I remember as a child reading a comic book about someone traveling to the future and seeing the wonders that technology would bring. After being shown flying cars and robots, he was shown tomatoes and blueberries the size of beach balls. I remember it seeming to me both incredible and weird. I guess it’s better than people dying of hunger, but who wants to eat a ninety pound tomato?
But that’s the kind of attitude people had when I was a child. We were putting people on the moon and believed science and technology would make everything better. We ate Wonderbread, which was stripped of all its nutrition and then scientifically “fortified”. We drank Koolaid instead of water. We consumed products rather than food.
Vegetables came in cans. So did a lot of fruit. Kids drank Tang because the astronauts did even though it tasted terrible. I’m convinced that’s what put an end to the era of manned space missions, a generation that equated being an astronaut with having to drink Tang.
We ate radically different than our grandparents had and we could only imagine it getting weirder. The Jetsons had humans eating nothing but flavored vitamin pills.
But somehow things turned around and consumers started demanding fresh vegetables instead of canned, water instead of soda. So that now any grocery store in a middle-class neighborhood offers not only a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, it offers decent choices of organic, cruelty-free, and vegan foods.
And yet, while many of us now have the option to eat healthier, more natural foods, while we no longer equate processed food with miracle food, our food is becoming in the main less natural. Worse still, the way we produce food is becoming less and less like what our ancestors would have appreciated. The small farmers are all but disappearing, and in their place, agri-business is not only dictating how we eat but having a large say in how other countries are permitted to farm. Farming has become more industrialized, centralized, corporatized. Growth hormones and genetically modified foods are becoming increasingly difficult to avoid. And the stores in which we buy our groceries just get bigger and bigger.
We often call this progress and thus inevitable. But remember, we once said the same thing about Tang. But for all our excitement over the moon landing, we managed to reject Tang, found better tasting, healthier liquids to consume. We don’t have to drink Tang, don’t have to accept what they pour in our glass. The future of food production and food consumption, if we continue on this trajectory, is one where the land is owned by the heirs of Bill Gates and farmed by migrant workers who have no ties to the land and no opportunity to build any future for themselves. Do you really want that?
And do you really want to eat ninety-pound blueberries?