Convenience food is so prevalent in our culture today, that is just assumed food should be ready to eat in minutes. Drive-thru windows, microwave meals, and grocery stores filled with packaged foods is all too common. In fact, a meal that takes 30 minutes to cook feels impossible for most people to manage today.
But to really stop and consider what food truly is means to honor its need for time and attention. Food that is healthy and fuels the body takes time to grow and consume its own nutrients to then provide that to the human body.
Animals raised humanely and organically grown vegetables can not be eaten through the car window. They take time to grow and prepare in order for the body to use all the vital nutrition. For thousands of years, food was respected in this sense.
So how has our culture come to such a drastically different relationship with food? Convenience food as we know it has grown quickly in very recent times with the growth of populations. There are 5 major milestones that can be credited to the modern evolution of food.
The first agricultural revolution took place around 10,000 B.C. as the period of transition from a hunting society to a farming one. (1) Populations began to grow and could no longer survive on just animals. There needed to be a way to feed larger populations of people.
This is where the advent of grain and vegetable crop started. Along with the rise of crops, came the domestication of animals which could be raised solely for the purpose of consumption. Men no longer had to hunt animals for days only to have acquired one animal to feed the whole tribe.
This centralization of food growth allowed for establishments of huge civilizations that could stay in one place. But with this, also came in increase in disease and decrease in lifespan. People living in close proximity and consuming less nutritious food led to more sickness.
As cities grew, food production continued to move farther away from its natural source.
Up until about the 1600s, the only sweeteners that were consumed were those of natural sources; fruit, honey, jams. Sweet foods were not a staple in the traditional diet. That was until the first large scale production of sugar was established in Brazil. (2)
This new found production of sugar was established once people learned how to extract pure sugar from sugar cane. As imagined, this yielded an intensely sweet flavor that was not found in nature. Once the British happened upon this source, this refined sugar source quickly replaced the natural sweeteners in recipes.
However, this source of sugar was still reserved for wealthy populations. Sugary foods quickly became a status of wealth and power and a mainstay in the kitchens of those that could afford it. The poor people even starting to color their teeth black with charcoal to match the rotting teeth of their rich counterparts!
This stage is pivotal because it gives light how food can become a status symbol, whether it is healthful or not.
This stage of the evolution had possibly the largest effect on the role of food as it is known today. Enormous shifts in manufacturing and delivery of food occurred during the Industrial Revolution of the United States. (3) Food was now able to be grown far away from the consumer and enjoyed all year long.
This did wonders for the ability to feed the growing population, but nothing for the nutrition of the food. Food was now being manufactured in factories instead of mineral-rich soil. Food was also being transported and stored for much longer than their natural life with the advent of canning and use of preservatives.
Grocery stores now become the mainstay of food distribution, instead of one’s own farm. This stage made way for the growth of fast food as we know it.
Now that food was able to sustain a much longer life and transported far from its source, “food giants” were born in the 1900s. These were large companies that could make food in factories and distribute to grocery stores across the entire country.
Also in this time was a spike in centralization of people and cities were growing larger than ever before. People were excited about the prospect of city life and all the opportunities that awaited. Farm life did not have the appeal anymore and seemed devoid of potential.
As populations flocked to the cities, some did not have personal refrigerators, which became more widely used in the 1920s. (4) Large scale food companies addressed that need be selling shelf-stable food. Sure, food was now widely available to the masses, but most of its nutrition was taken away.
It is no surprise that disease was on the rise, as well as dental deformities. Although synthetic vitamins were added to manufactured food, the body is incredibly smart and can identify the difference between natural and foreign. Ultimately, foreign substances leads to imbalances in the body and in some cases, a diseased state.
The most recent stage in the evolution of modern food can be marked by WWII to present day. With the rise of shelf stable food, also came the need to preserve food for soldiers. This was accomplished with chemicals necessary to create synthetic vitamins and minerals.
As well as food production, companies were also making poisonous gas for bombs, which later was realized to be an extremely effective fertilizer for crops. These chemicals quickly killed off invaders to the soil while still allowing for the food to grow. Not only was the current form of food changing, but the quality of soil as well, which ultimately cannot be reversed.
After the war, convenience foods would now be the norm. Fast food restaurants quickly rose in popularity and the taste-buds of each generation changed along with it. Food was now being created to be addicting in order to increase profits for the companies that produce them.
How can the entire paradigm of food culture be shifted back to one of natural foods, before the industrial revolution changed the way food is made?
Well, it can start in our kitchens. Choosing to spend money on higher quality food from local sources that honor natural growing practices. We can vote with our dollar when it comes to food. We can move away from cheap, fast foods and to empower ourselves to make ethical choices.
Learn how to get comfortable in the kitchen, sure your grocery bill may rise, but so will your health and wellbeing. It may seem like we are doomed to a fate of poor quality food, but that is not the case. We can make a difference by starting with ourselves.