In college, food is a force with which to be reckoned – its power is called upon to entice a crowd to numerous events and meetings, it is a sought-after reward at competitions, and it is the element over which classmates gather together and form bonds that will last a lifetime. This semester, fourteen students are tackling the important subject of food in the class called, “Bonding with Food: The Chemistry of Food Preparation, Production and Policy.”
Taught by Assistant Professor of Chemistry Justin Miller, Bonding with Food is not designed to be a cooking class. Instead, Miller talks about the underlying chemical principles relating to food and cooking to help his students understand not only what goes on in the kitchen, but the overall food process. By the end of the course, Miller’s goal is for students to gain the knowledge and skill to be able to assess various claims (from media, food companies, or the government) about the healthfulness of foods, and to base their assessments on scientific knowledge and data, rather than anecdotal evidence and societal trends.
The class runs experiments consisting of different ways to prepare and cook, allowing them to observe, keep track and search for the chemistry behind their cooking. Recently, they cooked a piece of meat with the same preparations in various ways to find out what effects the different methods of cooking had on the meat. They were tasked with determining not only which method tastes better but what happens to the meat with each method.
In addition to learning about the chemistry of food, Miller says students are to “relate what they have learned to policy, lobbyists and the political agenda, being able to assess what they’re after from a chemistry standpoint. They should be able to communicate with the public about food issues from a perspective of understanding.” He stresses the importance of students sharing their knowledge with the public and has established a student-developed and student-run blog.
On Monday, March 8, the students will make a presentation to the campus community in which they will demonstrate their knowledge of food preparation and production. The students also will complete a public relations campaign through which they will educate the public about food issues and what they have learned about food production in general.
This course has been an interest of Miller’s for a few years and he is excited to be teaching it this semester. The class was made possible by a Center for Teaching and Learning grant, which provides the financial means for the course. Miller is extremely grateful for the funding. “These grants provide the opportunity for faculty to expand their own and students’ educational horizons.”
Miller joined the Chemistry Department in 2004 and also teaches introduction to chemistry, and various levels of organic chemistry. He earned his A.B. from Princeton University, his Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his Postdoctoral from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.