Consumers Got Exactly What They Asked For

Prairie Gleanings

A new book points out that consumers are responsible for so many processed foods in our grocery stores. So, why are they so mad at farmers?

Published on: April 27, 2012
Last week, I picked up a new book – An Economist Gets Lunch by Tyler Cowen. The blurb promised a refreshing look at mainstream food production and the foodie revolution through the eyes of an economist. I was intrigued.

I haven’t yet finished the book, but, thus far, I’m impressed. In the early pages, Cowen admonishes the naysayers of modern ag production. Sure, McDonald’s, Hungry-Man and Spam are examples of low-nutrition, mass-produced food that is made possible via our country’s extensive ag and transportation system.

However, Cowen notes, “The printing press brought us both good and bad novels, but was a cultural boon nonetheless.”

And guess who’s to blame for the flood of poor food choices? It’s not mainstream ag. According to Cowen, it’s the consumer – GASP! I know. What a crazy notion that our food production system would supply what consumers demand.

Here’s Cowen’s reasoning. The trend toward heavily processed foods began with World War II. The U.S. put a premium on packaging and shipping foods to our boys overseas. Interesting bit: some of Swanson’s early T.V. dinner offerings were based on an executive’s meal-ready-to-eat experience in WWII.

At this point, a little invention called the television came along and reinforced our fast and easy dinner consumption habits, Cowen says. He also notes that more women took to the workforce. “By 1975, housewives were working 32 fewer hours a week preparing meals and cleaning up, on average, than their counterparts from 1910.”

All of these factors combined pushed our nation toward fast, easy and cheap food sources. It shouldn’t come as a shock that the consumer got exactly what he/she wanted. The next time you hear a consumer vilifying mainstream food production, say, “Hey buddy, I’m just giving you what you asked for.”