Gongol.com Archives: May 2024

Brian Gongol

May 3, 2024

History acknowledges George Washington Carver as one of the greatest innovators in the history of food and agriculture. We still benefit from many of his creations, not least from the humble jar of peanut butter, which remains one of the easiest, cheapest, and most easily stored sources of protein available in the world today. ■ When aid reaches people in the midst of famine, one of the key means of bringing relief is a special peanut-butter paste. And in millions of homes facing no such dire distress, the lunch of choice for many children (and more than a few adults) is a peanut butter sandwich accompanied by anything from jelly to pickles. Peanut butter is easy to master and it dependably resolves hunger pangs in a jiffy. ■ Perhaps most of the low-hanging fruit in food science has already been plucked, but it's hard to imagine that we've truly exhausted all of the good ideas for providing ample nutrition at low cost to the world. The current fight over synthetically-grown meat points to the fact that new technological progress is still being made. ■ Just as it isn't intuitively obvious that crushing a ground nut and mashing it into a paste is a great way to deliver high-density protein, there are undoubtedly unexplored ways to make valuable progress with other foodstuffs. A world of good could be done for public health in America if someone could do for selected vegetables what Carver did for peanuts -- so much of our cuisine depends on transforming them in unhealthy ways (converting potatoes into french fries, for instance) or treating them merely as vectors for dips and dressings. ■ Fruits have gotten at least some of this treatment, which is why we have strawberry preserves to spread on the other half of a sandwich and applesauce in single-serving packets. But aside from notable exceptions like tomato sauce and pickles, there just aren't many foods found in American diets that put vegetables to use as good things in their own right -- centerpiece foods that are just as easy to indulge as a scoop of peanut butter straight from the jar. Riches may not await their innovators, but the thanks of an over-fed but under-nutrified world might.