Food and nutrition. In concept it seems straightforward enough. Food is what we eat to obtain the energy to keep us going from day to day. Yet food has undergone radical changes over the past hundred years. People who lived at the turn of the 20th century wouldn’t recognize today’s grocery stores, and they certainly wouldn’t recognize much of what fills grocery store shelves labeled as "nourishing".
It all started after the war. Women were encouraged to embrace the frozen, dehydrated, canned and boxed foods that promised to save time in the progressive modern era and allow more time for new leisure options—for example, watching television.
Advertising companies and the growing convenience-food industry made sure that eating the modern way became the fashionable way. Real, fresh food in its natural form no longer seemed desirable. With the advent of frozen products in addition to canned, foods were widely and consistently available year-round. There was no need to rely on seasonal or regional crops, and prices remained fairly stable from winter through autumn. In keeping with this revolutionary new approach, a fish dinner— which might once have consisted of fresh, delicate fish with a butter sauce and in-season vegetables—now meant reheated frozen fish sticks with instant mashed potatoes, canned peas and Jell-O salad.
With the modernization of food came the modernization of agriculture to keep up with the demand. Organic, mixed-crop family farms slowly gave ground to large commercial monoculture operations that depended on chemical fertilizers and pesticides—operations that science dubbed “agribusiness” and promoted as the future of food.
By the 1960s, cooking with food in its raw, natural state was little more than a quaint novelty and was in fact becoming a lost art. But then Julia Child learned how to cook and went on to help many women rediscover the joys of cooking. The writings of Adelle Davis and others began to infiltrate the consciousness of a new generation, and “health food” became the latest buzzword. Healthy eating gained more traction after Rachel Carson sounded the alarm about what pesticides were doing to our environment and to us.
But for the majority, convenience remained the hallmark of modern food and nutrition. Throughout the remainder of the 20th century, convenience foods continued to gain in popularity, and “fast food”—the ultimate convenience food— joined the revolution. Fast-food chains reached from coast to coast and then around the world, from Boston to Bangladesh. The mass of consumers had by now largely lost the connection between food and nutrition, and…