I think the first thing we should look at is how have we come to what we know as the Standard American Diet. If we realize this progression and why we eat this way then maybe it will open our minds a little. I think being somewhat unbiased in our research would be good.
The following is a timeline I found online. It comes from The New York Times Sunday Review.
1815 – Advent of refined sucrose. In 1815, the per capita refined sucrose consumption in England is 15 pounds; by 1970 it will rise to 120 pounds. During the Industrial Revolution, the advent of refined sucrose triggers an increase in consumption for the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the United States.
1836 – Foreign plants on the rise in the United States. The Commissioner of Patents begins to distribute foreign seeds and plants to farmers, increasing the number and variety of plants not native to the United States.
1850-1885 – Science of fattening cattle emerges. Before now, virtually all cattle were free range or pasture fed and typically slaughtered at four to five years of age. But by 1885 the science of rapidly fattening cattle in feedlots makes it possible to produce a 1,200 pound steer with “marbled meat” ready for slaughter in only two years.
1850 – Mid-century advancements supersize grain harvests. Advancements like the steam engine, mechanical reaper and railroads allow for larger grain harvests and the transport of grain and cattle, which spawns the practice of feeding grain – mainly corn – to cattle in feedlots.
1862 – Creation of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. Abraham Lincoln creates the Agriculture Department. The new department establishes relationships with consular offices abroad and continues to procure rare and valuable bulbs, seeds, vines and cuttings from foreign sources.
1909 – Industrialization of the oil seed industry. The industrialization and mechanization of the oil seed industry causes a 130% increase in the per capita consumption of salad and cooking oils. a 136% increase in shortening consumption and a 410% increase in margarine consumption by 1990.
1920-1929 – Cooking tips from the government. The Agricultural Department continues to send scouts around the globe to import viable plants and produces an early radio show called “Aunt Sammy” (as in Uncle Sam’s wife), which dispenses recipes and cooking tips to farm wives. Government-sponsored ads appear reminding novice chefs not to overcook food and leach out all the nutrition, among other tips. Others include “Know Your Onions”, “Meat vs. Cheese” and perhaps more questionable, “Vitamin Donuts”.
1930-1939 – Changing focus during the Great Depression. During the Great Depression focus changes to getting enough calories.
1943 – Expanding the school lunch program. The War Food Administration expands the federal school lunch program, insuring children are fed during the day.
1950-1959 – Emergence of the modern feedlot. Modern feedlot operations involving as many as 100,000 cattle emerge. Today an obese steer with 30% body fat can be brought to slaughter in fourteen months. Although 99% of all the beef consumed in the United States is now produced from grain fed, feedlot cattle, virtually no beef was produced in this manner as recently as 200 years ago.
1975-1979 – Fructose enrichment technology. The advent of fructose enrichment technology makes it cheaper to manufacture high quantities of high- fructose corn syrup. The introduction of the food processing industry also elevates Western dietary intakes of fructose. And 90% of the salt in the typical diet in the United States comes from manufactured salt that is added to the food supply.
1977-1996 – Consuming meals away from home. The U.S.D.A.’s 1977-1978 nationwide food consumption survey finds that 74% of an adolescents’ daily calories are consumed at home, but by 1996 that number drops to 60%. From 1997-1996, the proportion of food children consume from restaurants and fast food outlets rose from 6.5% to 16.7%. At the same time a powerful junk food marketing industry begins bombarding media outlets with child-friendly advertising, meals containing toys and other gimmicks. Combined with a rise in food prices, fast food becomes an easier option for working families.
2011 – Obesity on the rise. Today, no state has a prevalence of obesity of less than 20%, and 36 states have a prevalence of 25% or more. One-Third of United States adults are obese, 17% of children and adolescents aged 2-19 years old are obese and 26 million adults suffer from diabetes.
This is, of course, only part of the story but I definitely start to draw some conclusions from it. What do you think? Any insight or debate is welcomed (simply click on comments below and share).