The Industrialization of Food: A Curse or a Blessing?

I wrote this for my History of Food class (arguing if the industrialization of food is improving with way modern people eat), and thought I would share it:

Although I agree that increasing access to a greater variety of foods might suggest that people are better nourished today than in the past, I believe that industrialization of food has not improved the way modern people eat. It is true that modern people living in brisk winters or secluded geographic locations now have access to a greater variety of foods than pre-industrialized populations ever imagine possible. However, I do not think that alone is sufficient evidence to establish modern people as being better nourished. Thanks to the industrialization of food, people are now consuming more processed foods (as opposed to whole foods) than ever before, which is facilitating the consumption of sugars and fasts, leading to several health concerns in modern society.

Before industrialization, people primarily consumed whole foods, which were produced locally, free from preservatives or additives. Modern people are now consuming processed, pre-packaged and canned foods that are filled with sugars and preservatives to keep them palatable through transportation and longer shelf-lives. On the rise of industrial processing of food, the Chinese used salt to preserve fish and soy sauce as Europeans and North Americans canned goods with preservatives and chemicals that at first had unknown health effects. Once it became evident that canned foods contained metals and meats contained antiseptics (among other examples of food safety hazards), health concerns were more acknowledged. Industrial processing offered facilitation of the consumption of sugars, fats, and meats, which presented several health issues including heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Even worse, these health issues as well as dietary norms are passed on to children.

Additionally, the industrialization of food has turned food production into a business that essentially cares less about health and more about economic profit. To explain this concept in simple terms, the rise of industrial processing has greatly increased the distance between the producer and the consumer. As a result, consumers, who once were in charge of judging food quality and freshness, are now forced to trust labels on packages and cans. As for the producers, they are now shipping goods to warehouses (as opposed to independent markets), which contributes to the loss of connection between the consumer and their food. In the eyes of both the producer and the consumer, food has simply become a commodity in modern society as opposed to a source of fuel; a view which was primarily held the pre-industrialized middle-class. Furthermore, there is an aspect of efficiency that has become very appealing to modern people. The faster people can prepare their food, the more time they have to work, socialize, and perform their daily activities. Even pasta sauce, one of the easiest foods to make using whole foods, has become a standard processed store-bought product.

To conclude, between the increasing consumption of processed foods leading to several health issues, the loss of connection between producer and consumer, and the appealing nature of processed goods to the modern consumer, industrialization has not improved the way modern people eat.

Image source: http://www.romaniajournal.ro/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/supermarket.jpg

 

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