Scientist James Kennedy Questions “Natural Foods”

  • Published on November 6th, 2014

High School Scientist Questions “Natural Foods"

Ever wondered how produce today compares with produce from 50 or 100 years ago? One high school scientist dove into thousands of years of food evolution. What he discovered was fascinating.

Have you heard the story of Mad Men’s Matt Weiner having a set designer replace all of the apples on set, because they were bigger than 1950s apples? Apples aren’t the only natural foods that have evolved over the years thanks to a combination of nature and selective breeding.

Warning: Food Geek Alert!

Oh, the joy of a perfectly ripe, juicy, peach grown organically and harvested at the optimal time. A gift of nature. So tasty. But did you know that peach bears little resemblance to a peach harvested in 4,000 B.C.?

In fact, many fruits and vegetables have changed over the centuries thanks to evolution — which has often been engineered by man. Are these still “natural foods?”

Take the peach, for example. Peaches in 4,000 B.C. were 25 mm in diameter. Today they’re 64 times larger. The original peach had 10% edible flesh. Today you can eat 90% of your peach, thanks to its larger size and a significant relative reduction in its stone size. In 4,000 B.C. there were 3 peach varieties. Today, there are about 200!

Today’s peaches are juicier, sweeter, and contain more potassium, calcium, zinc, and protein than the original, truly “natural” peach. But since much of peach evolution has come at the hands of scientists and growers, are our peaches really “natural”?

A High School Scientist Questions “Natural” Foods

I learned these interesting facts from James Kennedy, a high school chemistry teacher in Australia, who has developed infographics about food evolution. He has compared modern day peaches, watermelons, and corn to the ancient versions of themselves and shared his knowledge with us. His images compel you to wonder: What is “natural” versus “artificial” when it comes to fruits and vegetables?

Bottom line: I’m not sure what “natural” means anymore. I also have a new food hero. Take a look at the graphics below, and let me know what you think.

1. “Natural” Versus “Artificial” Peaches

Here’s the infographic showing how a peach in 4,000 B.C. differs from that of today as described above.

High School Scientist Questions “Natural Foods"

2. “Natural” Versus “Artificial” Watermelons

In 3,000 B.C., their were 6 known varieties of watermelon. Today there are about 1,200, and they’re grown all over the world in different shapes. Learn more…

High School Scientist Questions “Natural Foods"

3. “Natural” Versus “Artificial” Corn

Corn in 7,000 B.C. was 19 mm long with 5 to 10 very hard kernels. Today’s? 1,000 times larger with hundreds of juicy, tasty kernels. Learn more…

High School Scientist Questions “Natural Foods"

We know food has evolved over the centuries — often naturally — but so frequently at the hands of clever men and women. It’s fascinating to see what today’s natural foods (or are they really natural?) looked like in the past. What do you think?

Thanks to my new food hero, James Kennedy, for piquing the interest of the food geeks inside us all.

Syndicated with permission from Eat Drink Better. Watermelon photo via Shutterstock, diagrams via James Kennedy.


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About the Author

Hi all! I'm Mary Gerush - a recovering corporate worker bee turned good-farm-real-food advocate and writer who wants to help people understand what they're eating. I tend a tiny urban farm in Dallas, TX, and hope to scale up one day soon. Omnivore through-and-through, there's not much I love to eat more than a butter-basted grass fed steak fresh from a searing hot cast iron skillet. Follow me on , , and !