Food science: Why the future might be good enough to eat

Food science isn't all about genetic engineering
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The Independent Online
"FOOD, GLORIOUS food - stewed apples and custard!" The opening line of that rip-roaring number in Oliver symbolises our obsession with food.

The food industry is the UK's most lucrative business. And food safety has become the hot potato of national and international research.Research into anorexia and bulimia and into methods of bringing back appetising tastes and smells to the foods we eat is occupying many a university.

Next Sunday, "Beyond Pathology", a one-day conference on the feminist approaches to women and eating disorders, opens at the University of East London. It will look at just about every aspect of eating disorders in women, including bulimic and anorexic behaviour ("an integration of feminist theory and feminist therapy"), body-size dissatisfaction in adolescents, and "anorexia nervosa: why it was invented and what can be learnt from its history".

Scientists at Aberdeen University have discovered a part of the brain that knows when we have eaten our fill. It receives signals from the hormone leptin, which regulates both our food intake and our weight. These signals may not be working properly among obese people. Scientists are working on a drug to sort things out. According to Professor Mike Ashford, of the Institute of Medical Sciences, at Foresterhill, Aberdeen: "If we could produce a drug on the leptin system, we would see a marked reduction in the drive to eat. ."

This discovery might not only help launch a multi-million-pound international business in a slimming drug that really works but also lead to the saving of several billion pounds to the National Health Service.

There is one woman in the country who can decide what eating directives are good or bad. She is Professor Janet Bainbridge, 49, chairman of the government advisory committee on novel foods and processes. Affectionately nicknamed "Queen of Quorn", she wants the public to be kept fully informed on changes in food processing. For this reason, she is taking a calm look at what is happening to a whole range of foods from plant extracts and fat replacers.

And, no doubt, she might come to the same conclusions as Harpagon in Moliere's The Miser: "One should eat to live, and not live to eat."