“Diet is never going to be like any other area of science. Whatever we’ve read, whatever the competing theories, whatever the weight of op[inion, every individual is effectively conducting their own pseudo-scientific experiment in eating.”
—BBC News Magazine (Vanessa Barford, 4/17/13) Atkins and the never-ending battle over carbs
Science, and here I am talking about food science, has clout that comes from its reputation for systematic investigation – especially in studies of food preferences and marketing, and food sensory perception and tastes. Studies themselves are meant to be repeatable, and with similar results each time – thus, conferring reliability. It is not necessarily objective – the choice of what to study and how to frame the research is subjective – but it does try to be honest, with little to market except a message or two.
It could be argued that science looks for universal truths, or at the very least generalizations, although virtually all of what it produces has caveats, and that annoying coda, “more research is needed.” Yet we depend on science for such systematic investigation – many of us don’t take the time to do the work on our own (although us experience-seekers may be an exception).
I, personally, am conflicted about the utility and direction of science, as I wrote even in 1974 (p 38), at the University of Sussex,
…We have idealized science as a superior form of activity… It is indeed political, with its institutional structures, growing membership, emergence of leaders, and the existence of a range of issue considered vital to its welfare [and reproduction].
Could it be that scientific study and analysis has useful things to tell us about our food and the way it is produced? But food is complex, and so, no single science – or information stream — has ever produced the one solution to any complex problem. So, while there’s a lot of junk science out there, poor advice and simplistic talk show babble, there are also some crazy good science stories that can be heard above the din. It may seem contradictory – saying don’t listen just experience, but then, listen to science. Nevertheless, the language of science is fascinating, and underlying it all is a basic premise — that perhaps we are more alike than not. What applies to one may certainly well apply to another, e.g., the way in which fructose is metabolized in the body (via the liver). At the very least, it’s worth a look to find any widely applicable messages. Mostly I look and find conflicts, but every now and then, something resonates.