Hi. My name is Anneline Padayachee and welcome to my blog/site/rantings and ravings. I’m The Simple Scientist.
That said, I actually do have 3 degrees (including a PhD) in food science and nutrition; I am a qualified board-registered nutritionist, and I am a registered food science professional. Born in South Africa, raised in Australia. Interesting thing is that my family tree can be traced back to the British colonisation days. You know the time in history when Britain ruled India and dropped Indians all around the globe to work in sugar-cane fields. My forefathers were part of the quota sent to South Africa back in the 1800s. Being a person of colour in the 1800s in India, and the mid-late 1900’s in South Africa was not a cool thing apparently.
I was born in the late 1900’s during South Africa’s apartheid regime when being a non-white person was definitely not a cool thing. (For the record, I absolutely HATE referring to different races based on skin-colour.) For those who aren’t aware, apartheid was government-sanctioned law segregating people based on colour and race. Everything was separated – suburbs, schools, bus stops, entries into restaurants, churches, hospitals, job opportunities, even the beaches were separated – i.e. there were “White” beaches, “Indian” beaches, “Black” beaches and “Coloured” beaches (for those who weren’t apparently “white” enough or “black” enough). Like seriously. I’m not really sure what was so different about the sand or water in the “different” beaches (did the “Indian” beach taste like curry while the “White” beach tasted like roast and 3 veg?)… Sounds weird, totally politically incorrect, but this was the reality. Being a person of colour was a disadvantage on all fronts. And so, my parents made the hard choice to leave their family, relatives, culture, country and embark on a new life in a new country where they would be treated as equals and more importantly, their children would have equal opportunities in life based on determination and hard work. Not the colour of my skin. That said I am proud of my birth country. It is like no other country I know. All nations have a dark history. South Africa has come a long way. And is coming a long way. And will go a long way as it evolves. If you have never been to South Africa, you should go. Now. But truth be told, I go for the Wallabies and the Aussie Cricket Team. #aussieaussieaussie #oioioi!
I’d like to discover more about my Indian heritage. Sounds crazy if you look at the picture above, but I only realized my “Indian-ness” in 2010 when my grandmother told me the story of how the Indians got to South Africa and showed me my great-grandfather’s indentured ID number. Prior to that, I’d never seen myself as an Indian, or even a South African person. Only as an Australian person born overseas. To be frank, my first name is actually French and so I’ve never associated myself with Indian ethnicity. I can’t say I was brought up as a traditional “Indian” or “South African” (whatever that means): my earliest memories in life are hanging onto my dad’s neck as a toddler while he body surfed the holy grail of surfing: J’Bay, racing remote control cars down the road in Melbourne, I don’t watch Bollywood (or any Wood for that matter) and I can only converse in English and Japanese (yes it is true: 7 years of study has made me fluent in reading, writing and speaking). So I guess you could say I am a mixed bag with a lot of cultural influences. I just happen to call Australia home (at the moment).
With the name “Cookie”, my mom probably influenced my food interest right from conception. If you ask my parents, my interest in food started before I could even crawl. Instead of normal mobiles toddlers have in playpens and cots, I had bunches of grapes. Boxes of apricots and plums. My favourite food was crème brulee and my folks would stock the fridge with 7 tubs/wk – 1 for each day. Interestingly I still like custard.
I did not have a typical childhood. Not many of my friends know this, but my mom was diagnosed with a solid, donut shaped brain tumour measuring 1.5 cm in diameter when I was 6.5 years old. She was given 2 years to live (without the op: she’d live for a max of 2 years progressively becoming a vegetable; with the op: she had a 50% change of dying in theatre but if she survived she’d be a vegetable for up to 2 years and still die). Mom chose to not have the op – she wanted to live. For the next 2 years of my life, I learnt a lot of lessons. Some things I only appreciated and understood the meaning of later in life. Some things I am still coming to understand. I learnt a lot about cars from spending a lot of time with dad in his workshop/accompanying him when he had to go fix client’s cars onsite because mom was either unconscious in hospital and there wasn’t anyone to look after us kids, or we weren’t allowed to make noise inside the house (mom couldn’t stand any noise). I learnt to by-heart all the storybooks in the doctor’s surgery. I learnt how to sit still for hours on end (as kids we weren’t allowed to touch/make noise/turn on lights around her as it would cause the pain to explode in her head. She had to lie dead still – mind the pun). I learnt what paralysis looks like before I knew the meaning of the word. I learnt what it looks like to “die” slowly (although I didn’t know she was actually “dying” or what “dying” actually meant). I learnt how awful life could be like without my mom. I learnt what a hero my dad is. It’s a lot for a small kid to learn. And you can probably guess where this story ends. But on the 26 September 1991 (almost 2 years to the day), my mom was booked in for an emergency operation in a last ditch effort to prolong her life, if she survived the night. But it was on that day that the doctors found nothing. Nada. Zero trace. No cancer. Bam! My life was never the same after that. My mom has written her story “2 Years to Live.” If you would like a free copy, just send me an email with your postal address via the “contact me” page and we’ll get one out to you.
Consequently I was not brought up like a typical “girl”. Or even like a “typical” child in a “typical” family. While both my parents believe that a good education is important, they also believe that children should be nurtured in their natural abilities and encouraged to pursue those abilities and desires. My dad also has this thing for “real life” education and we’ve had the opportunity of visiting some pretty amazing people in pretty amazing locations off the beaten track from the townships of South Africa and sugar cane farms of Mauritius to remote villages in Fiji, Aboriginal communities in the top-end of Australia and fruit-picking in farming towns in south-west Queensland. I’ve eaten turtle, bull, fried giant flying ants, sheep’s head, stuff I don’t know. I’ve showered in a crocodile-infested river and frog infested shower stalls. I didn’t grow up knowing about a “male-dominated” world. Just a world. With opportunities. To be had. If I want it. Whatever I want. May seem simplistic, but my family-lineage is proof that this really does work. And I work.
I had anticipated being an artist for pretty much all of my high school career. But then I did an assignment where it became very clear that artists generally become successful after they die. So that idea got canned. I also mused with the idea of journalism, and it made sense as English was my favourite subject, my mom was an English teacher, I did advanced English in Year 11 and 12 and was a straight-A English student with a natural way with words (written and verbal). However after studying journos, it became apparent that journalists predominantly present sad news. So that idea got canned. Food studies however was like art for me. Plating up to make people admire the food. So I decided to be a chef. Until I realised they work on public holidays and weekends. And that idea also ended up being canned.
During a sports-injury related stint in hospital, I noticed the dietitians. They got to work with food and people, and used food to help sick people get back on track. However it became clear really fast that most of these sick people were only sick because they had not eaten properly for most of their life, and now were forced to make dietary changes. I decided I really wanted to work with food and consumers, but not those stuck in hospital largely due to their own wrong doings. How could “good” (whatever that means) food be conveyed to consumers to prevent them from getting sick in the first place?
At the same time, I was running a successful business on the side at school: selling samoosas (South African spelling, or as Indians from India say ‘samosas’) to teachers and students in my school. With an initial start-up investment of $21 (basically each student in my home-group pitched in $1), I made ~$400 in < 3 months making samoosas with my mum and selling them at school as a fundraising project. After the project finished, the demand kept increasing, and so I kept producing – all through year 11 and 12. I was earning nearly the same as my friends who worked part-time jobs at Maccas and Kmart. It was pretty amazing. From purchasing raw ingredients, manufacturing and sourcing appropriate packaging materials to transporting the goods at the correct frozen storage temp from my home to the school to working out a reasonable price that covered costs and made an adequate profit margin. In hindsight, I was working as a food technologist and had NO idea. I didn’t even know what a food tech was. But then I undertook work experience with a food technologist, and for the first time chemistry made sense. It had application. And I knew what I wanted to do. Produce foods that are nutritious AND tasty AND meet consumer time-poor requirements AND are high quality.
Solution: an Applied Science degree with a double major in Food Science AND Nutrition at The University of Queensland followed by an honours degree majoring in Nutritional Epidemiology. And from there, the rest is history.
After a stint in the food industry (including food safety, auditing, developing HACCP and ISO 90001 plans, technical advice, new product development, food labelling legislation etc.) and a nutrition research role on a project for Queensland Health, I completed a PhD in Nutritional Food Science with The University of Queensland, The Queensland Alliance of Agriculture and Food Innovation, ARC Plant Cell Wall Centre of Excellence and CSIRO. My PhD focused on understanding the role dietary fibre has on the body’s ability to absorb antioxidants from fruits and vegetables, and if processing can enhance absorption.
I was shortlisted to compete in the 2012 National Fresh Science Initiative with the Top 12 scientific minds and communicators in Australia. I am humbled that my fellow Freshies chose me as the overall Australian Best-Performing Fresh Scientist for 2012. In 2013, I was awarded the Nutrition Society of Australia’s Award for Excellence in Nutrition and Dietary Fibre Research and chosen by the Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology as one of Australia’s Future Leaders in Food Innovation (2014-2015). I currently work at The University of Melbourne as a Researcher and Lecturer in Nutrition and Food Processing.
If you want to know more about my qualifications, check out my LinkedIn profile.
However it seems that science communication and providing the scientific voice-of-reason between research and consumers and industry is a niche position that I keep finding myself in. Good thing it is an area that I am well-equipped in and passionate about. Truth is I spend a lot of my working hours talking about food and nutrition. To broad audiences (from accounting to zoology undergrads), postgrads, industry, research scientists, academics, the media, the general public etc. A couple of months ago, my seat on a flight got double-booked and I found myself with a ticket, but no seat. Not to worry, I could either be upgraded on the next flight, or slip into a window seat with a really chatty, mega-tall, broad-shouldered businessman in Economy. I took the chatty travel-mate option. And for the next 2.5 hours we delved into the science behind eating wholefoods over supplements, the time and place for supplements, the pros and cons of eating raw vs. cooked / juiced vs. “smoothied” fruits and veggies. At the end of it he
asked me, urged be, basically got me to promise that I would start putting this knowledge onto a platform that the general populace can access. So I guess we should thank the tall-broad-shouldered-chatty-guy whom I don’t remember his name nor can I locate his business card who urged me to step up to the plate for getting me to do this.
The other person is a farmer/grazier/environmental scientist/engineer (yes he really is all of these things) I met early last year. I actually had enough presence of mind to get this guy’s name: Doug McNicholl. Unlike the chatty flight guy, I did not actually want to talk to Doug as I thought he represented the Devon sausage manufacturers of Australia (true story!). Thankfully I pushed my misgiving aside long enough to find out the truth: he doesn’t represent processed, mystery pocket sausages. Rather Doug is a cacophony of theoretical intelligence combined with practical reality. He has been influential in opening my beach-city-girl eyes to the distance “food”, my research and the nutritional messages we promote actually impacts on. Much further than an individuals health, but all the way to the farm gate. An indirect reflection on the health of a nation. Moral of the story: do not judge a book by it’s cover, until you at least take the time to read the foreward and the entire introduction. You may just learn something. You can read/connect with Doug on LinkedIn.
Nutrition and food science are intertwined. Both are relatively newish sciences in comparison with medicine which has been around for nearly forever (think Hippocrates)! We are only still breaking through with understanding how different components of food work together synergistically and how this impacts absorption in the body and therefore health outcomes. It seems that 1) being able to eat food, 2) lose weight and 3) ideally be a chef /celebrity of some description / personal trainer (or combo of all 3) are the key requirements for being an (apparent) expert in nutrition. Some may do a 6 week/couple of months “training” via an online course from a non-recognised institute to substantiate their message.
The truth is this: yes, it is possible to lose weight by cutting crap out of the diet and eating less food and moving more. But it is also possible to gain significant micronutrient deficiencies if good quality food in the right amounts are not incorporated into dietary intake. TOFI (pronounced toffee) is a real condition where one appears to be “thin” on the outside, but is “fat” on the inside (i.e. internally going through chronic health conditions). Nutrition is more than just eating food and losing weight. It is a mash-up of chemistry, biology, physics, genetics, microflora interactions, biochemistry etc. The science of food is complex, intricate, fascinating and easy to relate to – if communicated clearly. If you can understand the science behind the process, you are able to make more informed choices and form evidence-based opinions. Furthermore the food we consume is more than what we consume. It impacts people 100, 500, 1000+ km away from us.
My aim is to make the science simple. Simple as that. The whole journey from paddock to poop. How what we eat affects our DNA and genes and that of our future generations. With input from key experts. Science made-simple. And edible. Recipes that reinforce the evidence-based research. And ways to get you moving and why.
Just to be random, because I am random and like all things random – I am also a qualified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness instructor. I myself regularly undertake HiiT and LiSS training. However my sister is an Exercise Physiologist specializing in cardiac science and exercise prescription for specialised populations (pregnant women, elderly, significantly overweight individuals and high performance athletes). With her input, I aim to breakdown the science of moving and why it is so important. To me, movement is essential. I was involved in a severe car-crash a few years back. And while I got out of the car apparently fine, I didn’t realise that there was significant nerve damage in my neck, and this damage got more damaged over time to the point I was diagnosed with chronic hypersensitive pain syndrome which included uncontrolled bouts of semi-paralysis on my right arm. I was forced to take time off from the PhD – because of the extreme pain leading to my right arm becoming unresponsive. The Pain Specialist (yes there really is such a career) told me the only treatment would be cortisol injections and acupuncture for the rest of my life. I refused to accept that conclusion. After the initial blow of realising how serious this was, determination kicked in and with appropriate support, faith and physical treatment, movement is back. If you didn’t know, you would never know I had/have nerve damage. I believe in functional movement. There is a lot of scientific evidence to support it. Plus the fact that I can do 100 push-ups everyday makes it real to me.
And lastly, just in case you were wondering (like pretty much most people I meet), for the record I am in fact older than 30 years of age. :-).
If you’ve read this far, either A) I am a genius story-teller or B) you really like reading.
Either way. Welcome. Feel free to send me any topics you’d like to know more about via the contact me page. This site is still a work-in-progress (but will be “cleaned” up soon enough).
There are more than enough sad-sops in this world. Haters will not be tolerated. If you don’t have anything constructive to say, please refrain from spreading viral negativity.