The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 9.0°F | A Few Clouds

Food for Thought

Elaine Wan

Sometime in the not too distant future, you will step into your doctor's office expecting that vaccination included in your HMO, but all you will get is a potato. No painful shots, just a good wholesome potato. Except this potato is not genetically similar to your ordinary Idaho potato from the kitchen. This one can nourish you with the essential vitamins and minerals and vaccinate you against a disease. Whether you want your potato boiled, baked or mashed is for you to decide.

Scientists today are just beginning to explore the possibilities for potatoes as vehicles for vaccines. Apparently, the conventional syringes were not popular among patients. Pretty soon, you might even be able to sit down to a family dinner that supplies you with the vaccines to keep you germ-free for a lifetime. That way, you get your vitamins, minerals and medication in one dose.

I'm sure most people prefer eating a tuber to watching a needle puncture your skin, but I feel uneasy about this potato concept. Eating a tampered potato doesn't seem appetizing at all. Nevertheless, playing with food is the current hot area of research. Morse Solomon and John B. Long reported recently in Science News a new method to tenderize meat using explosives. Solomon and Long claim that this new method uses explosive shock waves that can turn any chunk of tough meat into a filet mignon and forces bacteria and parasites to turn into mush. The explosion pulls apart muscle fibers, thus making the meat easier to cut and chew. This new method supposedly also saves millions of kilowatt-hours which are used in conventional meat packing. The traditional methods of tenderizing, including chemical treatment and aging, can be thrown out the window. Exploding meat seems to be the new technology worth investigation and investment. Expect pounds of tender meat coming to a supermarket near you.

My sentiment is that food is food. We genetically engineer plants, animals, organs and now we are going to engineer our food. Food should not be tampered with. Over the years, manufacturers have increased their influence over the quality and standards of food. Milk is now fortified with vitamin A and D. Calcium can now be found in orange juice. With all this fortification, it is more like we are imbibing glasses of chemicals rather than juice.

Technology and genetic engineering should be used up to a certain extent in life. And when it comes to food, I think we should draw the line. Everything we eat is quickly absorbed into our bodies. Genetically engineered potatoes may provide us with convenience and lower costs, but the technology involved is horrifying. The potato used to vaccinate people can be the same vehicle that causes genetic mutations in our bodies.

Genetically engineered potatoes and kitchen potatoes may taste the same and look the same. If they were not labeled, we may not know the difference between the two. But the truth is that there is a difference in the making. Explosives may make meat more tender, but if all beef tasted like filet mignon then filet mignon wouldn't be unique anymore. There would no longer be a difference between chuck and round. Some meat has to be tough and chewy. That is what beef jerky is for.

We should just leave our food alone. We inject our cows with bovine serum so that they produce more milk and become more hefty. Milk becomes more affordable, but we end up ingesting bovine serum every time we have cereal with our milk. Obviously, it is not the Wheaties that is making us grow big and strong. There is an increasing demand nowadays for organic crops in supermarkets. Even the new Star Market in University Park has a whole shelf devoted to organic vegetables.

These new methods of treating foods make life more convenient and reduce costs, but we are cutting down on the natural processes involved in life. What happened to the traditional methods of sowing a seed, waiting for the crop to grow, fertilizing with egg shells and manure, and harvesting whatever grows up in the fall? I believe that when it comes to food, we should stick with our traditional methods, because science has showed us many times that tampering with nature never has a nice end.