The Disappearance of Real Food

Real food has gradually disappeared from the shelves of grocery stores and consequently our kitchens and food pantries at home. We may think we see real food, but instead we are looking at imitations that have been carefully disguised by fancy food labels and haughty health claims. But how did this happen? With an increase in highly processed and refined foods, the introduction of food science, and changes in government policies regarding foods, the real food we need for our health has slipped quietly by the wayside. As a result, our culture is battling a whole host of diseases and ailments like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, periodontal disease, hemorrhoids, constipation, hypertension, and many more.

In his book In Defense of Food, Michael Pollen says that most of the chronic degenerative diseases we are fighting in this country can be linked to the industrialization of our food. Pollen talks about these changes and says that they “have given us the Western diet that we take for granted; lots of processed foods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of everything-except vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.” We eat differently than our ancestors did. Americans are now consuming far more processed and refined foods than fresh, raw foods.

The refining process to make white flour and white sugar significantly lowers the vitamin, mineral, protein, and fiber content, which produces nutritionally deficient foods for consumption. Gary Taubes, in his book Good Calories, Bad Calories, reminds us that “white flour was preferred by bakers for its baking properties, and because it contains less fat than wholemeal flour it is less likely to go rancid and is more easily preserved.” Highly processed foods are very profitable to make because they can be transported around the world, or kept on the shelves in the grocery stores or homes for long periods of time without spoiling. russian food store

As these refined foods were introduced to cultures around the world, many of the diseases that kill Americans, also known as Western diseases, were observed shortly after. In Good Calories, Bad Calories, Taubes introduces us to colonial and missionary physicians, Albert Schweitzer and Samuel Hutton, who observed populations prior to and at the same time as their introduction to the Western diet in the early 1900’s. This diet included foods made with sugar, molasses, white flour, and white rice. Western diseases resulted. Investigators believed that the “consumption of easily digestible, refined carbohydrates” was the cause of these diseases. In the 1970’s, this theory was rejected because the popular hypothesis at the time was Ancel Key’s assumption that too much fat was the problem. Schweitzer and Hutton were not the only physicians to observe the diets of other cultures. In What the Bible Says About Healthy Living, Rex Russell discusses a group of people in the Himalayas called the Hunzas. Russell says that in the 1940’s, Dr. Robert McGarrison and his team studied these people, who had an average life span of 90 to 120 years. The team did not find any occurrences of Western diseases like heart disease, cancer, colitis, hypertension, ulcers, etc. The Hunzas ate a diet of “nuts, grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes.”

Government policies have also had an affect on the fading away of real foods. Pollen’s book delves into some specific political situations that occurred. For example in 1938, the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act made a rule that required the word “imitation” on all foods that were not the real thing, and in 1973, that rule was thrown out. As long as the product was not “nutritionally deficient” it no longer needed to bear the word imitation. Another situation occurred in 1977 when reports showed that chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes were increasing dramatically and that this increase was linked to diet. So George McGovern’s Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs held hearings and his staff of lawyers and journalists created a document called Dietary Goals for the United States. The committee initially called on Americans to eat less red meat and dairy products, but later changed their wording to state, “choose meats, poultry, and fish that will reduce saturated fat intake.”