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The Science of Food


Encouraging students’ curiosity about food, and fostering a recognition of humanity’s long relationship with food growing and production, motivated Jason Townsend, supervisor of introductory laboratories, to create Introduction to Science of Food. In the class, students complete hands-on projects where they grow, process, or create a food item of their choice.

Townsend, a lecturer in environmental studies, said he wants students to have some understanding of the time and energy it takes to grow and process food — something humans have spent most of their time on Earth doing.  

This project ties in with Townsend’s course goals of helping students understand the broader impacts of their food choices on the world, environment, and their own health. Besides the connections between diet and health — and diet and sustainability — the course focuses on the evolutionary relationship of food and humans, understanding and evaluating agricultural practices, and identifying social impacts of, and on, food choice. 

Townsend said some of the projects done in past semesters include kombucha, kim chi, gluten-free muffins, hard cider, oatmeal stout beer, yogurt, goat’s cheese, and oyster mushrooms. This semester, students tackled a variety of projects including brewing ginger beer, hard apple cider, kombucha, and cyser (apple cider mead), fermenting hot sauce and sauerkraut, growing pothos and microgreens, building terrariums, baking gluten-free and vegan soft pretzels, and making flour from acorns. 

Maria “Alejandra” Pulido ’22 learned to brew kombucha for her hands-on project. To make the kombucha she brewed tea, added sugar, and then completed a double fermentation process with a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). Pulido said one of the most surprising things she discovered was that her SCOBY grew so much, and she planned to take some of it home to continue brewing kombucha over break. 

This project was more than just an assignment for Pulido, whose father developed type 2 diabetes shortly after her family moved to the United States from Columbia in 2009. Pulido herself developed gastritis and has learned a lot from this course about the healthy microbiome and the importance of probiotics and prebiotics in the foods she eats. She said that since she started drinking her own kombucha (which is loaded with probiotics), she’s had less stomach pain. 

Wrapping up what she called one of the best courses she has taken at Hamilton, Pulido said she understands more about the science of growing and processing food, and is excited to continue learning more about what we put in our bodies. “Being in a good relationship with food is really important; food is medicine,” Pulido said.

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