Sunday, February 21, 2010
Do you know what a cucumber or a tomato tastes like? This may sound like a silly question, but with the way our diet evolves, and the contemporary food industry manufactures food, many Americans have no idea what a vegetable tastes like.
Many Americans, as well as their counterparts in the developed world, have never tasted a real tomato, a cucumber or a strawberry. For many, the only encounters with vegetables have been through an industrial mock-up food, which advertising presents as the real thing.
As kids, a tomato with a slice of bread would have been a wonderful part of our diet. Sometimes, with just a little more on the side, it would make an entire meal – and a good one as well. I can still recall biting into a ripe tomato with a pinch of salt spread on it, and long forgotten tastes and aromas feel my watering mouth, as if it were the best dessert I was fantasizing about.
The tomatoes of my childhood looked nothing like those we buy today. They came in odd shapes with lumps and bumps, and could have any variation of red, yellow and green. No two tomatoes looked the same. As fruit and vegetables had short shelf life, we had to eat them within a few days. So we made them a major part of our diet, and together with all other vegetables and fruit, ate them with every meal, and between meals. They were our diet, and when we were hungry we simply opened the fridge, found a vegetable or a fruit we liked and snacked.
But these days have gone. Farming has long been replaced by manufacturing, and tastes and flavours have disappeared from our diet in favour of shelf life, color and shape. After all, it’s not the taste but the form that you see on TV, and it’s not the aroma but the color that you see through the plastic bags that separate you, the shopper, from what you buy.
While some still reminiscence of the days were our diet was full of flavour, recent generations only knows the tasteless produce they grew up with, and mistake them for the real thing. No wonder that children nowadays relate healthy to tasteless. No wonder that parents promise a treat to ‘good kids’ who eat this hated food.
By creating produce that is easy to advertise on TV, easy to store, easy to ship, we have created a corporate heaven. But what is the price we pay?
The obvious price is obesity and our health. Fruit and vegetables are hardly considered a normal part of our diet anymore, but rather a medicine one must swallow to keep healthy. But this is only part of the picture. The more subtle price is of us losing our judgment and ability to discriminate. So now, instead of manufacturers competing to satisfy our taste in food, they fight to change our taste to fit their manufacturing.
If this trend continues, we will all end up eating artificially shaped and flavoured lab-manufactured protein. Is this is the world we want our children to inherit?