The concept of food dates all the way back to the beginning of life on earth. Every living species is dependent on another for food for survival. Of this, humans have been the most distinct in terms of food habits, having evolved to finer more delicate behavior of food consumption. However, storing this food or preserving it has been a concern and it is this issue that resulted in the practice of food adulteration.
We have, since prehistoric times, conserved food through adulteration and preservatives. The discovery of fire was not only a means to easily digest food but also to conserve it for an extended period of time. Then came salt that helped preserve meat and other items for a long time without cooking. With the evolution of mankind so did our methods of preservation and adulteration. We went on to use spices, herbs, and honey to lead, chalk, and other chemicals.
Humans have the natural drive to gain profit in whichever means possible. In the industry of food, it meant the use of artificial substitutes to natural ingredients. Adulteration for economic gains began in the Middle Ages with the inclusion of cheaper ingredients like ground nutshells, stones and dust in imported spices that were expensive. This meant that the merchants could gain a high profit by selling the adulterated item in place of the original for the same price.
Then on came the Victorian-Edwardian Era atrocity. It was the time of the Industrial Revolution and now more than ever, people were hungry for profit. With the growing urban population, Western cities like London faced an enormous challenge of feeding its population. It created an unprecedented demand for commodities and when the demand increases, so should the supply. Providing the end consumer with basic household necessities like food was a strategic challenge and this led to the birth of a new food processing technique. Some would say that the Victorians pioneered what we today know as the world of processed food.
This changed the hierarchy of buying items directly from the baker, farmer or supplier to being at the mercy of merchants or retailers in charge. The new process had more divisions from the farmer, the miller, the baker and the retainer. Since man’s hunger for surplus gains increased, some merchants would substitute real ingredients with cheaper alternatives to add weight, quantity and longevity. The merchants got away with adulteration since the new process meant lesser transparency as to where the food came from. Ingredients such as chalk, iron sulphate and plaster of Paris were some known harmful adulterants. This led to the death of countless children and adults and continues to do so till date.
Why did this trend of buying processed food prosper? Because it was affordable, easier to access and released the home-maker of the drudgery of making things from scratch. Since bread and milk were the most common items, they were most susceptible to adulteration. It then went on to disguise itself in raw materials like sugar, flour, oil and food colour. The first breakthrough to identifying and publishing this malpractice was done in 1820 by German chemist Frederick Accum. The first wave of legislation and monitoring of processed food happened in 1868 when Sir Arthur Hill Hassal published an article in The Lancet where he identified adulteration in nearly 2500 products.
Although the world has come a long way today in terms of awareness of unlawful practices in the processed food industry, we are yet to put a full stop to it. Due to the difficulty of proper implementation of law and regulation, manufacturers still get away with adulteration. In fact, it has now transformed into aerated drinks and junk food, inorganic farming and exploitation. Every processed food that you buy from the store contains one or more lethal substance. This, if not checked, can do only harm and no good for you, our children and our future.
That is why it is up to you and the community to make the choice against processed, adulterated food. For the betterment of our health, our planet and the future, join us in the movement towards clean food.