While we fret about pesticides on apples and mercury in tuna, we should remember that ingesting food is and always has been dangerous. Many plants contain both toxins and carcinogens. Grilling and frying add more. Bread was likely to be stretched with chalk, pepper adulterated with the sweepings of warehouse floors, and sausage stuffed with all the horrors famously exposed by Upton Sinclair in The Jungle.Even fresh food was "regarded with suspicion verging on horror," Lauden writes: "only the uncivilized, the poor, and the starving resorted to it." The good stuff was the "preserved, processed foods," the jams and jellies, the smoked meat and the aged cheese." Beyond that, our nostalgia for old-fashioned or non-processed food ignores the fact that "lots of industrial foods are better." Conching machines easily produce smoother chocolate than a person with a grindstone. And "the current popularity of Italian food owes much to two convenience foods that even purists love, factory pasta and canned tomatoes."
Lauden admits that Luddites are right "about two important things: We need to know how to prepare good food, and we need a culinary ethos." But blind yearning for an imaginary past, she argues, isn't helpful. And by the way--baguettes are a 20th-century thing.