by Mimi Begas and Matt Giampietro
The topic of dietary trends is a relatively modern concept. The diet of the past was predicated upon a small assortment of products that were readily available to the consumer—locally grown vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy products, and meats. The birth of “eating trends” only came with the introduction of technology and globalization, whereby a wider and more exotic array of foods became available to the general public. With this shift in supply and accessibility, dietary patterns no longer depended on availability, which gave the consumer a newfound ability to choose what to eat. The modern, industrialized society ushered in a new dietary era of quick, inexpensive food. Advances in science introduced synthetic compounds that could hasten the food production process, augment the size of produce, and increase its preservation half-life. Other inventions such as microwaves hastened the preparation process. Scientific progress also enabled us to manufacture ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup to make food tastier. And globalization made foods from around the world available at local supermarkets throughout the US.
This easy access to various products and fast-paced preparations transformed the food lifestyle. Society was now supplied with giant strawberries at any season, ready-made, frozen meals that could be prepared within minutes, and quick, delicious food from fast-food restaurants. Technology thus created a food trend of processed, quick, delicious food. The resulting society evolved to have 1/3 of its population suffering with obesity, and increasing numbers of its population dying of heart disease and cancer. Scientific studies have linked pesticides in our food to certain cancers and birth defects, and many scientists argue that antibiotics injected in animals have caused us to develop a resistance to some infection-fighting drugs.
Reacting to this deterioration of society’s health as well as the environment, a new, organic food-trend has sprung. People are looking to reform their diet-habits with food that’s better for them and the environment. Organic food generally refers to crops that were grown and processed without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides, as well as meat/dairy products from animals that are given access to the outdoors, fed organically-grown feed, and are not injected with hormones.
The concept of keeping organic is simple enough, but the practice is not always so straightforward. As it stands, the primary hindrance is price. Eating organic is expensive. Organic foods are often almost double the price of their less regulated shelf mates, but there are budget friendly options. When sticking to the grocery store, buy produce that is in season. If a plant is in season, the supply climbs and the price lowers. This may limit the dinner menu, but it is good for the wallet. There are also options beyond the traditional grocery store setting.
Two current trends in food trade are farmers markets and co-ops. Farmers markets are pop-up marketplaces that offer local vendors the opportunity to sell their goods. These tend to be hotbeds of organic activity, and offer all varieties of food from produce to fish, and grains to desserts. Most organic stands are well marked, and without the cost of a middle man distributing the food, prices are often low. Co-ops offer a similar solution. Food co-ops are self-sustaining food trade organizations in which members pay a fee, and have access to discounted local produce and grocery items. Many lean towards organic and all natural goods, as well as many that exclusively offer organic fare.
Another means to buying organic is the web. Farmers markets and co-ops are great, but when time is an issue (as it so often is), organic goods are only a click away. Major online grocers like Fresh Direct and Pea Pod have organic sections of readily deliverable food, with reasonable pricing. There are also smaller operations such as New York based Urban Organic (www.urbanorganic.com) and Pennsylvania based Organic Provisions (www.orgfood.com) that offer farmer’s market-type organic goods on their websites.
As the organic trend progresses, accessibility and regulation will be its biggest hurdles. Readily available convenience foods, the western world’s current dietary blight, need to open up to organic reform. While high end venues such as Whole Foods offer a variety of health conscious grab and go options, the entire spectrum needs to adapt. The McDonalds and the Burger Kings of the world are under constant criticism for their roles in perpetuating the current obesity epidemic, offering high calorie, processed foods at low prices. Yet a gradual shift to organic, unprocessed ingredients and healthier menu-offerings can lead to fast food that fuels the consumer, without bleeding the wallet. In terms of regulation, there needs to be a shift in the standards of food regulation. Hormones and chemicals used for food in the United States are illegal elsewhere; this is nothing short of concerning. With adequate lobbying and consumer embargos on processed products, this can be overhauled. Cleaner food with a shorter shelf life are ultimately the better option, and as the future of organic foods continues, it will hopefully follow a regressive path, that sends food consumption back to where it began. Natural, unprocessed, food; good for the body and good for humanity.
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