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Our lives are frequently and significantly affected by food. Because we must eat to survive, many human cultures have developed with food at their very core. The goal of this podcast is to explore the complexity and nuance of food systems, celebrate the progress we have made, and debate the best ways for humans to proceed forward into the future. 

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Jan 15, 2019

Welcome to ‘Something to Chew On.’ Here is a brief discussion between co-hosts Jay and Scott and Global Food Systems Coordinator Maureen to discuss the ideas behind and hopes for this podcast. 


Maureen Olewnik is coordinating the Global Food Systems Initiative at Kansas State University. She received her Ph.D. in Cereal Chemistry from K-State in 2003 while working for AIB International. Her work there dealt with basic and applied cereals based research and, more recently with food industry regulatory oversight in the area of international food safety. She is working to expand knowledge and understanding of the complexity and broad reach of the food system as it affects and is affected by research campus-wide at K-State. 

Jay Weeks is a Ph.D. candidate in K-State's Department of Agronomy, studying soil and environmental chemistry. Originally from central New York, he completed his B.S. in Agricultural Sciences at Cornell University in 2012 and began at K-State shortly thereafter. One of his research interests is to better understand the chemical mechanisms that govern phosphorus fertilizer use efficiency in soil to help develop more environmentally friendly and productive agricultural systems. Some of Jay's favorite podcasts include The Joe Rogan Experience, Making Sense with Sam Harris, Very Bad Wizards, The Tim Ferriss Show, and Sean Carroll's Mindscape. 

Scott Tanona is an Associate Professor of Philosophy. He received his Ph.D. in History and Philosophy of Science from Indiana University in 2002 after earning a B.S. in Physics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and an M.A. in Philosophy from Tufts University. He specializes in the history and philosophy of physics, the ethics of science communication, and the role of science in society. He is currently co-leading a study on scientists’ views about the goals of science to see how we can improve responsible conduct of research. He's a fan of good coffee and good food, and is always interested in learning more about the science of food and where food comes from.

To reach the Global Food Systems staff, email



Introducing our Hosts and What Global Food Systems Are All About


Hello, everybody, and welcome to the global food systems podcast brought to you by the Kansas State University Office of Research Development. I'm Jay Weeks PhD candidate in the Department of Agronomy. And today we thought we would record our very first podcast zero, where we talked a little bit about why we're doing this podcast, you know, what we hope to accomplish, you know, and bring to the listener, talk a little bit, but why food systems are important. The first I'd like to introduce you to a couple of important people to our endeavor here. First is my co host, associate professor in the Department of Philosophy. Dr. Scott Tanona. Hi, how are you doing? And the director of the Global Food Systems Initiative, Maureen Olewnik.


Good afternoon.


So welcome both of you. I thought we would start out just if you want to give a little bit of background as to how you got involved with the food systems and why you're here. Martin, would you like to start?


Sure, the Global Food Systems has been something near and dear to my heart for a lot of years. My PhD is in serial chemistry. And I worked in research in that area for several years and then moved into regulatory activities, internationally with food companies. So again, I've had a lot of experience and background in the area of foods, I find it highly interesting and moved recently to Kansas State University working on a project that is titled global food systems. And we are in the process now of rolling that out into an active activity here on campus.


Scott, what about you?


Well, so oddly enough, I have very little to do with global food systems. I am a philosopher science, whose background is actually in history and philosophy of physics. I've done work on the early history and philosophy of quantum theory. But lately, I've been getting into general issues about science and society, ethics of science, communication, and a variety of more general topics like that. That's what brought me over here. Basically, I've been talking about the importance and ethics of science communication. And well, there's a story involved there that maybe will come out sometime. It's not an interesting one. So I'm not going to tell it. But here I am. So I have very little expertise in global food systems. I've got lots of interest. I'm here to be kind of a philosopher science to ethicist and just bring up philosophical questions for our guests.


That's great. We're looking forward to Scott has come out of the deep questions about how about some of the global food systems. Myself, I originally grew up in central New York dairy farm background, and I went to school as an undergrad for agricultural sciences always fell in love with the food system. And now I'm here as a PhD candidate, you know, environmental chemistry working on phosphorus issues. So looking forward to exploring a lot of the a lot of the topics here as we move forward. Maureen, why don't you tell us a little bit about the Global Food Systems Initiative, how and how that relates to the podcast?

Sure, the Global Food Systems Initiative is an activity at K State that we're trying to bring focus within the university and externally on the the impact that research and creative endeavors on campus have on the system overall, we know the world population is growing rapidly, we know that we've got challenges with climate change, with availability of water, the issues of sustainably feeding this growing population over time, is one that's going to be very complex and require input from a lot of different different and diverse areas. So what we're trying to do here at K State is to bring together those interdisciplinary activities that touch and relate to food. Considering things like, obviously agriculture, and nutrition, bringing into the mix, the need for engineers, for business, researchers, architecture, geology, chemistry, microbiology, all of these things have a direct impact on the food systems that we look at today. But you also have to think about politics, think about social sciences, think about the morality of some of the ways these things are put together. And again, all of these things are happening here at Kansas State University. And all of these things do have some impact on effect on the global food systems. As we bring these concepts more clearly in focus within the university, through these podcasts and through other methods of getting information out. We also hope that people outside of Kansas State University start having the opportunity to understand what we do here and a better understanding of the concepts and the focus that we have on the research that we're doing in the area food systems.


Great. Yeah, I mean, it's super important and we look forward to seeing how the university builds out this initiative moving forward. So We kind of wanted to keep this podcast, there was sort of an informal discussion about the importance of the global food system. And neither of you can sort of chime in why, you know, why? Why is this important? Why are we doing this? What are we trying to get at and you're in your mind?


Well, I eat food. And it's important, and it has to be created, and it has to get places, right, you know. And, you know, from my perspective, they're just the globe is going to be facing sort of all kinds of increasing challenges at meeting the needs and meeting the needs and sustainable ways that sort of don't have too much of an impact on all the other activities that humans want to do. And all the other things that happen on the globe are ecological impacts, etc, right. And they're, you know, as Maureen said, they're huge ethical issues, right. You know, in terms of the distribution and proper distribution, and how you handle those kinds of things, and then ethics within the science, right. So I think these things are important for people to be paying attention to, I mean, we all eat, but we're pretty disconnected from the food system, right? We're pretty most of us are pretty disconnected from where our food comes from, don't realize it, don't think about it a lot. And, you know, sort of hitting a lot of the challenges that the globe is going to be facing, and requires us all to be maybe a little bit more in tune. Man, I think a lot of us don't realize that. I mean, if there were major issues with the food system, I mean, you know, where are you gonna, two weeks later, right food in the grocery store is going to be gone, right, etc, right, and not to be apocalyptic about points out just how disconnected we are from, you know, from food. And I think it's important to reflect on things like that.


And I think as we get, as, as some of the issues that you just brought up are identified, the complexity of those problems are such that it will take a single focus to solve those problems. The need for interdisciplinary groups working and tackling these issues and working together to come up with solutions is going to be the only way we're going to be able to solve some of these things. And that's, again, what the global food systems is going to be about here at K State. And I think as we as we move this, this forward to, we've got to, we've got to be able to explain what we're doing and how we're approaching these problems in such a way that the average consumer can understand what it's about. People don't really tend to trust science, many times, they may not trust, some of the other information coming out of higher education. And some of those things need to be brought to a point that it's shared in an understandable way, with the consumer.


Why do you bring them interesting point about trusting some of the information? What do you think about that? Are some people out there that are so distrustful of the information they're receiving?


I think a lot of it is that they don't understand it. And I think a lot of times in science as well, science, many times is I always learned the adage that science is a matter of going down an alley to find out if it's blind. So many times you get started on scientific projects, and you present your information, and it's proven to be wrong later. Or you don't have enough information to really make the point very clear and concise. And so I think a lot of times scientific information goes out, and then it changes. And people say, Well, why would we listen to that? Why would we believe in what's happening when we don't always know that what they're saying is right. And that's not to say that what was stated was not right. But it's always going to be an evolving activity and evolving event of learning more, and it makes it a little bit difficult. And it's hard to understand.


So I think understanding is important. And I think also the kinds of things that people see and experience in terms of those changes, like especially in terms of nutrition, right, sort of this the the messages that people get with respect to nutrition have changed vastly over the past decades, right. You know, that can lead to distress. But the more important thing, I think, besides understanding is values, right? Sort of it's about there's lots of indications that when people distrust a bit of science, right, that it's not that they don't necessarily understand it, right. But it's also that they don't think it speaks to them, or they don't trust it for the other reasons, which sort of gets to where you're saying about the back and forth, right, sort of, then the question is, like, not that I understand the content that just came at me, right, but do I trust the source? Do I think that they're doing what I care about? Do I think that they're studying it in a way that reflects, you know, my values and what I care about, and that's, that's a really important bit about science communication. We're not just talking science here, right? Serve, as you said, global food systems, as you know, there's a lot else going on, but sort of, but certainly a major component that we'll be talking about is science. Right? And, and for that, you know, it's pretty complex, right? So I think that's one of the reasons you talked about interdisciplinarity, which I Super care about sort of all the things, all the many, many anyway, the big issues that that are out there, the interesting issues that we have to solve as, as a society as a club are, require interdisciplinary work, right. And then the communication bit is important, not just between disciplines, but then with the rest of society who has to sort of come up with, you know, apply the solutions and sort of jointly figure them out, right. So, all these things are important. And so one of the things that for us that I think is really important is to get at the human side, right, of what happens sort of, of the people who are working on these problems, right? Where are they coming from? What are they trying to solve? And so we can get a little bit of that understanding out right about what's actually going on, but then also a little bit of the whys and wherefores, right? And I hope that people get sort of interested in these bigger problems that people are working on right, to, to try to address sort of the bigger issues that are going to be coming down the pipeline.


Yeah, I mean, I think you make a good point about the values and the human aspect of what we're trying to do here. I mean, I mean, this podcast is going to be pretty informal, you and I are going to be discussing these issues with somebody on campus that does research somewhere related to the food system. And the understanding of these people are human, they are fallible, right, you know, and that it's not just, you know, this big science that we're working on, or this throwing facts at you that there are, you know, people making decisions, you know, behind these things that really have, you know, the, you know, in general most people's best interests at heart. Why do you think that the podcast is particularly suitable for this sort of thing?


That's my understanding that podcasts, for one thing are getting relatively popular, a lot of people listen to them. And if if that's the case, it's it will be a good avenue to get information out to people, and help them understand what it is that we are doing at K State, but also, again, how complex these systems really are, and that you can't look at one particular problem in a box and not understand how other things impact what's going on there.


I love the new developments and popularity podcasts and all the different things that are coming out. This is there are so many other media sources and sources of information that people have available to them now are some of them are becoming pretty information deficit, right, or sort of, without coming along with a lot of misinformation and or just, you know, don't don't dig deep into things, right, sort of we've I think we've as a society have lost a lot of the opportunities that that people have, if you're not associated with the university or some other center of learning or something else like that, for getting, you know, getting deep into problems. You know, there's still some long form written work that's out there, but it's not, you know, not a lot of people are catching it, right. So but there's all kinds of podcasts is just so many people are listening to things that have all kinds of mean, great information, but great reflection, great sort of opportunities for thinking about your life. And what's important in learning new stuff, so many people learning things.


I love it. And it's particularly great to you know, you mentioned that the long form sort of written works are difficult for people to find time to explore. Right. So this is a good opportunity for people to to explore these conversations and in their car while they're exercising habits.


Right. Well,  it's interesting also, looking at the flip side of that the flip side of the information that comes out today is usually just in short sound bites, and you really don't get the in depth background of what what that even means.


So, yeah, great. So, listeners, if you're out there, we look forward to bring you some of these conversations about the food system. We want to explore the human side of science and what case State researchers are doing to bring you some ideas about, you know, what's going on in the global food system where we can make improvements and you know why it's such a challenge. So, Scott, Maureen had any final comments.


Stay tuned. Hope it's all interesting. We look forward to what's coming down the pike.


Thanks so much. See you all soon.