Recently, I asked people in my day job a question: “Do you think there’s something wrong with our food system?” Every single person said yes but when asked why, their answers were decidedly different. Some answers were logical and brought up good points. Others completely baffled me! I was so taken aback that I just knew I had to write about the food ignorance we, as a nation, have. In my opinion, it’s truly an epidemic of ignorance and made me question why we have gotten so completely out of touch when it comes to our food. Dig in, this is going to be a long one.
What ignorance do I speak of? Do a Google search for videos about kids identifying vegetables. It’s rather heartbreaking, actually. I don’t believe that the ignorance I’ve encountered in my informal poll, various observations, and online articles is solely the fault of the population. I don’t think that the general populace is responsible for our current lack of connection to our food – from seed to processing to packaging – so much as a culmination of several factors that have brought us to our current situation. I think it was gradually done but whether by design or by natural economical evolution is anyone’s guess. It’s easy to point the finger at big companies and say “You’ve ruined us and how we eat!” while still shopping for your food instead of growing your own. The truth is, with the exception of kids who eat what’s put in front of them, we all have a choice to make. The problem is getting the average American to wake up and realize that they have a choice in the first place.
Looking at history, I would say the tide turned when people began moving to the cities looking for work, prosperity, and the chance at a better life. Cities got larger and food had to be carted or trucked in from the farms. This planted the seed (pun intended) for the current “food deserts” we find in our cities now. Sure, there were farmer’s markets, butcher shops, bakeries and the like back then but the fact was, people were growing less food where they lived and instead worked to buy it from someone else. This was the first disconnection.
As more people moved in and industry started to pick up, workers found they couldn’t make it home at ‘dinner time’ and thus, the first convenience foods were born. As with anything, machines soon took over the processing and packaging of these ‘foods.’ As time went on, preservatives were added to extend shelf life and then more chemicals and preservatives until now, we don’t have food, we have ‘food product.” Ever really look at the box of Velveeta? It doesn’t say it’s cheese…it’s “cheese product.”
The problem is getting the average American to wake up and realize that they have a choice in the first place.
When WWII took women out of the kitchen and into the factories, the need and demand for convenience food skyrocketed. Women didn’t have the time to be able to make their normal meals. “Quick mixes” like Krusteaz came out in the 1940s and were an instant (pun intended) hit. Now, women could ‘just add water’ and make a quick breakfast for their family before heading out to the factory. Since Bisquick had been around for a decade already, it made other convenience mixes more easily accepted. Another practice lost during this time was the family garden out back of the house. There was no one to really tend it. Yes, there were far more backyard gardens then than there are now, but it was still declining. This was our second disconnect.
Enter Big Agra and Big Food. While not inherently evil (unless you consider all capitalism to be evil), the current state of these two industries has gone far from the roots most of those companies started out with. Generally speaking, many of the well established brands out there started out in someone’s kitchen and grew. Then, as happens in business, they were bought out by large corporations who wanted the name more than anything. They minimized costs (aka cheap chemicals) to maximize revenue that kept their shareholders happy. Now, these corporations have lobbyists who work to get laws passed that will benefit them the most but more on that later.
American Food Ignorance
Americans are consumers, more so than other countries, with many factors playing into it. We want fast, easy, and convenient. We want shiny, flashy, bold, sparkle, and something that outwardly says “I’m well to do and can keep up with the Jones’.” We are catered to with the idea that the easier it makes our lives, the more it’s worth because it ‘saves’ you time. And time is money, right?
Americans have become so incredibly disconnected from their food source, let alone the processing, that it truly has reached epidemic proportions. Dictionary.com defines epidemic as, “a rapid spread or increase in the occurrence of something” when used as a noun. In this case, we are dealing with a Ignorance Epidemic and sadly enough, it’s on one of the most important things in our lives: Food! You kind of need it to survive.
I recently read a quote by Gavin Nascimento that really summed it up well:
“If we aren’t being taught how to grow our own food, how to take care of ourselves and our families, and how to live without the need for huge governments, banks or corporations – as out ancestors once did – then we aren’t being educated; We are being indoctrinated to be dependent and subservient to the system.”
I realize that people could pick this apart and argue semantics all day long. The message I personally took from it is the last bit as it really hit home. When you think about the news over the last few years, an interesting pattern emerges and a rather unpleasant picture is painted.
- A small minority of the population knows about preserving food (other than a freezer).
- A small minority of the population knows how to successfully grow and harvest food.
- It is illegal to sell raw milk in any form in 20 states. Only 13 states allow the sale of raw milk in retail stores.
- Laws across the country against food gardens, chickens, goats, and even clotheslines.
- Ranchers and other livestock raisers being raided, animals slaughtered to be tested for disease (and finding none but financially ruining the owners. No compensation).
- The “Organic” label requires you prove to the government that you did NOT use certain chemicals, versus the ‘normal’ use of chemicals by Big Agra farms.
- Legislation against living ‘off grid’ where you provide your own electricity, water, etc.
I could go on but I think you get the idea. We, as a country, have had our independence taken from us a bit at a time. Then, it’s packaged and sold back to us as convenience. We don’t “need” to teach gardening, food preservation, repair skills, or any of the things that a mere 100 years ago was considered “must have” knowledge to survive. The stores have all we need, just go get a job to pay for it all. Yes, I realize that times have changed and our world is much different now. The one thing that does not change is the importance of being able to provide and really take care of yourself and your family. No person can do it all, but when there’s only one person in a 5 block radius that knows how to use a pressure canner to preserve carrots, that’s a problem. A big problem.
Do you realize that there are people out there who actually believe, in their hearts, that butchering your own livestock is cruelty? They say that we should, instead, get our meat from the grocery store where “No animals are harmed.” Let that sink in. If THAT doesn’t prove to you that people are completely disconnected and clueless about how it works, nothing will. You can stop reading now because nothing I say will wake you up and you are part of the problem. ANYONE who is a free thinker and can use the internet will easily find out the conditions our ‘meat’ lives in before being sent to the market for us to buy in packages. It’s deplorable, heartbreaking, and a crime. Money is more important than health of the animals – and by extension – US.
The disconnection between us and our food, where it comes from, how it is produced in the first place, is widening as the generation count increases from the time before grocery stores came into being (1940s). People don’t have any idea about actual production of food other than it’s either grown in the dirt or raised on a livestock ranch/farm/warehouse. My great grandmother knew all the skills for self-sufficiency and what she didn’t have mastery in, she knew someone who did. My grandmother knew how to make jams and jellies and smoke/jar salmon but she looooved her microwave. My mother had an idea of making jams and water bath canning, would smoke fish but freeze it. When it came to me, I wasn’t really exposed to much of that. Smoking and canning fish, yes, but I never did any of it; at least not enough to remember doing much of it. I tasted the jam, but didn’t make it. I was taught how to cook whole foods, just in really unhealthy ways. In school, I was taught about the food pyramid but never taught how to COOK in healthy ways.
…when there’s only one person in a 5 block radius that knows how to use a pressure canner to preserve carrots, that’s a problem. A big problem.
I used to joke that if I was stuck in a health food store, I would starve. I didn’t know what even 25% of the stuff on the shelves was, let alone how to cook it or what to make with it. I wish so badly I had started my self-sufficient lifestyle switch earlier in life but since I can’t go back, I just keep moving forward and hope that I can pass the skills and ideas on. If people only realized how much money they can save by making their own… of course, that means taking time away from the cell phone screen and television. Even suggesting that to some people sends them into panic attacks as they clutch their phone closer to their chests.
When I think about America’s food system, I get angry. I understand the FDA and the USDA were created to protect the masses and set standards but all that has changed. Lobbyists sway bills into laws that will benefit the companies paying them, not the general populace. Expiration dates are arbitrarily put on packages specifically to get you to buy more once the date has passed. With the exception of baby formula, the USDA does not regulate any of the dates printed on food. On top of that, I am limited on what I can do to provide for myself because of their rules and that makes me even more mad. It’s easier to buy from the store, no doubt about it. The thing is, the human body can survive and is designed to keep going, even with crap food. Even with “cheese product” being put into our stomachs. (Don’t get me wrong, I used to love Velveeta….until all I tasted was the chemicals after so long not having any). Just because we can survive on mystery meat and chemical sauce doesn’t mean we should.
Now, I don’t claim to be any sort of expert in the area of food, but I do claim to be a free thinking individual with the powers of observation. The intent of this article is not to fear monger, not to convince people to ‘my way of thinking,’ and certainly not to make some political statement. The intent is to get people thinking, asking questions, looking around at their neighborhoods and systems and ask the question, “Could it be better?” I really think it can. We just need enough people to stand up and tell the government that we’re taking back our right to grow food, catch rain water; especially if it’s our property. We are taking back our basic human rights to provide for ourselves. To be denied the right to catch water falling from the sky on your property is not freedom. To be forced to use any service is not freedom.
A Short History of Convenience Foods
Raw Milk Laws, State by State