Food Politics / National / News / May 6, 2010

Can food be safe?

Last Thursday, Professor Robert Bates from the University of Florida gave a talk titled “What you always wanted to know about chemicals in food but were afraid to eat.” Bates is a professor in the Food Technology and Human Nutrition Department at the University of Florida and gave an extensive presentation about the confusion in society at large about what things are healthy and unhealthy for people to eat.

Bates took an initial look at what is meant when a food product is described as “natural.” There is no Food and Drug Administration requirement that foods must meet to have the word “natural” printed on their labels.

A large part of the presentation revolved around the media and countless new studies that seem to come out daily about things that were once deemed beneficial or having no negative consequences for human health and are now deemed detrimental.

Bates said it is worth recognizing “the media’s simplified take on food safety” and that nothing complex can be boiled down to a political cartoon.

Bates also discussed the concept that all substances are essentially poisonous to us because they are not things originally found in the body. While some foods might often be eaten raw, there is evidence that it serves the body better to cook them. In terms of the salt conflict, in which many “recent studies” have showed that salt is bad for the body, Bates underlined the idea that one statement cannot be made for everyone.

“We need to focus on individual needs and preferences,” Bates said in terms of what and how much people eat. He said that the words “according to a new study” are often to blame for confusion around what is healthy and what is not.

With extensive lists of dozens of factors that go into food such as factory farming, pasteurizing, eating organic, disease, overdosing on vitamins, Bates said of all substances put into the body that “there’s the line between getting what you need and too much of something.”

The social aspects of food between affluent and developing countries are also important in the politics and inner workings of food.

Bates shared an anecdote in which he went to Guatemala and natives of the country thought it was perfectly healthy to give soda to their babies because when American tourists visited, they looked healthy and they were also drinking soda.

Above all, he focused on tweaking our thought process to understand that what is most important is a focus on moderation and balance between all foods and to be wary of media scares related to food.

Annie Zak

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