Whether experimenting with the creation of color-changing pasta in my college dorm room, or hosting 40-person dinners with my best friend in our tiny Montreal apartment.... food has always been center stage as my greatest passion. I was lucky to find that my background in engineering and technology began to combine with my interests in art and design, and ultimately with my passions for food, creating art installations around the globe:
• a machine that poured drinks based on the emotions of a place
• deconstructing beverage in a way that allowed us to sip and pour edible clouds
• building large-scale, multi-sensorial projection map dining experiences, and
• opening up interactive Museums of Ice Cream across the United States
The most common thread through all of this work that fascinated me the most was the ability for food and food experience to transform–the ways that we could be changed as individuals through our interactions with the things we eat. Feeding one another is an act of creation. The food we share forms the building blocks that become our hair, our skin, our nails... the energy we need to drive through the day. Often food is relegated to the realm of nutrition: unequivocally important, as understanding how macro and micronutrients come together to function in our bodies allows us to be physiologically balanced and healthy.
However, the ways these components engage with our metabolism extends far beyond the ideas of fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Food is made up of many functional and bioactive compounds, some of which over the last decade have been discovered to augment the ways our genetic information and our genetic code is interpreted. These compounds have the ability to interact with the machinery that transcribes our blueprint DNA, thereby turning genes off and on. These short-term genetic transitions behave very much in the same way as longer-term transitions. We may recognize that though all the cells our bodies contain identical DNA, they're able to function quite differently and differentiate themselves from one another due to differences in genetic interpretation. Like muscle cells having the ability to contract or neurons being able to send electrical signals throughout our bodies. Or the rods and cones of our eyes sensing light. Though our genetics are predetermined, their interpretation can be varied over the course of our lifetime through physiological, chemical, and emotional experiences.
This experiential imprint, called the epigenome, is written as a layer of interpretive code over the existing biological blueprint of DNA. Changes in the epigenome in essence open and close the nearly three meters of DNA coiled up in every human cell, making specific genes available or unavailable for transcription.
This is the biological way in which food and food experience transforms us as individuals, and accumulating evidence demonstrates that these transformations are passed on to our future generations. This is a molecular memory of all the things we eat and experience and has become the basis of movement in epigenetic eating: choosing foods for their genetic implications rather than purely for their nutritional implications. Inevitably this food transformation journey of us as individuals leads one to ask what foods might be best and where they come from and of course, how are they produced?
We are beginning to witness the first clear examples of epigenetic adaptive change in the same ways that our food and our food experience is transforming us epigenetically. We are witnessing more and more examples of nature's ability to epigenetically respond to and buffer the initial impacts of global climate change–but these buffers are not infinite and with one million species on the verge of extinction, and they are reaching their capacities.
Food decisions are transforming not only the course of our lives at an epigenetic level–they're also transforming all living organisms on earth. Food is an interface that intrinsically links biology, the environment, and our future, and now is the time for action. As humans, we are responsible for climate change. It is up to us as individuals and as consumers to demand better food production practices that minimize our food footprints. The only way to do this is to arm ourselves with information. Let’s ask more questions. Let’s label food products not only with nutritional and ecological impact information. Let’s recognize that food gives us the ability to create and the ability to destroy. Let’s consider the epigenetic legacy of the molecular memories we will be leaving behind in our children and all the living things on earth. Let’s take a moment before each and every bite and consider the high stakes of how the foods we consume will biologically transform us, the world around us, and the future.
This article was excerpted from a TEDx talk by Dr. Irwin Adam. Dr. Irwin Adam is in a category of his own. Food Futurist, Experimentalist, Experiential Designer, Alchemist, Artist, Scientist, Writer, Agriculturalist, Thinker, Doer. Dr. Adam’s work illuminates the ways we transform the environment around us and in turn the ways the environment transforms us at every scale, from the micro-universe of a single cell to the largest scales of modified and natural landscapes.
Read more about Dr. Irwin Adam and his speaking topics here.
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