On the PBS show Hungry Planet, Niba Audrey Nirmal guides the food television program into a thoughtful conversation beyond the table. In a quest to make people crave information about the hows, whats and whys food arrives on the plate, the informed eater can make better choices. In addition, it could have people becoming more vocal about needed changes to ensure that the planet and its bounty are protected.
Niba Audrey Nirmal is a well-respected scientist who has found a way to bring her expertise to a wider audience. While the scientific papers and research impress within the academic community, it has been her social media presence which opened the conversation to a broader group. In her own way, she has found a method to explain the complexities in an approachable way. More importantly, she has used that platform to implement change.
In the PBS show Hungry Planet, the episodes serve a heaping amount of knowledge in an easy to digest concept. Even though some of the topics might present a dire situation, it is one that can be bettered. When people take the information and make changes, the world can move in a positive direction.
Recently, FoodSided spoke with Niba Audrey Nirmal about Hungry Planet, food science, and how to make an impact in their own neighborhood.
While each episode of Hungry Planet tackles big food and sustainability issues, Niba Audrey Nirmal presents the information that engages a conversation. Whether it is smart analogies or real world application, that food science knowledge has a real world, day to day application.
When asked why is now the time to dig deeper into the food science conversation, Nirmal said, “In an age where we can track our pizza delivery in real-time but have no clue how that pepperoni was made, it’s high time we got food-woke. With climate change doing its thing and our global population growing so quickly, a crash course in food science is the need of the hour. As we face shrinking agricultural lands and changing weather patterns, leveraging food science allows us to adapt, innovate, and ensure a consistent food supply. Additionally, as consumers become more health-conscious and environmentally aware, they demand transparency in the food they consume. Understanding the science behind our food not only satiates this curiosity but also helps in making informed choices.”
Even though this discussion is necessary, it is not an easy topic. Although no one wants the situation to appear dire, the approach needs to be cautious.
Nirmal as a keen way to approaching the subject. She said, “Treat it like explaining a meme to your grandparents. Use relatable anecdotes, maybe throw in a trendy reference or two. Yes, we’ve got food challenges, but hey, we also have avocado toast and bubble tea solutions. Always end on a high note, the key is to strike a balance. While it’s important to share the challenges we face, always pair them with practical solutions or positive advancements, giving listeners hope and actionable takeaways.”
Those practical solutions can move the needle. It is more than just empty words without action. More importantly, it can drive new choices that help people taste beyond their comfortable bubble.
As Nirmal said, “Our foodie scientists are basically the DJs of the culinary world, remixing flavors and dropping nutrient beats. Food scientists have been at the forefront of exploring alternative proteins, superfoods, and fortifying foods with essential nutrients. They’re leveling up meals like gamers on an energy drink spree. They’re using biotechnology to enhance flavors without compromising nutritional values. By marrying culinary art with science, they are creating products that are both trendy and beneficial. Think of the rise of plant-based meats or probiotic foods, which align with current food trends while also offering nutritional and environmental benefits. Ever had a meatless burger that tastes just like… well, meat? That’s food science flexing its muscles.”
Given that the topic has forward momentum, people need to embrace those changes. The action does not necessarily have to be drastic. As Nirmal suggestions, simple solutions can make big differences.
Nirmal suggests that “Individuals can: reduce food wastage; adopt plant-based diets or reduce meat consumption; support sustainable farming practices and buy local; reduce the use of single-use plastics in food packaging; and educate themselves and others about sustainable food practices.”
With that approach in mind, Nirmal asserts, “We’ve got our part to play, no doubt, but remember – the true final bosses in the climate game aren’t your next-door neighbors, but the mega-corporations and policy-makers who don’t have our interests at heart.”
Within the PBS show Hungry Planet, each episode focuses on a single industry or topic that is integral to the food world. One episode focuses on rice, which crosses cultures across the world.
Speaking to the rice episode, Nirmal said, “Rice isn’t just the ultimate companion to your takeout. It’s the unsung hero of global dinner tables. Rice is more than just a staple diet for half the world’s population. It’s not just about grains, it’s about gains! It’s deeply rooted in many cultures and has socio-economic implications. People often overlook the labor-intensive process of rice cultivation, its role in global trade, or how it’s a primary source of livelihood for millions. Moreover, with water shortages and climate change, the sustainability of rice production is a significant concern. Recognizing rice’s integral role in the global food system is essential for shaping future policies and ensuring food security. Respect the grain!”
Given her breath and depth of knowledge, Nirmal is more than just an advocate for the food world. She stands as an example as a woman in science. That representation is not only vital for the industry but for future generations to see themselves as an agent of change.
When asked about representation and why it is vital for her to be the one bringing these messages to the masses, Nirmal said, “It’s cliché, but representation matters. Having women front and center challenges stereotypes and brings diverse perspectives to the table. It demonstrates that science is inclusive and that there’s room for everyone. By being visible in the conversation, not only does it validate the contributions of women in scientific fields, but it also serves as an inspiration for young girls, signaling that they too have a place in science and can make meaningful impacts in areas like food science. Plus, being out there is like sending out a Bat-Signal to young girls: ‘Hey, come join the food science party! There’s room for all and the experiments are delicious!’”