How has industrialization altered the US food system?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Industrialization has had a major impact on the American food system, in some ways for the better and in some ways for the worse. Prior to industrialization, food was mostly local, which meant that people in areas with little farmland had more difficulty obtaining food, especially in winter, and that people had relatively little exposure to foods from outside their area unless they were wealthy. Industrialization allowed the production of food to be more centralized and on a larger scale, which allowed more types of food to be produced and distributed cheaply to a wider range of areas. For better or worse, it also encouraged farms to change from "jack-of-all-trades," low-specialization systems to highly specialized single-product or dual-product companies.

However, industrialization has had a lot of negative impacts on our food system in the United States. Cheap mass-production of meat has led to animal cruelty using systems such as battery farms, as well as unsafe practices such as overusing antibiotics or using dangerously low-quality feed. In some cases, it had led to practices that may not be unsafe, but are ethically dubious, such as using "meat glue" to fake high-end steak using low-end scraps, or mislabeling fish to sell cheap tilefish as expensive snapper. We have an overabundance of farms producing cheap grains like wheat, corn, and soy, which have entered the American diet in almost every arena and have contributed to ballooning waistlines. Additionally, there have been negative environmental effects from mass-production farming and farms that do not rotate their crops. Finally, while industrialization helped spread more food to many corners of the country, the proliferation of cheap, low-quality food has meant that many areas still remain "food deserts," where food is available, but only nutritionally poor, "affordable" food, such as McDonald's or convenience store meals.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial