When I was growing up in Big-’80s New Jersey, the boys ate burgers, pizza and deli heroes while the girls, most of whom were obsessed with being thin, subsisted on bagels, granola bars, Diet Coke and Dexatrim. My high school harbored more than a few hollow-eyed honeys with legs like goitered vacuum tubes but obesity was rare. Two decades later, more than a quarter of all Americans between 17 and 24 are too fat to serve in the military. Last I heard, getting a sports scholarship to a Big Three university was steadily losing ground among high school go-getters to attending the French Culinary Institute and roasting squab for Jaques Pepin.
Is America’s corpulence like the ex-addict’s 20-pound spread, a gluttonous reaction to the drug drought following the ‘80’s “war”? Is apocalypse anxiety driving America’s impulse to gorge on refined sugar and saturated fat? More likely it’s over-consumption of processed foods that were once reasonably-portioned and not-so-bad. I would love to see a detailed comparison of a Big Mac from 1985 with one from today. If the modern fast food hamburger is 93% government-subsidized corn — most of it genetically modified for insect repellance and maximum yield — my guess is that at some point at least 20% of that was something closer to simple beef.
The standing moonsault obesity has landed on everything from individual life expectancy to national security is driving an examination of the changes America’s food supply has undergone over the last twenty-five years. And as the depths of corporate greed, government shortsightedness, and consumer ignorance come to light, more and more of us are taking a longer look at the food on our plates and what its long term costs are for our bodies and planet.
Living in New York City I’m exposed to new trends almost as soon as they occur and as a journalist I’m finding food to be an inexhaustible source of material worth covering. Everybody from the downtown auteur to the guy down the hall has a food horror story to tell, a great recipe to share, or crackpot diet to promote. Consequently, I keep finding myself on the food beat.
A couple of weeks ago I visited Norwich Meadows Farm, the organic CSA I subscribed to last summer. (See Wooden Hill Farms below for more on CSAs.) I took the four-hour ride north in order to trace produce from its source on the farm to the hands of urban consumers and provide a glimpse of the simultaneous laboriousness and efficiency of a local food system. Visiting the place where my food came from and spending time with the people who grew it was a revelation to me. Here’s a link to the video that resulted.