REFINED: THE CAPITALISTS WHO COOKED UP
WHAT AMERICA EATS
Food production, delivery, and consumption systems are a mess and getting worse. In every corner of the world, unsustainable monoculture farming, including the clear-cutting of forests, the destruction of marine habitat, the collapse of fisheries, loss of topsoil, rising sea levels, and air and freshwater pollution suggest societal implosion. Moreover, obesity and related diseases such as diabetes have reached epidemic proportions due to what and how people eat. Social unrest foments from food justice issues — too much unhealthy food and, ironically, not enough food — among broad swaths of society.
How did we get from there to here, from subsistence agriculture a mere 500 years ago — a blip on the 10,000-year timeline of human agricultural endeavor — to a surfeit of food that seems to be killing us and the natural world? Almost all fingers point to processed food.
Culinary history in the United States features innovators of a peculiarly American stripe, that is, risk-loving entrepreneurs. Our brand of capitalism, embedded as it is in our democratic republic, has allowed individuals with disruptive ideas about producing, processing, or distributing food to alter our foodways, for good or ill.
Capitalism per se is not the Mordor of our culinary destiny. Nor is food processing. We wield mighty tools of food technology — including organic farming and sustainable sources of protein to feed a growing global population. New hope for feeding the world without destroying the planet sprouts every day, thanks to the relentless efforts of scientific, agricultural, industrial, and gastronomic innovators and their capitalist backers. These people are part of an historical continuum of remarkable women and men who, as products of their own time and place, seized opportunity, disrupted America's foodways, and changed the world. Their stories teem with blood, sweat, tears, betrayals, generosity, stupidity, altruism, greed, and genius. And they unfold in lock-step with the cultural development of who we are as a nation. The stakes are too high to ignore this history, and so I am writing Refined: The Capitalists Who Cooked Up What America Eats.
In recent years, I developed a Nutrition curriculum to teach healthy eating and
lifestyle habits to middle-school students from low-income/underserved sectors who are at high-risk for Type II Diabetes. I have taught classes using this curriculum. The life-stories and personal challenges of my students gave me a jumping off point to ask the question that my current writing explores: how, in this land of plenty, did we make ourselves and our environment so sick from food?
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