Brief History of Industrialized Foods
What we call food nowadays, is not what it was before. Science, paired up with greed, and has created a monster that we now call the food industry. Food began to be produced in mass around the eighteenth century. Before that, it was obtained from local farmers, or from a few merchants that traveled to far away lands and brought all types of weird and tasty foods.
If you go back to your high school history you’ll remember that Industrial Revolution began right about that time. Factories were being born, people were fleeing the country side, leaving their land behind seeking a better living. This left the world with fewer farmers and a larger food demand. Thankfully science came in and saved the day by providing new farming techniques that improved yields, and helped pave the way for urbanization and a growing population.
As time passed on, our understanding of plant physiology improved, thus we learned that by applying nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen via synthetic fertilizers that could improve plant growth, which in turn helped develop intensive types of agriculture. This new knowledge soon hit the animal kingdom, and chickens became the first victims.
Chickens were the first animals to be farmed. The discovery of vitamins around the early 1900′s, and their role in animal nutrition, soon led to the manufacturing of supplements, which enabled chickens to be raised indoors. Then came WWII, millions died, countries were destroyed, but our knowledge grew like it had never done before. Science was the big winner. We learned to develop antibiotics and vaccines, not only to improve human health, but to keep a animals packed together in unhealthy conditions. Thanks to these amazing discoveries the US began to farm pigs and cows in the 1960′s. But this is only have the story.
During the Industrial Revolution we also learned to preserve food longer. We were tired of eating salty meet, so in 1809 Nicolas Appert placed food in a vacuum bottle keeping it away from bateria and fungus, which are the ones responsible of making our food go bad, and thus preserving it for longer periods of time.
On a side note: Real food spoils in just a couple days.
A year later Peter Dugand changed the bottle for cans and canned food was born ( Thanks to this guy I was able to feed myself in college). Then came WWII and the Space Race. There are very few if no supermarkets at all outside our atmosphere, so astronauts have to carry food that would last weeks or days with out spoiling. Science was called upon once again and it came up with advances such as… spray drying, juice concentrates, freeze drying and the introduction of artificial sweeteners, colouring agents, and preservatives such as sodium benzoate. In the late 20th century products such as dried instant soups, reconstituted fruits and juices, and self cooking meals such as MRE food ration were developed. YUMMY.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Now lets take a look at the good things and the bad things about this. I’ll begin with the good ones.
1. Modernization: Thanks to the fact that 1 person could produce the same amount of food as 10 people ( I made that stat up), that gave 9 other people the chance to build, and invent stuff that has helped our lives become easier. Thanks to industrialized food we have the internet, radios, ipod’s etc.
2. Saves us time: Instead of spending an hour in the kitchen cooking real food all we have to do is: pop a box in the microwave for 5 minutes and voilá, or open a box of cereal pour milk on it, open another box of juice, and breakfast is served.
3. Kids love it: Parents are too tired from work to have to deal with their kids whining about not liking what they cooked for dinner, so why not please them with the stuff in the box they so much like.
4… that is about it.
Now for the bad things.
1. Destroyed environment: Synthetic fertilizers are responsible for polluting a great deal of our water resources. Why if they help plants grow? Nothing in great amounts is good. An excess of amounts of plant nutrients like nitrates and phosphates provoke what is called an “algae bloom”. You might have seen algae blooms in sewers or by the side of a creek or river. Excess algae causes the water to lose oxygen an enter a state of hypoxia that is not suitable for other living things like fish.
2. Terrible food quality: Just like humans, cows, chickens, and pigs get stressed when packed in too close together. Living in an animal farm is like living in a heavy metal concert. Imagine living in a Metallica concert (with no music) for the rest of your life with Lars Ulrich throwing food into the crowd every once in awhile; then they guy next to you sneezes on you, while some one else throws up on you because he is sick (get the picture). In a week or less a great deal of those people would have caught a cold or would have gotten some type of infection. Now instead of people imagine chickens… these are the chickens you eat. Hmmmm… tasty
3. Obesity: With over half the population of the US and Colombia suffering from obesity, I would guess it is save to say that what we are eating is not doing the trick. Obesity is a sickness and more people die from it than from cancer, aids, and (place another creepy disease in here) together. Hell, in Colombia it kills more people than violence does, and we have been at war for the past 60 years, and we are a third world country.
say”… my boy is just so crazy…”, but the bottom line is he isn’t comfortable in his own skin, thus he is violent. Studies have shown that there is a link between the way we behave and what we eat (click here). People under estimate how food affects they way they feel. As I said before obesity is a disease, so it is save to say that an obese person feels sick all the time, even if they are not lying in bed. Sick people are usually not in a good mood, simply because they don’t feel good. Believe me eating right ( i.e no processed food) during 15 days will make you feel better than ever.
5. May lead to famine: Now you may think I’m crazy, but just listen up. Fruits and vegetables used to grow from seeds that came from other fruits and vegetables. Farmers picked the best specimens, thus selecting the tastiest and best selling. This is a primitive way of genetic manipulation that has been going on for centuries. The seeds selected were the strongest and fittest to withstand a plague. If one plant gets sick there is a good chance the others will survive. The land used was also small so it was easy to control pests and animals that wanted to eat them.
Nowadays, farmers buy their seeds from companies like Monsanto, that manipulate the gene of the seeds. Some seeds have been manipulated to the point that their offspring are not viable. That is, the seeds that belong to the new plants cannot be used again, thus the farmer are obliged to buy new seeds (Read about the terminator gene). Since these seeds are made they are not very genetically diverse, as a matter of fact, they are all genetically equal. This makes every seed vulnerable to the same diseases and pests. Imagine if everyone in you country were vulnerable to the same virus. Funny thing about that example is that that has already happened. When Europeans landed on America they brought with themselves a big stock of new diseases not known to the natives of these lands. The result ended up being the extermination of a lot of natives. Same thing can happen with our wheat and other grains that constitute most of our diet; one disease could leave the world without food.
Solution: I believe the days of industrialized food are coming to an end. More and more people are starting to buy organic vegetables from their local farmers. The few that decide to spend the extra bucks know that they get their money’s worth in health benefits. You may spend more in the market, but less at the doctors. Thanks to the Internet people are learning about how bad the quality of their food is and are taking action. Either we change the way we feed ourselves or die as a species.