Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Technology in Our Food

Today, Cadbury Schweppes, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and the American Beverage Association agreed to stop selling high-calorie, high-sugar drinks in US schools by 2009. Do you suppose the children in our schools think critically about their food and drink? Our ICE-9 questions apply to our manufactured foods as readily as to any technology. Where does it come from? How does it change us? What are its costs and benefits?

In my last posting, I wrote about Nora knowing the names of the animals that grow the wool she spins. This gives her context so she understands the full cycle, from sunshine to clothing, of her technology. Since she’s using no modern chemicals, the recycling of her clothing can follow techniques tested in nature over the millennia we’ve been wearing wool.

I use lots of modern chemicals in my clothing, food, transportation, communication, shelter, entertainment, etc. Nora reminds me that the simpler we keep our lives, the easier it is to understand the impact of the technologies we use. Because I like tuna and my research into electrical power generation made me realize that coal-fired plants contribute mercury to fish, I had myself tested (and came out fine).

Although I rarely drink soda, I looked for nutrition information on Coca Cola and Pepsi because those are two of the major drinks leaving our schools. As you can see from the links, the Coca Cola Company lists the calories, carbohydrates, sodium, potassium, phosphorous, caffeine, and artificial sweeteners in their drinks, but not the amount of sugar. Pepsico reveals nothing but the caffeine, explaining that they “expect to add information in the future about other product ingredients such as sweeteners and colors.” When Pepsico finds time to provide information on sweeteners, I hope they include sugar.

The American Beverage Association explains why removing soft drinks from schools is not an admission that they are unhealthy or that they contribute to obesity (“Obesity is a complex problem and singling out one food or drink defies science and common sense.”). Critical thinking may be the most useful skill we can develop.

I admit to just beginning to learn where my food comes from. One step was reading Food Revolution by John Robbins, which provides a great deal of context for food common in the US. The more I learn, the more connections I find among our food, economy, environment, and technology.

In blogging for KnowledgeContext, I am neither advocating nor condemning soft drinks or coal-fired electrical generation. I am thinking about the context of our technology, both techniques and artifacts. While technological literacy is important on the vast scale of our civilization’s survival (a case I make in the book Technology Challenged), it is also important on the scale of choosing the cans from which we eat and drink.


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