“Suddenly some of the steam begins to advance, and, peering through it, you discern Aunt Elizabeth, Ona's stepmother – Teta Elzbieta, as they call her – bearing aloft a great platter of stewed duck. Behind her is Kotrina, making her way cautiously, staggering beneath a similar burden; and half a minute later there appears old Grandmother Majauszkiene, with a big yellow bowl of smoking potatoes, nearly as big as herself. So, bit by bit, the feast takes form – there is a ham and a dish of sauerkraut, boiled rice, macaroni, bologna sausages, great piles of penny buns, bowls of milk, and foaming pitchers of beer.” Upton Sinclair – The Jungle 1906
All feasts great and small, all that we eat starts with nature. Now I could point fingers and state that we ate our way into the situation we are now facing. I could even say that as we, as a nation, became more prosperous our hedonistic tendencies inspired us to eat as we perceived the rich to eat and considered it our birthright and reward for our successes. But how we got here isn’t as important as how we survive from this point forward.
During the “golden years” of the 50’s and 60’s we experienced a transformation in our thinking and our lifestyles. The world of tomorrow had become the world of today and we liked it – a lot. Cars had become streamlined in bright new colors, Television had replaced radio in the family room for entertainment and advertising began its quest to retrain the American consumer to a new ideology; status living.
As Madison Avenue was selling us the latest Ford and Motorola, they were selling us a concept of consumerism and convenience. Life in this new gilded age was meant to be easier and less complicated. As we spent more of our disposable incomes to keep up with the Jones’ and wives entered the workforce in ever increasing numbers, we experienced another transition; woman, no longer housewives, were cooking less. With less time to cook, convenience foods and instant dinners became popular and the diversity grew.
TV and advertising were teaching us something else though. With TV programming inheriting the radio sponsorship of the major food companies, we were taught through example to eat more and to include meat with more of our meals. Just one generation before, meat wasn’t eaten every day and fish and chicken were more common on the tables than beef and pork. It wasn’t long before we were eating meat at every meal.
As our population continued to increase in both numbers and size, producers began to have problems keeping up with the demand that had been artificially created. New methods in agriculture and animal production were developed in an attempt to keep up. The first indication that something had gone wrong was in Texas in 1972; a young girl entered puberty at 8 years of age. The average age at the time for the onset of puberty was 14 to 15 years old. Although it was initially dismissed as a fluke or an aberration of nature, it was later traced to hormones being fed to chickens that were sold in the American market. After investigations and political grandstanding and hysteria it was determined that growth hormones could not be allowed into the food chain. Or so we thought.
Currently animal production is being augmented medically, genetically and chemically. It’s introduced through their feed, their water and by injection. Additional enhancers are added at the time of slaughter and packaging. It contaminates the meat, and in the case of dairy cattle, it contaminates the milk. I should state that my use of the term “contaminate” refers to any component not found in nature or normal to the food supply. In addition, the government approved the sale of cloned animals for human consumption in 2008. What was once a natural food source is now engineered and manufactured.
Agriculture has not been exempt from manipulation. The bulk of food crops in the United States are heavily manipulated. Pesticides proven dangerous to humans are used with impunity with the excesses leaving the fields as run-off to end up in the water supplies. Artificial coloring and wax-like coatings are used on fruits and vegetables to make them more appealing and an ever increasing percentage of our crops are bio-engineered.
As growing fields began to share space with feedlots, hog enclosures and poultry houses cross contamination has become a serious issue. In the slaughter houses workers are pushed to work at a break-neck pace that leaves little or no time for proper sanitation or safety. These same production facilities have been caught time and again sending improperly processed waste into sewage treatment systems and into local creeks and streams.
We are now facing the dire prospect of a food chain, a critical aspect of our existence, contaminated and compromised. Along with it the drinking water in most domestic supplies contains a vast array of organic and inorganic chemicals, pharmaceuticals and pathogens. Stories of chemical and biologic contamination of foods have become common in our daily news and our conversations. The one question we must now ask ourselves is; where do we go from here?