Class evaluates dairy controversies

Devon O'Brien

A new experimental course at Iowa State forces students to look at various aspects of controversies within dairy production and consumption. 

The class, Food Science and Human Nutrition 208x Dairy Products: Current Issues and Controversies, was introduced this semester for the first time and is taught by Stephanie Clark, associate professor of food science and human nutrition, who conducts research on the quality of dairy products.

Clark wanted to teach the course to help students learn “fact from fiction” and to teach them not to believe everything they read on the Internet; a lot of which deals with the question of whether the push for dairy consumption is as important as people have been taught.

“People really have no sense of the true story, but they jump to a conclusion because they have bought into the garbage that is very prevalent on the Internet … you can easily find websites that say milk is poison and it’s very disturbing because I don’t know where they get that,” Clark said.

These and similar concerns are what the class is all about, Clark said. Class members find facts that support either side of the debate and decide for themselves their view of dairy.

Personally, Clark said she is pro-dairy and promotes it for the nine essential nutrients it contains and for its flavor. But, being pro-dairy hasn’t always been easy for Clark.

While working at Washington State University she was given a short radio clip in which she promoted dairy products and received a threatening e-mail.

“I come across now and again some people who even go to the point of threatening me … I got an e-mail from someone who basically said, ‘you are promoting a dangerous thing … how dare you promote this poison … you better lock your doors on campus because you might be sabotaged,'” Clark said.

Babu Chinnasamy, graduate in food science and human nutrition, is assisting with dairy research and is currently enrolled in FSHN 208x this semester. He said he enrolled in the course to find out if what he believes about dairy is true and to be able to learn how to judge what are reliable sources of information.

Chinnasamy is pro-dairy, but is taking this course to learn more about the controversies surrounding dairy products and to make sure he is “doing the right thing.”

“The reason to believe [dairy is beneficial] would be because people talk a lot about life cell diseases … they say it’s because of milk,” Chinnasamy said. “I find that unbelievable because we have been drinking milk, as humans, for such a long period of time and the increasing incidence has been 50 years … or maybe 100 years back.”

The students not only research and debate certain dairy controversies, but they also get to hear from dairy professionals across the nation. This is made possible from money given to the class through the College of Human Sciences’ Innovative Teaching Grant.

Clark plans to continue teaching this course in spring 2012 and encourages students of any age and major to take the course. She hopes to get the class off of the experimental course list and even apply for ethics credits in the future.