The (Mis)Information That Drives Historians Crazy

This is the kind of crap that drives me batty. The other day I was reading something (can’t remember now what it was) that led me to The Kitchen Garden Network. According to the site’s “About” page, the people at KGN are focused on

the politics and economic forces that influence what reaches the food outlets where we shop for what we eat.

Okay. Fine. If they’d stopped there, I wouldn’t have had the urge to bang my head against the wall. Instead, the site’s founder goes on to note that

Up until the 1970’s a large portion of our food came from local sources . . . ’   Roadside stands, farmer’s markets, local co-ops and the like were a given. Organic produce had not yet become commonly available. By the 1980’s everything changed. The political climate altered the agricultural landscape in many dramatic and detrimental ways. Many farmers went out of business and farms began to be sold off at a rapid pace.

Oh. Ohhhh….. My aching head. Where should I start to correct the errors? (*1)

Should I begin by changing “1970s” to “1870”? Or explain that prior to the 1970s, few Americans bought their food at “roadside stands, farmer’s markets [or] local co-ops”? Or dissect the claim that somehow in the 1980s, “everything changed”?

Or just explain that when I read stuff such uninformed nonsense, first I cringe, and then I worry? Because the current debate about food is being fueled by this kind of inane, inaccurate “information.” Worse, substantive discussion about the global food system, climate change, and the like is in danger of being derailed by a lack of insight, context, and history.

It drives historians like me crazy. And frankly, it scares the crap out of me. (If too many cooks ruin the soup,  too many ignorant minds and chattering mouths destroy the debate.) So — maybe I should choose door number three and get back to work on my current project. Because  the “food fight” needs a historian’s input.


*1:  Mind you, I’m not picking on the people at Kitchen Garden Network. I could have used dozens of other, similar examples. This one just happened to be handy.

6 thoughts on “The (Mis)Information That Drives Historians Crazy

  1. It’s deep, really deep. When I was a kid in grade school we learned about the Pilgrims and the purchase of Manhattan for beads. And it was ok because, after all, there were only a few hundred Indians. Not true, but that’s the message we were given in the mid-50s. Amazing how atrocious behavior is rationalized in our established education.Then imagine my dismay when I read Charles Mann’s article “1491” in the March, 2002, issue of The Atlantic. It turned upside down my understanding of pre-Columbian America.Then there’s an up-side to the experience: I cautioned my children to exercise skepticism while enduring their high school history classes. Hopefully my cautionary remarks will survive as signals to their progeny, too.Thanks, Maureen. Thanks for sneezing on the damn erroneous crap that seems to shower us every day!

  2. Social comments and analytics for this post…This post was mentioned on Twitter by maureenogle: The (mis)information that drives historians crazy (blog entry) #history #profood #profarm #twitterstorians…

  3. “Where should I start to correct the errors?”Start at pointing out that “1980’s” indicates “of, or belonging to the year 1980” whereas “1980s” indicates the years 1980 through 1989 … which you did do, ever so gently, by example.

  4. Oh, don’t make me correct their punctuation, too! In another life, I’m sure I was one of those cranky old women with spectacles hanging off the end of their noses who corrected strangers’ grammar and wrote letters to the editors complaining about signage typos and grammatical errors.


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