Our industrial agricultural system is an amazing thing, one that we pretty much take for granted. It produces abundant nutritious food for our own population and for export, getting ever more efficient. Less than 5% of our population works on farms, compared with 38% in 1900 and 64% in 1850. Yields per acre have grown steadily too: Kansas winter wheat yields grew from about 25 bushels per acre in 1960 to over 40 in 2010. (Some sources indicate that wheat yields in medieval England were about 5 bushels per acre.).
The supply chain's evolution has matched that of farm's. First, the use of ice to revolutionized the shipping of meat in the late 1800s, and then produce (from California and Florida to the Northeast). Synthetic refrigerants developed in the the '20s and '30s enabled shippers to ship fresh food even longer distances over greater time periods.
The development of the suburbs and the interstate highway system after WWII (Inspired by what Eisenhower had seen of Hitler's autobahns in Germany) drove development of the supermarket format that we largely take for granted. The idea that just about any fresh food should be available at any time of year and in any location is unprecedented. These developments have made food more abundant and less expensive than it has ever been: families spent about 35% of their income on food in 1900; whereas today that figure is about 5%.
And yet. There is room for improvement and /or change. The center aisles of the supermarket consist mainly of highly processed food that uses corn and soy products, sugar and naturally artificial flavorings and colorings. A review of the cereal aisle never fails to bemuse: how many ways can you deliver sugary, highly processed grain based breakfast foods in a way that ensures the growth of type 2 diabetes? Ditto with the aisle full of soft drinks.
How many times have you purchased and apple at the local supermarket - this within 50 miles of one of the great produce growing regions in the globe - and find that it is woody and has little taste? Or eaten a tomato that is round and red -gassed to make it so - and flavorless? It is as if the modern food system has delivered the form of food you need but not the substance.
I wonder if our food system is ready for its next evolution, or disruption. Industrial scale farms need to figure out how to run with lower quantities of fertilizers and pesticides and move beyond mono culture, building, not depleting their soil. Portions of the supply chain need to become "hyper local", so that travel times or some products are drastically reduced. And whereas the delivery of a tomato of any kind - even one without flavor - to your local supermarket was miraculous in 1950, today, we need new miracles around flavor, quality, variety, provenance.
This next evolution of the industrial food system is probably some weird amalgam of organic (Walmart has gone organic), the current setup and farmers' markets.
This Week's Bake
This Saturday I will bake the old favorite - Raisin Walnut Multigrain, which is dense and rich with raisins and nuts. I use 65% White, 25% fresh ground Whole Wheat and 10% Rye and a multi grain soaker with about 10 kinds of seeds and grains. (For those of you with nut issues, I will bake white sourdough.)
Your Canadian Baker