By Caitlin Snavely and Megan McGing
In today’s home a large refrigerator is expected almost as much as a front door. In fact, 99.5% of US households contain a refrigerator (Wisegeek.org). It has become an essential element to our every day lives. Fresh food is an item we are able to have at our disposal with ease. To heighten the luxury of a refrigerator, preservatives are added to most food items to prolong the fresh life even more. In the distant past the majority of people’s time was spent on preparing homegrown foods and hunted game. The freshness of the food was essential because the food, meat especially, would spoil quickly in the physical environment. This lifestyle couldn’t change until forms of preservation were developed.
Different methods for food preservation included root cellars, typically dug under the house and the ice-box which was first developed in the early 1800s (Fairbanksmuseum.org).
Refrigerators did not begin being mass-produced until the late 1940s (wisegeek.org). Another way to prolong a food’s fresh life is through added preservatives. Natural preservatives were used as early as the 1600s, but artificial preservatives didn’t enter the market until 1938 (Diet.com). What started as innocent maintenance of fresh food quickly turned into an annual multi-million dollar business. The FDA approves use of BHA and BHT artificial preservatives in foods, which are banned in almost every other country (“Food, Inc.”). The use of artificial preservatives is further supported by consumer bulk purchasing due to its economical and time saving advantages. There is a demand for foods with artificial preservatives because this quality provides fewer disturbances in our daily lives possibly to our detriment.
Recent studies have linked preservatives found in “convenience foods” like frozen meals and snacks to not only adult diabetes, but also in juvenile pre-diabetes (The Canadian). In 2010, 1.9 million new cases of Type 2 diabetes were diagnosed (Source: CDC). Today there at 25.8 million people in the U.S. living with the disease, if things continue at the current rate, 1 in 3 adults will have diabetes by 2050 (Source: CDC). Once thought of as an age-related disease, recent data shows that age group death rates of 45-54, 55-65, and 65-74 in 2005 compared to the same age groups in 1980 increased significantly in percentage caused by Alzheimer’s proving the increase in the disease if lifestyle related vs. life expectancy related (The Dr. Oz Show.com). Most recently Alzheimer’s disease was found to be an insulin-related deficiency in the brain, denoting diabetes in the brain (Source: Rhode Island Hospital). Food culprits of these disease include: processed meats, high fructose corn syrups- ketchup, jams and jellies salad dressings, canned fruits and vegetables, white rice, French fries, and chicken nuggets (Source: Everyday Health).
It is unrealistic to think we can return to a lifestyle of hunting and gathering to have foods at their freshest, but a change must be implemented in order to avoid these harmful artificial preservatives. Urban areas currently have one way to exemplify this through local markets. New York City for example has a farmer’s market in Union Square four days a week. However, these markets have their flaws – many being hel during the work day which makes them inconvenient for those in the work force. Also, these markets come at a price with an increase in cost for locally grown, naturally raised/grown foods that can not appeal to some people’s lifestyles with tight money and time constraints. For those whose daily life schedules cannot change, the way we produce and provide fresh foods with no harmful artificial preservatives must be more convenient and affordable for a multitude of lifestyles.
Fresh markets should become even more localized. Community gardens should be provided in neighborhoods in the suburbs. They could be run by the communities themselves and those that can use it must put in some work, or through volunteers and students of agriculture.
An increase in individual home vegetable gardens would also be a worthy trend. In the city, built-in roof community gardens could be created.
A gardener could even live in each building to work and provide fresh produce to all of the tenants. In individual’s kitchens we could have smaller refrigerators to encourage frequent restocking, fewer microwaves to avoid frozen meals, and making way for more space for produce and home grown herb gardens.
Change will happen when it becomes a necessity for survival, not a choice. The long-term monetary costs of food high in preservatives will begin to prove to be more than the short-term costs of fresh-preservative-free food. Average indirect and direct costs of diabetes is $174 billion annually (CDC). Being surrounded by both aging boomers and children with medical problems, millenials will begin to feel the emotional costs of disease that can be aided or prevented by lifestyle choices. As designers, we will see this lifestyle change impact space planning allocation in our kitchens.
Alzheimer’s: Diabetes of the Brain?
Diabetes: Successes and Opportunities for Population-Based Prevention and Control at a Glance 2011
Are the BHA and BHT Preservative in Our Food Making Us Sick?
Diet and Dementia: Toxic Preservatives Contribute to Alzheimer’s Disease
10 Worst Processed Foods for People With Diabetes
Certain Preservatives Linked to Increase Diabetes Risk