War touches everything. Over history it has divided time periods and influenced the food we eat to a great extent, both in availability and quality. Poor nutrition is not often considered a casualty of war. But what is more unfortunate than a permanent, negative shift in the way we nourish our bodies?
We can probably blame Napoleon. To a certain extent, it all started with him. Military and political leader. Ambitious. Strategic. And a little bit chubby. Napoleon had a one-track mind: to win wars at all costs.
In 1809 Napoleon put forth a challenge. Anyone who could find a way to sustain his army for long periods of time while they were at war would be rewarded handsomely. Their food was going rotten.
French inventor Nicolas Appert rose to the challenge. He began experimenting with food preservation by putting foods in glass jars, sealing them with cork and wax, and placing them in boiling water. Canning was born, and Appert walked away with a hefty cash award of 12,000 francs plus his name in the history books.
Refrigeration followed. Then frozen foods were “discovered” by Charles Birdseye. In 1924 we started using ethylene gas to force the ripening of produce in the backs of trucks instead of allowing time for natural ripening.
And then there was war again. After the war ended, we found ourselves with factories full of nitrogen that had been used to make weapons. Profit-driven geniuses came up with the idea of re-selling that nitrogen as fertilizer for plants. Our fertilizers are composed of a formula containing Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium. Unfortunately, it doesn’t include the other 17 trace minerals that are essential for optimum health. We mostly just wanted to squeeze some profit out of the leftover nitrogen.
And so we did. From here, we began making pesticides and herbicides in the 1940s.
In the 1950s we sent our women to work to cover for the men while they went back out to war. We encouraged them to come out of their kitchens, and promised that our microwavable TV dinners in aluminum containers were just as good as their homemade meals. While their dinners were nuking, we told them they could earn an income. Do their nails. Or watch TV. As long as they remembered to add “processed foods” to their grocery lists. Everyone bought right into it.
Today we’ve evolved to food mechanization, GMOs, and plant breeding. We’re slightly smarter about the processed foods, but now time is an issue. We’re already depending on double incomes. No one is home for dinner. And even if they were… we’ve forgotten how to cook.
A PEAR IN A CAN
Let’s take the image of a pear in a can. Most people think: What’s the big deal with that? Still a pear, right? Still healthy?
Here is how a canned pear would be less healthy than a fresh one:
- The skin is removed so there is no fiber.
- It contains additives and preservatives for color and freshness.
- There is BPA in the can lining that may have leached into the fruit.
- There is a carbon footprint on the packaging.
- There could be metal toxicity from the can.
- It has a lower nutritional value.
- It is not local and probably the product of mono-cropping.
- It is likely irradiated and not tree ripened.
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
Clearly food preservation is here to stay. And I don’t think there’s an easy answer for health-conscious shoppers. I usually start by speaking to my clients about their priorities and lifestyles. I want to know how serious they are. It all comes down to making decisions to live within your means, prioritize healthy food and exercise, and make lifestyle changes to save your sanity and well being.
No – cooking is not faster than a microwave dinner. And a meal prepared in 15 minutes is not always just as good as one that took an hour. Make the time. Remember what it feels like to chop and peel and marinate overnight. Great things take time and they don’t happen by accident. They require planning. And sometimes making hard decisions.
What are the things that you really need in your life? What’s taking up all your time? In my home, we spend more money on high quality groceries than most couples. To support that, we don’t have a car. We chose to keep jobs that are close to home, within walking or biking or running distance over higher paying jobs where we’d be under the stress of heavy commutes. It’s not always easy, but it’s a lifestyle choice.
Changes are always small and slow. The important thing is that we start somewhere.