How the Heck Did We Get Here?

May 31, 2016

I think a lot about food. I guess that’s obvious, right?


The other day, my husband and I were driving on the highway, passing billboard after billboard for food that seemed to become less like food with every passing mile and ad: burgers, pulled pork, soda, sweets, sweetened drinks, fast food joints selling all manner of junk masquerading as food.


I turned to my husband and asked, “How the heck do you think we got here? What happened to food?” I suddenly felt completely distressed and intent on figuring it out.


I grew up in a family where we cooked just about every meal, every snack and treat in our home kitchen. My family saw to it that our food was fresh and well-prepared. And before you even roll your adorable little eyes and think that times have changed, my mother worked outside our home as well. My dad held two, sometimes three jobs to make ends meet. And still we cooked, ate food from our garden and shopped for the best we could afford.


I didn’t know that there was another way to live.


We could say the de-evolution of our food began during World War II when women left home to cover men’s jobs as they trudged off to war. It was hard to put the genie back in the bottle once women tasted the freedom of work outside the home and that opened the door to manufacturers to create the first “convenience foods.”  From there, the siren song of “let us do that for you” continued. More convenience foods flooded the market.


In 1921, the first fast food chain was born in Kansas City. White Castle sold burgers for a nickel along with a side of fries and a cola. It was all downhill from there.


Today, more than 200,000 feed more than 50 million Americans at least once a day. And while new trends indicate that fast casual is fast-growing and considered to be a healthier option than fast food (think Panera), these restaurants (and I use the term loosely) cultivate nothing more than cultural degradation. Take Taco Bell: love it or hate it, it is in no way reflective of real Mexican cuisine.


That, in a nutshell, is the problem. The cultural degradation of our collective culinary ancestry for convenience’ sake has resulted in a wide open door for greedy manufacturers to continue to sell us swill and call it Italian food…or Chinese or Mexican. Many of these operations are touting the fact that they’re going healthier, with fresher options, sourced locally. I guess we can now look for that concept to be degraded as well.


Subway promises that we can “Eat Fresh.” Really?


In the end, fast food joints simply load up compromised ingredients with fat, sugar and salt, knowing full well what they’re peddling and watch us lap it up. And then everyone is surprised when we lose our health.


Is it all their fault? Are fast food companies the Darth Vadar of food? Yes and no. In my view, they’re in the business of making a profit, not worrying for our health and wellness. Do they take that to the extreme, selling us more and more junk food of more compromised quality?  Yes.


But they do it because we continue to buy it.


Why are companies beginning to talk about healthier options? We are demanding it. We, the consumers are saying, “Enough!”  We are sick and tired of being sick and tired and finally connecting it to the food we eat.


Is it enough to demand that fast food and casual dining spots are beginning to deliver healthier options? Or do we need to take a step back from all of it, from Olive Garden to Golden Corral, from Panera to Chipotle, McDonald’s to Wendy’s and look at what we’re eating?


Should we never enjoy the social pleasures of dining out? Of course we should. It’s completely fun to dress up and meet friends and loved ones for a meal out…once in a while! But it has become so commonplace that we have lost sight of the “specialness” of dining out, whether at a burger joint or a white tablecloth restaurant.


Isn’t it time to head back to the kitchen and take control of our food…and our health? Don’t you love gathering those you love around the table to enjoy a meal you cooked? Or that you cooked together? What do you think? How do you think we got here and what do we do now?