FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000

Is Bigger Better?

The abundance of America’s food supply in the postwar period raised concerns and fed controversy. Critics argued that the drive to achieve high yields and low food prices did not always take into account the hidden costs of mass production: threats to the environment, the welfare of animals, and the health and safety of workers and consumers, and the viability of small-scale farmers. The debates among scientists, farmers, politicians, and concerned citizens influenced changes in policy, marketing, and public opinion. Because food is so essential, the conversations are ongoing.

Silent Spring, 1962

Silent Spring, 1962

Biologist Rachel Carson sounded the alarm on the pesticide DDT in her groundbreaking book, Silent Spring. DDT was banned in the United States in 1972 because it posed a long-term danger to people, animals, and the environment.

A new breed

A new breed

Canola oil is one example of a “new and improved” food.  Extracted from rapeseed plants, the oil was not consumable by humans until scientists created a hybrid variety in 1986. Then, in 1995, genetically engineered strains of this crop made it resistant to the herbicide RoundUp, and large-scale production took off. By 2000, canola was the third most-consumed vegetable oil worldwide.

Benefit Concert, 1985

Benefit Concert, 1985

Musicians Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings participated in the first Farm Aid Concert in 1985.  The event brought attention to independent farmers struggling to keep their farms at a time of economic uncertainty in the 1980s.

Courtesy of Paul Natkin/PhotoReserve, Inc.