“What is MSG, and is it actually bad for you?”

September 2021

In 1968, Dr. Robert Ho Man Kwok felt ill after dinner at a Chinese restaurant and wrote a letter to a medical journal connecting his symptoms to MSG. His letter would change the world’s relationship with MSG, inspiring international panic, biased science and sensationalist journalism …

The Mess

Deconstructing the institutional food menu

Review of

Joshna Maharaj’s Take Back the Tray: Revolutionizing Food in Hospitals, Schools, and Other Institutions ECW Press 2020

Oh, to taste a long-lost Ansault pear.

Fake and Forgotten Foods

Satiating our ceaseless hunger for authenticity.

Review of

Lost Feast: Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food, Lenore Newman ECW Press, 2019 &

Pure Adulteration: Cheating on Nature in the Age of Manufactured Food, Benjamin R. Cohen, University of Chicago Press, 2019

How to Think with Your Body: Teaching Critical Eating Literacy through Instagram.” Part of Food Instagram: Identity, Influence & Negotiation (University of Illinois Press, 2022), edited by Emily J.H. Contois and Zenia Kish.

“I want to do my paper on activated charcoal. Is it actually good for you, or am I just seeing it everywhere because it looks so good on Instagram?” A visually charismatic health fad, activated charcoal illustrates the frame of reference my students on both coasts have brought to our interdisciplinary classroom discussions of American food culture. What kind of diet is truly healthy? And what kind of diet just looks that way? I discuss how students on both coasts have critically interrogated everything from the neurological effects of food porn to the racial politics of appropriative health trends like matcha–and how to cope with the unattainable body images of IG models and influencers, all through processing food less with their eyes and more with their gut.

The molecular vista: current perspectives on molecules and life in the twentieth century,” co-authored with Mathias Grote, Lisa Onaga, Angela N. H. Creager, Soraya de Chadarevian, Daniel Liu, and Gina Surita. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 43(1) 2021.

This essay considers how scholarly approaches to the development of molecular biology have too often narrowed the historical aperture to genes, overlooking the ways in which other objects and processes contributed to the molecularization of life. From structural and dynamic studies of biomolecules to cellular membranes and organelles to metabolism and nutrition, new work by historians, philosophers, and STS scholars of the life sciences has revitalized older issues, such as the relationship of life to matter, or of physicochemical inquiries to biology. This scholarship points to a novel molecular vista that opens up a pluralist view of molecularizations in the twentieth century and considers their relevance to current science.

Image: Kinoshita, Udaka, and Shimonō, “Studies on the Amino Acid Fermentation,” 1957

Tasty Waste: Industrial Fermentation and The Creative Destruction of MSG.” Food, Culture & Society. Special Issue: Edible Feminisms: On Commodities, Wastes, and (Un)intended Consequences, edited by Sarah E. Tracy and Rachel Vaughn. August 2019 (Guest Editors’ introduction)

Image: Chaudhari and Roper, “The Cell Biology of Taste,” 2010

Delicious Molecules: Big Food Science, the Chemosenses, and Umami.” The Senses and Society 13:1 2018. Special Issue: Accounting for Taste.

“Assorted ‘Indian food'” (iStock)

Debating Data Science: A Roundtable.” Co-authored with Brian Beaton, Amelia Acker, Lauren Di Monte, Shivrang Setler, and Tonia Sutherland. Radical History Review 2017, Volume 2017, Number 127 : 133-148.

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Image: Burkitt, “Economic Development – Not all Bonus” (1976)

Developing Constipation: Dietary Fibre, Western Disease, and Industrial Carbohydrates, 1968-1984.” Co-authored with Sebastián Gil-Riaño. Global Food History, September 2016.