In the last 100 years, the modern American diet has changed more than it had in the 10,000 years before that. This change came about during the Industrial Revolution when we began producing foods (or food-like products) in large quantities, in short amounts of time, with the least expensive ingredients.
This move from local to commercial food production brought about a multitude of changes to the way we look at food, the kinds of food we buy and consume, and the quality of our food, soil, and seeds. The result has been a staggering rise in diseases directly related to our food consumption.
These changes were initiated out of the fear that our population growth was going to outrun our own ability to feed ourselves and later the world. As a result, we focused on high volumes of specific foods and found ways to process foods to allow for long storage and distant shipping options. Also, we initiated the concept of factory-farmed animals, which aside from ethical and environmental concerns even, produce enormous problems with nutrition because of the growth hormones, unnatural diet, and antibiotics used to address the tendency of the animals to get sick in the conditions.
As a nation, we began to consume a very similar, unhealthy diet characterized by changes such as the following:
A move from whole foods to refined foods: This led to refined, but less nutritious foods, like white sugar and flour, which permeate our food culture now.
A move from complexity to simplicity: The focus on fewer, more specific, foods meant that we lost nutrient diversity, in our soil first and then in our diets. Our diet went from complex varieties of fruits vegetables, roots, seeds, and leaves to our situation now, where 66% of our calories come from 4 seeds: rice, corn, soy, and wheat.
A move from quality to quantity with our food: The lack of nutrition in processed foods means we crave more of them. We are starving for nutrition while packing on the pounds.
A move from a food culture perspective to a food science perspective: We used to, as a culture, know what was best for us to eat, and we had a connection to the food that ended up on our tables. Now, the culture relies heavily on scientific advice on what to eat and stays separated from decisions about food.
According to scientists today, it all comes down to one main thing:
“At the core of industrial food production is monoculture—the practice of growing single crops intensively on a very large scale. Corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton and rice are all commonly grown this way in the United States.
Monoculture farming relies heavily on chemical inputs such as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. The fertilizers are needed because growing the same plant (and nothing else) in the same place year after year quickly depletes the nutrients that the plant relies on, and these nutrients have to be replenished somehow. The pesticides are needed because monoculture fields are highly attractive to certain weeds and insect pests.”
So what do we do about this now? We are now faced with the opportunity to return to local food production that allows for whole food options, more quality food choices, a diversity of fruits and vegetables, and more control over our own decisions about food. Whether we choose to support the growing number of local food producers or simply choose more mindfully as we shop, we can increase our health levels immensely.