My Lunch in 20 Years

…Will probably be a macro plate. But that is not what this post is about! (If you do want to see another yummy macro plate read yesterday’s post.) Last night I watched part of “The Future of Food“, a documentary on Netflix streaming.

(My lunch in 20 years)

(A McDonald’s lunch that is 20 years old – kidding, but this is probably what it would look like: completely and totally the same. The preservatives will keep it fresh. Maybe it will be a little dry. Source.)

The Future of Food: Some Simple Facts About The Food Industry’s History

Today’s facts are not even so much about the future of food, but of the past (I’ll cover the future in a later post, perhaps). I’ll start with a basic question – where are the farmers?

History of the Farming Labor Force

  • Currently (2010) less than 2% of the U.S. population are farmers.
  • In 1790, 90% of the population were farmers.
  • In 1840, 69% of the population were farmers.
  • In 1900, 38% of the population were farmers.
  • In 1940, 18% of the population were farmers.
  • In 1960, 8.3% of the population were farmers.
  • The numbers decline quickly after that, leading to today’s number (<2%).
  • (Source.)

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with the fact that fewer of us make a living working on a farm – it is just an interesting trend to follow. Obviously most of us work in offices nowadays. Onto more facts.

History of Agriculture

  • 12,000 years ago people began to plant and save seeds
  • Agriculture led to a huge boom of civilizations. Not having to spend our days hunting and gathering freed up our time to think, create, and develop complex social systems. Agriculture allowed us to discover wonderful things like calculus and to pursue the arts.

History of Food Variety

  • In China, they used to grow thousands of varieties of rice.
  • There used to be over 5000 varieties of potatoes worldwide. (Today there are 4 main varieties.)
  • There were over 7000 types of apples grown just in the U.S. in the 19th century.
  • About 97% of the varieties of fruits and vegetables that existed at the beginning of the 20th centry are now extinct.

This is another interesting trend. When there are fewer and fewer varieties of a type of plant, that plant becomes more and more susceptible to catastrophes. For example, the potato famine in Ireland killed 1 million people because they only grew a few varieties of potatoes. That same potato blight hit in Peru, but they did not suffer nearly as much because they had more varieties of potatoes and many were resistant to the blight. The blight only affected a few of the crops, and people did not starve.

My Farming History

My family used to be farmers. We still have the farms! But we don’t farm anything anymore. Sometimes I wish that I would have had the choice/opportunity to work on a farm (or even run one). My sister works at an organic farm. I wish I had that job when I was in high school (I worked at a video store instead, and then a restaurant).

Have you seen The Future of Food? What did you think? What do you think about the trends in agriculture currently – fewer and fewer farmers, more and more genetic modifications (more on this later), less variety, and so on…?

13 Replies to “My Lunch in 20 Years”

  1. Wow! Those are really interesting statistics. Thnks for sharing.

    Your macrobiotic plate looks way better than the McDonald’s lunch anyway.

  2. Interesting stats… I mean, I always assumed that was the case but have never seen any hard evidence until now. Thanks for sharing that.

    I worked on a small family farm last summer and probably will go back to it after I graduate in the spring. It’s the best job I ever had- hard, hard work but so much fun and incredibly rewarding. I have tremendous respect for my bosses, a husband and wife team with two kids under age 3. I don’t know how they do it.

    1. @Anna: That is so awesome. At some point (soon, hopefully) I would like to take a few years away from office work and work on a farm. I think it’s important to see how we get our food firsthand!

  3. Maggie,
    I have not seen The Future of Food, but I want to. Sounds like something I would really enjoy. I would also like to experience those 7,000 types of apples grown in the 1800’s. 😉

    McDonald’s meal after 20 years – gross…and very scary!

  4. Y’know, when you put up a side-by-side comparison of the macrobiotic plate vs. the Mickey D’s it there really is not only a visual impact as to the difference (and potential consequences) but a shocking psychological one. I gazed at the macro plate and all I could imagine was being healthy, energetic, and long-living. That idea actually made me FEEL good inside and prompted me to desire the healthy meal. Then I looked at the fast food and literally felt repulsed. The info on farming and where our food is coming from is illuminating. I have a goal to settle down eventually into growing my own healthy food, even if I have to do it while still running a business and pay somebody to keep an eye on things. THANK you for the great post.

  5. I’ve never seen The Future of Food, but those facts are fascinating – and incredibly sad. My older sister helps run a co-op garden in Florida, and I’m hoping to participate in one next summer…but farming is a dream I’ve always had. I can’t think of anything more rewarding and satisfying than growing my own healthy produce and knowing exactly where it came from.

  6. This is so interesting! – Like outsourcing food of most people’s lives during the past decades. Food has to become part of our daily lives again if people want to live on and be healthy. I really believe we need organic farms and food education for everybody at school. There must be a change!

  7. Very interesting post! I’ll definitely have to see the Future of Food. I can’t believe there were so many varieties of food! It’s really sad that we will never get to experience them. I wonder if the percentage of available foods that would be considered “super foods” was higher back then as well. Meaning that a lot of the varieties that were lost were higher in nutrients. Speaking of potato varieties, I absolutely love purple potatoes (not the little ones that come in mixed bags, but the big ones you get at the asian market). They’re so sweet. Mmm.

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