A Very Small Thanksgiving

With how busy the end of the semester was becoming, Thanksgiving Break was a welcome reprieve from all the work piling up for me. Unfortunately, that meant using Thanksgiving Day as a day to do work on. Fortunately, Thanksgiving means lots of different kinds of foods to eat. Thanks to my mother for cooking all sorts of food for me to look at through the Foldscope (and I ate them too, I guess).

I conducted this project as part of Professor Pringle’s EEB321 class at Princeton University. In this project, I had one driving question. What does the food we eat look like? We put so many different foods into our mouth without caring what they’re made out of. Here’s a “short” snippet of an ingredient list : “Enriched Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Onion, Salt, Turmeric (Color), Disodium Guanylate, Disodium Inosinate, Silicon Dioxide As An Anticaking Agent, Natural Flavor, With Bha, Bht, And Rosemary Extract As Preservatives.” Could you guess what contains all these ingredients? These ingredients made up the Stove Top Stuffing mix I ate about 8 hours ago.

Amazon.com : Stove Top Turkey Stuffing Mix (6 oz Boxes, Pack of 12) :  Packaged Stuffing Side Dishes : Grocery & Gourmet Food

Disodium Guanylate, Disodium Inosinate, Silicon Dioxide? What are all of these chemicals!

There’s a large amount of stuff in stuffing that most people do not think about. I was quite curious about what I was shoveling down my mouth, so I saved some leftovers from my Thanksgiving dinner to examine with my foldscope.

Top Left: Turkey Skin
Bottom Left: Stuffing
Bottom Right: Turkey Meat
All samples were crushed with a pestle to make them thin so that they would fit.

Looking at the food through the combination of a phone and a foldscope was an interesting experience. Each microscope slide, after being magnified, looked far more different than I expected.

Turkey Skin Slide

The turkey skin had multiple small circles located throughout it. I wondered if they formed due to the oil on the turkey skin.

Turkey Meat Slide

The turkey meat (unsurprisingly) looked very similar to the turkey skin slide. I had difficulty taking a good photo of this specimen. I wonder if the reason it looked so similar to the skin was because it was extremely squished.

Stuffing Slide

I’ve saved my favorite slide for last. The pictures of stuffing had all sorts of interesting features. It’s filled with many colored spots and organic shapes. To be honest, it looks sort of like how I would imagine bacteria would look like. I assumed that all of the dark shapes on the stuffing was probably related to how porous bread is.

While nothing on this post was very rigorously scientific, these pictures helped inspire new questions in me. I wonder what different properties of food cause them to look different under the microscope. I only looked at turkey and stuffing (a protein and a grain) due to a lack of stickers to make slides out of. However, I wonder if I looked within food groups and between food groups, I would be able to find a structural pattern in what the food looked like under the microscope. Does the similarity in chemical composition contribute to a similar physical appearance? Or perhaps does the way the food is prepared contribute more towards the physical appearance than the chemical components?

Overall, I wish I didn’t look that closely at the stuffing I ate. I try to eat more stuffing, but the knowledge of what it looks like on a microscopic level is somewhat disturbing. And I have an entire box full to go through…

By Joseph Suharno

I conducted this project as part of Professor Pringle’s EEB321 class at Princeton University

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