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Blogger studies the science behind our food supply

By Sam Boykin
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Growing up in a small rural town outside Athens, Ga., Kathleen Raven and her sister crafted restaurant menus for fun.

“I’ve been a foodie all my life,” says Raven, 30, who today lives in Atlanta.

Her interests eventually turned to the science behind food, and she received her master’s degrees in ecology, with a focus on sustainable agriculture, and in health and medical journalism from the University of Georgia.

She’s now a regular contributor to the new Scientific American blog Food Matters ( Follow her on Twitter @sci2mrow.

Q: What do you blog about on Food Matters?

My primary beat is overall systems of agriculture, including genetically modified foods, and how they affect animal and human health. I’ll also look at the proliferation of smaller farms and the trade-off between eating local and the less-sufficient farming systems that local farms provide. I want to try to untangle the connections that we have in our global food system – the fruits and vegetables we buy now come from all over the world, from China to Chile.

I’m also going to explore what technology is on the horizon for us to track our food and what it means for our health.

Q: What are some of the main challenges facing the U.S. and its food system?

The outbreak of disease. It’s been documented that food-related diseases have been increasing through bacteria like E. coli and Listeria. These outbreaks are increasing despite our increased awareness and technology. I want to find out why and what can be done about it.

Q: What’s another major issue facing our food supply?

The quality of our soil. The health of the soil contributes to the health of the food we’re eating.

If you have unhealthy soil, you won’t have food packed with nutrients. Unhealthy soil plagues the South because a lot of its organic matter and nutrients were leeched by years of repetitive cotton farming, leaving behind very little biodiversity of soil – it’s mostly orange clay.

When a farmer today approaches an acre of clay, first he has to do a lot of triage to get nutrients back in the soil, and you just can’t pump a bunch of chemicals in there because you’ll get runoff and other problems.

So I’m looking at how do we restore our soil health in a safe and effective way.

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