How Food Has Changed (Environment, Processes, Diets, Additives, etc.)
Since the Industrial Revolution, food refining has increased significantly. Before that time, it was done on a small scale in homes, or on a community basis. Due to technological advances, refined grains and flour are more widely available. In addition, stone ground flour was replaced by flour ground in a steel mill, which generates much more heat. This heat negatively affects the nutrition and quality of the flour. So in effect, this change in processing marked the beginning of imbalance nutrition on a much larger scale.
The next major change came during WWI when protein-based nutrition was emphasized for the war-effort. This likely was due to a large majority of recruits being improperly nourished and meat made them better soldiers. WWII had an even larger effect on the food we eat today. This was because of two main reasons. The first was that we tried to make food that would last indefinitely for soldiers overseas, which in effect created dead food as opposed to natural fermentation from pickling, drying, smoking, and cold storage, all methods that enhanced food quality. The second reason was that the chemical industry developed for munitions in the war was used for agriculture and food processing after the war.
Let’s take a look at some of the other impacts to the food we now eat by examining the environmental, processing, dietary, and additive changes that have taken place since the World Wars.
Diet & Consumption Changes
All the world’s most long-standing civilizations over the course of history have a common dietary pattern. Their diet largely consisted of grains, beans, vegetables, seeds, nuts, fruits, naturally fermented foods, mild beverages, and mild sweeteners with little animal food. Before the Industrial Revolution, the average meat consumption in Europe was 11-22 lbs. per year – most of which was consumed at holidays or festivals in the form of a roast or stew. This means at the maximum; it would have been about 3-4 ounces per week per person. If you look around at what is on our plates these days, you will know that has changed dramatically.
After WWII, petroleum-based fertilizers created huge surpluses of grains and beans, aka “bumper crops.” The surplus, which was an unnatural diet compared to grass etc., was used to feed animals, in-turn creating a surplus in animal and dairy foods.
Simultaneously, we saw the introduction of the Basic Four food groups (animal foods, dairy foods, fruits and vegetables, and starches). This gave the impression that animal and dairy foods should comprise 50% of our diet and that grains, the mainstay for 10,000 years, were reduced to starches. The idea was also promoted that only animal and dairy foods supply a complete chain of amino acids for good health. This turned out to be untrue. Even though individual plant-foods do not contain these complete chains, they combine naturally when consuming a varied plant-based diet.
Also, in the mid-1950s, televisions, Swanson TV dinners, and fast foods came on the scene. This further contributed to the change in dietary habits and patterns. By the early 1970s, fast foods were taking over, and the family meal was starting to disappear.
Additives & Processed Food Changes
By the time fast food restaurants became popular, whole and unrefined foods were increasingly being replaced with refined and chemicalized foods. Chemicals were more widely used in agriculture and food production. DDT, a once popular pesticide, became widely used and was promoted as being completely safe and harmless. Later, it was discovered to be harmful and dangerous to people’s health, causing it to be banned. DDT opened the way to a whole new class of pesticides that are still used today.
Additionally, artificial sweeteners were introduced to help people lose weight as they don’t have any calories, but they ended up making people gain weight because they destroyed the gut’s microbiome. By the mid-1980s, high fructose corn syrup began to replace sugar. This further led to the obesity epidemic and further reduction in our health including: allergies, autoimmune disorders, and more. Then, by the mid-1990s, GMOs became commonly used and were also promoted as being completely safe. However, it is known that our microbiomes are destroyed by eating GMO foods. Essentially, 70% of our food is made up of GMOs or ultra-processed foods. The real harms of GMOS to our food supply and personal health are becoming more widely known over time.
In an effort to promote optimal heart health, the use of saturated fats were replaced with refined seed oils. These oils include: canola, vegetable, soybean, safflower, corn, and peanut oils. These oils were also hydrogenated to create margarine and Crisco, which further worsened our health. All of these oils are highly inflammatory and contribute to most degenerative diseases. The only two plant oils that can be mechanically pressed without heat or solvents are sesame and olive oils. Sesame and olive oils have practically been made in the same way for over 6000 years.
Several major factors have contributed to a major change in the food we eat. Over the years, small, diverse farms were replaced by factory farming and monoculture (clearing large tracts of land to grow one crop, such as corn, soybeans, and canola.) This has led to large scale soil erosion. Additionally, the chemicals and waste from this agriculture are poisoning the streams, rivers, and the air that we breathe. GMOs and this chemicalized agriculture are also destroying soil and food quality. When we have an adequate number of trees, their root system prevents this erosion. Soil has a unique ability to neutralize these harmful effects. For instance, when polluted water goes into the soil, it comes back clean and renewed.
The only real and practical solution is the return of small farms that rely on organic, biodynamic, or regenerative agricultural practices. This will make healthy, local foods more widely available. We can see a movement in this direction by the proliferation of farmers’ markets. One of the best ways to help the environment is by supporting these local farmers and minimizing the use of animal, dairy, and chemicalized foods.