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Big Nutritional Changes in Recent History

The domestication of livestock for food occurred very recently in time.  In most regions of the world it coincided with grain and vegetable farming, which commenced, in most cases, anywhere from 10,000 to 4,000 years ago depending on the region of the world one studies.  Yet as recently as the Twentieth Century there were still small isolated pockets of people here and there who were still Hunter Gatherers.  But the Peace Corp., missionaries, and others driven to do good deeds worked rapidly to eliminate those few remaining pockets of healthy people by teaching them "modern" grain farming methods to improve their food supplies.  For the unfortunate late comers to modern civilization the changes in their foods have been abrupt to the extreme.

Here in the United States we have also experienced significant changes in our foods in a matter of a very few decades.  For the most part the residents of the first permanent settlements (circa 1600) in what is now the United States had to live off the land.  Sure they had brought with them their livestock and seeds for gardens, but hunting, fishing, and the gathering and cultivation of wild indigenous vegetables and fruits were vital and significant food sources.  In 1800 about 95% of the U.S. population was still considered rural and farming (at a very minimum gardening) was nearly everyone's business.  By 1920 though the rural population of the country had dropped to about 50% and in the 1970s it had dropped to 25%, which is about where it is today.

In the 1960s, even though urban numbers had risen significantly, it was not uncommon for city dwellers to still have vegetable gardens and fruit trees.  But now a garden in any town, much less a city, is a rarity.  Shockingly farmers too are a rarity with only one percent of our nation's population making a living off the land.  But most shocking of all is the fact that most of the folks who make their living by ranching and farming do not raise their own food.  They go to town and purchase most if not all of their foodstuffs!

Fast and Furious

The first major change in our country's foods commenced in the 1800s with the creation of the first modern and commercial cereal foods by the Seventh-day Adventists who were strict vegetarians.  The Adventists formed the Western Health Reform Institute in the 1860s.  The Institute was later renamed the Battle Creek Sanitarium after its location in Battle Creek, Michigan.  The Adventists manufactured, promoted, and sold cereals.  Common cereals are: wheat, rice, rye, oats, barley, corn (maize), and sorghum. 

In 1894, W.K. Kellogg was trying to improve the vegetarian diet of hospital patients.  He was searching for a digestible bread substitute using the process of boiling wheat.  Kellogg accidentally left a pot of boiled wheat to stand and the wheat became tempered (soften).  When Kellogg rolled the tempered or softened wheat and let it dry, each grain of wheat emerged as a large thin flake.  The flakes turned out to be a tasty cereal.  In the years that followed cereal production and the varieties of cereals soared.  Even Wall Street got into the act and there was a cereal stock market mania in the early 1920s!  By the time 1950 rolled around "breakfast" cereal was a mainstay of the American diet.

The changes in our foods really came fast and furious after W.W.II; so fast that by the late 1950s people were already speculating on how long it would be before everyone would simply suck down a paste squeezed from a tube (like an astronaut) that would contain all the ingredients for a healthy body.  That kind of thinking is more prevalent today as can be noted by all the attention consumers give to concocted foods, preserved foods, convenience foods, snacks, drinks, fast foods, and supplements.  Obviously folks do not realize that the complexity of the nutrient makeup and mix required by all living animals goes well beyond the most sophisticated analysis to date.  That means there is no such thing as a tube of gunk we can eat on the run that will provide exactly what our bodies require for optimal health.  And there is no way to calculate what supplements one needs to make up for what he is or is not eating.  Yet nearly everyone in America believes just the opposite.

Scientists have conclusively proven, and commonsense supports, that the foods all animals require for optimal health and vitality are the same foods they always ate before man started changing the natural way with modern agricultural concepts, mechanization, and chemical concoctions.  As I have stated over and over again in previous essays and this one, the biggest change in man's food was when he invented grain farming.  And it makes sense too.  No other form of agriculture, except maybe dairying, is more unnatural.

To grow grain man must prepare the ground to eliminate competitive plants, carefully plant one variety of grass seed, and then protect the emerging grass plants from grazing critters.  He allows the grasses to fully mature, flower, and produce the maximum number of cured seeds.  Then after the grass dies, but before the seeds fall to the ground, he chops down the grass to collect its cured seeds, stores the seeds, and consumes them throughout the year.  This never occurred in nature prior to man's intervention.

Yes, whenever and wherever grain farming first commenced it caused a drastic change in man's nutritional intake.  But in most cases grain farming merely supplemented man's other natural foodstuffs so its impact was minimized.  Then in more modern times technological advances greatly increased grain production and its uses and consequently grain consumption.  With the advent of modern machinery, superior fertilization, improved grass species, extensive storage facilities, and highly efficient transportation systems man has been able to greatly increase grain production to levels never before imagined by farmers of just three generations ago.

Grain-Feeding America's Livestock

The first self-propelled grain combines (machines that harvest grain) were introduced during World War II and they enabled U.S. farmers to produce substantially more grain than the nation's population could consume.  So the farmers started feeding it to their livestock to add value to their livestock production, not as an exception as in prior years, but as the rule.  Feedlots were invented and that created a whole new form of livestock production.  (The first commercial feedlot in Texas was started in 1950!)  Consequently the supply of grain-fed cattle soared.  By 1955 it had shot up to 7.4 billion pounds.  It reached 22.8 billion pounds in 2004 while the non-fed beef supply fell from 5.7 billion pounds in 1955 to 3.6 billion pounds today.  (Today's non-fed beef supply comes mainly from old cull cows and cull bulls that are made into ground beef mostly for the school lunch program and a whole host of processed meat products such as sausages, canned meats, etc.)

In the late 1950s the poultry industry started moving the chickens out of the pastures, where they had grazed while being fed grain, into huge buildings where they were fed only grain.  Now instead of taking three months or more to raise a fryer, it takes seven weeks.  During the 1960s the dairy industry evolved away from the small 25-cow, pasture-based dairies to huge operations with 1,000 or more cows housed in feedlot conditions being fed grain and alfalfa.  Milk production per cow has soared as a result.  By the 1970s the pork industry followed suit by moving sows indoors where they were fed grain and turned into living machines that mass produced more live pigs than ever before.  The piglets are weaned at 30 days and are fed more grain so they grow exceptionally fast to produce more pork than ever before imagined from a sow.

If we step back 100 years we'd discover that nearly all of the beef sold in America was grass-fed.  Folks let their chickens and pigs range freely and for the most part those critters had to fend for themselves like their wild counterparts.  Consequently fried chicken and chicken and dumplings were considered luxurious cuisine in the good old days.

Fat Animals, Fat People

By looking at old photographs and movies we can see how people changed along with their foods.  In the 1950s most movie actors, and even the people hired to play minor roles in the background, were thin.  (They were also always nicely dressed.)  Go back 100 years to old flicks and pictures, and you have to search hard and long to find obese people.  But not today.  Fat people are the norm.

We can really see glaring examples of this in the agricultural community.  One-hundred-year-old pictures of farmers and ranchers nearly always showed skinny people.  Today most of the farmers and ranchers are as fat, or fatter, than their show animals.  Pick up an agricultural publication sometime.  Many of the people in the pictures are grotesquely fat.  Nearly all are overweight.

Lots of folks believe that the primary reason for these differences in "body styles" is that people did more physical labor back then.  For a fact they were more physical, but by a long shot diet plays a larger role in obesity and chronic disease than does exercise.  I'm proof positive.  I've always worked physically.  But before I learned about the differences between real food and concocted food I was always gaining weight a little each year.  Every once and awhile I'd interrupt the upward climb with a Sunday Supplement crash diet.  But I kept gaining and eventually reached 193 pounds.  After I changed my diet to real foods and started eating MORE FOOD my weight dropped.  Now I'm 150 pounds.  That's not bad for being 5' 10.5" tall.  I lost that weight not by working out but by eating different foods.  Today I still keep active working on the ranch like I've being doing for decades plus I do a little Yoga.  But my weight stays stable because of my diet rather than by pushing away from the table, cutting off the fat, and strenuous exercise.  (Actually the Yoga I do is pretty rigorous.)

Why are the people who eat the evolutionary diet (Best and Worst Foods), often referred to as the Paleo diet, the Hunter Gatherer diet, or the Cavemen diet, fit and trim?  Primarily it's because their cell membranes have the same essential fat ratios as the green leafy plant.  Their vitamin levels and other nutrients for optimal health and body function are perfect.  Peer reviewed, professionally published reports of controlled studies of laboratory animals show that incidences of chronic disease (including obesity) accelerates dramatically as the ratio of Omega-6 fatty acids to Omega-3 fatty acids in the membranes of their bodies’ cells moves higher than 4:1.  This is quite disturbing when we note that nutritional scientists estimate that the ratio for the average American is somewhere between 20:1 and 30:1 while the optimal ratio is 1:1.

When the ratio of O6 to O3 fatty acids exceeds 4:1 in the membranes of a body's cells, over time the cells start "misfiring."  The misfiring cells result in body failure.  All body failures are called Chronic Diseases and 70% of all deaths in our country are caused by Chronic Disease.  Most other deaths are from various causes and virtually no one in America dies of natural causes.  (See Center for Disease Control for more statistics regarding death and disease.)

Grains skew the fatty acid ratios of cell membranes away from the ideal balance of 1:1.  That is because grains are mostly Omega-6 sources.  For instance wheat's ratio is around 9:1, rice is around 30:1, and corn is around 59:1.  Grain-fed beef is about 15:1.  Grain-fed skinless chicken breasts are 18:1.  Grain-fed chicken eggs are 20:1.  Compare those ratios with grass-fed meats and grass-fed eggs which hover around 1:1.

Yes, even in modern times foods have changed dramatically within just a few years.  Of course our body's nutritional requirements can't possibly change that fast.  In fact it may take literally hundreds of thousands of years for our bodies to evolve and adapt to even a minor change in the nutrient stream that's required for optimal body function.  This makes the following customer's note take on real significant meaning.  It illustrates perfectly how our foods have changed within our own lifetimes.  Take a gander.

Just thought you'd be interested to know my first bite from a sirloin tasted familiar.  You said the taste would be different from what I'm used to and it was.  Thing is, it took me back about 45 years to my childhood in PA.  My father would buy a quarter of beef from a local farmer who also did his own butchering.  Guess what?  That's what your beef tasted like!  I had forgotten how good beef really tastes.

My wife and I are hooked.  We'll be back when we're ready for more.  Next up is pork.  Any chicken available?  Regards, J.S. Tyler, TX

Ted Slanker
Slanker's Grass-Fed Meats