My long and sorted history with food began at a very young age. It took me years to understand my addiction and how I used food to manage my emotions. By no means am I “cured.” Someone like me is never cured, just like an alcoholic is not cured of her addiction to beer and wine. I continue to learn about the complex relationship between food, chemicals, brain matter, and emotions. Part of this awareness has been looking back at what I ate as a child because that set the stage for the type of eater I became.
The Era(s) of Manufactured Processed Foods
I was born in the 1960s and was a child in the 70’s and 80’s. This was just bad luck for me. Historically, this timeframe is NOT the height of a healthy food industry. On the contrary, I think we could call this the “Age of Processed Food”. It’s when chemistry, manufacturing, and advertising came together to drop the P-Bomb (P for Processed) on the American diet. This movement has had lasting power because we have an abundance of processed foods today. Just look in the deli and snack aisles. In fact, about 70 percent of our calories in the U.S. comes from processed foods (PBS, 2013). We are eating double the amount of fat, 3 ½ times more sodium, and 60 percent more sugar than we did a century ago. This move to high-fat, salty and sugary processed foods happened gradually, starting with canning and pasteurization. Food scientists then included additives and preservatives, concentrated juices, and created frozen fully prepared meals.
Processing foods revved up in the 1950s. No more wartime rationing, and convenience was the name of the game. The 1950s saw a boom in frozen foods and TV dinners, and the 1960’s established the birth of artificial sweeteners, plastic bottles, and boil-in-the-bag products (Toops, 2010). It was also the decade when the microwave oven saw its way into mainstream homes, and Carnation spreadable sandwich meat products went to the moon on Apollo 11. The 1970s was the era where “lite” products were introduced, and consumer-spending habits were tracked quite easily using the laser scanners in the grocery stores. By the 1980s people were packing on the pounds, and Nestle introduced Lean Cuisine, and Healthy Choice frozen meals followed.
An Inventory of my Childhood Pantry
Given this history, it would have been no surprise to find the following items in my home when I was a kid:
• Tab, then Diet Pepsi and Diet Coke
• Deviled Ham in a can
• Vienna Sausages
• Lucky Charms
• Captain Crunch
• Count Choc-cula
• Yellow cheese in a plastic wrapper
• Oscar Meyer bologna
• Budding ham and turkey meat
• Ramen Noodles
• Loaves of fluffy white bread
• Jiffy Peanut butter and Winn Dixie brand grape jelly
• Quaker quick oats with lots of maple sugar
• Hydrox cookies (Sunshine’s version of the Oreo)
• Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup
• Chef Boyardee’s Meat Ravioli, Spaghetti-O’s, and Beef-a-Roni,