Wednesday kicks off the Annual Winter Dance Party festivities here in Clear Lake. Each year at this time, the infamous Surf Ballroom hosts activities encouraging participants to hop back in time and remember the era of Rock and Roll music that was epitomized by Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper, who tragically died in a plane crash after finishing an event in Clear Lake on February 2, 1959. That day was immortalized as “The Day the Music Died” in the 1972 anthem American Pie. For many, that tour and the deaths of these Rock and Roll legends, marked the end of a period in history.
Music is not the only aspect of American culture that has undergone major shifts. The American Food Industry, for example, experienced a similar end of innocence in the late 1950s. However, it wasn’t marked by quite as drastic change as the “Day the Music Died.” In the food industry in America, change had been brewing. Many people don’t know that [arguably] the most significant shift in American food dates back to 1899. In 1899, Chemist David Wesson introduced high-heat processing of vegetable oils with cottonseed oil. His discovery began a century of misinformation, propaganda, and the country’s switch to unhealthy vegetable oils.
In many ways, the subsequent food shifts that occurred were merely survival tactics in the midst of the wartime experience. For example between 1911 and 1917, leading up to and during WWI, butter and eggs were in short supply and Crisco provided an alternative without needing these scarce ingredients. Industrialization in the 1800s paved the way for convenience foods, which soared in supply and demand from the 1920s through the 1950s. These cheaply produced “foods” included Velveeta, canned foods, Jell-O, Kool-Aid, margarine, non-dairy whipped cream and frozen foods. The Great Depression in the 1930s further amplified the attractiveness of cheap food.
Below is a timeline of some of the most significant changes in food in the United States between the 1930s and 1950s:
1930- Margarine consumption exceeds butter consumption
1937- Cottonseed oil consumption exceeds coconut oil for the first time; Spam introduced
1940’s- MSG comes into use; factory-made cheese take the place of traditional cheese
1943- US begins supplementing bread and grain products to make up for nutritional deficiencies
1948- Obesity and diabetes are on the rise due to consumption of trans fats
1940’s-1950’s- Natural and artificial flavors are invented
1954- Swanson introduces frozen dinners (to use up their excess turkey supply)
1955- McDonalds and Ray Croc introduce the $0.15 hamburger as the “All-American Meal”
1957- Burger King introduces the Whopper
1958- General Mills introduces Cocoa Puffs, it is 43% sugar; Sweet’n Low is introduced as an artificial sweetener [SOURCE]:
By 1959, McDonalds had opened its 100th restaurant in the U.S. and a new era in food production and consumption was well underway. Yet now, in 2018, nearly sixty years since that shift, Americans are sicker than we’ve ever been. The total U.S. healthcare expenditure in 2015 was $3.2 trillion, per the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, accounting for 17.8% of our GDP. Between 2014 and 2015, spending on prescription drugs in the US grew by 9% to $325 billion. In 2015, we had the highest diabetes and obesity rates of any nation in the entire world.
Cheap food. Fast food. It is proving to not be all that it was cracked up to be.
On February 2, 1959 the “music died” and many said innocence was lost forever. Likewise, the end of the 1950s marked the United States’ full embrace of industrialized food production and a toxic food supply. Furthermore, throughout the 1950s, consumers and most policymakers were not concerned about the potential health risks of pesticides. Food was cheaper due to the new chemical formulations and with the new pesticides there were no documented cases of people dying or being seriously hurt. As a result, the new pesticides seemed safe, especially compared to the forms of arsenic that had killed people in the 20s and 30s. Continuing into the 1960s and 70s, the production of processed food continued to gain momentum despite a small counter-culture group of “hippies” speaking out against the practices. Those of you who grew up in this period will likely remember the arrival of Cool Whip, Jell-O “salad,” Spaghetti-Os and Hamburger Helper. However, red flags were beginning to raise across the nation as the impact of this new way of food was beginning to reveal its consequences.
It is no surprise, then, that in 1972 the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, Clean Air Act, Consumer Product Safety Act and Clean Water Act all passed. The EPA also totally banned DDT in the US in 1972. In 1976, Red Dye No. 2 was banned by the FDA because studies had shown it might cause cancer. Red M&Ms disappeared for 11 years because of the ban. Yet even amidst the discovery of potential toxins in the food supply, processed food continued to be produced, marketed, and consumed at incredible rates. And in 1979, children became the primary target of the industrialized food system with the arrival of the McDonalds Happy Meal. As a child of the 1980s myself, I vividly remember being enamored by food advertising and anticipating stops at McDonalds with great joy and excitement. Food packaging and TV commercials were directed at this next generation of consumers, my generation. The food products, filled with trans fats, refined carbohydrates, sugar and chemical food additives were (and continue to be) highly addictive, and companies easily secured long-term consumers.
It is no wonder we are now seeing such incredibly high rates not only of diabetes and obesity, but also autoimmune dis-ease states, cancers, mental health disorders, hormonal imbalances and food allergies.
Processed food (think labels with lots of ingredients, some unpronounceable and many artificial) continues to be a staple in the Standard American Diet (SAD) even though science has revealed how potentially harmful it can be. It is time we put it back in its rightful place--not on our dinner plates. I’m not saying we can never indulge in a convenience food, or that fast food has to be entirely eliminated from our lives. However, indulging should be just that--an occasional allowance, not a regular part of our diet. For our family, indulging looks like once per month or less.
We have now discovered that there were (and continue to be) serious health consequences directly related to industrial food production practices. Thankfully, in recent years, the medical system (specifically Functional Medicine) has begun integrating diet and lifestyle modification into its treatment options. Functional Medicine practitioners are regularly prescribing diets capable of preventing and reversing symptoms of a variety of dis-ease states. To learn more about functional medicine, visit https://www.ifm.org/functional-medicine/.
BE WELLness partners with local practitioners, therapists, counselors and health educators to help spread the word about the impact of diet on health. Simply Nourished was first opened to make quality, minimally processed and allergy-friendly foods accessible. If you haven't already, we hope you'll stop in to see all that we have to offer as we attempt to bring wellness within reach here in North Iowa. Winter hours are Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 11-6 and Saturday 10-2. Simply Nourished, an organic, specialty and local food market is located at 18 N. 3rd Street in Clear Lake.