RogerBW's Blog

The Science of Food, Marty Jopson 27 January 2018

2017 non-fiction, popular science; short treatments of scientific aspects of farming, food transport and cooking.

While the individual pieces don't seem much longer than the ones in The Science of Everyday Life, having a tighter theme makes it possible to group them in loose subject areas, leading to some possibility of a deeper treatment.

There were things here I didn't know – I say this not to boast, but because it may mean that you don't know some of them too – like the nature and use of modified starch, and the detailed physics of heating sugar and freeze drying. It feels disconcerting to drop from a detailed treatment of starch polymerisation into an explanation for the unscientific of how boiling works, but the book holds together even so.

There is a distressing tendency not to check things carefully when it supports paternalistic orthodoxy: Jopson's quite happy to talk about how the substance of a chopping-board appears to be uncorrelated with the degree to which it accumulates bacteria (with references to experiments in which he's been involved), but he accepts recommended daily intake figures without question, and when something appears to be pointing towards a conventional piece of advice such as, say, reducing fat intake, he doesn't try to confirm that experimental finding or mention the history of how dietary advice has changed. It all rather reminded me of the MythBusters episodes where they tested various means of not getting caught at criminal activity: one knew going in that all these methods were going be presented as useless.

Even so, it's good fun, if rather short overall.

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