Monday, January 23, 2012

Biology? Maybe not, kumquat

I write today as a form of refuge, of distraction. These past few days I have spent staring at my Plants & Society textbook, re-reading chapters and absorbing nothing. The exam, tomorrow at 9:30 am, looms over me like an evil mutant cloud of depression, but because I refuse to let a test put me into a bad mood, I'm making the most of it by telling you a bit of what I've taken away from my Biology class thus far.

1. I am the unhealthiest eater in the world.

Since arriving at college, most of my meals have consisted of a combination consisting of the following three food groups: starch, fruit and grains. This lack of variation has led to almost every meal being completely within one color scheme, ranging from golden yellow to a dull orange-yellow.

As I sit in front of most of my dining hall meals, I start to think about where all of this stuff goes. As I've learned, starch in excess is not healthy for our bodies. It converts from its original structure to glucose which is then stored in our bodies as glycogen. Not a terrible sounding pattern until you hear the final step: glucose is only stored short-term as glycogen and eventually turns to fat in our bodies.

Fruit may seem unassuming compared to the evil starchy potatoes that grace my evening plate, but they're not entirely blameless. Fruit contains a high concentration of fructose, a form of sugar which goes through a similar process of turning to glycogen. And the rest you know.

And of course, grains, however harmless they may seem in the form of your favorite processed Wonder Bread or otherwise, are no exception to this rule.

In other words, the food I'm eating eventually all turns into the same terrible fat from not being expended as energy, leaving my body terribly miserable and making me all the more of a couch potato, literally. The yellow coloring of my plate may not seem terribly threatening, but it's certainly not the friendliest sight once I've realized what I'm doing to myself.

2. Okay, maybe I'm not the worst eater.

I'm constantly being attacked for being a vegetarian. Whether it's people waving a slab of turkey meat in my face or teasing me about eating vegan burgers, it's just a problem I've learned to face by simply ignoring the enemy. But so early on in my Biology course, I've already learned of the lack of necessity of meat in one's diet.

As a vegetarian, I eat a ridiculous amount of soy. Most of my meals contain some form of the bean, from tofu to soy sauce to fake meat products that resemble chicken or beef. And while superstitious theorists might inform you of the dangers of eating soy (i.e. there is so much estrogen in the beans that you're bound to sprout a second pair of ovaries just by eating one bite of the stuff), the truth of the matter is benefits outweigh suspected costs (if the ovary thing was true I might not be saying this, but let's be real).

Soy beans contain 30-50% protein, making them one of the healthiest beans in the human diet, and certainly a suitable alternative to animal protein. And besides, the satisfaction in knowing you are saving a life by eating a sauce-soaked bean curd is welcome knowledge in my book.

3. Biology really isn't so bad.

Since middle school, I have been completely spoiled on science. While elementary school had us studying the formation of rocks and the different properties of electrical currents, once we arrived in the old Biology classroom of seventh grade, applied knowledge went completely out the window.

Instead of seeing how like charges repelled each other and learning how different stones were all cemented together in a conglomerate rock, we were watching my Bio teacher Mr. Squid [name changed slightly] draw the Squidosaurus and the Squidosaur on the board, telling us about how those two species of dinosaur would go through a process known as natural selection and eventually one would become extinct because it is not as well adapted as the other.

Well, I am sorry to say that in the future, I was never able to apply my awareness of the Squidosaurus to my daily life. While some of us may aspire to being lab scientists or paleontologists, others of us just want a list of fun facts in our back pocket which we can pull out at a moment's notice and recite to a table filled with fellow humanities buffs.

Mr. Squid may have given me the foundations of biology, a subject widely studied and respected (and I will admit, interesting if given the right spin and not taken in an Advanced Placement course), but until arriving in my current class on Biology where we study the structure and nutritional aspects of plants on humans, I never cared much.

Science, no matter how intellectual it may consider itself, is only truly interesting when it is palatable. There is so much in our textbooks that we just skim - statistics, geographical information, percentages - but the things that stick are the facts that we can place in our own heads and whip out at a moment's notice as we stand in front of the dining hall serving platters deciding whether to pick up a helping of boiled potatoes or a few pieces of broccoli instead.

As I sit here, avoiding studying for my Biology exam yet thinking about how much I've learned in the course in less than a month, I realize that my take-away from the class is nothing like what the exam is testing me on. Ten years down the road, as I stand in a farmer's market or, God forbid, a Whole Foods deciding what I should buy to add to a stew or a risotto recipe, I'll remember sitting in my college sophomore Biology class. And maybe I won't remember that beans are an annual crop grown in warm climates. But I will remember that beans are a protein-rich alternative to vegetables and many other legumes as well. And maybe, just maybe, I'll be a healthier consumer as a result.

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