Sunday, October 2, 2011

Unintended Consequences And The Standard American Diet

In India, the government offered a bounty on rats. The intention was to eradicate a noxious pest. One unanticipated result was the establishment of rat farms, where rats were bred and harvested for the bounty. In Florida, a worker at a dog kennel noticed lots of snakes on the premises. He systematically killed them all. Then the rat population increased dramatically.

These are examples of the Law of Unintended Consequences, which states that any human action—whether or not it produces the desired result—is likely to produce an entirely different result (possibly in conflict with the original intention.) Typically, such results are completely unexpected. Often, they are just as completely undesired.

Let's review some of the changes which the Standard American Diet has pioneered: American food has been stripped of virtually all of its essential nutrients. Sugar and fat seem to be the major ingredients in virtually every American food. (About 45 percent of the caloric value of our diet comes from fat, and we use about 100 pounds of sugar per person per year.) Our consumption of hydrogenated fat is the highest in the world. We have virtually eliminated vegetables from our diet. We have drastically reduced the variety of foodstuffs we eat. We no longer rotate our diet with the change of the seasons. We consume about six pounds of synthetic food additives per person per year. Our widespread use of denatured flours, refined sugars, devitalized fats and oils, and synthetic food additives has been in effect for about one hundred years. Speaking in individual terms, this is a long time. In terms of the human race, it is a very short time. These dietary changes are quite radical when compared to human dietary tradition. And they don't seem to be good for you, either. As the American diet has changed, so has our health. Americans now lead the world in obesity, diabetes and heart disease. In fact, consumption of the Standard American Diet constitutes a chronic metabolic insult. Ours is the only civilization in history which has single-handedly managed to break its food.

How did this come to pass? We did it ourselves. There doesn't seem to have been any kind of evil conspiracy, or divine intervention. It just kind of happened, as the result of many un-coordinated, short-sighted decisions—made with the very best of intentions by people who were only trying to improve the lot of suffering humanity.

Here is a timeline of this nutritional revolution:

1755: William Cullen produces ice by causing water to evaporate in a vacuum container.
1765: Spallanzani suggests preserving by means of hermetic sealing.
1795: Francois Appert designs preserving jar for food.
1802: Thomas Moore invents the refrigerator.
1802: World's first successful beet sugar factory begins operation.
1805: First important shipment of ice from New England is made by Frederick Tudor.
1810: Francois Appert wins prize for developing practical canning process.
1810: First tin can is patented.
1811: Work started on the National Road.
1812: British sailors eating canned soups and meat.
1818: Peter Durand introduces the tin can in America.
1819: Canning firms operating in New York City.
1820: William Underwood opens a canning factory in Boston.
1820: More than 9000 miles of surfaced roads in the United States.
1825: Thomas Kensett patents tin-plated cans.
Before 1830: Flour sieved through bolting cloth.
1834: Jacob Perkins invents first mechanical refrigerator.
1839: Glass bottles yield to tin cans.
1840: 4,500 miles of canals carry U.S. goods.
1843: Norman Rillieux patents his multiple-effect evaporator for sugar cane.
1853: National Road turned over to the states.
1855: Patent issued in England for dried milk.
1856: Gail Borden receives patent for condensed milk process.
1858: John L. Mason perfects the mason jar.
1860: More than 88,000 miles of surfaced roads in the United States.
1861: T.S. Mort builds first machine-chilled cold storage unit.
1861: 3,500 steamboats operating on western rivers.
Civil War: Both armies use canning to supply troops.
Civil War: northern plains begin using hard spring wheat.
1862: Beginning of transition from subsistence to commercial farming.
1864: First salmon cannery in the United States.
1864: Louis Pasteur invents pasteurization (for wine).
1865: Thaddeus Lowe invents ice machine.
1865: Patent for dried eggs issued.
1866: America's first refrigerated railroad car is built in Detroit.
1869: Hippolyte Mege-Mouries develops oleomargarine.
1870: Karl von Linde uses ammonia as refrigerant, begins its manufacture.
1870's: Introduction of roller milling for wheat.
1874: H. Solomon introduces pressure-cooking methods for canning foods.
1874: Refrigerator cars are used regularly to ship meat from Midwest stockyards to the east.
1874: Margarine introduced to the United States.
1877: Joel Tiffany patents a successful refrigerator car.
1877: Frozen mutton shipped from Argentina to France.
1878: Gustav de Laval invents the centrifugal cream separator.
1878: Full-scale egg dehydrating plant in operation.
1879: 40 tons of frozen mutton shipped from Australia to London.
1880: Canned fruits and meats first appear in stores.
Late 1880's: Mechanically refrigerated cars running on railroads.
1890: The Babcock test makes dairymen honest.
1892: First cans of pineapples.
1895: Lewis B. Halsey begins commercial production of pasteurized milk.
1897: American Sugar Company is formed.
1900: Dairy products a full-fledged industry.
1903: The great corporation is the basic unit of American industry.
1910: Steel-roller flour milling is commonplace.
1915: Ford produces his millionth car.
1919: 265,000 miles of railroad lines in America.
About 1920: Mechanical refrigerators for homes appear.
1920's: Solvent extraction replaces expeller-pressed process for oils.
1927: Airplanes first used to dust crops with insecticides.
1930: Thomas Midgley invents Freon.
1930's-now: Small farms yield to giant food companies.
1930's: The first packages of frozen food, developed by Clarence Birdseye, appear on the shelves of 10 grocery stores in Springfield, Mass.
Post-WWII: Restructured foods.
1990's: Recombinant DNA biologically engineered foods.

In June, 2002 the Journal of the American Medical Association recommended that every American use a daily multi-nutrient supplement to address the issue of deficient diets. What makes this unusual is the fact that mainstream medicine has fought tooth and nail with the forces of vitamin and mineral supplementation for decades. Previously, supplementation had been characterized by them as a mostly harmless waste of money.

Perhaps there may be some hope, after all.

No comments:

Post a Comment