As topics concerning various issues within our food system continue to make major headlines, the old saying “you are what you eat” comes to mind. No doubt, there are various social, cultural, ethical, and political reasons why one would decide to eat or not eat the foods they do. There has been increased awareness of the environmental and health impact of our current industrialized approach to food production and authors such as Michael Pollen, Wayne Roberts, and Mark Bittman, have begged the question: “What is wrong with the way we eat?”. To get a sense of a few of our world food-related problems, please see the diagram below:

Exhibit A

Food Cycle Diagram





When asking what is wrong with the way we eat, the proposed answers are definitely varied and multifaceted; theories for improved food systems or diets have also been vast. A summary of this literature typically supports adopting food systems and diets that stem from the way things used to be hundreds to thousands of years ago. Some of these suggestions include the “locavore” movement (referring to eating foods produced within a 100-mile radius), eating organically, eating a raw food diet, a plant based diet … and even a diet akin to that of caveman days (rooaaarr!) such as the Palaeolithic diet. Paleolithic nutrition is based on the premise that human genetics have scarcely changed since the dawn of agriculture and therefore, the ideal diet for health is one that resembles that of our ancestors.

Even eating the way our recent ancestors did (hey grandma!) receives a good rap for many reasons, including the fact that foods back then were minimally processed and less invasive to the environment.  Just one hundred years ago, there were no snack foods, fast food chains, marketing, or health claims. To quote Mark Bittman, “Hardly anything contained an ingredient list because it was the ingredient”. Some also argue that better quality foods were produced in the past because it was a less hurried time, and more foods were produced in smaller batches and by hand.

Over time however, the increased accessibility to far and yonder and advances in technology resulted in the development of margarine, TV dinners, huge amounts of meat, Skittles… essentially the world as we know it. Thinking about the evolution of the North American food industry does make me see a cycle, and I believe this can be great; either a nostalgia for the old days and/or the backlash against the obesity epidemic has given us an appreciation for artisan foods made with care and quality ingredients (such as the delicious Mrs. McGarrigle’s mustards and Fabrizia Funghi spreads!). However, I don’t believe our past is the answer to our current food problems—that is, I don’t think eating local, organic, or like a caveman, is necessarily better. I’ll discuss why in the next post.


This blog was written by Elis Halenko.

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