Nothing new this week. I’ll have something fresh in 2 weeks. I wrote the essay below over two years ago. Little has changed in the collective awareness we have of our food system since I wrote this — and little has changed in the system itself, or how we use it. Me thinks the train has left the station and the 300,000,000 drivers of the train don’t realize they are the drivers…
Larger Purpose; Time’s Arrow Slowing Down
Americans are less healthy, less fit, and less discriminating in the choices which comprise our physicality than ever. We had seen this coming for decades, and we let it in anyway – because letting it in required less work than keeping it out. And there’s this; the National Institute for Health now suggests an alarming trend that could manifest within a few decades. Unless serious efforts are met to combat the increasing rate of childhood obesity, for the first time in American history, children born in subsequent decades will have a shorter lifespan than their parents.
It is suggested by critical thinkers like Michael Pollan, and others like him, that we should work our way toward the past, in hope that we change our future to become a healthier food-nation. Enter, Michael Pollan’s open letter to President Obama.
However, from historic human social and technical trends, I see little which has happened in the past to suggest these proposed changes of national bad habits could have a wide-spread effect on the future. I suggest using the non-wellness related books of Charles S. Maier (Among Empires), Jared Diamond (Collapse), and Andrew J. Bacevich (The Limits Of Power) to further examine the ultimate wellness concern; the ability of a society to identify what needs to be changed, and the willingness of its people to insist on making those changes.
These works of social and political scholarship attempt to demonstrate that human societies are often capable of, but very often unwilling, to learn from their mistakes. Thus, what we try to think of as advancements, are often just highly devised concessions to a more dangerous road, but one which is more easily traveled. Increasingly, I am convinced the waters of our advanced food system, and the obesity culture it has created, flow too fast and too wide to be slowed down, let alone altered or reversed.
Perhaps a less fit, less healthy food-culture is just our social and evolutionary destiny – our Manifat Destiny. And the white elephant in the room might actually be 300 million white elephants, each wondering what went wrong, and why everyone else is so heavy – and what time the drive-thru on the way home from work closes.
Advancement: It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time
Modernity is a playground for the unintended consequences of our advanced food system. Billions of people have contributed to the advancements of our food culture in the past 10,000 years, and billions more have been its victim. Hunters, gatherers, herders, farmers, and then scientists, engineers, transportation specialists, nutritionists, and consumers have all played a part in paving the road on which we now roll. We have all benefitted and suffered from these advancements, as we will continue to benefit and suffer from them.
Despite that, this is where we are in our food culture, there is an increasing prejudice from a few toward the many who consume highly processed foods, as well those who have helped to create these products. I am reminded of my father who wants to move to a new assisted living center; one with fewer old people in it. That scenario seems both contrarian, and prejudiced.
There are now volumes of books available distilling all the political and economic reasons – the contributing factors of how our food system has evolved into its current state. Yet there is little credence given to the concept that; it all might have seemed like a good idea at the time… Be it Diet Coke, Snack Well cookies, or single-serving ravioli in a can, we have often embraced these advancements at their introduction, as meeting the needs of changing human, social, and economic conditions. But we learn and quickly forget, again and again, that from such good ideas, sometimes comes a whole lot of not-so-good. It seems the unintended consequences of advancement, might tend to stifle… advancement? Or, humanity itself is God’s own Ponzi scheme.
Concepts And Realism
Though the notion of turning back our food system one hundred years seems like an enticing idea on the surface (to me it is a supreme idea), what Mr. Pollan and others like him amay not be accounting for is a lack of willingness on the part of many people to make those necessary changes – individuals and leaders alike. That is, people can be informed of what needs to be changed and of how those changes can help us, but history shows we’re not very good listeners. Our best shot at success with the food system may just be to keep on pumping those extra B vitamins into those Ho-Ho’s, and to keep trying to perfect protein infused Gummy Bears and pork rinds.
History offers us few good examples of us reversing strong social and technical trends. We may abandon some social and technical trends in favor of others once we realize they are not working well for us, but we tend to not reverse anything. Humans are more the walking away type. It is frequently proven that the next positive advancement in the food system is just as laden with unintended consequences as the advancement we had just abandoned. It’s official; I have no answers, only questions, and a heart full of concern. Be well. rc
I end this diatribe with 2 questions from which I would appreciate your responses to:
1) Do you believe that our food system will truly be in a better state in 10 years than it is today?
2) Will this column affect how you think about our food system?
Please check back in 2 weeks to see what happens when I push the “stop” button on the blender in my head…