A Short History of Organic Foods

Since the beginning of man’s written history, the cultivating of food has been one of his chief activities. In fact, the shift from the hunter/gatherer lifestyle to the process of agriculture as we know it today is mankind’s single most cataclysmic event, igniting several social and cultural revolutions (like the rise of civilization and of organized society).

Agricultural techniques developed and evolved across the years. Humans in different parts of the world adapted their agricultural process to fit their unique regional climatic and geographical conditions. The Chinese and Southern Indians perfected the art of cultivating rice paddies. Communities in Europe and in the temperate regions of the world became experts at other forms of cultivations. At some point, advancement in the area of agricultural plateau, and it remained so until about the 1900s. In the 1900s, humanity experienced something it had never experienced before: rapid population growth. It suddenly had to adapt its agricultural practices to meet the sudden increase in demand for food. The age of purely organic food came to an end. The age of chemically and mechanically assisted agriculture began.

Food production rose to unprecedented levels with millions of metric tons of wheat, rice and practically any type of grain imaginable being produced every year. Science in the 20th century underwent a second renaissance of sorts as well and many of its greatest achievement in the last hundred years have been in the field of agriculture or in fields that have applications in agricultural science. We started building machines that eased the process of plowing the land. In time, machines that handled plowing, seeding and harvesting were built. We started using artificial fertilizers to increase our yield and toxic chemicals to ward off pests (and, in the process, friendly bacteria and insects as well!). And in the last few decades of the 20th century, we began inventing crops ourselves, genetically modifying existing variants to suit our most precise needs.

Storming what had been nature’s dominion with all the tools and techniques science had to offer had a great impact not only on our environment but on our collective health as humanity and in the 1960s, a movement to return to organic food was set off by the publishing of a book called The Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson. In the book, Carson revealed how DDT had gross implications for our health. It was a New York Best-seller and it catapulted the movement to return to organic farming methods to the forefront. Today, we see an increased interest in returning to traditional methods of farming and in organic food. A generation that was bought up on genetically modified crops and processed food is learning to appreciate the nutritional (and culinary) value of organic food. In many ways, the history of organic food and the movement advocating its consumption is not a recent one. Organic food and traditional agricultural techniques have been around almost as long as humans have. It was punctuated, briefly, by a period of careless mass food production. There is hope, however, that mankind will return to its agricultural roots.

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