Thursday, March 4, 2021

7 Ways Science has Improved Food Variety

David Pinzon, Corteva Agriscience

Thanking farmers should be an everyday occurrence, and National Agriculture Day is yet another great opportunity to recognize the work being done throughout the agriculture industry to innovate and support the ever-changing needs of the consumer.

As parents, we sometimes tend to think about the good old days, when we played in the street all day and sat down on the curb with an ice cream purchased from the neighborhood truck. While I’m nostalgic for the past, from a food science point of view, what we have today far outpaces what was available even two decades ago.

During the past 100 years, the variety in food choices has gone from minimal and reserved for the wealthy to widespread and affordable. Even though this is not true everywhere in the world, agriculture innovation is helping ensure everyone has access to a variety of food options.

Feeding children the healthiest possible food is top-of-mind for all parents; however, it is often easier said than done. With my first daughter, who is now 4, I prioritized healthy food options when she started eating. I focused on just a few foods I knew were good for her that she liked. However, I missed a very important point: variety. My good intentions backfired, as she started hating her favorites, such as broccoli and spinach.

Luckily, scientists have created innovations that allow us to choose among a variety of foods while maintaining good eating habits. National Agriculture day marks a time when we thank producers, agricultural associations and others, for their commitment to agriculture and to supplying a growing world with a variety of healthy food options. Let’s take a look at several important advancements that have helped us have access to a variety of healthy food options at affordable prices.

  • Breeding: Do your kids like kale but not cabbage? Or maybe broccoli but not cauliflower? No problem, they are all the same species, Brassica oleracea, for which breeders selected variants of the plants. This allows us to have a wider variety of options out of the same plant species, while benefiting from a similar nutritional profile when the same part of the plant is eaten (for example, broccoli versus cauliflower).
  • Frozen food: Flash-freezing allows us to have meals that include nutrient-dense ingredients that may not be local or seasonal. This includes salmon that has been flown thousands of kilometers or ensuring there is enough turkey in stock for the holidays. Frozen foods also helped us to have the capacity to afford more healthy options. Cauliflower rice is a great example of something that has a longer shelf life when frozen.
  • Food fortification: Not everyone has access to enough variety of foods. Fortifying staple foods allows us to supplement our diet. Great examples are iodine in salt, vitamins in milk and folic acid in multiple cereals, breads and pastas. Folic acid can help women get the correct nutrients in case of pregnancy, as it is critical in neural tube development in utero. It is also beneficial to men, supporting heart health.
  • Pest management: Keeping plants healthy and growing to their maximum potential is crucial to producing more on the same amount of land. Protecting these plants from pests and diseases is crucial to maximizing growth potential. This translates to increased quantities of food, lower food prices and greater variety.

  • Preservatives: While daily grocery shopping would be ideal, it often isn’t practical. Food preservatives allow us to keep food fresh longer, making it easier for that once-a-week grocery trip.
  • Trait modification: Food variety is not always a matter of healthy options. Many times, it enables us to perfect the art of cooking. Think about apples. There are numerous options specific for snacking, salads, baking, juicing and cooking. And now we even have access to apples that don’t brown, the Arctic apple, a GMO variety that helps reduce food waste. Additionally, scientific advancements, like CRISPR-cas, a genetic-editing tool, are helping trait modifications become even more prominent and beneficial.
  • Processing: Baby carrots aren’t harvested that way. They are created when normal carrots are cut to the perfect size and with rounded edges, making it a perfect snack for kids and adults.

Overall, we have plenty of choices, and as long as we keep trusting scientific advancements, food is just going to keep getting better. I can’t wait for 50 years from now, when our kids may think of how, in the old days, their food choices were limited.

I’m proud to play a role in helping advance food variety improvements and agricultural advancements by working for Corteva Agriscience. At Corteva, we’ve harnessed the best and brightest minds in agriculture to help enrich the lives of those who produce and those who consume, ensuring progress for generations to come. Join me in thanking and celebrating farmers and other agricultural professionals during National Agriculture Day. Their tireless work helps us make tomorrow a little brighter than today.

About David:

David Pinzon

Regulatory Affairs Manager, Crop Protection and Seeds, Corteva Agriscience

David grew up in Bogota, Colombia, and moved to Canada in 2009 with his wife to study for a PhD at the University of Alberta. They had their second child in May 2018.
“It is a constant learning to find out what’s the best for them. That’s why being able to share my science knowledge and experience with other parents is gratifying.”
David dedicated 12 years of his life to become a scientist. “Learning science is probably simpler than knowing what’s best for my kids, so I understand how it feels being exposed to so much conflicting information.”
David’s priority is always to do what’s best for his daughters. “I have the pleasure to see the huge amount of scientific support needed to prove GMOs and pesticides are safe for humans and the environment, so I can pass along my knowledge to those that are eager to learn.”