A (very) Brief History of Food

“Don’t eat anything that your great-great-great-Grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food” – Michael Pollan

It may be considered cheating to start off this blog with a Michael Pollan quote. For many of us who closely follow the food industry, sustainable eating, food production and the like, Mr. Pollan is our guru. He is to us who Sri T. Krishnamacharya is to yogis. He’s made the whole thing make sense and he does it using comments like the one above.

It should be obvious by this point, but today, I’m writing about where our food sources come from and how that’s changed over the timespan of civilization and most importantly, how its changed over the last hundred or so years. It can be so difficult to navigate the grocery store with its thousands of products. After all, in modern supermarkets, there are, on average, 42,214

Different products lining the shelves, according to a food retail website. To complicate that, we have many different “helpful” labels including things like “Non-GMO”, “Organic”, “rBST Free”, etc.  Its hard to tell exactly what works and what doesn’t, and it may be more difficult than we think to actually follow Mr. Pollan’s advice, but its certainly not impossible.

The earliest form of ingredients being used to form a different product is bread and soup, and that was in around 10,000 B.C. according to this food history timeline. Then, over the course of the next 11 or so millennia, there is evidence of humans becoming more resourceful, finding out more ways to use ingredients (big shoutout to the guy in the 1st century who thought it would be interesting to try lobster and crab) and making more and more complex foods out of more and more ingredients. People began eating for pleasure rather than necessity, which can be evidenced by cakes and puddings (particularly in England in the 1700’s).

But in the 1910’s (in America) something changed. People demanded food that was out of season. People wanted iceberg lettuce in the winter. Iceberg lettuce only grows in the winter in a small part of America, but lettuce tycoons (yup, that’s a thing) figured out that food could be picked somewhere, refrigerated, and shipped across the country so that the family in Pittsburg in February, could enjoy a fresh salad. Brilliant.

This changed everything though, in that the demand only increased. Soon things were tangshipped everywhere. And that wasn’t inherently bad. However, convenience got the best of folks, and shortly after WWII, housewives (remember, this was the 1950’s, these sorts of things were the “house” wife’s responsibility), were ecstatic that they could have ready to eat meals that you could pop in the microwave. TV dinners were mass produced and distributed. Cheeze whiz became a thing. Food became more and more unrecognizable.

Our public health was declining because of convenience. And, this is where the leading quote would apply. Great-great-great-grandma wouldn’t recognize Cheeze whiz. Don’t eat it.

But here’s where it gets tricky. At this point in history, food had become a full-fledged industry. People were dedicated to finding better and better ways to make more money at the risk of public health. It makes sense that the next step toward this is a genetically modified organism. In 1973 a few folks get the idea that we can make man-made DNA. In 1994, the first genetically modified food hit the shelf in the form of a tomato. Particularly Flavr Savr Tomato, a genetically modified tomato that doesn’t spoil as fast as others. Shortly before the turn of the millennium, 100 million acres worldwide are seeded with genetically engineered seeds. These seeds are generally designed to produce more, produce quicker, and be more pest resistant. Sounds great. And the market thought it was.

But is it?

There are an incredibly many arguments both for and against GMO plants (and even animals), and the point of this blog isn’t to argue one way or the other. However, I will point out simple science, and that is that modified genetics will continue to modify. Even out of our control. This is why we have pet dogs, and why we live in houses and drive cars rather than in caves. That’s the reason we exist at all. So, we don’t have control over something. Things have worked for a very long time and it seems silly to think we can come in, start messing with a structure perfected over millions of years, with only positive side effects. David Williams, a cellular biologist can back this up.

Its hard to find foods that don’t contain GMOs. Its hard to find food that hasn’t been modified from its original source. For some, it might be hard to pass up the dinner that comes dehydrated in a box. But, the more you seek out natural food that you can track its source (many higher-end grocery stores have contact info available for farms and producers of produce, meat, and seafood) and the more you stick to single ingredients that haven’t been altered, the more of a step in the right direction you’re taking. A step in this direction has huge health benefits to you and your family, to local economies, and to the global community in general.

I’m sure that would make your great-great-great-grandma quite happy.

Is organic food worth it

Today, when we are shopping in the grocery store we can find there are a lot of fruits and vegetables are claim they are organic food, there are even some fried potato chips are putting the “organic” sign in their bag packing and tell consumers they are made from organic potato’s. Usually they have higher price than the natural or non- GMO foods. When we are facing so many choices in the grocery, we will always think about is the organic food worth the money or should I purchase natural food or non – GMO foods to save money. The fox news even provides us ten reasons why organic food is expensive .

 

What is organic food, why we buy themimages.jpg

 

The clear definition of organic is “organic produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones.” The National organic program (USDA) is in charge the legally defined of the organic food. So we can always see the USADA signs in the food packing. Because the organic food is always selling higher price, there are some companies join a food organization and mislead consumers to buy their products. Some consumers buy organic food because they think the organic food taste better, others think the organic food has more nutritious. There are many gourmet cooking websites will recommend you choose organic food when you are cooking, because they are tastier. Because organic food grows without pesticides, the food may contain more natural taste. When we are growing seasonal vegetable in our backyard we will definitely feel they will taste better. The article from national geographic website provides us evidence that why the organic food tastes better: “in the fruit or vegetable, at the expense of flavor-producing, healthful antioxidants. The study additionally found cadmium, a toxic metal contaminant, to be about 50% lower in organic crops than in conventional foods.”that means organic food has better taste because the grow environment.

Food producer will often neglect the phenomenon, too much pesticides will cause land pollutions. They are setting their profit in the first place but forget to pay attention environment around us. The other important reason is organic food companies are trying to bring their value back to community and society for example we all familiar with the brand “organic valley” they are join in a waste reduction scheme. “In the last year the Coop reduced waste by 25% by diverting more than 100,000lbs of waste from landfills in addition to investing in water and energy conservation.

Why organic food cost more

We all meet the situation, when there are two same vegetables, one is natural the other one is organic, but if the organic is on sale, the price the same of natural one. We will be more likely to purchase the organic one. There is evidence discuss about why organic food cost more. First we need to know that 100% organic means using only organic ingredients. This is often labelled single integrated item. Like fruits or eggs. Organic products mean there are at least 90% of ingredients. Made from organic foods means that there are at least 75% ingredients. Organic food requires more resources to produced, because they are not industrialized. The same kind of vegetables will be produce less amount than the industrialized vegetables. And sometimes the food size is much smaller than the industrialized vegetables. For an organic produce company, they need to add more manpower and use more expensive environmentally fertilizer.

 

The Importance of Food Safety

Food safety is always our first consideration when we are shopping in grocery stores, eating out. We want to make sure we eat healthy, fresh, no contaminated food. But the unsafe foods can be found, in the market and in our daily life, which has raised a lot of public attention. Food safety has become a rising concern among customers. When customer are facing so many brands and variety quality products in grocery store they are are at a comparative disadvantage.

 What is food health why we need to pay attention?

From dictionary definition this term means: “Food safety refers to the conditions and practices that preserve the quality of food to prevent contamination and food borne illnesses.” . As the saying goes: “Food is the first necessity of people”, from the farm to table we are facing so many issues about food safety: environmental pollution, food additives, food packaging containers, tools, materials, produce harmful substances, during the food processing. Food safety considers are everywhere. The reasons we need to pay attention to unsafe food because the unsafe food is such a big waste of resources. Second, it has a bad effect on our society moral standards. And when people are buying those unsafe foods their life is severely threatened. From the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that there are “582 million: The number of cases of 22 different food-borne diseases experienced in 2010, there are deaths caused by the bacteria Salmonella, 40% of 181158displaythe percentage of people under the age of 5 who suffered from food-borne diseases” . In the food safety government website, there are 4 news for food recalls and alerts just for 3/31/2016 one day. There are about at least 2 food recalls in us market everyday. You may think about buying from big company may reducing the issue of food risk, but in march 2016, Starbucks recalls Cheese & Fruit Bistro Box because they are may contain an undeclared tree nut allergen (cashews), in march 21 the grocery chain H-E-B Inc. is recalling more than 10000 cans of tuna, they are recalling this product because produced at a co-packer, may have been undercooked due to an equipment malfunction, which was uncovered during a routine inspection.” Food safety news is happening everyday in our life. We cannot ignore it; we all need to do something to change that.

What should we do to reduce food safety issue?

In US there are big amount of customers purchase food from grocery stores. We kind of believe that food in grocery is meet some safety standards. As a grocery store, they need to pay more attention to the food selection, uncooked fresh meat and seafood which may can carry harmful bacteria, so as a seller they need to frequently check that. The grocery store should take responsibility of educating customer about healthy eating habit by increasing the stocking of healthy food and provide healthier food sampler to customer trying to help them build healthy eating habit. As food manufacturing, the companies should not only care about their profit by adding more food coloring, aginomoto to attract customers, they need to pay more attention on how to provide customer health food without adding too much artificial flavors. Make sure the producing process is clean and non-pollution. As customer it seems like we cannot do something to reduce the problem. But what we can do is pay attention about the food safety news. If we meet food safety issue, we need to report this problem to http://www.foodsafety.gov/, make sure that there will be no more people suffered from the unsafe food product. The last one is always keep your grocery receipt for several days in case unsafely food product.

Building A Healthy Shopping Environment

Almost every week we are shopping at grocery store, we will fill in shopping cart with vegetables, fruits, meat, and some frozen foods. Every one has their own preference of grocery store, some people may like to go to target, Walmart, some other people more willing to visit whole foods and some other natural foods grocery store. So when you enter

Cropped Image Of Woman Pushing Shopping Cart In Store
Cropped image of young woman pushing shopping cart in grocery store

in every grocery store do you noticed that the environment around you will influence your food choice? A report from food insight conducts a survey in 2012 to analyze purchasing influence when people are shopping at grocery stores. “Taste and price continue to drive food and beverage choices (87% and 73% respectively) more than healthfulness (61%), convenience (53%) or sustainability (35%).” You can notice that there are more than 50% of people will consider convenience the number means that they may buy frozen food often than others and there is even small amount of people will consider about sustainability.

 

When we are entering in the grocery store, we will always notice the goods shelf beside the door and most of the time is the products on sale. So if the grocery put chips and soda drinks on that shelf, you will have higher chance to buy that, while if the grocery store put fresh fruits and vegetables, there is a high chance that you will buy these healthy foods. In public health website there something that government does helping us to build a healthy eating habit “some localities have used urban planning tools such as zoning or licensing laws and incentive programs to regulate location and density of fast food outlets or to promote the availability of healthy foods in neighborhood corner stores.” Actually even government have limitation on the fast food restaurants, but people can still be trying to find unhealthy food in the grocery store. There are some ways of helping people to build a healthier grocery store list: “Make a list of vegetables of fruits you want to buy this week, a list can guide you directly to the vegetable section, that can avoid you shopping at unhealthy food section (puffed food). Second tip is Don’t shop hungry, we all have the experience when we are shopping hungry, we will buy a lot unhealthy food and will buy a lot unnecessary food. The third one is buy bulk food; this can help you buying some whole grain foods because instead of buying the instant oatmeal you may the original oatmeal.” When we are shopping we need to responsible for our self and start to think about the sustainable of the foods.

 

Grocery stores not only provide people a place to buy products they also need to think about how to guide people to build their healthy eating habits. Grocery stores start to do this not only because of they are taking social responsibility but also they can gain competitive business advantage in their industry. Because they are providing good value to consumers so they will start to create a close connection with consumers, and loyal consumers will always follow them. There are some ways grocery stores can do to help customer: First one is trying to increase the goods shelf for natural foods, guide customers to buy natural foods when they are shopping in the store. Second way is giving coupon to every local community, attract people to buy healthier foods. In the article “the healthy eating habit of low income population”  one of the important barrier of these low income population is that their family cannot afford the expense of natural foods, so they have to buy fast foods for their families to save money. This action is the way the companies are giving out their value to local communities. The last suggestion is, grocery can try to give out natural food samples attract consumers to test and when consumer is buying these foods they can also get a healthy recipe.

Shelf Life…How Do We Extend It?

While walking down the aisles of the local grocery store, customers take a product off the shelf and read the “best by” date, and most of the time the product will be good to purchase and consume. The shelf life of a product, or even the packaging, is determined by

multiple tests and having that product exposed to various conditions to see how the product responds. Don Schaffner says, in this article, “Shelf life is whatever you want it to be if it’s defined in such a way that the product at the end of that shelf life has a quality that is acceptable to you as the owner of the company, and you want your name on that pn-quality-best-untilproduct. You would stand behind that product, in terms of the quality provided to the customer.” Companies in the food industry will face a tradeoff; extend the shelf life and have the tradeoff be, the quality of the food products will go down over time. This is obviously a safety hazard and risk that many consumers don’t want to face. To reduce this risk companies determine the maximum shelf life and at the same time meet a quality standard that satisfies the customers and the company itself. In the food industry, prolonging shelf life is a hurdle that can’t be overcome as of yet. Many manufactures and producers want their products to stay fresh in order to prolong the time it takes to sell, so in turn, there is research being done to extend shelf life.

One proposed method to extending shelf life is high pressure processing. Many processed foods are deemed less healthy than fresh and organic foods, with this new processing method this could be changed. In this article about high pressure processing, Carolyn Heneghan explains its as, “Instead of using heat to kill bacteria, which also lowers the food quality, manufacturers can use high-pressure processing to maintain the foods’ nutrient levels while ensuring chemicals don’t get into the food.” Whole Foods recently picked up an athletes’ coffee drink Sunniva, who uses this type of processing. Whole Foods has said that is has kept the product fresh while extending the shelf life from under a month to four to six months.

Another method is modified atmosphere packaging. From this article, “Modified Atmosphere Packaging is an optimal blend of pure oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen within a high barrier or permeable package. A finely adjusted and carefully controlled gas blend is developed to meet the specific respiration needs for each packaged food product.” This blend of gases slows down the product aging process. These types of packaging offers supply chain efficiencies; it allows food producers and manufactures to “control product quality, availability and costs…permits grocers to eliminate frequent product rotation, removal and restocking; thereby reducing labour and waste disposal costs.” This seems like a great idea for extending shelf life.

While universities, laboratories, doctors, etc. are still conducting research; consumers will still need to be checking on the “best by” label. If these new technologies appear, consumers may not trust the new processing or the packaging at first glance so it will be very important that while this research is being developed food producers and manufactures remain completely transparent in their labeling. Consumers have the right to know how the information about the food they eat and buy for themselves and for their families, especially for something new. Although these methods could be the future to food suppliers and providers, there will be issues that could arise such as costs, quantity, quality, and 1st round risks. We may not see these innovations anytime soon, but they are being perfected and can potentially change the food industry!

Falling Sales of Sugary Beverages and Alternatives

A revolution is upon us. Soda beverage sales have dropped “more than 7% in the five years ending in 2013,” according to this article, and “seltzer sales have soared 29%.” So why is this happening so rapidly? As society becomes more and more aware of current trends of new healthy lifestyles and eating habits, consumption of sugary, fizzy beverages have taken a fall. Consumers are turning away from sodas, including diet, and choosing a healthier option with “fewer chemicals and ingredients and less sugar and caffeine while still retaining that fizzy mouth feel of a soft drink.” There are also other options that are trending in the beverage area of the food industry, like tea’s, waters, juices, etc. As our world slowly becomes more and more inclined to be and eat healthy, companies have to meet the consumer’s needs and provide different options to choose from.

We all know of Coca-Cola and Nestlé beverages, in recent years they introduced a line of lightly flavored sparkling water. As they are huge names in the food industry, their initial thought was that if they provided the consumers with the seltzer trend/alternative that they would be the winning segment. However, little did they know, LaCroix was already on the shelf, and everyone was already drinking it. In this article, Jennifer Chaussee writes that LaCroix has found a loyal following targeted to young, health-conscious consumers. LaCroix sales since just last year “have increased 45%.” As people wean off of soda and choose this healthier option, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are still in the race to compete with LaCroix’s success; this hasn’t been able to happen. The article goes on to say that “among a flood of sparkling water, LaCroix is arguable the ugliest—in a good way.” LaCroix still is the front-runner in this healthy soda alternative, and may have people gravitated towards them because they aren’t well know national beverages.

23708218_e7a7ffde48_oAnother alternative that has come to the scene very recently is FATwater. FATwater is “blended with two grams of fat-rich coconut oil”, this is meant to help people perform better and hydrate them more effectively. It comes in three flavors – lemon, orange and berry. This drink has caught the eye of many on social media, and ultimately has sold out since the launching of it. As this may just be a “fad” according to some Australian nutritionist, FATwater is meant to be a clean-burning fuel from quality fat instead of sugar.” FATwater has no research, however, proving that it helps with hydration. So in the long run, we should stick to the things we are well aware of and have actual research to back them up. You can read more into this product from this article.

As trends occur and reoccur, society finds it helpful if companies supply to the demand. Soda is full of sugars, dyes, and chemicals that are detrimental to our health. By supplying the healthier option such as soda water, like LaCroix has, consumers will have an alternative to make their lives better and healthier. As for some other options that have hit the market, people often don’t do the research on what they are buying/consuming. This may not be helpful for you because it actually may not be a healthier option and the companies are providing you with mal-researched beverages that may not even satisfy a need (of being healthier). The main thing to do is to know what you are purchasing, do the background research, and drink responsibly due to the up and coming health trends in the food industry.

Watch Those Food Miles

When I first heard the term “food miles” I had two reactions in fairly rapid succession. My first was that it was the most ridiculous term that I’ve ever heard. The second thought was, “oh wait, you’re right…I have no idea where that tomato I just bought came from…come to think of it…it’s the middle of March, tomatoes don’t grow in March!?!”

Before we get too far ahead, a food miles are the term given to the distance that a particular food has traveled to get to you. Generally, the fewer the food miles, the better off we are. So, if you live in California and you are eating apples from New Zealand…probably not the greatest thing you could be doing…lots of food miles.

Before we get into the reasons why food miles aren’t great, I want to discuss how food trade has changed over the last few decades. Before things like refrigeration, waxing, and ethylene gas (which is a whole different, but equally scary story, but its the C 2H 4 in the picture to the left), we basically had to eat things when they were fresh. Fruit and vegetables couldn’t take 6 months to travel across the globe to get to you. You bought diagramthings that were grown nearby and everyone was happy and healthy. However, this has all changed. In a report published by the National Resources Defense Council (yes, our natural resources need defending), it was reported that “Between 1968 and 1998, world food production increased by 84 percent and the population by 91 percent, but food trade increased 184 percent.” The math there doesn’t really keep up. It went on to say that “the typical American prepared meal contains, on average, ingredients from at least five countries outside the United States.” We as Americans, and individuals in the developed world in general, have grown accustomed to being able to get whatever we want, whenever we want it, with little regard of the trip that particular food had to take to get here.

So now lets discuss the problems with this. There are many, but the two that I really want to focus on are the environmental impact and the health impact.

Lets start with the environment. Food travels to you using methods that emit CO2.  There really isn’t a way around this. If your local farmer loads avocados in his truck, drives them 2 miles to your farmers market, CO2 was emitted during this. If your apple was put on a truck, then on a train, then on an airplane, flown around the world, then on another train, then on another truck…CO2 was emitted. A lot more of it. Because it is so convenient to chose the latter, that’s the source of our problem. In the same report by the NRDC, they have suggested that “imports by airplane have a substantial impact on global warming pollution. In 2005, the import of fruits, nuts, and vegetables into California by airplane released more than 70,000 tons of CO2, which is equivalent to more than 12,000 cars on the road.”

Wow.

Okay, so if that isn’t enough reason to buy local, consider the health benefits. In an article published by Mother Earth Living, it clearly describes the benefits of eating food when its at the height of ripeness by stating that “Most fruits and vegetables reach their nutritionalinternationalshipping1 peak around the same time they ought to be harvested—which, conveniently, is also when they taste the best. The redder a red tomato is, for example, the more beta-carotene it contains. Same goes for peppers: As the pepper progresses from green to red, a bell pepper gains 11 times more beta-carotene and 1 1/2 times more vitamin C.”.

However, in order for food to travel around the globe, it has to be picked way before its ripe and artificially ripened…enter the ethylene gas.

So, to summarize, at the very biggest picture, eating local food is healthy. Eating local food reduces carbon dioxide emissions. Oh, and it helps the local economy.

This may require more than just a Saturday trip to the farmer’s market though. It requires a change in thinking, we need to go back a few decades and start eating food that’s in season, when its in season. If its March, don’t buy tomatoes. If its late summer, get all the green vegetables you can eat. There are countless resources, websites, books, apps which guide you through this. There are even recipe books which list recipes by season so you can still eat amazing food without having to compromise.