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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

We Evolved to Eat Processed Food. No, Really

Posted By on Wed, Aug 11, 2010 at 5:41 PM

Our favorite morsel from the Web.

Historian Rachel Laudan has a prescription for eating better: Demand more industrial foods.

Laudan's essay "In Praise of Fast Food" (it originally appeared under a different title in The Gastronomica Reader) feels as provocative in the Utne Reader as a full-page glossy for McNuggets. Laudan's thesis is that Slow Food purists are Luddites with no grasp of history: The gospel of fresh, natural food is a post-industrial one. Laudan:

As a historian I cannot accept the account of the past implied by this movement: the sunny, rural days of yore contrasted with the gray industrial present. It gains credence not from scholarship but from evocative dichotomies: fresh and natural versus processed and preserved; local versus global; slow versus fast; artisanal and traditional versus urban and industrial; healthful versus contaminated. History shows, I believe, that the Luddites have things back to front.
Through most of history only the very poor ate whole grains, fresh greens, and roots ripped from the soil. What's more, our false cultural nostalgia for artisanal foods is well and good, but a labor-intensive food system means that the providers of that food will, sort of literally, have to become slaves.

Laudan again:

In the first half of the 20th century, Italians embraced factory-made pasta and canned tomatoes. In the second half, Japanese women welcomed factory-made bread because they could sleep a little longer instead of getting up to make rice. As supermarkets appeared in Eastern Europe, people rejoiced at the convenience of ready-made goods. For all, culinary modernism had proved what was wanted: food that was processed, preservable, industrial, novel, and fast, the food of the elite at a price everyone could afford. Where modern food became available, people grew taller and stronger and lived longer. Men had choices other than hard agricultural labor; women had choices other than kneeling at the metate five hours a day.
Interesting. Think we'll order out for pizza, flip through the gorgeous pictorial of Greek peasant cooking in Saveur, and call it a night.

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