Biologist and food technologist, Javier Morallón combines teaching as a professor of Biology with the role of educator on issues related to food. Since he wrote to a newspaper to warn of some errors in a report about mad cow disease and offered to write for them, he has not stopped becoming involved in national and social media. His meticulous and easy to understand articles can be read in their original Spanish online at SUR.es.
We live in a society bombarded by information about food. Who can we trust?
We have never had so much information, nor so much furore. On the internet is everything form the latest and most rigorously researched articles to marketing campaigns which are full of half truths (and even lies), with the aim of generating a positive consumer positioning on a particular product. The information is there but needs to be carefully sifted and the advertisements ignored.
Should one be wary of additives?
The additives used in the legal food industry are carefully controlled and are always perfectly safe if used correctly. Not long ago a list of 'carcinogenic' additives was circulated on the internet. I remember that one was E300, ascorbic acid, an anti antioxidant commonly called Vitamin C. There is a lot of chemophobia but some of these additives allow us to eat foodstuffs with maximum safety. This does not imply that I am in favour of ultra-processed foods.
In one of your articles you argue in favour of genetic modification. That is very controversial at the moment.
Over the thousands of years that we have been farmers we have genetically modified everything we eat. The maize that the first Mesoamerican civilisations wouldn't be recognisable today. The transgenic technology is a formidable tool provided it is used with all controls and guarantees. So far there has been no problem and it can mean the difference between harvest or famine. This technology is saving thousands of lives in the field of medicine as it is used in the production of insulin. With scientific arguments nowadays supporting genetic modification, its criminalisation cannot be justified.
Algae, plankton, jellyfish, insects... which foods alien to our culture will we eat in the near future?
The food of our immediate future will be insects because of their highest proportion of usable nutrients, their low impact on ecology during production and their high proportion of protein. The perfect solution for a world that will have 9,000 million people in 2030.
For sustainability and health, should we eat less?
The quantity is most important. Our diet can be healthy in composition but damaging if the quantities are not kept within a minimum balance.
The nutrition labelling on some products is criticised for not being clear.
It definitely does cause confusion. Sometimes simply because the writing is so small, or because of the way in which the calories are calculated by quantity. The new method of nutritional labelling 'Nutri-Score' seems to be an advance if you know how to use it and if the algorithm is established with scientific criteria to score the food.
What do you mean by a 'healthy food'?
That which forms part of a coherent and balanced structure, in other words, a healthy diet backed by scientific evidence like the Mediterranean diet. We also should take advantage of seasonal foods, at their best in terms of nutritional content, and grown nearby, in order to reduce the ecological footprint and to favour local producers.