There are times when change is upon us. Often this is not recognized until later when with hindsight we can easily say,” there were signs of change”. There is certainly change afoot when it comes to food. Within one week there were three signs that I saw in my travels.
Before getting to that it is worth recapping where we are. Prior to the 1970’s most food was eaten at home and was prepared from ingredients that were bought separately and cooked. There was little packaged food and certainly very few packaged “meals”. People tended to get meat from the butcher, fruit and vegetables from the green grocer and so it went.
Whilst the connection between us and the food we ate was not as strong as in times when we had our own vegetable gardens or made preserves or ran a few chickens, food by and large, did not come in boxes.
Somewhere around this time our priorities changed. Convenience became more important and industry responded by producing an ever-increasing range of convenient foods, which could be zapped in a microwave rather than cooked in an oven. To keep prices down (remember that manufacturing and packaging has a cost) pressure was put on suppliers to become more efficient. From this we got battery hens and cows that were fed grain in a shed rather than grass in a paddock. To speed up growth, hormones were added and to combat potential infection antibiotics were added too.
Whilst modern science can help us, many “advances” can have unexpected consequences. Over the same period of time we have seen an increase in obesity and a range of illnesses related to our diets, which have become higher in salt, sugar and fats and lower in fiber protein and minerals. Eating packaged foods to make our lives “easier” have made us less healthy. We had also lost the connection to our food and the understanding of where it comes from.
Over the last ten years there has been the rise of an interest in real and slow food (yes I know the movement started in the late 1980s) together with a rise in growers markets and organic foods. This is people saying that convenience is not everything and that what we put into our bodies matter. Rather than being totally disconnected from the source of our food more people want to know that their eggs came from chickens that could run in a pen and that their beef has come from cattle, which have not been given hormones and antibiotics.
So what were the three signs? I took my daughter and her friend for lunch at a local café. The menu detailed where their produce had come from. It detailed the origins of eggs, pork products, preserves and bread. The names of the suppliers and how they generated the produce were explained.
Later that week we went to a new hamburger shop. There are now a number of places that offer quality burgers made from wholesome produce – turning a fast food into a good food. This place had on its wall information about where the beef, chicken and bread were sourced.
The third sign was the promotion by a supermarket chain of hormone free beef. The chain claims that all of its beef will soon be hormone free. Surprisingly this attracted the ire of some “industry ” groups and staggeringly a group, which is supposed to represent consumers.
Why are businesses going down this path? Simply it is because this is what people want. We want to have good food rather than chemically altered food. We want to know where our food has come from. We recognize that so called cheap food becomes expensive when you are still hungry and have to buy more whilst paying a bit more up front means you eat less because you are nourished.
The demise of “cheap” packaged food is not upon us as yet. However the signs are there that once again, change is upon us. The change “back” to real food will be of benefit to all who embrace it.