Imagine a chemistry class where you can eat the result of your experiment.
The First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv) proudly presents the first of its kind Chemistry of Food and Cooking course (CHEM 101) in Saskatchewan, which will start in fall of 2018.
The architect behind the innovative course, Dr. Vincent Ziffle, says “This is an introductory chemistry class with a balance of theoretical and practical knowledge. It is intended for non-science majors, but science students can also take” the course.
Ziffle is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at FNUniv in Regina. He is an organic chemist with an interest in food science.
His two hour and a half hour class will be held once a week in fall. “First Nations Elders, other traditional knowledge keepers and Indigenous chefs were consulted on this project and will be invited as guest lecturers,” he said. There will also be five innovative food labs off-campus, which will be taught by FNUniv’s other resident chemist, Jody Bellegarde.
“While many of the labs focus on food basics, for example chemistry of fats, sugars, proteins and water, there will also be a focus on Indigenous food preparation. We will discuss the use of traditional ingredients and preparation of foods such as pemmican and its amazing nutritional value,” Ziffle added.
Chef and owner of Sioux Chef Catering, Dickie Yuzicapi will also be assisting Ziffle. “We are trying to educate everybody about where we came from and how everything was and still can be. It’s just the re-emergence of using it,” Yuzicapi said.
Students will learn traditional indigenous methods and cuisine like Rock Soup. “You heat rocks and you cook it in an [animal] bladder. You add all your ingredients in a bladder with water and you slowly add rocks to it. So as the rock cools off in the water, the water then boils.”
As Yuzicapi teaches the traditional methods, Ziffle unravels the chemistry behind it. “An ongoing goal is to discuss Indigenous food traditions and braid these together with a better understanding of the chemical basis of every meal we carefully prepare and consume. This knowledge extends back many generations and it will be good for students to link together this traditional knowledge and the food science that happens at a molecular level,” Ziffle said.
“We will be talking about everyday food choices and food sustainability. It’s amazing how easily you can reduce your carbon footprint by choosing to eat locally-sourced foods. Reducing food waste is another major concern.”
“I have always been appreciative of science, art and culture,” Ziffle said. “It is sometimes challenging to reconcile these different subjects, but cooking is a link that brings all three together. I love the idea of teaching chemistry, but providing a practical outlet for students wanting to see actual results in real-time is an ideal goal. In this class, you actually get to eat your experiments.”
“Chemistry of Food and Cooking is a subject that should play its part in communities far and wide. It will be strengthened by the inclusion of Traditional Knowledge, and the food science covered will hopefully be impactful to students wanting to cook better and make healthy food choices while doing so.”