Produce Is Less Healthy Than It Was 70 Years Ago

Migrant farm workers harvesting strawberries in California. – USAToday

I would say this is actionable information:

Produce Is Less Healthy Than It Was 70 Years Ago, USA Today, 5 July 2018

70 years ago, [broccoli] contained twice the calcium, on average, and more than five times the amount of vitamin A. The same could be said for a lot of our fruits and vegetables.

And that’s because:

Over the past two centuries, U.S. population growth and food production methods have stressed and degraded our dirt.  Our farming soil is not as alive* as it once was, and experts say that’s a problem.

* By alive they mean: “Healthy soil should be teeming with microbes and worms and rich with decomposed organic matter.”

Some direct causes of poor soil health:

  • In the 1950s, farmers began using synthetic fertilizers.
  • Monocropping: Farmers began producing one or two crops, planted year after year, especially corn and soy.

This was startling:

  • From 1800 to 2017, the U.S. population grew from 5 million to 325.7 million people.
  • Today, 25 million — 8 percent of Americans — are food insecure, meaning they are unable to consistently access or afford adequate food.

That’s a lot more people to feed in a relatively short time. And it looks like we’re not keeping up. Food insecurity, however, has more to do with politics, wealth inequality, and racism than it has to do with food production. Still, this isn’t helping:

Yet, over a quarter of U.S. cropland is used to grow corn, a crop we barely eat. Most of the corn we grow goes to feeding livestock or our gas tanks. And of the small portion we do eat, most of that goes into making sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup.

Back to the actionable part … The article talks about what farmers can do to improve soil health, for example not tilling fields and using cover crops. But in the mean time, we’re eating foods that may contain fewer nutrients than these tables say they do.

What can we as consumers do?

6 thoughts on “Produce Is Less Healthy Than It Was 70 Years Ago

  1. mboydp

    We’ve known about soil depletion for quite a while. And it’s been publicized (e.g., Re people who lack access to decent (or any) non-junk food, perhaps one can donate actual food (canned, dried) to free-food banks–there are plenty of them, even in the “food deserts”, at least in my general area. I also donate money to groups like Philabundance, and I’ve helped persuade some local food stores (e.g., Trader Joe’s, Wolff’s) to donate their food that’s just past the sell-by date to Philabundance and similar groups, rather than just trashing it. Three, non-profit hospitals like Lankenau have built community gardens on their large property, with the produce available to any and all, not just the patients. Farm-to-school programs are another great idea but are being implemented by private donors/activists, as nothing like this will come from the current federal govt.
    Just some thoughts.


  2. Conor Flynn

    “What can we as consumers do?” A: Take vitamins? I’m only sort-of kidding. It may be cheaper and easier to just give everyone a mulitvitamin with the missing nutrients. I mean, that is why our milk and bread is already supplemented. Another example: there was a big push to genetically engineer rice with vitamin A until it was eventually realized that it would be a lot easier and cheaper to just hand out vitamin A supplements. I mean, its not “ideal” (where all of our food would be healthy and satisfying and completely nutritious) but it is practical.


  3. mboydp

    It probably will become truly necessary, as I don’t see how the soil-depletion problem can be solved, esp. with the current EPA and other govt agencies.


    1. Bix Post author

      Welp, you’re right about that. The EPA’s job, the reason it came into being:

      “The Environmental Protection Agency protects people and the environment from significant health risks, sponsors and conducts research, and develops and enforces environmental regulations.”

      Something went wrong somewhere. It’s now more like the Corporation Protection Agency, a 180 degree turnaround.


  4. Carol A Seidl

    Interesting article. While produce may be far less nutritious, many people have access to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and eat more fresh produce year round than our ancestors were able to. I’m wondering if this offsets the downside of nutrient depletion in soil.



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