Tuesday 15 November 2016

Food Ferm 2017

The Friday before last we gave out a couple of hundred certs, diplomas and degrees. Some of us even dressed up in medieval costumes with floppy hats and pointy shoes. In her address to The Faithful (parents, students and teaching staff who must believe that a fine "parchment" and a quality education has been exchanged for several thousand €€€s), the President alluded to the fact that we have students from 90 different countries.  But we don't seem to make a dent in the education of the plain young people of counties Limerick, Dublin, Clare or Louth. It's like we know more about the far side of the moon than we know about the biological make up of the ocean or our own guts.

There are 12 Institutes of Technology ITs in the country and they all aspire to have a global or at least National reach. But that is hardly true if every one of them is offering generic and indistinguishable courses in accounting, biology, and chemistry. Why would you go to the other end of the country when you can get the same deal and live at home?  After the success of CSI on the telly, a number of ITs cynically inserted "Forensic" into the title of their degree courses without troubling the staff to change their delivery to include Blood-splatter 101, Introductory Remains in a Bin-bag, or Semen Stains in the Merchant Marine.  Most years I have a straw pool among our students as to how many a) admit to washing up in The Institute because of the "F" word and b) regret their decision. The answers are a) a lot b) none. We have many virtues at The Institute, it seems, despite the hypocrisy of The Management.

At the beginning of the Summer, The Institute launched its new BSc in Brewing & Distilling. It is an idea whose time has come, we are the first out of the traps, and it may be the saving of the college in the internecine InstTech wars. As this band-waggon started to lumber forward, I leaped aboard crying "Avanti Food Fermentation" and spent a couple of days designing a module on that topic with Learning Outcomes; Deliverables; Assessment Methods; Recommended Text-books and all the other nonsense that bean-counters and brochure-writers require of us. But the substantive content will be:
  • Role of chemical preservation in the food industry: cheap soy sauce, pickled onions, Chorleywood process.
  • Carcinogens as possible downside of food transformation.  
  • Lactic Acid Bacteria LABs and fungi used to transform grains and milk into digestible food such as sourdough. yoghurt, quark, koumiss, kefir, cheese.  
  • Foreign: 
    • fermented vegetable products (sauerkraut and kimchi)
    • dry fermented meat products (chorizo, pepperoni)
    • filamentous fungi fermented beans (tofu, tempeh, soy sauce, miso).
    • I didn't then know about Faeroese ferments like skerpikj√łt or turrur fiskur
    • marketing these exotica in Ireland   
  • Production of acetic acid, ethanol, citrate, lactate and glutamate as industrial fermented food products.  
  • Create a delicious fermented food product and eat it.
A few days later, we had the annual Open Day, when prospective students and occasionally their parents come and mooch around the campus to see if it might suit them for the next two, three or four years.  Mostly the kids come in a bus from one or other of the local secondary schools to get a day out of class to stare at their smart-phones in a different place.

Last year, I was in my authentico white lab coat manning the science stand handing out brochures and enthusiasm when a girl and her Dad came by wondering whether to sign up to The Institute or Another Institute. Basically I was given an opening for an elevator pitch. With Food Ferm on my mind, I said that signing with us would open the girl's mind to a world of food that was different from anything she'd experienced. I fantasised that she'd do a research project on making soy sauce and become so intrigued with the process that she'd continue doing it after college. With luck, a garage and some venture capital she'd start Killeshin Soy at a secret location in the Irish Midlands with quirky proprietal Irish! strains of Aspergillus oryzae. Five years later she'd be selling soy sauce to the Japanese. 15 years after that she'd be retired on her money.  Irish soy sauce becoming as hip and sexy as Manga is to us.  It's the 2016 Open Day this week, I'll see what fantasy I can lay on the unsuspecting teen-public this year.

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