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Gleaning From the Food of Yesterday: America's Food Giants

Updated: Jun 14, 2021

Although scientific advancements will often lead a shift in culture, as we saw through the Industrial Revolution, more often than not, there are also other influencing factors centered around personal profit and the dominance of individual companies. This is what we will discover today as we evaluate some of the products produced by the “food giants” who began to shape our food industry around the turn of the 20th century.

First of all, who are the food giants? Companies like Kellogg’s, General Mills, and Post Cereal all began around the year 1900. They rose up to meet the new demands of the urban masses of the industrialized revolution. At this time, people left farms to pursue work in the cities so food needed to be produced on a larger scale by fewer people. Following this, the refining of grains joined the scene. This was the perfect setting for food companies to provide a cheap and simple product for the fast-paced lifestyle of the working class.

These large companies, however, may have met the caloric needs of the people but not their nutritional needs. (In large, this is still the crisis we face today.) The processed cereals and breads were stripped of nutrients that would naturally lead to rotting and spoilage: fiber, B vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins, and more. These new nutrient-lacking diets lended to many vitamin deficient conditions such as beriberi, rickets, and pellagra. As the medical field realised this, the food giants began to put nutrients back into their products, “fortifying” packaged foods with synthetic vitamins. This seemed to silence the diseases. Nevertheless, since these processed foods have not provided the original quality of nutrients needed for optimal health, we are now suffering from diseases caused by chronic nutritional deficiencies.

It is likely that in the beginning, the founders of these companies didn’t understand the health consequences that would result from consuming these processed foods. However, despite the fact that research-based education has revealed the negative health impacts of consuming these foods, they have yet to improve their practices. Instead, they have changed their marketing scheme to meet the knowledge of the general public, touting labels like “heart healthy” and “great source of fiber” without changing the nutrients of the product. Rather than accepting these products as the “norm,” we can allow history to guide our shopping decisions. Two to three hundred years ago we produced a valuable, nutrient-rich food product. Beginning in the 20th century to today, we have produced a cheap, adulterated product with added synthetic nutrients to prevent the immediate manifestation of vitamin deficiencies.

It is not my job to disrespect and shut down these companies. They have simply met the demand of the general public. Rather, it is my job to provide this education that perhaps will shift the demand. There are still companies and businesses that provide naturally nutrient-rich foods and care about sustaining our health. As we wisely invest in them, these food giants will have to simply find a different place in our food industry.

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