I am listening to so many podcasts right now, I don’t always remember where I heard a particular idea that I want to pass on, so my apologies to the wonderful people who put their time into researching and sharing these amazing free media resources. I will be doing an in-depth list of who I recommend and what their shows are like, in a couple of days.
A fascinating historical point came up on a show, that I would file under the “freakonomics” type of information. (They have a podcast too.) It had to do with a simple divergence in food and eating habits between Europe and the US.
I have often joked, though this is not a joking matter, that the best made cars come from places that the US bombed the absolute life out of in war, then helped to rebuild. If you want a well-made auto, think Germany, Japan, and now I would add Korea. Whatever the cause, politics, and methods of warfare, for most of the 20th century, going to war with the US often meant a commitment to rebuilding. I wonder whether we’ll see Iraqi autos in 20 years.
The truth is, no matter how a person may complain that we spend too much on foreign aid, or rebuilding another country, the fact is that conventional war has not been fought on our own soil in a very long time. We have sent our troops far and wide, but as we can definitely see right now, it’s easy to ignore the war happening on the television, as long as we don’t personally have any skin in the game. Our military families tend to be invisible. This is not a partisan or political issue, it’s cultural. We can get a dogtag magnet for our car at Sheetz for the princely sum of $1 and slap it on our car to show we support the troops! Meanwhile, the vast majority of us live lives of comfort and excess, with grocery store shelves that are never, ever, empty.
But it wasn’t always this way. You may know someone in your family old enough to remember rationing. The experience of the Depression, and WWII were country-wide. They shared in the sacrifice. And there was a sense of being in-it-together. I am personally fascinated with WWII era propaganda posters. I have a printed collection in a book with examples of promoting everything from carpooling to home gardening. And I have a DVD copy of the greatest US government film ever made. “Hemp For Victory.”
Try to do that now, and every talking head at Fox News will explode before they can come up with five ways to call President Obama a socialist.
Yes, there was a time, when conservation was considered valuable, patriotic even.
But then we won the war. And it was a beast of a war to win. No doubt about that. And America turned to the era of hope and prosperity.
Those full grocery store shelves were a sign of that prosperity. And though the war effort didn’t cause this to happen overnight, those years saw a rapid increase in the percentage of our diet coming from packaged, industrialized food. Our supply lines were crucial to the war, and now that we weren’t feeding the troops far away, we switched to pushing canned product to become more prominent in the American home.
Quickly, that grow-your-own to support the war effort mentality disappeared. The large scale “efficiency” of supermarkets became our dominant paradigm. The idea of having a few chickens of your own, or even a backyard pig, became less a sign of self-reliance, and more a negative affiliation with being a backwoods hick.
In other words, the suburbs ruined everything. (I will mention this basic tenet of my philosophy again and again.)
It is no surprise then that our culture has now accepted the industrialization of food as a given, a normal part of what it is to be civilized, modern, and sophisticated.
Contrast this with Europe. Europe was a mess after the war. All of it. The side that “won” as well as the side that lost. Their rebuilding needs were substantial. Factories were gone. So while they had been moving toward some industrialized food like in the states, by the end of the war, there were few options to feed the population through that system.
So how did Europeans eat? The way they had for hundreds of years. The way Americans used to eat: they went to the local market and bought fresh food grown by someone a couple miles away.
And to this day, while both the US and European countries have varied food systems, from local and fresh to supermarkets cans, bags and boxes, this influence of the reality of the war’s devastation and where it happened, has directly led to this divergence in priority. In the US, the predominant model has been the supermarket. In Europe, it has been the local market. And as they become more like us, watch them get fatter.
It’s one of those realities of history that is worth knowing, not to wish things had gone differently, but to see where things can lead us. Sometimes winning isn’t everything. It may take the 20/20 vision of hindsight to finally see how this model has been less than helpful for our long term health. But as more and more people question the grain based commodity system and its massive subsidy program, we look to where it all started. And we need to learn our mistakes from history, not continue to repeat them.
A much more thorough historical study on this topic is reviewed in this article at the Huffington Post.