Lots of thought for food at ’18 Philly Science Festival

People usually stop by Reading Terminal Market for the juicy roast pork sandwiches, the freshly made scrapple, and the gooey apple dumplings. But for the next week, the Philadelphia Science Festival will pull back the curtain and show people how much science takes place at the market every day to make those dishes so delectable.

The festival — in its eighth year and spearheaded by the Franklin Institute — highlights science and technology in the Philadelphia area through events and workshops. While it usually includes a few food events, this year’s event features food prominently on the menu of science offerings.

“Food is a gateway to science,” said Ellen Trappey, the festival’s managing officer. “We’re hoping, with the events that we have planned, that everyone will get to experience the amazing science in our everyday lives.”

This is the first year Reading Terminal will participate in the festival, and its presence coincides with its 125th anniversary. Trappey said that, combined with its iconic status as a Philly food locale, made including it in this year’s lineup a no-brainer.

“Every merchant uses sciences or technology or engineering or math every single day,” she said. “What we hope we’ve done is to bring it to the forefront.”

The market will host two events: an after-hours “Brain Food” event that will bring scientists into the stalls to showcase both food science and science more generally; and a family-oriented event that will involve a scavenger hunt around the market, meant to highlight the daily scientific processes that happen there.

Chef Rebecca Foxman, owner of Fox and Son Fancy Corn Dogs, is one of the merchants who will be on call during the events. She sells county fair-style foods, all of them gluten free. Perfecting a recipe for gluten-free funnel cake, fried Oreos, and French fries required a lot of experimentation. She raised and lowered the pH, adjusted protein levels, and played around with the amount of starch.

“I probably spent a month getting really sick eating a lot of French fries,” she said, “but also trying out probably 80 to 100 different French fry recipes, all playing with the science.”

She said food and science are inextricably linked.

“Everything about what you do and how you do it, from the type of knife you use, the type of metal it’s made out of, the cutting board. From the food itself, how it’s grown, the soil it’s grown in, what the animals are fed – it’s just all science.”

In addition to the demonstrations at Reading Terminal Market, several other food-related events are planned, including an evening at Drexel University focusing on sustainable food in conjunction with the Monell Chemical Senses Center and a “beer brunch” with Yards Brewing exploring the science of foam. Non-food events include a forensics exploration at the Mütter Museum and an Earth Day celebration.

The festival runs through April 28 and concludes with a free science carnival on the Parkway.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.