What Is Traditional Food?

“Traditional Food” is a term that is bandied about in Foodie circles, and used to give a feeling of authenticity to whatever method a particular author is defending as being the most superior way of making a thing. Traditions are funny things though… They tend to evolve over time, and become something different than what they started as.

To many people in the US, Boxed Macaroni and Cheese is now a Traditional Food. It is the food their grandmothers served to their mothers and fathers.

To some people, the meaning of traditional food means they have looked back a hundred years or so, and have decided that this is how humanity always did a thing.

To others, it means going back far enough that all traces of industrialism are removed from the processes – and most of these people have NO idea how far back they really have to go to achieve that goal.

A further wrinkle in defining “traditional” is that historic methods of preparing and preserving foods varied from family to family, culture to culture, and climate to climate. Chinese traditional cooking and preserving is different than European traditional cooking and preserving. While they have many aspects in common, details vary widely.

Because of the confusion, I’ve preferred to use the term “Historic” rather than “Traditional”. Historic Foods encompass those foods used to sustain human life and population growth for nearly seven millenia. It had to be successful to do that!

In general, if you want to remove industrialization from the food arena, you must go back at LEAST 200 years. This removes the industrialization processes only from food preparation and preservation. It does not remove industrialization from farming. Mono-cropping on a large scale was practiced for some time prior to that, first on a very limited, then increasingly large scale.

To achieve truly Historic food – that is, food that is clean, produced by nature (with or without the cooperation of people), and purely healthy, you must go back in time both in how the food is prepared, AND in how it is grown. This is true of plants, and animals. You must remove industrialization as far as possible from the production of the food, from birth or sprouting, to consumption.

Industrialization in food has caused more harm to the quality of food than anything else. Our government has entrenched industrialization into virtually all commercial food production processes – requiring the use of artificial means and methods, prohibiting the use of natural and healthy means and methods. If you buy it in a grocery store, the hand of government controlled industrialized contamination is already upon the food in one way or another. The only exception to that is a very few small local stores that carry food direct from small farms that are exempt from the heavy hand of government regulation. If the product is marketed nationally, the hand of government has already dirtied it.

Mass produced foods have lower nutrition, higher chemical contamination, higher foodborne illness contamination rates, and far lower digestibility. There is nothing about them that is superior to the customer in any way. They are NOT lower in cost. They only appear so, because they are subsidized by tax money, which you pay in ways that you do not associate with the food you are purchasing.

Industrialization has affected foods increasingly in negative ways for many centuries now. To remove it, we must go back further – to a time when crops were grown together, companion plants were used, chickens and pigeons and pigs were used to benefit the gardens, and the manure from farm animals, along with composted food and garden waste were the only enhancements available. Back to a time when food was harvested wild in dense forests with deep litter. Back to when any farm animal that was not disease hardy and an easy bearer was allowed to discontinue from the gene pool.

All of those natural conditions can be either utilized, or recreated on a polyculture, permaculture style farm. Farming becomes an endeavor of managed ecosystems involving the full range of organisms, rather than a science of crop management designed to produce hundreds of acres of a single crop on semi-sterile ground. Production rises, profit rises, and food quality is enhanced exponentially when the entire complement of crops and beneficials are balanced.

Food is then handled and processed cleanly – without chlorine or other chemicals, without artificial additives, and in small batches to control potential pathogen outbreak. Food gets from the producer to the customer fast – so it is not required to be genetically modified or chemically preserved to retain the appearance of freshness, and so that pathogens have no time to become dangerous contaminations. People are treated to fresh ingredients, which they then prepare from scratch. Preserved foods are dried, pickled, cold stored (root cellared type crops), or cured – some may be frozen. They are not heat sterilized, nor are they chemically embalmed (both processes destroy the majority of nutrients, and may introduce other problems as well).

REAL food – good Historic food – is produced in a partnership with nature (rather than a replacement of nature), and is prepared using only real food ingredients. It is NOT based upon traditions which contain hidden assumptions of safety, but upon time honored methods stretching back for thousands of years. There is a REASON why those methods survived for so long!

So the next time someone tells you that a process, or method, or concept is “Traditional”, ask them just what they mean by that. Because their definition of traditional may be completely different from yours.

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