Processed Foods, A Rancher Inquires
While doing chores this morning my Droid vibrated to signal incoming data of some sort. My general rule of thumb is to ignore all incoming data until after chores and after my son is fed. However, I was in the pickup returning from checking cows, so I checked. It was a tweet from Rob Smart:
An interesting question, I had my own thoughts on the issue, but the timing was perfect, after taking my son to preschool on Tuesdays, I usually stop by the local bakery. Our bakery is a hot spot for farmers and ranchers to stop in for a cup of coffee and talk some local news, weather, politics and sports before continuing with their day. This would be an opportunity for me ask some others about their thoughts on the matter.
I dropped my son off and stopped at the Country Bakery. Sure enough, a farmer and a couple of ranchers were enjoying coffee.
Question: “What do you guys think about processed foods?”
Answer: “You’ve gotta process it a bit or the critters can’t digest it enough.”
Response: “No, in stores.”
Reply: “You’ve gotta have smaller quantities available so folks who don’t have enough critters to justify buying bulk can get what they need.”
Response: “Hang on guys, I’m talking about human food, in the grocery store.”
Reply: “Oh, (pause) I suppose I’d answer the same for humans, ‘cept instead of being able to digest it, I’d say most people can’t cook it anymore due to time and skill.”
Interesting, the correlation between feeding livestock and humans is very similar. This supported what my thoughts originally were.
If you think about when the increase in processed foods hit the stores, it was around the same time that there was a household shift from a single wage earner to two wage earners. There was no one at home to actually prepare meals. Families increased their involvement in activities outside the home and decreased the available time in the home for actually cooking and eating. People starting demanding food that was quick and easy to heat and eat.
I noticed this change locally in the mid 1980’s, particularly in the beef industry. There was a shift downward in demand for brisket, chucks, roasts and rounds, yet these cuts were still coming off the steer, what could be done with them to make them sellable? After lengthy research and development, these whole cuts were broken down, cooked, mixed with vegetables, spices and sauces and used to make a variety of microwavable dinners; value was added back to the product. Interestingly, the new processed, quick heat and eat products were offered in a variety of sizes and ethnic flavors. Products were introduced to meet specific demands in specific regions.
After my short conversation at the bakery, I also decided I wanted to go check out our local supermarket. The word “dominate” in Rob’s question had me wondering, were processed foods actually “dominating” the shelves?
This was the first time I had really ever evaluated the shelving in our local market. Typically, I have a list, I grab what is on my list, I pay and I leave. This time, I walked and observed. Just inside the door, along the front wall is the dog food and alcohol. I continued along the south wall, the chilled goods, all meat, and dairy products. The only processed foods were the cheeses and yoghurt. The facing shelving contained soups, crackers and cookies.
The west wall was split, one-third beverages, beer,soda, milk and juice and two-thirds fresh fruits and vegetables.
The north wall was split in half, bread products and frozen goods. Its facing shelving was peanut butter, jams, canned beans, salad dressings and condiments.
Aisle one held canned fruit, vegetables, juices, pastas, and hot sauces.
Aisle two contained baby goods, household goods along one side and paper products with ten feet of candy.
Aisle three was split with one whole side devoted to hygiene and health products and the other breakfast cereals and foods.
Aisle four is where I find coffee, spices, sugar, flour, jello, pudding, oils and baking mixes.
The last aisle contained cleaning products and pet supplies and food.
With the exception of about ten feet of freezer space and four feet of chilled space, the choices for “heat and eat” food were limited and the prices for those foods were not something I would be willing to pay. Perhaps our store is unique, but I did not come away thinking it was “dominated” by highly processed foods.
Certainly, nearly three aisles were devoted to preserved, canned and dried goods, but not what I would consider “highly processed.” I know that as a family we will shop for food once a week and usually buy enough fresh fruits and vegetables for consumption during the week, but also pick up the frozen and canned vegetables and fruits as well as dried goods. Maybe other stores are different, but our local market seems to provide basic staples and minimally processed items.
I think the bottom line comes down to personal choice and priorities. Some families make a deliberate choice to have one or more sit-down family suppers each week. Some family’s make the decision to constantly eat on the run, which I do not think is healthy way to live, but it is their choice. I, for one, am thankful for frozen hot pockets and burritos that I can wrap in tinfoil, throw on the manifold of whatever piece of equipment I am using and have a quick bite and keep farming.
As a wrap up on processed foods, I have the following thoughts:
- Processed foods add value to products that many people either do not want to take the time to cook, or they do not know how to cook it.
- Stores tend to stock what their customers buy, so perhaps percentages of processed foods on the shelf vary depending on the demographic.
- I for one am thankful for the ability to be able to buy canned and dried goods at the store because even our family is often short on time when it comes to meals.
- Unless our economy and society as whole experiences a major change, easy to prepare and “quick, heat and eat” products are going to be in demand.
What are your thoughts on processed foods and their presence in your local store?
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