The evolution of food production and the impact on nutritional content

In less than a century, we humans have developed our food production in an amazing way. But the extensive changes in the food chain have also had an impact on nutritional content.

Before the 1950s, Sweden was more self-sufficient and did not import as much food as it does now. This meant that raw materials were available in season – they were harvested when they were ripe, instead of being transported unripe to large central warehouses.

Tree and natural fertilization

Fields were rotated and fallowed at regular intervals, unlike today when the same crop is grown on the same land year after year, without interruption. The shifting and fallowing helped the land to replenish the nutrients in the soil. The land was fertilized with natural fertilizers that were rich in several substances, instead of the current practice of fertilizing only with nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK).

The farmer fed his animals natural feed, often from his own farm, rather than fast-growing cereals or beans from another continent. The practice of fast-feeding animals in larger facilities or cramped cages had not yet been introduced. The handling of animals and crops was largely manual. The nutritional content and quality of the raw materials were very different. This was depicted in the film Sista skörden on SVT.

Modern food production has helped us – but has some disadvantages

Today we have a food industry with high yield requirements and high demands for year-round deliveries. It has allowed us to eat whatever we want, whenever we want. This is good for us if we compare the contrast with a hundred years ago, when starvation was still an everyday risk.

Modern management has helped us in many ways but it has not been without its drawbacks. The industrialization of soils has led to the use of artificial fertilizers and other ways to accelerate the growth of both animals and crops. The high rate has made it profitable and sometimes necessary to medicate both fish and meat animals.

This does not mean that the food produced is bad. But it explains why many people need to change their eating habits and why many need to supplement their diet with nutritional supplements.

"I am sure that a large part of the Swedish population suffers from mineral deficiency due to depleted soils."

Holger Kirchman
Professor of plant nutrition

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