History of Food

Submitted by admin on Tue, 08/30/2016 - 23:14

The point of this brief history of food is only partly about what we eat – the dissertation for my Masters was about food policy, and to fully understand and comment on policy, you have to look at the context in which the policy is being made, so I developed a “Context Analysis”.

The role of Government is to control, administer and influence the realm with their policies. My purpose in carrying out the context analysis was to try and establish a fair picture of where we have come from, who is involved, and what are the cultural roles of food and farming. I also hope to generate some ideas of what is likely in the future from this.

This had two main parts,

  • Historical – how the sector had developed in recent years – (it’s a diachronic analysis – over the passage of time) It is this work that is summarised here.
  • Broader Context – a survey of who all the players are – In one week (4-11 May in 2002) I found 67 typical websites of typical representatives of all the main sectors involved with food, land use and agriculture. The survey is still available at http://food.woodlands-web.com/food/01foodindex.htm (it’s a synchronic analysis - a snapshot at one time)

There are 12 very short sections

  1. The big historical picture - the original questions
  2. Imaginary starting point - in 1900, all food was organically produced, but there were problems !
  3. Tractors and farm equipment
  4. Fertilizers
  5. Pesticides, insecticides, fungicides
  6. Plant breeding
  7. Storage of crops
  8. The factory field - fields for an industrial process
  9. Animal feeds - what animals eat
  10. Animal health - old and new problems
  11. The animal factory - do animals live in factories now ?
  12. Food processing and preserving
  13. Food additives
  14. Summary and notes

For the record, I was able to draw some conclusions from “reading” the context:-

  1. The major process at work in food production, processing and supply is a process of industrialisation. The consumers are generally not aware that they are consuming industrial products.
  2. There are a variety of responses, reactions and side-effects to this industrialisation,
  3. Parallel to the industrialisation is also a process of globalisation, which has led to well-documented protests and reactions.

The evidence for this industrialisation hypothesis was as follows

  1. In the changes in Food and Farming techniques sector. The pattern of development of techniques in each sector is typified by the page on Tractors. A similar pattern also occurs throughout, from pesticides to food processing. It is difficult to draw a line for when 'a set of techniques' becomes 'an industry'. The hydroponic production of salad crops is clearly an industry where each parameter can be controlled in an industrial way, though some farms producing milk and cheese may still be pre-industrial.
  2. In the Business sector. Industrialisation can be seen in the sheer scale of operations of some companies, but it is generally played-down, with little or no emphasis on it, and the languages of conservation, sustainability and caring are used by all of the companies involved. While some of the firms may be making genuine attempts to change to sustainable practices, this may not be true for all of them.
  3. The industrialisation process is revealed most by the food testing and farm software companies, rather than by their clients, the producers. From these, it may even be valid to say that there is now a HIGH-TECH food production industry
  4. In the Campaigns, Organisations and Conservation sector. The industrial aspects of agriculture are not mentioned here - the organisations focus on their own remits.
  5. In the Government and International bodies sector. A very administrative and neutral tone is used - they have vast amounts of information on their sites, and they generally do not mention Industrialisation as a distinct issue
  6. The Cultural Sources sector. They are very keen on food, but generally ignore its industrial sources. However,
  7. The diet, additives, allergies and vitamins sector. (which I have included among the cultural sources) is notable for its vigour - many of the adverts imply imbalance in nutrition, that needs to be corrected using their products. This imbalance could be seen as a problem resulting from industrialisation.

Obviously, this is a short “history of food” section, so I just reprint here the 12 pieces that formed that historical section. The full context analysis is at http://food.woodlands-web.com/food/01foodindex.htm

The food elements of the project are at http://food.woodlands-web.com/

And the discourse toolbox is at  http://www.discoursetoolbox.co.uk/

The main source I used for the detailed information in this section is:-

Brown, Gourlay, Harrison, Morris, Tagg, Weaver et al, (Block 5 working group) 1980, “Living with Technology – Block 5 – Food”, The Open University, Milton Keynes.