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Real Food: A look through the 20th century and how our diets have changed (Part 2)

Posted Mar 14 2011 8:51am

Check out my introduction to this new Real Food Series and Part 1 if you haven't already.

1950's - 1990's

By the middle of the 20th century farming was transforming in ways it never had. Private family farms were quickly diminishing and being replaced with large, corporate, mono-cultural farms. As farms continued to increase in size farmers were eliminating hay and meadows from the planting rotation cycle that had been used in the past. Animals where no longer used as a part of the farming process and instead were separated out and put on to farms of their own. Chemical fertilizers were also becoming widely available and understandably so because they allowed farmers to increase their crop yield and better meet the demand for inexpensive food.

The use of supplemental nutrients to increase crop yield started as trial and error in the form of wood ashes, ground bones, salt peter, and gypsum. Justus von Liebig (1803–1873), a German chemist, laid the foundation for the use of chemical fertilizers as a source of plant nutrients starting in 1840. He recognized the importance of various mineral elements derived from the soil in plant nutrition and the necessity of replacing those elements in order to maintain soil fertility. Two British scientists, J.B. Lawes and J.H. Gilbert, in turn established the agricultural experiment station at Rothamsted, in the United Kingdom. They built on the work of Liebig and experimentally demonstrated the importance of chemical fertilizers in improving and maintaining soil fertility. In fact, the application of synthetic fertilizers was the basis of the global increase in agricultural production after World War II.
~Pollution Issues: Agriculture 
While chemical fertilizers were gaining in popularity, information about organic farming was very gradually entering the market, too. J.I. Rodale had begun publishing his periodical Organic Gardening and Farming in 1942. While not initially popular, when his ideas met with the ideas of those from the counterculture era that began in the 60’s, organic farming gained momentum. In all reality many farms were organic simply by the nature of farming prior to chemical use, but it didn't take long for there to be a need to specify the difference between farm practices. 


Ancel Keys, http://bit.ly/fpbaaY
During the earlier part of the 50's, the controversial scientist Ancel Keys, shared his findings from his Seven Country Study . Through this and his other work, Keys concluded that cholesterol and saturated fat were linked to heart disease and by decreasing them, one would then decrease their chances of heart disease. Keys' research changed much of how people thought about food and although his Seven Country Study was flawed in various ways, his ideas gained momentum. To this day there are great debates about the accuracy of Keys work and whether heart disease can so easily be associated to cholesterol and saturated fats. Many of the standard ideas about fat and the idea that saturated fat should be avoided stems from Keys' research.

As incomes increased and food, homes and technology became more affordable in the 1950’s, Americans continued to consume greater and greater amounts of commercially processed foods. In general, food had never been easier to prepare than in the 50’s. The average time spent in the kitchen had now dropped down to under 20 hours per week. The first frozen meals (TV dinners) were introduced and more prepackaged foods made their way into the home. Even cookbooks were geared towards canned, frozen and powdered foods. With the public applauding the new innovations to food, despite the tremendous increase in additives, a certain amount of nutritional complacency was growing, until in 1958 the Delaney Clause was added to The Pure Food and Drug Act. The clause required the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to test new additives for safety.

Photo from http://bit.ly/fuiw52
There continued to be an increase in women heading into the workforce. Interestingly enough magazines, newspapers and television showed women as happy homemakers who rarely left the home, although the statistics showed otherwise. More women (singles, wives and mothers) continued to move away from working at home as the primary homemaker to instead joining the growing workforce. As to be expected, meals had to be simpler to compensate for the time that was being dedicated to other aspects of life.

Lyndon Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act http://bit.ly/tHC7s
The 1960’s and 70’s saw the change of the woman's role in the home solidified. In 1964 the Civil Rights Act was implemented. Not only was discrimination outlawed against racial minorities, but also for the basis of sex.

“At the same time, the women’s liberation movement led to a rethinking of gender roles. People of both sexes came increasingly to see careers for women as a viable alternative to women as full-time homemakers. By 1980, more than half of women over 16 were in the labor force. Similarly, public opinion began to look with favor on men who shared housekeeping and child care with their wives. This included kitchen duty. Men whose cooking expertise had been limited to the outside grill or the can opener began to take a deeper interest in cooking.”
~ “ Cooking Trends Echo Changing Roles of Women ” by Douglas E. Bowers

Modern kitchen conveniences continued to flood the market. Appliances of every sort were developed in an attempt to help make food preparation easier and quicker. Along the same lines, fast food restaurants began to be popular. As more people not only had less time to spend in the kitchen, but also found it difficult or even undesirable to spend time preparing food, they could at least head out to an affordable fast-food restaurant to pick up their meal and eat it in the car or at home. By 1975 the average amount of time spent in meal preparation and cleanup was only 10 hours. What a change from the 44+ hours in 1900.
While there was a drive towards more food conveniences, there was also a reviving interest in home cooking. The popular cook, Julia Child, promoted preparing delicious meals from scratch and re-introduced many to using fresh ingredients at home. Gourmet cooking was becoming “in-style” especially as immigrants shared their ethnic cuisines with Americans and the American palate expanded.

During the first part of the 70's there was a greater demand for farm commodities causing farm prices to increase faster than their expenses, which then greatly increased farm income. In 1970 farm income had been $48.4 billion, however by 1973 it had nearly doubled to a record high of $92.1 billion.
"The combination of rising farm income and high inflation caused the value of farmland to escalate, while at the same time a ready availability of credit caused farm debt to rise sharply. In the late 1970s, however, the boom period came to an end: interest rates soared after the Federal Reserve Board tightened monetary policy to fight inflation, and changing conditions in worldwide supply and demand caused export demand for farm commodities to decrease sharply. Real farm income fell to $22.8 billion in 1980 and to $8.2 billion in 1983; and in 1981 prices for farmland began a dramatic contraction." 
~ Banking and Agriculture Problems of the 1980's
While the idea of organic farming was still fairly new to most, countless people were trying to educate its importance, especially as it became known how damaging chemical fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides could be on the environment, in particularly to our water.
"Awareness of the consequences of modern farm practices led to pesticide regulation and created growing consumer demand for food grown without ecologically destructive and toxic chemicals. Many consumers considered organic food to be one such alternative." ~Brief History of Organic Farming and the National Organic Program by Brian Baker
In 1972, the Rodale Press established the first organic standards and certification program and by the late 70's several states were passing laws about organic farming. Rodale also helped in the establishment of the California Certified Organic Farmers and Oregon-Washington Tilth Organic Producers Association

1980's Farm Crisis - Photo from Land Stewardship Project
The great farm crisis of the 1980's helped further establish some organic farms, in part because farms became organic out of neglect.
"In the early 1970s, lowered trade barriers coupled with record Soviet purchases of American grain resulted in a sharp increase in agricultural exports. Farm incomes and commodity prices soared. The removal of restrictions on Federal Land Bank lending, coupled with increased lending by other entities for farmland purchases in the Seventies, led to rising land values. Conveniently low interest rates persuaded many farmers -- and would-be farmers -- to go deeply into debt on the assumption that commodity prices and land values would continue to rise. Farm household income had been below the national average in the 1960s; in the next decade it was higher than the national average for every year except one. But it would return to the 1960s levels in the Eighties. The agricultural "boom" didn't last long." ~ The Midwest Farm Crisis of the 1980's by Jason Manning
Photo from The Daily Nightly
In the end, after the great farm bust, many farms were forced to file bankruptcy and were foreclosed on. It had been since the 1930's during the Great Depression that people had seen so many farms go under. Through the process, some larger-scale bankrupt farms stopped their chemical use out of basic necessity to save money. This ultimately worked to their advantage as farmers found that there were buyers willing to pay a premium for their now organic product, even if it was organic from neglect. "These farms were possibly the first to go organic for strictly economic reasons and were of considerably larger scale than the organic farms that existed prior to their entry into the organic sector. Their market entry made the organic sector more competitive with conventional agriculture. The ability of these farmers to produce without chemical inputs, their rapid expansion of the organic market, and their obvious profitability gained the attention of other nonorganic farmers who faced financial difficulties." ~Brief History of Organic Farming and the National Organic Program by Brian Baker As the 80's moved forward the trend for convenience food continued. It was easy to purchase every meal out with the accommodating fast food restaurants and for those who still chose to eat at home, the grocery store was packed full of pre-made and easy-to-prepare dishes.

With increased concern over heart disease and obesity, the 80's saw the beginning of the low fat trend that was first encouraged by Ancel Keys and his research. Food manufacturers were quick to change the way their processed food was made and in no time packaging had its "low fat" stamp of approval. This corresponded with the increase in nutrient information on packaging as well. Companies tried to differentiate their product by doting their nutrient and low-fat information, and consumers were openly ready to embrace the new popular wave of nutrition thinking of the time.
"According to nutrition writer and biologist Elaine McIntosh, the 1980's was a period of 'tremendous growth in the prominence of nutrition and dietetics. The word 'nutrition' was launched into the headlines more than in any previous decade.' Food companies took their cue from nutrition's mainstreaming and introduced more and more products that claimed to have less fat, fewer calories, and lower cholesterol, while at the same time providing more nutritional values such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals." ~ America's Fascination With Nutrition by Dennis Roth
The 90's saw the continuation of many of the same food trends of the 80', though there was a growing desire to learn how to be 'healthy" both through lifestyle and diet. People were beginning to recognize, at least to a point that certain processed foods were hindering their desire for being healthy, although packaged and commercially processed foods continued to flood the market.

Women were still the primary cooks in the home, however it was becoming more common to see men helping. The "traditional" family that our grandparents and before were familiar with was fading into the past as 70% of married women with children were now in the workforce. There was also a continuing rise in one parent household. In 1960 approximately 9.1% of households had only one parent, by 1998 that number had risen to 27.3%. (" Cooking Trends Echo Changing Roles of Women " by Douglas Bowers)

One of the biggest changes of the 90's to our food and most specifically to farming was the approval of the first genetically modified Organism (GMO) for food consumption. In 1992 the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) gave the okay for the commercial production of the Calgene's Flavr Savr tomato. The tomato was designed to rot more slowly so that it could ripen longer on the vine before being picked and shipped to be sold to consumers. Then in 1996 Monsanto began selling its Roundup Ready Soybeans "providing farmers with in-seed herbicide tolerance to Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides." ( Monsanto Company History ) In 1997 Roundup Ready Canola was introduced followed by Roundup Ready Corn in 1998.  As of 2000, farmers within the United States were growing 68% of all GM crops world wide.
"Globally, acreage of GM crops has increased 25-fold in just 5 years, from approximately 4.3 million acres in 1996 to 109 million acres in 2000 - almost twice the area of the United Kingdom. Approximately 99 million acres were devoted to GM crops in the U.S. and Argentina alone." 
~ " Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful? " by Deborah B. Whitman
 There are many heated debates about whether or not genetically modified crops are truly safe and there is a growing concern about the impact they may have on the environment as more and more farmers are choosing to use them over traditional crops.

As we continue into the 21st century, more people are stepping up to the plate to share information about the downfall of the American diet. Even when people make greater efforts to eat whole, unprocessed foods and do their best to incorporate a well balanced diet into their lifestyle, our soils are now depleted of vital minerals and other valuable nutrients, leaving even our whole foods a sad replacement to their counterparts from even 50 years ago.

I hope that each of you reading this will stay tuned to see the information I have to share concerning how our food has changed since the time of our great grandparents and before. The food we consume today may look the same, but on the nutritional level it's lacking many of the necessities we need to maintain healthy bodies. This is especially critical to our children who's growing bodies and brains need the essential vitamins and minerals in whole food. If you combine the lack of nutrients available in our whole foods with the amount of commercially processed and fast food we eat, it's no wonder the state of our health is where it is. However, let it be said that it does not have to remain this way. We can take an active stance to educate ourselves, support farmers who grow organic, mineral rich, nutritious real food and feed our bodies less of what the commercial advertisers claim to be healthy and more of what God gave us from the beginning of the creation of this Earth.

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