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Eating Well: How Did We Get Here? part 1 September 7, 2008

Posted by Laura in Family, Farm.

So, if we were pretty healthy and actually enjoying real food, WHY did we give it up for the common fare we exist on now?

From what I’ve been reading in many different sources (which I will begin naming in case you are interested), the answer to that has many parts.  For the sake of brevity, I will try to encapsulate it here.

Our country began with small groups of like-minded people who settled into communities and farmed (and truly before that, with Native Americans doing much the same thing, but some following animals).  They raised, foraged, or hunted most of their food.  They did some trading with other groups for foods not native to their region.

Fast forward a couple hundred years and larger cities began to arise.  Then came the Industrial Revolution and focus on mass production.  As people began to work longer hours outside of their homes, move into crowded cities without yards, and look to how mechanization could speed everything up, things began to change.  Even in the last hundred years, lots of folks used to get a hog to fatten over the summer and then had a year’s worth of delicious homegrown pork come winter.  They’d “put up” the summer’s bounty from their backyard garden patches.  These practices have mostly disappeared now.

Huge slaughterhouses opened up in the major cities.  Food products could be shipped by rail car.  Commercially canned goods became pretty common place.  As we became a more industrialized nation (and thus less agrarian), we became accustomed to and more dependent on food produced by strangers.

In the 1930s and ’40s doctors began to find their patients were sickening.  They weren’t dying of measles or diphtheria or the other things that used to claim young lives thanks to the development of vaccines.  But they were suffering from newer things like heart disease, all kinds of cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetes.  Researchers began to try to find out why.

Studies that didn’t take into account other factors began attacking certain foods.  A few studies with a very far-reaching impact villified saturated fat.  All fats including an increasing percentage of new trans fats were included in the diets of the subjects.   Many of the subjects turned out to have health problems but the studies declared that it was the fats we had been eating for centuries without ill effects (butter. eggs, and meat) that were to blame.  The American Heart Association, government agencies, and lots of food companies began telling the public that they must remove those traditional foods from their diets and replace them with the new “healthy alternatives” like margarines made from trans fats, heat-pressed vegetable oils, and egg white-only processed products (from battery-raised hens).  But we are a much more sickly nation now than we were back then!  Longer term studies have shown it is the very “healthy alternatives” we were instructed to eat that have impacted our health so negatively.  But given the litigious society we live in, I’m not expecting a mea culpa.  Fats aren’t the only things about which we have been wrongly advised- they just happen to be a very high profile one.

More recently, I think the rise of Feminism dealt a major blow to the family and our nutritional health.  That wasn’t the aim, but I think those are repercussions all the same.  The message presented to women from all directions was that a life spent caring for their families was not enough to make them really count in society and that by doing so they were perpetuating a degrading slave-like situation for all women.  Never mind that God may have called them to a traditional life devoted to family-  any self-respecting woman should stay out of the kitchen and aspire to take over the board room.  Cooking was beneath a woman who had any dignity.  That’s hard to hear continuously without developing discontent or even contempt for a role that previously had suited them and even made them happy.  Many women who had (or otherwise would have) found fulfillment without a paycheck in their own names left the home to climb the corporate ladder, leaving nutrition and meals to the mass producers.

This opened the floodgates for “convenience foods.”  Women still did the majority of the shopping, but they had far less time for meal preparation.  Items that said “heat and eat” or “just add ground beef” and the like became very appealing.  What went unnoticed for quite some time was the ever-expanding list of synthetic additives that made up the majority of these prepared foods.

There is still more to the story, but I’ll end it here for now.  If you are interested in doing your own investigation into nutrition and the history of our present food system, a few excellent books I’d recommend are Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, and Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck.  In previous postings I have mentioned two other very good books by Michael Pollan- The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.



1. michelle - September 11, 2008

Can’t wait to hear what else you have to say. I’ve recently read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, In Defense of Food and just finished Real Food yesterday. I have a book I can’t recommend yet —The Revolution will not be Microwaved–as I’ve yet to finish it yet but so far it seems to be in the same vein. I’ll have to look for the others you’ve mentioned.

I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for about 10 years now and I’ve always enjoyed cooking ‘from scratch.’ But recently, I’ve come to see how much more I can do to make things so much healthier for our family and we’ve since been moving in that direction–at a fairly rapid pace!

2. Laura - September 11, 2008


Thanks for mentioning those. I should have included Animal, Vegetable, Miracle in my list. It was very good also. At some point in the future, I plan to mention the “localvore” idea, but haven’t gotten that far.

Please do let me know what you think about the microwave book. I’m suspicious the microwave kills nutrients like irradiating fruits and veggies (to get rid of bacteria) does.

Thanks for the encouragement about the Eating Well series. I figured I could write on this topic for some time to come, but wasn’t sure how many people besides me were even interested. I’ll try to get back to it soon. Right now, I am feverishly trying to get ready for a new baby that could come anytime in the next 7 weeks (but probably next 4 given his size and my history).

Take care and feel free to share any ideas you have or things I’ve left out.


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