The American Food Revolution: The Development of the Food and Grocery Industry in the Northwest

The shaping of American cooking has been dependent on various factors - cooking technologies and available ingredients, and the variety of ethnicity of its people. The Industrial Revolution brought about a series of revolutions in food production, distribution and supply. In the American melting pot - numerous immigrant cuisines have influenced, and then been changed by America's diversity.

The Development of The Food Industry

Originally, the first settlers used the English style of cooking. Cooking was done on the hearth over smoky open fires. The diet was mainly meat and grain (breads and porrage). The more well-to-do had servants to prepare and serve meals, and sometimes this was done in a separate cookhouse. Food preparations were labor intensive and many households had servants to gather ingredients, and to prepare and serve meals, as well as do laundry and other household chores. Prior to 1870 90% of Americans lived in rural settings and most raised their own produce, grains and livestock. See The Way We Ate: Pacific Northwest Cooking, 1843-1900 by Jacqueline B. Williams for more on life in the early pioneer and settlement days of the Pacific Northwest.

Cities were smaller, and often had farmer's markets, but many city dwellers ate out much of the time. The industrial revolution made it possible to grow, harvest and ship food on a much greater scale, as well as created a demand that especially the potato helped fill. Farm machinery, including tractors (1920's) and reapers (McCormick, 1834), and harvester combines increased production, by gradually small farms were replaced by larger farms and corporate farming. Roads were poor and often muddy and deeply rutted (made much worse by heavy frieght wagons) - making any transport of crops difficult until canal systems or turnpikes were developed. The railroads could transport livestock and produce rapidly across the country (refrigerated cars were put into use after 1867), and with the development of the the trucking industry which increased dramatically with the creation of the Interstate Highway System, and now, even air freight, we have a truely international supply of fresh foods. Most fruits and vegetables are usually available year round on supermarket shelves - it is not unusual to have fresh produce from South America available in wintery North America.

See Agribusiness: Corporte Farming, Industrial Agriculture, and Factory Farming. Agricultural Marketing. and the Globalization of World food systems.

Food preservation is another issue. Fresh food could be eaten in season, but from medieval times, drying, salt and smoke were used to preserve food out of season. Refrigeration, commercial canning and frozen food have made possible the supermarket and increased home storage of meat and produce.

The Food Processing Industry has learned how to preserve food, and make it attractive and tasty. Today, most of the food energy consumed by the world population is supplied by the food industry operated by multinational corporations using intensive farming and industrial agriculture methods. Agribusiness. Food Manufacture

However, there are issues.

Food Safety is a major concern among consumers, recent nation wide recalls of products that have been contaminated by E coli or Salmonella; "Mad cow" scares.

Processed foods are often high in Sodium and High Frutose Corn Syrup which have contributed to increased obesity, heart desease and diabetes.

With increasing concern in agribusiness over multinational corporations owning the world food supply through patents on genetically modified food, there has been a growing trend toward sustainable agricultural practices. This approach, partly fueled by consumer demand, encourages biodiversity, local self-reliance and organic farming methods.

Some interesting reading can be found in A Nation of Farmers: Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil by Sharon Astyk and Aaron Newton, Wendell Berry's essays in Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food and The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry

From Trading Posts to MegaStores: The Evolution of America's Grocery Industry in the Pacific Northwest