A Relationship Worth Saving

      6 Comments on A Relationship Worth Saving

“Kale for Sale” – Photo by Michael Kostors

As a professional chef, avid world traveler, and conscious global citizen, analyzing the industrialization of food is of particular interest to me, and equal parts fascinating and disturbing. Humans’ relationship to the food they eat, for most of history, was based on what food was available in a given geographic area. That same type of relationship continued as humans became agrarian societies. Then things started to change dramatically as globalized food trade, importing and exporting became a driving force of economy, politics, and power.1 The immense changes in food production and distribution—namely those that followed the industrial revolution of the 20th century—created the ability to feed billions more people hundreds of additional food items, but they also created a major disconnect between the majority of consumers and the path from farm to supermarket.

Also, a huge amount of food became less and less “food-like” in an effort to appeal to or to meet the demands of economic, dietary, and aesthetic sociocultural and political trends. As Michael Pollan cleverly noted, the food industry started selling to consumers “the problem and the solution in the same packaging.”2 The industrial process took basic plant foods, processed them down, dissected and reduced them into chemical/nutrient component selling-points (e.g. carbs, fats, vitamins), and subsequently came up with seemingly infinite ways to attempt to piece those components back together to deliver something as nutritious as the original plant sources. Government agencies of the Global North, such as the USDA and FDA, have played a huge role in this food metamorphosis.3

Following major advancements in studies of health, nutrition, and environmental science, the 21st century has brought with it important movements, legislature, and campaigns to undo some of the negative effects of the industrialization of food. For example, organic farming, farm-to-table, and non-GMO initiatives aim to not only reconnect the consumer with knowledge about the source of the food they eat, but also to address problems such as pollution and sustainability.

Each time I travel to someplace significantly more distanced from the industrial food world than the U.S., such as Andean towns in Peru or small fishing villages in Southeast Asia, I find people who have a much more sincere and conscious connection to the food they eat, the ingredients used and where they came from, and how that food’s journey toward the plate impacts the people and world around them. That is a good thing. Our intimate relationship with food is one worth saving..


  • Litfin, Karen. “The modern food system in historical perspective” ENVIR 385 University of Washington. Seattle 2017
  • Schwarz, Michael (Director). “In Defense of Food [w/ Michael Pollan]” (Film version) Kikim Media, PBS, Netflix. 2015.
  • Litfin, Karen. “U.S. Food Policy and Nutritionism” ENVIR 385 University of Washington. Seattle 2017.

6 thoughts on “A Relationship Worth Saving

  1. camquan7

    Hi Michael,
    That was a fantastic read. I never really thought about the importance of where food comes from until I began to be affected by various diet and health related issues. I think where you write about human’s relationship with food in a geographical area is very true today, but even more so dictated by price and availability of certain types of foods. While the industrialization of food can solve issues of food shortages, the food industry cutting corners by attempting to fix something that does not need fixing. I struggled with and still struggle with buying fresh, quality produce often limited by the price of organic or non-modified foods. Often times, I select the more economical option instead because it is cheaper and more convenient, but comes at the cost of my health in the long run. Now that I pay more attention to where food comes from, it has restored the connection that you mentioned in your blog post that many other areas of the world that hasn’t been touched by the industrialization of food. However that connection is not of an appreciation of where the food comes from, but rather a keen awareness and a sense of constant distrust in the food that is put onto the consumer market. I can’t help but get frustrated with the fact that it seems nearly impossible to find a single food product in today’s day and age of technological advancements that hasn’t been tinkered around with by scientists.

    1. Chef Michael Kostors Post author

      Thank you @camquan7.
      No doubt you are correct that price and availability are often the deciding factors nowadays for a person’s diet. It is unfortunate that so much cheap food is so unhealthy.
      One thing that inspires me in teaching/sharing with people the art, craft, and joy of cooking is how it becomes actually very affordable to eat good, nutritious food once you learn what to do with raw ingredients. Fresh produce and other non-processed, non-convenience ingredients are quite often less expensive to use per person per plate that all that center-of-the-store stuff. But if people do not know how to best utilize and prepare all the perimeter foods, then the price-value-perception ratio favors the already-made items.

  2. sageld

    Michael, I think your perspective of other cultures more intimate relationship with food is so observant. Intimate is never a word I had associated with diet but I, too, have noticed that there is a certain emphasis on food and meal-time in other cultures that American culture doesn’t value in the same way. Where we place our value is on time and efficiency, with many people who skip meals or eat on-the-go. I imagine this is an effect of the emphasis our culture places on capitalism, profits and time management that revolves around stimulating the economy. In the efforts to increase food production and disseminate foods to areas of the world that they don’t naturally grow, the food industry has created an attitude of profit over health. The nutrition movement in the last few decades, too, places an emphasis on health that doesn’t seek to truly enhance the health of the masses, instead we have seen a decline in health. It seems as though these foods that are labeled and sorted as nutritious or not are labeled this way to increase sales and profit. I do think that cultures that don’t have such an over-reaching and globalized food industry are generally healthier and confident about how to eat. And as you said, the intimate relationship takes a meal to a different level where the sustenance aspect is appreciated more, and people give themselves a time to slow down, which is greatly important to a person’s overall health.

    1. Chef Michael Kostors Post author

      You bring up an excellent point about meal time in American culture versus in many other places [where the population is healthier]. The time spent truly appreciating the meal definitely is a factor in how diet affects a person. The “French paradox” is a good example of that– France is known for having meals full of rich, buttery, creamy, decadent, foods and lots of wine, but the people are healthier than Americans. The main differences are the ingredients used (not as industrially processed), how much they eat, and how long they take to eat a meal.
      When I lived in Paris, apprenticing with a chef, we would make multi-course dinners at her house (which had an amazing view overlooking the Seine and the Tour Eiffel!) and then spend about three hours dining. But honestly, over the course of those 3 hours I probably ate less calories than a Late-night Munchies meal from Jack in the Box.

  3. jesshl

    I offer a cynical smile to the vegetables marked “conventional”, as though they are in opposition to the abnormal organic produce. I also work in the food industry, as an enabler of quality ingredients. I spend more than the average American on my food costs. I do this because I have been exposed to the real cost to my health, and to the ecosystem of agricultural production. My husband, a chef himself, rails against the debasingly low wages he is expected to pay his employees because – even here in Seattle – Americans do not want to pay the real cost of their food. I was raised on high sugar, milk, wheat, and meat content. I was without much understanding of the resources required to create these food sources, and I was lacking entirely in the idea of whole foods. To give you an example, I literally did not understand that produce has seasons. I just thought: if it grows, eat it!
    Now I wish to physically grow more of my own food consumption. I have hopes of regaining some of what my farmer grandfather, or the people in your Southeast Asian villages, understood. An intimate connection to your food is what we experience wither we are aware of it or not. Your body may know more than you think you do. I always knew that watermelon was worth waiting for the summer – my taste buds told me so. What I didn’t understand is that they are nutritionally more beneficial when grown in season. I fear that Americans as a culture are missing the opportunity of attuning ourselves to ourselves. We rely instead on band aid fixes: “Hungry, why wait?” says the Snicker’s company, and Pepto-Bismol is there to fix my upset stomach when I ate too much candy. It is staggering how we can have so much wealth of resources and education, and are less conscious of our consumption. All I can say about this relationship we share? It’s complicated.

    1. Chef Michael Kostors Post author

      Lol, indeed. Relationship status update on Food’s FB page = “It’s complicated”.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Learning about the seasonality of fresh produce (and what is in season locally) is such a rewarding enrichment to one’s food-consumer knowledge base. As you mentioned, things taste better in their natural seasons (ever eat those flavorless jumbo strawberries in January?) and they are more rich in their nutrient content. Growing fruits and vegetables is a lot of work (especially for urban dwellers) but even the smallest endeavor and success of food gardening (or livestock raising) makes a huge impact on how that person thinks about food.
      For those who are privy to the awesomeness of what’s in season locally, luckily there are good resources to aide the consumer, such as these:

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