Monday, July 06, 2009

Food Fads

I found the following excerpt to be quite enlightening considering the environmentalist's push to eliminate industrial farming, make all food local, and the desire to eliminate trucking and shipping of food long distances. It is from Isaac Asimov's Guide to Science Volume 2: The Biological Sciences (1975).

Food fads and superstitions unhappily still delude too many people--and spawn too many cure-everything best sellers--even in these enlightened times. In fact, it is perhaps because these times are enlightened that food faddism is possible. Through most of man's history, his food consisted of whatever could be produced in the vicinity, of which there usually was no very much. It was eat what there was to eat or starve; no one could afford to be choosy, and without choosiness there can be no food faddism.

Modern transportation has made it possible to ship food form any part of the earth to any other, particularly since the use of large-scale refrigeration has arisen. This reduced the threat of famine, which, before modern times, was invariably local, with neighbouring provinces loaded with food that could not be transported to the famine area.

Home storage of a variety of foods became possible as early man learned to preserve foods by drying, salting, increasing the sugar content, fermenting, and so on. It became possible to preserve food in states closer to the original when methods of storing cooked food in vacuum were developed. (The cooking kills micro-organisms and the vacuum prevents others from growing and reproducing.) Vacuum storage was first made practical by a French chef, Francois Appert, who developed the technique in response to a prize offered by Napoleon I for a way of preserving food for his armies. Appert made use of glass jars, but nowadays tin-lined steel cans (inappropriately call 'tin cans' or just 'tins') are used for the purpose. Since the Second World War, fresh-frozen food has become popular and the growing number of home freezers has further increased the general availability and variety of fresh foods. Each broadening of food availability has increased the practicality of food faddism.

All this is not to say that a shrewd choice of food may not be useful. There are certain cases in which specific food will definitely cure a particular disease. In every instance, these are 'deficiency diseases', diseases produced by the lack in the diet of some substance essential to the body's chemical machinery. These arise almost invariably when a person is deprived of a normal, balanced diet--one containing a wide variety of foods.

We are wonderfully insulated from cold snaps and droughts when it comes to agriculture. I think it is important to consider the impact of reverting to non-modern techniques in our food supply.

1 comment:

christinemm said...

I am happy to support local farmers even though prices are higher.

However it is unsustainable to force us to all eat local. Some who push this live in places like CA where they can grow a lot more crops year round. Like watching people in sunny CA like Ed Begley of "Living With Ed" bragging of how he doesn't live with a heating system when I, in CT need central heat for a New England winter. Or when he brags on solar energy from roof panels living in the desert of CA but here in CT the same solar panels would not produce enough or the same energy for me due to the different climate and sun here.

Those who preach to buy only locally grown foods are NOT gardeners, not backyard gardeneners even. I dare everyone to grow a backyard garden, see how hard it is to garden organically (which I mostly do except deer sprays and poison ivy killing RoundUp). I dare them to see how hard it is to grow edible foods due to rain, clouds, heat, mildew, and bugs and small and large mammals eating the plants or crops.