A Brief History of Food
Our food system has changed a lot over the last 75 years. Here are some of the main events that have shaped it from one decade to the next.
1940s - Seeking to find a way to feed our troops, we turned to recent accomplishments in manufacturing and applied them to our food system. Using assembly lines and advances in food science, we were able affordably mass produce products that could be shipped far and wide and stored indefinitely.
1950s - Food companies were creating new products that could be made cheaply and efficiently thanks to advances made during World War II, but consumers were wary of these newfangled boxes and tins that began appearing in grocery store aisles. Thanks to clever marketing and improved taste (thanks to a boom in the American flavor industry), these new highly processed products eventually became staples in the American home.
1960s - As we sent Earth's first man to the moon, our confidence in science grew. With an increasing scientific understanding of the individual nutrients that make up food, we saw the invention of products like Tang, which promised "more Vitamin C than mother nature puts in an orange!" Unfortunately we did not yet understand the importance of consuming many nutrients in context, as they exist with other micro and macronutrients in nature.
1970s - in 1972 sales of color TVs surpassed sales of black and white TVs, and food companies were able to further segment the market by developing commercials targeted directly towards various groups. Entire series, such as The Flinstones, were developed specifically to market products like Fruity Pebbles to children.
1980s - In 1980 the government published the first Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Among the guidelines was the advice to "avoid too much fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol" as one prominent theory at the time was that consumption of these foods caused heart disease. Unfortunately this theory, which has yet to be proven, has been passed on to the public as fact ever since. Americans began cutting down on fatty foods and replacing them primarily with carbohydrates.
1990s - With the passing of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act came the first ever standardized health claims. Suddenly everything from cookies (Snackwells) to chips (Wow! Fat free potato chips) could be marketed as healthy.
2000s to today - As rates of diet related disease and other diet related problems continue to rise, consumers are left navigating the 40,000+ items in a typical grocery store to try to determine which are truly nourishing and which are cleverly marketed highly processed foods. Despite our desire to buy and consume real foods, 61% of the items we buy in the grocery store are highly processed "to the extent that they are no longer recognizable as their original plant or animal source" [source].
Processing food is not inherently bad - human beings have been grinding, mixing, fermenting, and preserving foods for thousands of years. The problem is that today's food processing, rather than preserving or increasing the health benefits of foods, tends to strip food of its various components, including much of its nutrition. Additives must then be used to restore flavor, nutrition, and increase shelf life. Here are some examples of how today's food is overly processed.
- fruit juices: While one apple contains around 12-15 grams of sugar, it also contains many other nutrients, including fiber which slows the absorption of that sugar into the blood stream and helps us feel full. 10 ounces of apple juice has gone through several stages of processing processing that destroys some nutrients, strips away all of the fiber, and contains 32 grams of sugar. It is very easy to drink 10 ounces of apple juice, but not many people eat three apples in a row -- just one example of how much easier it is to consume sugar in processed foods than in whole foods.
- breads: Throughout most of human history, most breads contained four ingredients: grains (primarily wheat), water, salt, and wild yeast. These breads had to rise (or ferment) for many hours, which helped make the gluten in the wheat more digestible. It is not uncommon for a typical loaf of today's bread to contain over 20 ingredients, many of which are additives to keep it softer and fresher for longer. Additional wheat gluten is often added to the bread, which only rises for about an hour at most - not long enough to make it more easily digestible - which is one theory as to why so many people are developing gluten sensitivities.
The World Health Organization cautions that our bodies cannot process more than about 30 grams of added sugars per day. But we consume much more than that - an average of 120 grams of added sugars per day!
Consider the following:
- 90% of added sugars in our diet come from processed foods.
- If you drink one 20 oz bottle of soda per day, that adds up to 1 pound of added sugar per week!
- "Healthy" foods like granola bars, salad dressings, and yogurt can contain much more sugar than you'd think.
- You would have to eat 120 strawberries to consume as much sugar as is in one can of soda.
- The United States consumes more sugar per capita than any other country in the world.
- Sugar is highly addictive and our tastebuds adjust as we consume more of it - making overconsumption all too easy.
In the 1960s the sugar industry paid two Harvard scientists to point to increased consumption of fat and cholesterol as the one and only plausible cause of heart disease - turning the spotlight away from other foods including sugar.
Most consumers believe that the FDA monitors the safety of new ingredients as they enter our food supply - but thanks to a loophole known as GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe), there are thousands of additives in our food supply that have not undergone proper FDA approval or any long term health studies. Consumers are often left in the dark regarding the thousands of chemicals that are in our food supply, but some of the things we do know are:
- There are over 10,000 chemicals allowed in our food supply
- 500 are known pesticides
- The average American consumes 100 chemicals daily
- 3,000 additives are backlogged for review by the FDA
- The FDA has only rejected 17 additives since 1998
Recipes + Techniques
[More recipes coming soon!]