I recently asked a question about food preservation methods that are not refrigeration. I was duped to a question about food safety regulations, and provided mod commentary that questions about food safety on this site are identical to questions about government food safety regulations.

Is it on-topic to ask about the science and traditions of food preservation, outside of the concept of government regulation? Viz. in an anthropological sense, existing and historic cultures around the world preserve food unrefrigerated in myriad ways that the FDA would never under any circumstance approve for a commercial product. Also, although the FDA's regulations are based in science, they are not identical to the breadth of scientific knowledge in a field.

Are questions about food-safety identical to questions about government regulation on Seasoned Advice, or are questions about the broader context on-topic?

1 Answer 1


I think you might be chasing a red herring here - there is no rule for or against anthropological or historical questions. The questions have to meet the other criteria of the site (actually, all Stack Exchange sites) to be askable. See also our scope description, especially this bullet on the off-topic list: we close "[q]uestions about history of food which would have been closable if the question had no history aspect."

Are questions about food-safety identical to questions about government regulation on Seasoned Advice

Yes, they are. This is pretty much one of the oldest rules and most closely followed rules of the site. All SE sites only accept objective questions. In food safety, food regulation rules are the only game in town that is unambiguous and based on something other than personal opinion - so the founding community had to either take them, or forbid all food safety questions. They decided on the first option.

For background on why any other interpretation won't meet the objectivity criterion, see the tag info on the tag: https://cooking.stackexchange.com/tags/food-safety/info.

Personally, I'd love to see a way of giving new users heads-up of how our interpretation of their question differs from what they think they are asking, so they can make a decision whether to ask before investing the work in writing up a question. Sadly, I don't have a solution for this that would work.

  • So couching such questions in terms of "how do other people do it?" rather than "is this safe?" is possibly viable? In some of the canonical food-safety dupes here, advice is basically "don't store anything outside the fridge.", for example, it says this of cabbage. Possibly, there are people and cultures who keep cabbage unrefrigerated, possibly due to lack of refrigeration. Asking "How do other cultures store cabbage, and how long do they keep it that way?" is on-topic?
    – Him
    Apr 1, 2023 at 13:14
  • I mean, there are so many things we can do in the culinary world besides boringly refrigerating our cabbage. We can ferment it, for example, but this involves leaving it out of the fridge for long periods of time against FDA advice. I could probably chop the cabbage and hang it in a muslin bag and in two weeks (two weeks out of the fridge!) it would be perfectly fine cabbage chips. Is there really no way to access the collective knowledge of how and why people do these sorts of things with food on this site?
    – Him
    Apr 1, 2023 at 13:21
  • "How do other people do it" is a question we would close, regardless of what "it" is - a safety topic such as storing yogurt, or something like "how do people prepare their potatoes for dinner". We cannot produce a reliable description of the collective activity of myriads of people, each of them acting out of personal beliefs and habits. There is indeed no way to access this kind of knowledge on our site.
    – rumtscho Mod
    Apr 3, 2023 at 11:19
  • "A reliable description of the collective activity of myriads of people acting out of their personal beliefs and habits" is a solid paraphrasing of the purview of sociology and anthropology. Probably, there might be good and bad ways to ask "how do other people do it?", but your assertion here is that anthropological questions are, in fact, off-topic for the site.
    – Him
    Apr 3, 2023 at 14:56
  • For example, here is a paper in Nature that theorizes on the cooking habits of prehistoric humans. "How do other people do it?" is scientific/objective enough for Nature, but too subjective for Seasoned Advice StackExchange?
    – Him
    Apr 3, 2023 at 15:01
  • @Him we are not a scientific journal. Their goal is to publish ongoing research, while we answer practical questions with something that people consider to be true. Also, they have domain experts approve a paper before it is published at all, while we don't have domain experts in anthropology even among the voters. We, as a site, have no interest in emulating Nature. We do the things we are good at, and draw the line at things we would be bad at - and that's the honest thing to do, even when it disappoints users.
    – rumtscho Mod
    Apr 3, 2023 at 19:09
  • I'm not suggesting that you emulate Nature. I'm suggesting that, for example, research from Nature can provide objective answers to questions on this site about "How do other people do it?". For example, I ask "How do other people do it?" and someone answers "Well, according to Nature (link), people do it this way." My point is that the question "How do other people do it?" is not inherently subjective, or strictly opinion based. There can exist facts about how other people do things.
    – Him
    Apr 3, 2023 at 19:15
  • Obviously, there is a continuum of subjective<->objective that such an answer could take. On the subjective side "Well, I heard from Alice that Bob does this this way.", and on the objective side "Nature reports that people do it this way." If you're suggesting that anthropological/historical questions don't work on the site, because they tend to overwhelmingly get the subjective type answers, then that's fair, I suppose.
    – Him
    Apr 3, 2023 at 19:20
  • @rumtscho Food safety regulation should NOT be the only game in town; scientific studies should also be included as a source of legitimate answers. It is not uncommon for science to differ slightly from accepted food regulation, and that's been noted on several answers before, such as the expiration dates for bottled water (where the regulations are political rather than science-based).
    – FuzzyChef
    May 30, 2023 at 17:12

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