KSJ Tracker September 9, 2013

Chewing through tunicates and Scientific American's September food issue.


Lionfish sashimi, anyone? Knotweed lemonade?

Those are a few of the not especially inviting dishes from a chef who has come up with a solution to the problem of invasive species: Eat them. We might, for example, restore blue mussel habitat along the East Coast by eating the invader that has taken it over--the stalked tunicate, or Asian sea squirt, if that sounds any more appealing. Bun Lai, the chef at Miya's Sushi in New Haven, Conn., recalls his first taste of sea squirt, a South Korean delicacy, in a piece in Scientific American's September food issue. "As I bit into one of the yellow appendages, it burst with salty, viscous, warm liquid...I could taste its phlegmy consistency, and it took all my willpower to keep it in my mouth and even more effort to swallow it."

Special projects editor Michael Moyer, who put this SciAm issue together (it's behind a paywall), has, incredibly, come up with something new to say about food, which isn't easy to do. Some of it is fun, such as a history of processed food by Evelyn Kim, which begins with roasted meat 1.8 million years ago, bread, and then, 7,000 years ago--no spoilers; you'll have to look it up. 

Moyer's line-up addresses serious issues, too. A piece by Paul J. Kenny on the addictive properties of food provides a nice update on leptin and its ilk, and what happens in the brain's reward center when we eat. Rob Dunn looks at the problems associated with trying to estimate calories, which is still done using techniques devised in the 19th century. Dunn writes about how cooking affects the absorption of food, and how all of this interacts with the body's gut bacteria, "what some scientists have come to regard as an extra organ of the human body."

The issue also includes pieces by a couple of contrarian writers, Gary Taubes and David H. Freedman. Taubes delivers an intelligent piece on a subject in which he has a long interest, whether obesity is the result of too many calories or the wrong carbohydrates. Taubes describes his current efforts to raise money for his Nutrition Science Initiative to test his idea that obesity is the result not of an energy imbalance, but of a hormonal imbalance, brought on by too many carbohydrates. Freedman, who has written some wild-eyed pieces about diet ("How Junk Food Can End Obesity") delivers here a strong analysis of the risks and benefits of genetically modified foods, and how we might find a middle ground between warring scientists and activists.

There's more, and not much of what you read anywhere else will be as authoritative, clear, and interesting as what you will read here. You might also want to take a look at SciAm's new group food blog, Food Matters, which was launched with this issue. Its list of contributors, many of them new to me, is impressive, and much more agreeable than Bun Lai's invasive cuisine.

Peanut butter and warty comb jellyfish, anyone?

-Paul Raeburn


comments powered by Disqus