Can Our Connection To Food Be Restored?

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By John Bauer, Co-Founder – The Foodery

high lawn farm - general manager Roberto Laurens

Michael Laurens is the general manager of High Lawn Farm in Lee, MA. High Lawn Farm meets The Foodery’s ingredient standards on dairy products.

Before processed and fast foods, all that existed was whole, natural foods that came from vegetable gardens, grain crops and animal farms.  Families had their own farm.  In the 1930’s, with a total US population of 122 million, there were 6.3 million farms.  Farm workers accounted for 30 million Americans which made up 21% of the labor force.  Much of the food grown on American soil was eaten by Americans.  Food labels didn’t exist.  Americans were not concerned with food additives or preservatives – there weren’t any.  Apples were apples.  Home-baked pies were home-baked pies.  These foods were pure and the origins of food could be easily traced to how and where they were harvested.

Things have changed over 85 years.  In 1953, Swanson invented and heavily marketed a new “ready-to-eat” style dinner that could be enjoyed easily while sitting in front of America’s newfound captivation – the television.  “TV Dinners” were created and food-on-the-go started becoming an American trend as highway systems erected and workers began to commute.   Many of the popular processed foods we see today like M&Ms, Cheerios, corn dogs and ranch dressing all originated from the ready-to-eat revolution that was happening during post World War II as the American economy began to re-flourish.  These foods would withstand transportation and a lengthy shelf life giving food producers the ability to transport ingredients through food systems (eventually global food systems) in order to put a product on a consumer shelf for a profit.  America began to demand more convenience with women entering the workforce and food manufacturers quickly evolved their products to sell to this growing convenience economy.

winter moon roots

Michael Docter manages Winter Moon Roots farm in Hadley, MA. Winter Moon Roots supplies The Foodery with ethically-made tortillas.

As companies began expanding their food offerings, the government agencies to regulate them mounted at a significant rate.  The Food and Drug Administration has grown today into a 10,000 employee $4.5 billion dollar department of the Federal Government that now regulates every food safety decision for America (except domestically-raised animal products, that’s the USDA’s job).  The EPA, created in 1970, has quickly grown into 18,000 employees with a $9 billion budget and controls the chemical pesticide approvals in all of our foods.  With corporations pushing for approvals on substances to make their products as tasty and convenient as possible, the FDA, EPA and USDA are work closer than ever with the corporations who push for approval.  With many of the top executives in these federal decision-making positions having previously worked for the companies who push for approval, a demand for transparency has developed.  The Organic Standard began developing in the 1970s as a growing number of consumers felt the need to be personally conscious of products they put in their bodies.  Like the 1940-50s, the 1990s was another decade that further distanced Americans from the origins of their food.  Genetically modified foods made their way though legislative approval when the permission to patent crop seeds became law.  Legislation like the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 has been signed into law shifting the burden of proof to the substance manufacturer to convince the government their products are safe.  With each step our country takes in providing food to each other at a profitable exchange, we see how America’s relationship with food has evolved over time.

There are now 2,000,000 domestic farms and less than 1% of American workers claim farming as their profession. An unsustainable food problem is brewing.  America has a 30% obesity rate among its adults and over a 20% rate among its children.  The American palate has shifted to sugar, salt and fat.  Even the freshest foods can come from across the world and look as fresh as food from a local garden.  Looking back to the beginning of the 20th century, America desperately needs a reconnection to food.

A New Food Revolution
Despite the 80-year decline in America’s relationship with food, a new food revolution is brewing.  Organic food is grown using sustainable practices that respect the soil, food and the consumer.  These foods accounted for $1 billion in sales in 1990.  Today they account for $24 billion in sales and have grown at a rate of 7 times the average of conventional foods.  Restaurant chains like Chipotle have risen to the challenges of America’s food systems and are transparently stating that all of their food is not yet produced in the ways they want it to be – but they are trying.  The CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Program has flourished in big cities allowing urban residents to gain access to locally grown produce by purchasing share of a farm’s future production, thus offsetting the farmer’s risk with guaranteed future sales.  Farmer’s markets continue to gain steam where consumers can make a direct connection between food and producer.  Real farm-to-table food offerings are being made in restaurants from Boston to San Francisco where a sit-down meal is made from local and/or hyper-local ingredients.  There is no substitute for quality.  We’ve known this all along.  “You Are What You Eat” is a true statement – it always has been.  America is starting to become aware of its food challenges as people demand to build back their relationship with the food they eat.  
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©2017 The Foodery.  The Foodery is committed to maintaining its quality standards of the food it produces.  Ethically-grown produce and sustainably raised proteins are cornerstones of The Foodery’s products.