciAm.”

It’s still too early to get a complete sense of the work that’ll come out of the blog. On launch day the vertical hosted a few introductory posts and a strange, crop-centric Socratic dialogue—literally. But a day later, the site ran a more promising piece by Layla Eplett, a writer specializing in the anthropology of food, which used a study on the effects of music on our experience of food as a starting point for an examination of the relationship between taste and sound. For a small number of individuals with synaesthesia, overlapping experience of senses is the norm. As the post points out, the rest of us experience the phenomenon in lesser ways; the concept’s been used by advertisers for years (those enticing snappy potato chip sounds). SciAm takes the research a step further—as a way of examining the way humans process stimuli and the interdependence of the senses.

For starters, it’s not just the digestive system that processes food. The potential exists to discover how the brain processes taste and sound for people in different environments, along with those who are deaf or hearing impaired.
Food Matters is a promising concept—and a page to keep bookmarked.

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Alexis Sobel Fitts is a senior writer at CJR. Follow her on Twitter at @fittsofalexis. Tags: ,