Food. Without it we cannot survive – we all know that, it is an integral part of every single human being’s life – but does that mean it needs to be the central focus of our every day lives?
Society as a whole has become obsessed with food, what to eat – or not to eat, where to eat, when to eat, there is no escaping it. You can’t open your front door without seeing something about food, from flyers left on your step to adverts on buses, taxis and billboards, it’s in your face all the time. Click onto your Facebook and there it is, adverts, games, posts from friends, news articles, videos, it’s just food, food food, cats and food.
But why advertise food? Surely if we need it we are going to buy it anyway, right?
There in lies the problem: foods being advertised are not “real” food, they are processed, packages and completely adulterated. When was the last time you saw an advert for a carrot or and apple but I will bet in the last week you have seen at least one billboard singing the praises of the latest chocolate bar, fast food burger or ready meal to hit supermarket shelves.
So how did we get here? We have all seen the articles, watched the news stories and documentaries, heard the horror stories, and yet when ever we walk into a supermarket it’s all there, rows and rows of jars, cans and boxes packed full of who knows what…why is it still there? Why has no one stopped it?
The History of Processed Food
Think back to what you know of pre 1910 – you’re going to have to call on your high school history lessons here – and take a moment to consider what people ate. There were no microwave meals, food did not come in packets and if you wanted to eat you had to make it yourself. There were no huge supermarkets that sold everything under the sun, you went to the greengrocer for your vegetables, the butcher for your meat, the bakery for bread and to the local shop for your flour and dry goods. The only vegetables you could get was what was in season, you would have very rarely eaten out at a restaurant and food was prepared with love and care in your kitchen at home. This meant people were healthier with less food allergies, intolerances and sensitivities, in fact they were almost unheard of.
By the 1910s trans fats started making an appearance in our food with products like Hellman’s Mayonnaise, Aunt Jemima’s Syrup, Crisco and Oreos starting to make an appearance on store shelves in America but for the most part people still shopped and cooked as they had before, using real ingredients. There was also a great importance put on family dinners and sitting down to eat together at the table at the end of every day.
When the 1920s rolled around there were huge changes in the people prepared food. With World War One came canned and frozen foods as well as bottled condiments and sauces, women began entering the workforce and had less and less time to cook for their families as they had before – people started looking for more convenient ways to save time in the kitchen. Gas stoves and electric refrigerators entered the market along with other kitchen appliances deemed to make the housewife’s life easier which meant more types of food could be bought, stored and cooked with minimal effort. Suddenly things like Wonder Bread, Yoo-hoo, Kool-Aid, Velveta and Reeses Peanut Butter Cups were readily available in stores and started to become a part of the every day diet.
With the world in the throws of The Great Depression in the 1930s the food industry boomed, finding ways to make our produce go further and last longer was the aim of the game. Food companies started finding ways to make everyday items cheaper, last longer and taste better using processed additives. People started eating less meat protein and instead favoured vegetables and beans as they were cheaper and stretched further which lead to the creation of processed meats such as Spam as well as things like Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. This was also the decade in which Col. Sanders first made an appearance with Sanders Court and Cafe in Kentucky (yes, KFC has been around since the 1930s).
By the 1940s war was raging across the world once again and food was being rationed in order to make sure everyone had enough, things like dehydrated juice and milk, instant coffee and cake mix started making an appearance. After the war ended these products stuck around even as food production and agriculture started to righten itself because consumers loved the convenience they provided. This was also the decade in which McDonalds first opened it’s doors, fuelling the desire for convenient food, it was the start of the fast food revolution, people began eating out more, grabbing a bite on the go and cooking less and less.
Once the war was over and the need for processed food had dwindled what we were left with was a want, people realised that they didn’t have to spend an hour in the kitchen when they could just buy foods ready made in a tin or just add water to what ever was in a bag, it was the start of our lazy food habits – after all, the ready made stuff tasted better right? But why? Thanks to government subsidies for corn and soy farmers started growing more and more of these high yield crops which lead to and increase in the production and use of things like high fructose corn syrup and soy bean oil in almost all packaged goods.
The 1950s saw a boom in fast and convenience foods, suddenly people had microwaves in their homes, remotes for their televisions and ready-to-eat food was available everywhere. Women had started working more, meaning less time at home to cook, clean and tend to the needs of their families so quick and easy dinner options were a welcome part of their lifestyle.
It was a decade of wow, where everything was new and improved – food tasted better than ever and required no effort and the Ad Men were more than happy to tell you just that. The 50s saw a huge boom in television advertising and most of it was based around processed foods, from cereal to cake mix, TV dinners to Tang there was no escaping the almost brainwashing amount of advertising.
By the time we entered the swinging 60s the food scene was changing; there was a boom in vegetarianism, people were suddenly obsessed with ethnic cuisine, fondues and barbecues were all the rage and Julia Childs was proving that anyone could learn to cook. The food industry had come on leaps and bounds in storage, treatment and processing with the introduction of aluminum cans for food and beverages, and irradiation to sterilise fruits and vegetables. This was the decade of the soda can.
Cooking in the 1970s could not have been simpler as companies started creating what I like to call “cheat foods”, things like Hamburger Helper, stuffing mix and ready mix sauces, reducing time spent in the kitchen and allowing people more time in front of the TV. The number of families eating on the sofa was outweighing those taking to the dining table and people the world over were starting to put on weight; enter the Lite era.
“Diet” and “Lite” products started hitting the shelves, with reduced sugar and fat (and instead chemical substitutes which cause more harm than good) these alternatives started to become all the rage. We also saw an increase in the use of high-fructose corn syrup and the banning of Red Dye No. 2.
Food suddenly took on some very interesting colours in the 1980s, with cereals, candy and drinks that matched the luminous neon fashion of the time; companies started experimenting with artificial flavours and colours and there was a increase in the advertising of food to children and for the first time in history the profits from grocery items sales were eclipsing those of agricultural products and people were less interested in real food than ever.
It was in this decade that the FDA approved the use of aspartame, the artificial sweetener, the first genetically engineered crop was grown and in America ketchup could now be counted as a vegetable in school lunch programs.
The 90s started off with the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act which required all packaged food to have standard nutritional information on the label but it was also the decade where we saw an increase in GMO foods on the market. Though it wasn’t all bad, Thai food and anything “fusion” gained popularity, plus the increased interest in gourmet food stuffs showed promise for the “real food” market.
By the 2000s low-fat and fat-free products were everywhere and people were cutting carbs left, right and centre – even the ones that are good for you. We saw the emergence of unhealthy diet plans like the South-Beach diet and everyone started going gluten-free (even when they didn’t need to). Slowly the media started warning us about the dangers of processed food and documentaries like Super Size Me were scaring people into giving up fast food – for a time at least; people started demanding organic produce from their local supermarket and “superfoods” became everyone’s favourite buzzword.
By 2008 the recession had taken it’s toll and many people went back to cooking at home rather than eating out – a combination of knowledge, fear and lack of money meant people were opting for shopping and cooking over take out and convenience foods.
More than 100 years later and here we are: 2010s the decade of obsession. We have come almost full circle back to real food only now it seems to be more of a fad that just something we do. This has been the decade of excessive information and conflicting opinions. The internet offers us so much information we just don’t know what’s right anymore, do we eat gluten or not? Do we use sugar or honey? Should I be eating paleo or vegan? Who knows any more.
Despite all the movement back towards real food we still have supermarkets full of products with more chemicals in than ever before. Big Food companies have found their way around legislations and loop holes in rules and laws to keep certain ingredients off packages and health problems out of the news, we are still being fooled into thinking everything we buy in the store are good for us. Everyone is going gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, meat-free, sugar-free (apparently everything is free) and it is becoming obsessive.
Lets take a moment and look at our grandparents, for the most part they were a lot healthier than we are now; there were fewer allergies and intolerances, less anxiety and depression and less learning difficulties. Yes there are instances of adult onset diabetes and cancers but these numbers aren’t much better now. But why is that? As we can see from the timeline, even in the 30s and 40s people were eating processed foods, so why were they so much better off than we are now?
For starters they ate seasonally and cooked from scratch, they rarely went out to eat and home delivery was unheard of. Food was only eaten if it could be grown naturally and that means no GMOs, additives, antibiotics or hormones were added to their produce. People treated food as fuel, you ate what you needed to get through the day and when you were hungry, there were no restrictions or diets – food marketing was minimal if at all and so, for the most part, they had a healthy metabolism.
Everyone has probably experienced their grandparents trying to feed them all sorts of odd food – I’ve had everything from liver and onions to duck tongues offered to me – and why? Because people used to eat the whole animal and live by the rule “waste not, want not” and this included the bones and offal, some of the most nutrient dense parts of the animal. People believed in using food to heal, one sign of the sniffles didn’t send your grandparents running for the doctors clinic but rather sent them to bed with a bowl of soup and a blanket to sleep and rest while their body – aided by the food – sorted itself out. The clinic was reserved for injuries, serious illness and near death not because Timmy has a bit of a cold – oh and they didn’t chug antibiotics like they were going out of fashion either.
That is not to say that everything about the way we eat now is wrong; obviously over time we have realised the dangers of certain foods and the benefits of moderation but why have we lost so much of the way we used to eat?
Adulteration of food is defined as the addition or subtraction of any substance to or from food, so that the natural composition and quality of the original food substance is affected. It is difficult for the consumer to detect the extent of adulteration. Adulteration of foods can either be intentional, unintentional or natural.
A big part of modern issues with food comes from the adulteration of what we eat, in India it has been reported that 25% to 30% of all foods sold in the country have been intentionally adulterated by manufacturers and with the growing number of consumers and increasing demand for packaged foods the numbers will only keep going up. By modifying what we eat with chemicals, sugars, fats and salt these companies are creating addictive foods that are often devoid of much (if any) nutrition, these lead to cravings and increased hunger meaning we buy more and more to satisfy what we perceive to be a need for these foods when it is actually an addiction. It’s all about the money for these companies.
When you consider how much time and money Big Food puts into advertising their products to us you start to question why. Food is not a new concept by any means so what do they need to sell?
Think about all the ways we are advertised to now, it’s not just TV commercials but you’ll find ads on road side billboards, lamp posts, internet ads popping up on your news feeds, product placement in movies and TV shows, celebrity or influencer endorsements, print ads in magazines, newspapers and flyers hung on your door handle or placed on your car windscreen. There is no escaping it – in the last week alone I have had over 10 text messages from various restaurants and fast food outlets in Dubai offering me discounts or informing me of promotions and events.
None of these are adverts for nutritious foods, they are mostly candy, cereals, sodas, fast food restaurants and the like and they are slowly brainwashing us into craving what they’re peddling.
By constantly seeing these food adverts everywhere we look it is keeping our minds on the food we think we want, we struggle to think about anything else and start planning our next meal there and then. Just scrolling through Facebook is bad enough with article after article of click-bait titled “news” related to what we should or shouldn’t be eating but then there are all the videos and photos of smoothie bowls, freak shakes, burgers, salads and what ever else is the latest trend. The Facebook channel Tasty has over 30 million followers and regularly posts mouthwatering recipes – normally involving bacon, cheese, chocolate or alcohol – that last less than a minute and will leave you craving because food videos are the new cat videos: fact.
So is there any question about the intentions of food producers? The more we think about food the more likely we are to spend money on it, even if we don’t have that cash to burn. A huge portion of every country’s economy depends on the food industry in one way or another so it is in everyone’s best interests to sell, sell, sell regardless of the consequences, no matter how confused people are by what they should or should not be eating.
Do you ever just take a minute and stop and think: I have no idea what I can eat.
Here’s the secret, you can eat pretty much what ever you want as long as you listen to your body and give it the nutrition it is craving. A surprising number of us are in what is known as nutritional poverty. When people believe calories are all that matter – which leads to them often eating too few calories, like those in Weight Watchers and the like. These are people who pay attention to quantity over quality and as a result increase their chances of becoming nutrient deficient. This causes the Nutritional Poverty trigger, where you think you are constantly hungry in the hopes of leading you to find food that is more nutrient and calorie dense to fuel your body.
All you need to remember is that your body needs every food group, you cannot cut out carbs or fat entirely, you need to fuel your body with the good stuff, healthy, real stuff and that is all. Eat food that is safe, buy ingredients in the shop and make your food at home and nine times out of ten anything with more than three ingredients is not real food.
Don’t allow yourself to remain obsessed, break the cycle; not everything in life is about food, fuel your body, love it and keep it healthy but remember, it’s about more than what’s on your plate at the end of the day.