One of the reasons I started this blog was so I could pass on the food-related wisdom I’m acquiring from my education (formal and informal) to you folks. To that end, I thought it would be fun to give a little snapshot of beginning of my courses this semester, which are all SO COOL except for organic chemistry lab (BLECH).
This is a higher level nutritional biochemistry class. It’s really the heart and soul of “hard” nutrition science, what my classmates and I have been building up to through all of our bio and chem prerequisites. The first lecture was actually not given by the instructor, but by a guest professor from the veterinary school on campus. In an adorable mild Scottish accent, he gave a terrific lecture on the role of the gut microbiome in inflammatory bowel disease. In case you didn’t read this post of mine, I’m absolutely fascinated by the human microbiome and how the bacteria that colonize our digestive tracts and our skin and elsewhere can have such a profound impact on our health, or lack thereof. His main lecture topic took us a through a narrative of discovering that a particular strain of pathogenic bacteria was causing IBD in a bunch of dogs, and how treating them with antibiotics completely cured them of their gastrointestinal absorption problems. Afterward, I asked him if he could touch on the efficacy of alternatives to antibiotics for changing the bacterial composition of the gut, such as probiotics and fecal transplants. He spoke incredibly intelligently on the subject, remarking current evidence does not support the efficacy of probiotics for treating most gut conditions, while fecal transplants have shown incredible potential for treating certain conditions, like C. difficile infections.
Public Health Nutrition
I feel like this is the course I have been waiting for throughout my entire undergraduate career so far. It teaches the history and methods of public health agencies in addressing diet-related disease, which is, if you haven’t yet gathered, precisely what I want to do with my life, so hopefully this class will affirm that. Most recently we watched the first half of a documentary called A Place at the Table, which I highly recommend. It helps people like me who have never worried about where their next meal is coming from get some idea of the extent of hunger in this country, and what it’s like to rely on SNAP or have just a little bit to much money to qualify. What I’ve seen so far of the film also does a great job of explaining why undernutrition and overnutrition are both so common among people of little means.
Sweetness: How Sugar Built the Modern World
Now this class is really special. It’s a very small seminar cross-listed between Africana Studies and Latin American Studies. The professor is an expert on the Caribbean, and he’s going to take us through the history of the sugar trade in that region, studying sugar’s impact on politics, culture, slavery, diet, art etc. I don’t typically get too excited about history, but being able to study it through the lens of food makes it much more compelling. Our first topic of discussion is a controversial sculpture crafted by renowned artist Kara Walker.
She designed a gigantic sphinx whose features portray a black female slave, a stereotypical “Aunt Jemima” figure. The sculpture was part of an exhibit within a Domino sugar factory that was about to be torn down. To me, it is almost aggressively apparent that Walker meant to critique the racist history of sugar production. Some critics applauded her boldness; others claimed she was perpetuating an offensive portrayal of the black woman’s body. It seems that how audiences perceived the work depended on their awareness of the racially charged context of its creation. To me, the pain and scathing irony Walker expressed were inescapable, but some douchebags who visited the exhibit thought it funny and proceeded to take obscene photos with the figure. I’m excited for this class to get me out of my comfort zone and help me better understand this food’s impact on society.
Like I said, I’m also taking organic chemistry lab (can I say ew again?) and a lecture series on climate change, which hasn’t started yet. Stay tuned!