Monday, 27 April 2009

How did we survive before fridges?

Seriously. It's one of those things we take for granted. We need a fridge to keep food fresh how else would we do it? I just thought I'd explore this area a little and see what questions pop up and if I have any answers. Just thought I'd record this for anyone else who's interested.

My mum remembers a time without fridges. Perishables like butter, milk and eggs stored under the sink. Milk delivered daily. But what about fresh fruit and veg. Do fruit seasons provide fruit all year round? Think of fruit picking. I think strawberries are picked early summer, June and July. Plums, rhubarb and others late summer. Fine that's not all fruit but spring, summer and autumn have seasonal fruit but what about winter. That's 3-4 months without fruit. Assuming dried fruit isn't as good as fresh.

Did we just get our fresh vitamins from vegetables in winter? What is emphasised these days is year round freshness. That's key apparently. What I'm arguing is that fresh, as in freshly picked or harvested, wasn't possible then, yet we still survived. In fact we often thrived. We stored and preserved our food to maintain nutrient content and quality because we had to. We had no choice. We had to maintain knowledge and habits that made most efficient use of what we have. These days we can easily import freshly harvested fruit and veg. But are we missing something? Are we making best use of our resources and should we be so dependent on fresh produce?

I'm reading Dr Zhivago and it clearly reminds me that throughout history easy access to fresh food such as we have now. Has often been limited. This has led to disease but we forget that many also survived. Before fridges communities planned for winter. Produce was stored, tinned, pickled and so forth.

Should we forget these solutions now we have fridges and fresh produce all year round? I don't think so. These older ways are efficient ways of using resources. They reduced the fuel used to
provide nutrients and reduce costs. 

We're often told fresh food is needed for a healthy body to get the nutrients it needs. When I looked into this through a course at the Open University I found that the food industry is highly regulated. All areas, frozen, tinned, fresh are tightly controlled and quality is ensured.

Importantly though tinned food doesn't lose as much nutrient content as you'd think. As a way to get part of my 5 a day it's a god send since I don't have to worry about use by dates much. I can
store tinned or bottled items at home or work and use whenever. No planning needed. 

Anyway I'll stop there for now. I've been meaning to write about this for a while. There's much more to say. In essence i'm not so convinced our bodies are as weak as they are portrayed. We evolved in much tougher times than these. We've thrived for millennia without our current technology and I want to learn how and why. What have we forgotten and what can we learn?
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