Experiential Food Education

In the last couple of days, my most popular tweets have involved science-y food items:

Protist pancakes by Nathan Shields - http://www.saipancakes.com/
Pancakes and picture by Nathan Shields  http://www.saipancakes.com/
plant cell pizza
Plant cell pizza! From: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/231794712045067230/ – Julie Newton

Both of these images were brought to my attention by a couple of the smart, young women I am lucky to know (Fatima and Renee), and judging from the number of favourites and re-tweets, the images seemed to be appreciated by many of the folks who follow me (and their followers). Food does seem to be a really good way to get people’s attention and engagement!

BlueWhiteScreeningCookieCropThere are lots of examples. I’ve long been a fan of the author of “Not So Humble Pie” and her Biology baked goods. I think her Petri dish cookies inspired some UWindsor Biology students to make their own for a bake sale. (They were VERY tasty!) I was also able to sample a “blue-white screening” cookie (shown at right) from a later student bake sale, too! (Also delicious!)

Science-related food has been an occasional teaching tool for me for some time. Back when I first started teaching, and was facing the daunting task of making cellular respiration interesting to 550 first year Biology students, I was happy to come across a “metabolism of glucose cake“, and share that with my class. (I don’t actually know if that helped my students, but some of them seemed to enjoy it.) If you have the time and inclination, you can find a world of edible science models/illustrations online that people have lovingly prepared/baked/crafted. (Instructions for making your own “plant cell pizza” are here, and check out this amazing Pinterest collection of animal cell models in food!)

I can easily show websites/images of these marvellous foodstuffs to my classes, but how can I integrate more experiential food education (EFE)? (Yep – I’m coining “EFE” right here! I expect to see this referenced in the next wave of SoTL papers and conferences.) Perhaps showing images of science-themed foods in (or bringing such items to) my classes will inspire students, but won’t they gain more from hands-on experiences? Certainly, I’ve seen (bake sale) evidence of student skills already, and know of exercises involving food in other courses.  When I took an Economic Botany course as an undergradergraduate, we had “labs” that involved sampling different fruits, vegetables, spices, teas/coffees, betel nut … and field trips to the local flour mill and the Great Western Brewery. (That was one of my favourite courses, naturally!) I used a few food-related demos when I taught Botany, but they only involved a small number of (brave) students willing to try things in front of their classmates. (“Harry Potter and the Dichotomous Key” was a fun example!)

Safety regulations don’t allow any kind of food/beverage consumption in our microbiology labs, unfortunately … and I suspect there might be some complications to arranging a field trip to a brewery/winery these days – particularly for classes of the size I teach (100-200 per section).  Can food-related student activities be scaled up for larger classes? What about about possible liability issues (e.g., if someone acquires a food infection/intoxication via course-related food)? How can we provide reasonable accommodations for those with food allergies, or celiac disease? (Our Student Disability Services office is great, but I’m not sure they’re equipped to handle this particular situation …)

I’m partly joking … but also think it would be fun and interesting to incorporate some food-related activities in an introductory microbiology course. Microbes are involved in so many items we consume! Chocolate, beer, yogourt, sauerkraut, soy sauce, various other fermented items … did I mention chocolate? And beer?

What do you think? Have you used (or seen) food in science courses? Best practises (and recipes) are welcomed!

One thought on “Experiential Food Education

  1. Tamara

    We could think about food examples in terms of evolution – the tastier you are to some other organism, the less chance of survival as a species? Mmmm…tasty. (Although I’m not sure to incorporate the EFE into my class with that…I’ll have to taste test and think about that.) 😀

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