Industrialization and its Negative Impacts on Food Culture
The rise of industrialization has led to global shifts in many different areas, including food and nutrition. Currently, industrialization in the food industry is posing a great risk to future generations, as 57.9% of America's calorie intake consists of ultra-processed (industry-made) foods (Beck). This has fostered the rise of a new food culture in which the life expectancy of future generations is decreasing. Life expectancy has fallen by one-tenth of a year since 2014 and continues to decrease due to poor nutrition (Khazan). Yet, foods of poor nutritional value have become a staple during children's mealtimes. The food culture we once knew, the one that valued meal-times, the significance of preparing and enjoying food, and the cultural identity of food is disappearing. Food is now often seen with blatant disrespect, both in its preparation and in its detrimental effects to our health. In order to resist the shift into an industrialized food culture and restructure the food system we must water the seeds of our future – our children - with knowledge of food literacy.
Schools have been a great focus in creating healthy food systems, as it has greatly influenced the obesity epidemic and other metabolic syndrome characteristics. Worldwide childhood obesity has been at an all-time high with the number of overweight or obese children from 0-5 years old increasing by 9 million from 1990 to 2016 (“Facts and Figures on Childhood Obesity”). With these worrisome statistics, there have been multiple attempts to halt the epidemic. The most recent and most promising has been the "Let's Move" campaign, led by former First Lady Michelle Obama (Frank, et al.). However, two issues have stemmed from this initiative. The first was discussed in the documentary "Fed Up" that revealed that due to "good and not too radical" political campaigns, Michelle Obama was later forced to turn her campaign to focus more on increasing exercise in schools, rather than limiting the added sugar in foods and processed foods in schools (Marson et al.). The second was discussed in a panel of food experts that have tried to "Radicalize Food Systems Education" (Frank, et al.). One of the panelists revealed that fresh and healthy foods were in fact introduced to the schools in huge quantities due to "Let's Move," but were thrown away in equally large quantities (Frank, et al.). His struggle, when actually implementing this practice, was to see if integrating healthy foods throughout the menu actually worked and how he could get the children to eat it. Unfortunately, this problem is seen worldwide, as the other panelists mentioned the same issues happening in Chiapas, as well as the audience member that worked in the Brazilian school system (Frank, et al.). They all expressed the same frustrations in how changing the food menu is not bringing about sufficient change.
Utilizing school gardens could further increase the knowledge surrounding healthy eating in schools. School gardens, where students are taught to care for fruits and vegetables and the history behind them, have been on the rise and have proven to have positive influences on children’s eating behaviors (Feenstra, Gail, and Jeri Ohmart 2). When children tend to a school garden and collect their own food, see where it comes from, and work alongside their peers, they create a deeper connection with food (Frank, Kevin, et al.). This connection runs deep as food sacred - it is the center of our cultures, our identities, and the means by which we share our love with one another (Frank, Kevin, et al.). Yet, in the past few decades, as countries began developing an industrialized, ultra-processed food system, they have "developed" away from this ideal. The sacredness surrounding mealtimes and food preparation has disappeared from lives and has been replaced by what is easy, quick, and tasty, no matter its devastating effects on the world's health. This new means of considering food has started early, with deals with processed and “Big Food” companies invading schools, but it is crucial to bring back the importance of food to children's minds (Marson et al.). With the replacement of fresh, locally produced foods in these school communities, there is a shift that favors the accessibility to processed and unhealthy foods.
As previously mentioned, it is not enough to get healthy foods into schools, especially if they are not appetizing or interesting to children. Instead, children must learn to love food, understand its benefits, and to find food that tastes good and does good for their bodies (Meek and Tarlau 3). Therefore, there are a variety of programs, outside of school hours that have been developed in order to foster a sense of enthusiasm in children when thinking about food. Multicomponent interventions that allow for children to get involved in producing their own food showed the strongest evidence of an increase in fruit and vegetable consumption in children (Meek and Tarlau 2). Among them are Feedom Freedom, a community-led garden in Detroit where they "eat, share, trade, and sell to the community, both at the farm and at Eastern Market," (Hofmann). This organization holds workshops for community members, both young and old . Programs like these have been seen consistently throughout the globe, like Food and Farm Camp in California where each week is a different theme, making healthy eating a fun challenge and allowing kids to create delicious foods (Gardner). There are programs that work with academic incentives, like the Mobile Produce Market, in Chicago, where kids choose to purchase broccoli over ice-cream with their "fresh tickets" that are given to them as a reward for academic achievements (Cooper). There are programs that integrate teachers, like the one found in public schools in Chiapas, Mexico. In the Chiapas public schools, both students and teachers harvest the school garden, so that they can appreciate what they learn together and foster a deeper bond (Frank, Kevin, et al.). The teachers also began buying their grocery items from farmers’ markets, started food preparation at home, and some became vegetarians (Frank, Kevin, et al.). No matter where they are found, these programs have all instilled a shift in the community. One that is hopefully enough to offset the shift that has perpetrated the increase of processed foods.
By instilling love for food in children, and making that a norm, there will be the possibility to grow a sustainable and healthy food system, maintained by eco-friendly and local farming, with nutritious and tasty foods. The way to enforce change is through multi-faceted education, and nurturing children - the seeds of our future - with the knowledge they need to build a new culture and grow up to change the rules of food industry
Beck, Julie. “More Than Half of What Americans Eat Is 'Ultra-Processed'.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 10 Mar. 2016, www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/03/more-than-half-of-what-americans-eat-is-ultra-processed/472791/.
Cooper, Dara. “Black Feminist Freedom Dreams: Food Sovereignty and the Urgency of Intersectional Movement Building.” Food Literacy for All Seminar. Food Literacy for All Seminar, 9 Apr. 2019, Ann Arbor, Angell Hall.
“Facts and Figures on Childhood Obesity.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 13 Oct. 2017, www.who.int/end-childhood-obesity/facts/en/.
Feenstra, Gail, and Jeri Ohmart. “The Evolution of the School Food and Farm to School Movement in the United States: Connecting Childhood Health, Farms, and Communities.” Childhood Obesity, vol. 8, no. 4, Aug. 2012, pp. 280–289., doi:10.1089/chi.2012.0023.
Frank, Kevin, et al. “Radicalizing Food Systems Education: Perspectives from Detroit to Chiapas.” Food Literacy for All Seminar. Food Literacy for All Seminar, 16 Apr. 2019, Ann Arbor, Angell Hall.
Gardner, Christopher. “Stealth Nutrition .” Food Literacy for All Seminar. Food Literacy for All Seminar, 19 Mar. 2019, Ann Arbor, Angell Hall.
Hofmann, John. “Feedom Freedom Growers.” My Site: Feedom Freedom Growers, 22 Sept. 2014, urbanseed.info/listing/feedom-freedom-growers/.
Khazan, Olga. “Why Americans Die Younger Than Europeans.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 13 Dec. 2016, www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/12/why-are-so-many-americans-dying-young/510455/.
Meek, David, and Rebecca Tarlau. “Critical Food Systems Education (CFSE): Educating for Food Sovereignty.” Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, vol. 40, no. 3, 2015, pp. 237–260., doi:10.1080/21683565.2015.1130764.