A Brief History of Today's Foods
Updated: Sep 12, 2018
By: Rebecca Ramdeholl, Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant
While I believe that some nutritional supplementation is important in one's health journey, it's also important to go back to the basics and understand that food, real food, is what's needed to build a good, strong and healthy foundation. To understand why I, as a Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant, would recommend supplementation alongside food, you need to understand what is happening with our food today. Until the way we produce and treat our food changes, I will continue to recommend supplementation to top up any deficiencies we may experience due to the nutritionally-imbalanced foods we eat.
Once, not too long ago, in a place not too far away, we worked really hard. We worked really hard for the basics of life, such as locating fresh water, farming fields to grow our food, chopping down only enough wood to build things that we needed. When the sun rose, we went to work cooking, making things, growing things including children! When the sun set, we actually started working to close things down for the day and to rest, eat, and share times with our families, friends or just to bask in silence and solitude in the dimming light, before we all settled down to sleep in the dark.
Some find this way of life pretty scary and very hard. But this was the reality, not too long ago. In a matter of 50 years, the way we live our lives have drastically altered. Some would see it as a change for the better, some would say we’re pretty much screwing ourselves.
It all started in the time of the Industrial revolution (1770-1835) when there was a major impetus for improving food storage – to increase food freshness, and reduce the chances of eating spoiled food and getting hit with disease. Pretty good impetus, I have to say. So as we are a very innovative species, in 1809, Nicholas Appert, a French chef, invented the first technique for canning foods (or “embalmed” foods, as the British called them – *shudder*). What an amazing concept!!! We can get food easier, and throughout the year, and in more variety!
You can imagine what this new convenience has done for the down-trodden and bone-weary, hard working people, because they now have access to vegetables and fruits without having to toil for it. The long shelf life ensures that they are fed throughout hard winters, and at the same time leaves their change purses slightly heavier as canned foods tended to be quite cheap. Their sigh of relief was, I’m sure, monumental. As long as you don’t mind the obscene amount of refined sugar, refined salt and preservatives that your food is doused in.
It’s a well known fact that the nutrient content of commercially canned foods are seriously compromised due to these additives (ie. sodium sulfite, potassium bisulfite, sulfur dioxide). The bisphenol-A (BPA) that lines the cans have toxic effects as well, and has been linked to hormone issues which can lead to infertility, breast and prostate cancer. Toxins basically mess up everything, so you’re looking at an increase of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and neurological problems, such as ADHD in kids as well. Just to make one more point pretty obvious: canned foods taste like canned food. They will never compare to fresh food when it comes to taste.
So that’s all from the innovation of canning foods, commercially. Then in 1875, we invented the mechanical refrigeration. Wow! We can store food by chilling or freezing them?? Definitely less complicated than the old style of food preserving such as smoking, canning or dehydrating. But now we have to contend with freezer burns due to improper packaging of foods, and serious loss of texture and flavour of the foods, and denatured nutrition. Vitamin B1, C and folate are all reduced in frozen foods, specifically to those foods that have been blanched prior to freezing (which is done to keep food quality from decreasing).
In 1924, ethylene was discovered, and was immediately used to ripen fruit after being shipped unripe. Let that sink in for a second….ripen fruit quickly that are unripe. Have you recently tried conventional tomatoes? They taste like a ball of slightly-wet nothing. Seriously. No taste. When fruit ripen naturally, its natural sugars presents itself in the fruit. This is why when you eat a ripe fruit off the bush or a tree, it tastes so sweet and juicy and gosh-darn delicious! Ethylene is meeting the needs of the rushed, corporate world that wants to make money fast, and make a lot of it! The more beautiful red tomatoes artificially ripened and sold to the stores, the more people will buy them because they look so beautiful and so would assume they’re delicious, and the more money they get. Ethylene makes fruits and vegetables look good, but does not have the flavour or texture changes that natural ripening does. Ripening takes time, and money does not like time.
Finally, during World War II (1939-1945), we witness the birth of the frozen food technology/industry, spurred by the shortage of metals for food canning. Metals were being re-routed to make artillery and weapons for the war, so how were people going to get their convenience food? In comes frozen food technology. So now pretty much every house hold will have a freezer and refrigerator to store the frozen food they can now purchase.
All of these important dates basically lead to the development of the Long-Distance Food Chain. While the intent here is all good – to address poverty, reduce disease, and make people’s lives slightly easier – the outcome unfortunately is starting to look glum. Slowly we see the farmers being cut out of the whole process. The dumps are getting fuller as we use more and more packaging. There is more food spoilage than ever, as we have become accustomed to only eating the most perfect fruit or vegetable there is, and turn our noses up to foods that are asymmetrical or not the right color. We are losing our ability to actually cook, or even learn where our food is coming from. We are getting sicker as our food is becoming less nutritious due to losses during processing.
The advantages of having food any time, any where, any kind, and being able to experience foods not grown in our own country, are wonderful advantages, but you have to really understand both sides, what we are gaining and what we are losing, in order to make a real choice about how you eat. While the advent of dietary supplements can definitely assist on the journey to better health, they should always be considered a supplement to REAL food.
This is not the end – us humans just love a good fight! We have the Slow Food movement, the local food movement, we have Eco-warriors, many of us are discovering, or re-learning from our grandparents, home-canning, home gardening and rationing intelligently instead of gorging on foods. Going back to the local farmers for your food, or using a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscription for food deliveries. We can host a Harvest party at home or in our community and help people re-learn about what food grows in the local area, and where they can buy them. There are so many ways to reclaim your health, your time, your priorities and your place in the food world.
Some great books to read on this topic are:
The End of Food: How the Food Industry is Destroying Our Food Supply – and What You Can Do About It by Thomas F. Pawlick
Eating on the Wild Side – The Missing Link to Optimum Health by Jo Robinson. A great book about preserving your fresh food properly and why!