On September 9, 2016, Sadie Stein contributed an article to the New York Times that looks historically at the dietary changes that occurred at the American dinner table during the Depression Era.
Many Americans suffered from hunger during this period, as may be infered from the "some 85,000 meals a day" handed out in New York bread lines by 1931 (Stein). These bread lines were not a stable infrastructure, however, with their "dubious nutritional standards and uncertain supplies" (Stein). Stein writes, "[Diseases] of malnutrition were rampant. The effects of vitamin deficiency could be felt into the war years, when a startling number of young draftees failed their physicals." Since the country was in desperate need of nutrition, "domestic scientists, recipe testers, efficiency experts and nutritionists" - all food scientists of sorts - banded together to innovate and educate American homemakers (Stein). These discussions of influencing homemakers made me think of Laura Shapiro's Something from the Oven; now, instead of industry trying to change the consumption habits of female homemakers, U.S. administration was trying to encourage women to serve nutritious foods while stigmatizing meals served for purposes of "'flavor satisfaction'" (Stein).
Of course, this shifting emphasis on nutrition over taste was especially practical during a period of malnutrition, but it makes me wonder if it has a lasting influence on the near-obsession with fortification that takes place in American markets today. In Melanie Warner's Pandora's Lunchbox, she discusses the fortification of cereals with vitamins and the increased use of supplemental vitamins by Americans. These vitamins are synthesized inorganically, which means that many complementary nutrients that might be found in natural sources of these vitamins are not being supplied (Warner 89). These nutritional additives are not only incomplete, but can actually have adverse effects in large dosages (Warner 86). From the Depression Era when people did not receive complete nutrition, to today, where most Americans receive the vitamins, etc. that they need, it seems that there is still a gap in our knowledge about what we need to eat to live our healthiest lives. Misinformation about or shortages of food have contributed to the narrative of America as a place where unhealthy eating habits are fostered (whether intentionally or not); science and technology can be named as the reasons we have reached this point.
Only science and technology can give us the information to move us forward in the story.
Shapiro, Laura. Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950’s America. Viking, 2004. Print.
Stein, Sadie. "The Depression Radically Changed the Way Americans Ate." The New York Times, 9
September 2016. Web.
Warner, Melanie. Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal. Scribner:
New York, 2013. Print.