December 31, 2009
The first decade of the millennium may have been a good one for cuisine, but it was a mixed bag in terms of food-related news. At the same time that Americans were expanding and refining their culinary repertoires, nearly every week they were getting new reasons to be fearful about what they ate—whether it was safe, whether it was healthy, and whether it would continue to be available at all. Here’s a look back at some of the biggest food news stories of the decade.
Total Recall: Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that many types of food-borne illness actually declined from the mid-1990s to 2004, you wouldn’t know it by watching the news. A series of high-profile contaminatinos by salmonella and other pathogens—in beef, spinach, peanut butter, tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, and cookie dough, to name a few—had people questioning the effectiveness of our food inspection system. And if that wasn’t bad enough, even pets and babies weren’t safe from dangerous substances in their food, although the latter case turned out to be due to a particularly nasty form of human greed.
Corn will save us all! Corn will spell our doom!: Probably no other food has had a more turbulent decade than corn. It started the millennium with many touting its use in corn-based ethanol as the fuel of the future, an environmentally friendlier alternative to fossil fuels that would decrease our dependence on foreign oil. No sooner had it begun to be regularly added to gasoline, though, than controversy ensued. Criticism of corn ethanol came from all sides: that it is driving up the prices of other crops, that it is making less farmland available for food, that it is not really that environmentally friendly after all, and that it reduces vehicle mileage, among other things. The debate continues.
Corn is making our children fat!: Corn also developed a bad reputation in the area of nutrition and public health, this time in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. The ubiquitous sweetener was demonized as one of the causes of our rising childhood obesity problem (another of the biggest stories of the decade) and increased incidence of type-2 diabetes. In response to the backlash, some food companies began producing versions of their products using cane sugar. Although some people prefer the flavor, sugar is sugar when it comes to calories and weight, as nutrition expert Marion Nestle has pointed out. Sugary soft drinks (whether made with high-fructose corn syrup or not) were removed from public schools in 2006.
Our food is disappearing!: From overfishing and pollution endangering the world’s seafood supply, to the mysterious colony collapse disorder that killed off honeybees starting in 2006, to concerns over how global warming could affect agriculture and biodiversity, insecurity over future food abundance was one of the decade’s most troubling themes.
Of course, the aughts weren’t entirely about doom and gloom. As Abby reported yesterday, people have become more conscious about their food choices and how they affect their health and the environment. And any decade that saw an explosion in popularity of both cupcakes and bacon (and, I’m sure, somewhere, a combination of the two) is okay by me.
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