The best thing since…

As I’ve noted many times before, those of us who are attempting to practice and advocate sustainable agriculture seem to have almost nothing in common with our counterparts in industrial agriculture.  While we may both be labeled “farmers”, it often seems that the label is all we share.

Nothing makes this clearer to me than reading industrial ag publications, such as The Progressive Farmer (just a glance at their website will show what I mean).

I’m helping with my great-aunt’s estate, and for now her Progressive Farmer magazines are coming to me.  I think it amuses Cherie when I read them, because of my constant grumbling, snorts, and worse.  I could probably blog for the rest of the year just on the things in the last few issues that have irritated, annoyed or outraged me.

Choosing a blog topic from such a target-rich environment isn’t easy.  But I came across a  recent column titled “In Praise of Sliced Bread” that I thought I’d share (with my comments in bold):

Between all the hamburgers, hot dogs and fireworks this past weekend, the 85th anniversary of sliced bread’s marketing debut may have slipped your notice. Uncle Sam can be such a jealous showboat when it comes to his birthday.

Go figure.

Yet anyone in the livestock feeding audience that senses a debt of gratitude to the phenomena of fast food (Catch that? The “livestock feeding audience”? “A debt of gratitude to the phenomena of fast food”?? Fast food is, of course, 0ne of the things our movement is particularly dedicated to fighting.  But for the “livestock feeding audience” it is something to which a debt of gratitude is owed.  Gratitude for what?  Presumably for the profits, which have come at the expense of the health of millions of people.  Arggh!) should save a sparkler to two to honor two particular visionaries who dared to think outside the bread box. (Let us now praise famous men).

On July 7, 1928, Otto Frederick Rohwedder, a jeweler from Davenport, Iowa, and Frank Bench, a baker from Chillicothe, Mo., made history by selling sliced bread for the first time. (Oh joy!  What “visionaries” they were!)

Rohwedder had invented a bread slicer years before, but could find no commercial baker brave enough to use it. Most scoffed, and told him that pre-sliced bread would get stale and dry long before it could be eaten. (Presumably they also wondered how many people would possibly be too lazy to slice their own bread).

But when he finally proposed a workable solution to Bench — wrapping the bread in waxed paper after it was sliced — a trial balloon was eventually launched that literally changed the way the world ate. (Liberating the planet from the drudgery of bread-slicing and opening the way to the culinary delights of the fast food industry).

Indeed, this moment of fundamental improvement (that is to say that pre-sliced bread, wrapped in wax paper, is fundamentally superior to a loaf of bread whose owner must go to the trouble of slicing it) became so iconic that every subsequent good idea that followed was heralded as “the best idea since sliced bread.” (evidently the humor of this saying is lost on the author)

If you were to start a “Convenience Hall of Fame,” I think sliced bread might be one of the first nominees. And one could think of many other contenders in the meat industry that were inspired in its wake. (Indeed one could.  No doubt the chicken nugget would be a candidate for inclusion as well.  Perhaps the “Ultimate Food Feeder Gaming Helmet,” which funnels “Fridge Raider” chunks of processed chicken into one’s mouth while playing video games, is another inspirational descendant.)

While you can always find snooty gourmands who scowl at the quality of the American diet, I defy anyone to find a nation who eats faster without breaking a busy stride. (I suggest pausing and reflecting upon this remarkable statement for a moment.  Then proceed to its equally remarkable successor.)  That world-class standard of digestion-on-the-go has dictated the constant development of new fast food products.

For a fascinating look at the latest iteration in this regard, read Susan Berfield’s article entitled “Why McWrap Is So Important to McDonald’s” (

Berfield’s tells an engaging story of how McDonald’s took years to perfect the ideal choice of ease, taste, and convenience for so-called millennials — must-have consumers between the ages of 18 and 32. (Well, perfection cannot be rushed.)

The team of developers knew the new product had to be tailor-made for this critical test group in every way: the right taste, the “fresh” look, the good feel in the hand, the no-brainer price, and the exact size to fit into your car’s cup-holder. (Because, after all, who wants to eat something that isn’t the exact size of a car’s cup-holder? Notably absent is any mention of, you know, nutritional value.)

The jury remains out on the success of the McWrap. But if it fails, no one can blame a lack of planning and experimenting. (Have the focus-groups and mad scientists produced another Big Mac?  Another McNugget?  Or is the McWrap to be another McRib?)

But since the McWrap represents yet another chicken entrée in McDonald’s increasingly chicken-heavy menu, red meat producers are left hoping that whatever happens, the heirs of Rohwedder and Bench can stay inspired enough to keep reinventing offerings of beef and pork. (Yes, because the world-class standard of digestion-on-the-go dictates the constant development of new fast food products, snooty scowling gourmands be damned.)

One might normally suppose a piece like this to be satire and I reckon it’s possible that the author wasn’t being entirely serious.  Possible, but not likely.  Industrial farms are joined at the hip with the fast food industry (as the pages of the Progressive Farmer magazine reveal).  Our nemesis fast food is their ally, their pusher.

So let them go on in their quest to find the ideal way to feed a nation unwilling to “break a busy stride.”  Meanwhile, I think I’ll go cut myself a slice of bread, with no concern about whether it will fit into a cup holder.