Many health officials criticize the modern American diet, suggesting that our grandparents’ nutrition was notably superior. In reality, most people in the ‘50s and ‘60s ate a high-fat, high-cholesterol and high-sugar diet. Local grocers sold only full-fat versions of dairy products. Most recipe books listed lard—a solid block of pig fat—as a cooking staple. And dinner in many households consisted of the standard meat and potatoes. Few of these dietary habits met today’s threshold for “healthy.”
But that hasn’t stopped lawmakers from using food as a scapegoat for obesity. Just this week, the Los Angeles City Council recommended a ban on new fast food restaurants, Oregon’s Multnomah County proposed a menu labeling ordinance, and Senator Hillary Clinton called for a total overhaul of U.S. food regulations. We may not have more “bad” food in our lives, but we certainly have more paranoia. As Reason magazine reminds us:
It’s also easy to forget that before America fell in love with cheap, convenient, standardized junk food, it loved cheap, convenient, independently deep-fried junk food … The idea that rootless corporate invaders derailed our healthy native diet may be chicken soup for the tubby trial lawyer’s soul, but in reality overeating fatty, salty, sugar-laden food is as American as apple pie.
Other politically correct assumptions are easily debunked by a quick survey of the facts. In today’s New York Times, author Sarah Murray breaks down the misconceptions about “food miles.” Murray points out that a ship carrying hundreds of thousands of vegetables containers is much more energy efficient than a pickup truck traveling 10 miles to haul a few baskets to a local farmers market. And there’s even a larger picture:
Perhaps the most powerful driver of the local food movement is its rejection of industrialized production. Yet feeding the world’s 6.6 billion people, more than half of whom now live in cities, is not possible without mass production.