Sjostrom: Science, science everywhere, but not a drop to drink

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Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration shocked the artisan cheese world by announcing that cheese could no longer be aged on wooden boards — a practice some cheesemakers swear by both domestic and abroad. You do change the properties of the cheese when aged on wood (typically for the benefit of more flavor notes), but using science we must also understand that wood — versus a stainless steel or a poly-based shelf — deserves higher scrutiny in cleaning.

As I noted yesterday, my wife and I attended the American Cheese Society (ACS) annual convention in Sacramento. It brings together artisan cheesemakers, cheesemongers, and cheese buyers from around the world together for a 4-day conference of taste. It’s also ground-zero for proponents of cheese aged on wood.

The ACS and allied organizations fought, and beat, the FDA (although FDA contends it was a big misunderstanding). FDA was invited to the ACS conference and had (from what I heard) a cordial discussion and apology session on Wednesday with attendees. 

At a Thursday town hall to praise or criticize the conference, many comments thanked ACS’ board of directors for having FDA appear, but urged them to push FDA to use science in their decision making. A few pointed to the science available in Europe, since the U.S. artisan industry is still evolving.

Two topics, two conclusions

The discussion was interesting, because the day before a session on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) pitted a scientist against an anti-GMO farmer didn’t have the same ring to it. This scientist didn’t have a chance in a room full of foodie and environmentally focused people. But the scientist also reportedly made the mistake of only using science to get the point across (and I admit that “only using science” is such a sad statement). 

I think we need to show the human side when talking about all kinds of science — for example the millions of kids who suffer from blindness or die because GMOs have been banned in countries where Vitamin A is deficient, while a low-cost Vitamin A rice (a GMO) could cure them virtually overnight.

How’s your science-ometer?

But before you throw the first stone, have you checked your science lately?

Do you believe in scientifically proven climate change?

Are you dipping your newborn calves’ navels in iodine to prevent disease? 67% of us don’t.

Have you ever texted while driving? You know science shows you’re more likely to crash?

We know what the science says, but sometimes we need to take a different approach. As a scientist myself, this essay is essentially one big reminder that emotion rules if we’re going to change habits. 

Scientists, including dairy farmers who fit the category: If your goal is to prove that science works, pull a heart string or two, stay truthful, and tell a story. There’s a reason more novels are sold than text books each year — novels are fun! Text books aren’t (for most of us).

The next time you’re defending science, pull in the human side. It’s how we can fight fire with fire, but also the best way to get science to stick. Facts are important, but stories that back up facts are even better. 

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About the Author

Lucas Sjostrom
| Lucas Sjostrom is assistant editor of Dairy Herd Management, and writes from above a working milking parlor. Sjostrom grew up on a south-central Minnesota dairy and crop farm that is still in operation by his grandparents, parents, and younger brother. After completing an animal science degree at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, he took a government relations and communications position with Holstein Association USA in Brattleboro, Vt. Two years later, he became associate editor at Hoard’s Dairyman magazine. Currently, Sjostrom concurrently serves on Dairy Herd Management staff and is finishing graduate work in animal science focusing on precision dairy technology. Lucas and his wife, Alise, live on her home farm with their daughter. Alise’s parents milk 180-cows and the family operates a farmstead cheese plant called Redhead Creamery.

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