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Scientist Barry Swanson Talks about Progress in Food Processing

Posted by struscott | September 7, 2009

Food scientist Barry Swanson spoke with a WSU Agriculture and Food Systems class about how food processing works and what it really means.

Freshmen campus-wide are reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan. Swanson discussed some of the discrepancies between Pollan’s book and the views of the food industry.

Barry SwansonSwanson said Pollan uses simplistic arguments and exaggerations in his book. He said although most authors are not trying to cause harm, their misunderstandings are causing the food industry to be blamed for health problems.

“At least from my view, obesity is on the person who is doing the eating,” Swanson said, referring to one of the problems blamed on the industry. “I’m not saying it’s not on the food industry at all because the industry may provide many high-fat foods, but it is the responsibility of the person to eat a variety in small portions.”

Swanson said although he does disagree with some claims made in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” he also agrees with some. Swanson said although having variety is beneficial, he does agree that there is too much food variety available in some cases.

Swanson also talked about the benefits food science brings to our country. He said the United States has the safest and least expensive food in the world. Along with providing many nutrients in our food, we also have the greatest access to and most secure food supply.

“Food processing provides expected food qualities,” Swanson said.

Swanson said items such as yogurt, sausage and cheese would not be able to stay in the fridge nearly as long without food processing. He pointed out that there are other foods, such as cassava, that cannot even be eaten without being processed. Cassava is used to make tapioca, but before being processed contains high levels of cyanide.

“I know the system is not perfect but it is doing well,” Swanson said.

Swanson ended his presentation by sharing a quote he said he believes in: “As a food scientist, I trust science and the progress and solutions science brings, yet I also know science alone will not solve all our problems.”

By Whitney Parsons, CAHNRS Marketing, News, and Educational Communications intern

Washington State University’s Common Reading Program for the year has the entire campus and much of the state and nation talking about food and agriculture. What better way to highlight the cutting-edge science, research, teaching and outreach of Washington’s land-grant university and, at the same time, help to educate our students about what they eat and where it comes from?

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