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Funny You Should Ask

By Eric Bittner

Serious research demands an unswerving commitment to the scientific principles of inquiry and verification. In this regular feature of R&I, we encourage four University of Houston professors to swerve a bit, presenting them with a commonplace observation or piece of conventional wisdom and inviting them to share their not-so-scientific – but definitely innovative! – responses.


Eric Bittner

For me, breakfast involves a nice cuppa “Vitamin C.” (Not OJ) COFFEE — and good coffee at that. Life is too short for bad coffee.

My daily routine for years has been to brew a pot, sit down with my notebook and fountain pen and think about some physics. Sometimes it’s research, sometimes it’s class notes, sometimes it’s just thinking about new stuff. My quest for the perfect “cuppa joe” has resulted in an interesting collection of coffee-brewing devices in my office and lab. We have the standard French Press, a stovetop espresso maker, a siphon press (until a cleaning person knocked it off my desk), a Chemex … this is my daily attempt to appear to actually look like a chemist! Surveying my desk, I often find at least 6-7 cups of coffee in various stages of cooling, some even with their own little biological experiment going on.

From a biochemical standpoint, breakfast IS one of the most important meals you can eat. You just spent 10-12 hours fasting, your blood sugar is zilch. Your body needs a jump-start. Coffee + a good donut or pastry is EXACTLY what your body needs to get the gears grinding. Plus, coffee is a mild emetic — so it gets other things movin’ as well. So, drink up and get moving.

Bittner is John and Rebecca Moores Professor of Chemistry, who is primarily interested in the dynamics of molecules in their excited electronic states. And coffee.

Temple Northup

You want to know if Breakfast Is the Most Important Meal of the Day?

That’s a question like, “Is Michael Jordan the greatest basketball player of all time?” We might humor someone with a debate, but we all know the answer.

How can I speak so definitively? Just look at the evidence. Breakfast is so wonderful, so amazing that it is a treat to get to have it at other times in the day. Waffles for dinner? What did I do to deserve this indulgence? You don’t hear a lot of people say, “Wow, I could really go for a tuna casserole this morning.”

Breakfast is also the only meal that one can reasonably eat in bed. Cereal in bed at 8 a.m. is normal. Hamburgers in bed at 8 p.m. strongly suggests an underlying psychological problem.

Need more evidence? Look no further than the Golden Arches – who, realizing what food is most important, made the smart decision to start serving breakfast ALL DAY. By contrast, I have yet to see the McRib featured in their “Early Riser” advertising campaign.

Yes, the question isn’t if breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It’s if we can just go ahead and make breakfast part of every meal of the day.

Northup, director of the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, is a former sitcom writer turned academic whose research focuses on the effects of food marketing and labeling. He really likes to talk about food, so feel free to invite him to lunch.

Claudia Scott

Let me say without fear of contradiction that breakfast is definitely among the top three most important meals of the day ... neck and neck with lunch and dinner.

While it’s very tempting to simply stop there – I mean, really, what more needs to be said? – the grand tradition of research academia requires me to keep writing and writing and writing until my grant proposal is finally funded.


You are telling me there is NO funding for this!? Then why am I bothering? What? Oh, right, right – to expand the frontiers of science, to increase the pool of nutritional knowledge, to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense ... no, wait, a minute. I seem to have pre- ambled off topic and into the Constitution.

Frankly, I’m having a little trouble staying focused and alert. To tell you the truth, I was in a terrible hurry this morning and had to skip breakfast, so now I’m feeling a little lackadaisical, lethargic and my thoughts are a little scattered not to mention that my thoughts are a little scattered – um, I said that already, didn’t I? I’m not sure what’s wrong except ... AHA! OK, OK ... so now I get it... Breakfast. Yeah. Breakfast.

Scott, an assistant clinical professor in Health and Human Performance, won UH’s 2016 Teaching Excellence award for Instructor/Clinical faculty and was named Outstanding Dietetic Educator by Texas Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for 2014-15.

Sujata Sirsat

Is Breakfast the Most Important Meal of the Day? Is it? I don’t know – because what does “important” mean really – but I do feel it’s the most beautiful meal of the day.

Breaking a fast of almost 8 to sometimes 12 hours feels quite amazing. Moreover, you could really eat a LOT and have ALL day to burn it off! What’s not to love?

Another, related question – what came first, the chicken or the egg?

I would argue it was Salmonella that ended up in the chicken AND in the egg. Not just any kind. But the kind that makes you barf so bad that you wish you had never eaten those eggs runny, or worse, raw. So please, pretty please, cook those eggs rock-solid. And if you`re one of those who just have to consume raw egg milkshakes for breakfast, then use pasteurized eggs. That’s right, you can buy shell eggs that are pasteurized in most grocery stores.

Last intriguing question – where did Salmonella come from in the first place? Anyone? (Anyone? Bueller?) From the chicken. And from the egg. Hence, I eat oatmeal for breakfast.

Sirsat, an assistant professor in the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, has a Ph.D. in Poultry Science from the University of Arkansas and is a proud member of the International Association of Food Protection.

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