Why I Love Processed Foods

 

Person sitting in snow drilling a hole for fish
Eating local fresh foods can be challenging. Success in drilling a fish hole is not necessarily followed by success in catching fresh fish. Happily a pizza was waiting for me. Source: Global Food Forums

My dad once said “If you find yourself in the majority, it’s time to switch sides.” Although he may have been more of an instigator than I, what he was saying was that a person should think for themself.

Throngs of bloggers, foodies and activists exhort us to “eat local fresh foods.” Some consumer advocates even compare the consumption of packaged and fast foods to heroin addiction. (Really?) A Google search for “I love fresh food” produced 382,000 web pages; a search for “I love processed food” resulted in 7,020 pages. Now we know where the majority stands.

It’s not that processed foods should be preferred over fresh, but packaged foods are or can be crucial to a nutritious diet and well-rounded lifestyle. A few days ago, I was talking to a woman who was a registered dietician and had a culinary degree…and three children. “I just can’t find the time to cook all our meals from scratch” she lamented and admitted she regularly shopped the grocery aisles to provide healthful meals for her family.

Even sourcing fresh, local foods can be a challenge…or impossible. I spend an insane amount of time tending to my vegetable garden every summer (a labor of love), and the tomatoes don’t ever seem to mature until a week before the first frost. Today I’m writing this from Minnesota in the dead of winter. It’s hard to believe this land supported human life at all a century ago. It did, but luckily as the U.S. population increased in number, both agricultural productivity and food shelf lives increased as well.

In 1830, 250 to 300 hours of labor were needed to product 100 bushels (bu) of wheat in the U.S. In 1930, only 15 to 20 hours of labor produced 100 bu and one farmer could supply enough food for 8.9 other people. In 1980, only some three hours were required to produce 100 bu and one farmer fed an estimated 75.7 people. Today, one farmer produces enough food for some 100 people. (1) And it is needed.

Even in the U.S., the number of people in the Minnesota increased from 21 people per square mile in 1,900 to 58 in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Data. In the same period, California’s population density grew from 9 to 214 people/sq mile and New York’s from 150 to 391. However, it’s the world’s cities that make one contemplate the importance of efficiently supplying food. Metro New York has 2,050 people/sq kilometer (792 per sq. mile); Tokyo/Yokohama has 1,834; Lima, Peru 4,537 and Lagos, Nigeria 7,008. Mumbai, India may well be the most crowded city on the planet with 11,448 people per square mile!! (2)

I too love fresh, local food and when available, happily harvest or purchase and prepare it myself. That is a luxury many to most in the world can’t afford. The goal should be to provide nutritious food for all.

Lastly, I think I love processed foods the most when I find myself sitting on an overturned plastic bucket in the middle of a frozen lake trying to drill a hole…with the possibility of catching something to eat only a remote possibility.
(1) http://www.agclassroom.org/gan/timeline/farm_tech.htm
(2) http://www.citymayors.com/statistics/largest-cities-area-125.html

Posted on:January 21, 2012

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