Today I’ll be introducing you to the third #gamechanger to be featured on Taste & See – Alexandra Rust. She is an exciting young food science student who recently earned an honorable mention from IUFoST for her video, which highlights easy, handy tips for ensuring food safety at home. Although I had met her a couple of times during my years at Stellenbosch University, I don’t think that we exchanged more than a couple of sentences between us. When I stumbled upon her video I just knew that I had to get in contact with her to make sure that she gets featured on the blog at some point 🙂 A Facebook message and a few emails later and I’m happy to say that Alexandra was more than happy to answer a few questions about her video, her journey as a food science student, and the big dreams that she has in her heart for her future in the food industry.
Before we begin, I would just like to highlight a few things about Alexandra’s video, and why you should watch it today. In the video, Alexandra focuses on identifying a number of small, everyday habits that we as consumers have that can put us at risk of contracting food-borne illnesses, such as salmonella and other nasties. She shares a number of handy tips that can be implemented in our homes to minimise the risk of getting sick from contaminated food.
So, without further ado, let the Q&A begin 🙂
So, tell us a bit about who you are?
My name is Alexandra and I’m a Food Science student at Stellenbosch University. I grew up in the sleepy little town of Somerset West, but did most of my schooling in Stellenbosch. I’m in my third year, meaning that I’m about to start my final and hopefully, most exciting year of my undergraduate degree in 2017.
What inspired you to study food science, and what are your future hopes and aspirations in this field?
I decided to study Food Science because it seemed like the most logical intersection of two things I loved: food and science. I also had some pretty ambitious but slightly vague ideas about saving the world from hunger, if I remember correctly. Even after three years of studying and being exposed to the industry, my aspirations for what I’d like to achieve in Food Science are still very much in the somewhat unrealistic stage and include, but are not limited to, apprenticing as a cheesemaker, learning to grow mushrooms, working on some sort of fermentation process or working in science communication. My plan, as it stands, is to do my Master’s in Food Science in 2018 (that is, if I am accepted), and work from there.
What inspired you to create your video about food safety in the home?
The inspiration behind my video was probably a combination of too many hours spent reading food blogs and the food microbiology module I was taking at the time. Food-borne disease isn’t something we often hear about in the South African news, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It is a very real issue that particularly puts the young, old and immunocompromised members of our population at risk. This is why I believe consumer education so important. I wanted to identify the habits we consumers have that create an environment for microbial contamination and growth to occur and put us at risk of contracting food-borne illness. Food is a resource that requires looking after and it is only when we take care of it responsibly that we are able to reap its nutritional benefits fully.
What are your top tips for staying healthy, especially as a busy student?
Learn to cook a few simple and nutritious meals, if you haven’t already. There are so many great recipes and tutorials online that you can use. Find a way to exercise that feels more like fun than a chore and keep a book next to your bed to dip into every so often. That said, forgive yourself for the occasions when work takes over, you realise you haven’t exercised in a week and the most wholesome meal you have had all day is a bowl of muesli. Make sure you’re making time to interact with people in meaningful ways, whether it’s with your friends, your peers, in a university society or while doing volunteer work.And when the situation calls for it, do not underestimate the healing power of an afternoon nap or a trip home to see the parents.
What is your favourite go-to meal after a busy day?
My favourite meal after a long day would probably be what I’d call a salad bowl, which is less like a salad in the traditional sense in that it rarely contains lettuce leaves, but rather a collection of steamed veggies, chickpeas, avocado, tuna, rocket, feta cheese and the occasional fruit. If I have access to an oven (and they are hard to come by when you’re staying in a residence!) then I would have to say roasted vegetables of any sort.
What is your favourite recreational activity, or what do you enjoy doing to wind down?
To relax, and to keep myself sane and grounded, I bake, swim and photograph things in my spare time. I also spend too much time reading, both from books and the internet. While studying, and indeed throughout life, I would imagine, you’ve got to find ways to engage your physical, spiritual and emotional facets regularly. I find it also helps to try always have some sort of creative endeavour going on on the side during term time, whether it’s crocheting a hat or trying to develop the perfect brownie recipe.
And tips and advice for those who are interested in studying food science?
My advice to future Food Science students is firstly to realise that this degree will not equip you to become a chef, nor will it qualify you as a dietitian. Know this, and know how to explain it to everyone whose path you cross during your undergraduate years because you most definitely will have to! Secondly, and most importantly, is to immerse yourself in resources related to Food Science. Find credible food science news sites and read them. Read the less credible ones too and formulate questions and opinions on what you find. Read articles and food science books from the library and find documentaries that confront the less comfortable realities of our industry. Try to talk to students or scientists in the industry. Read blogs and follow food scientists on Instagram, even, and see what their day-to-day work life entails. There are so many paths to take and you’ll need as much information as you can find to discern which one you’d like to follow.