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Historians Against High Fructose Corn Syrup

by Emily Williams

September 8,2009

A few weeks ago, my husband David and I took our annual summer visit to his hometown of Morrisville, N.Y., otherwise known as farm country. Farming is a huge priority in upstate New York and the natural beauty of the countryside reflects this. Nestled in an emerald green valley free of strip malls and asphalt parking lots in the hills of Central New York, Morrisville and its neighboring towns are spotted with barns, silos, dairy cows, horses and fields hedged with rows of dark green shrubbery. Given the high number of Welsh families that settled here many hundreds of years ago, I have little doubt they saw the rolling landscape as the perfect stand-in for their homeland. Despite the 13 hour drive one way from North Carolina to Syracuse, the time spent with my wonderful family and the idyllic scenery is worth it. But it also gets me thinking about the agricultural societies of yester-year, history and the technology that separates us from it all, for both the good and not so good.

I admit that I have always loved history and often feel that the past can teach us a great deal about the future. I’m also a Romantic, who feels happiest in nature and sometimes relishes nothing more than fresh air away from the computer. So I’m often drawn to the simple lifestyles of European and American communities before the Industrial Revolution.

My husband often teases me for my longing for this agricultural society/heaven, free of bus fumes and artificial flavorings. When he reminds me of the illiterate peasants living in the villages and the absence of modern medicine and hygiene, I reply “But at least they didn’t have high fructose corn syrup!”

The question really has to do more with what we’ve lost in the process of gaining what we have. Life is flourishing with social media, quicker access to information and anything that Steve Jobs can put a small “i” in front of. While I’m for all of that, it’s the tangible world that I’m talking about here.

For instance, I would love to be able to walk or ride a horse everywhere I needed to go, as much as I enjoy the Zen feeling I get from driving, but I can’t – there aren’t enough open spaces, plus the modern dangers of walking down I-85. In the same way, eating the hearty, rich meals of thick bread, cakes and butter of the 19th century would be a pleasure, but that’s impossible – I have nowhere to walk 20+ miles to burn off the calories. The everyday chores and labor that would serve as a form of exercise for the pre-Industrial woman are now taken care of by the dish and clothes washers, the microwave and the oven. So we contemporary girls hit the gym instead. So you can see how I often feel trapped in 2009. All I need is an open field!

Yet, to live in the quiet, electricity-free world of Jane Austen’s day would mean giving up things like Facebook. For me, the site is like a virtual water cooler, where friends can get together and trade their wit back and forth. I’m still able to chat with my close friends from college, we’re just not in the coffeehouse doing this anymore, despite distance separating us – we’re online. That means a lot. In the words of one of my academic buddies, “I am going to be on Facebook until I die.” Given the current climate for social networking tools, his statement in jest may not be so farfetched in the next 50 years.

So while I’m devoted to the technological advancements and inventions that keep me connected to my friends and family in a way that a simple letter by the post couldn’t match, I nonetheless still yearn for authenticity, for the real and for what is gone. E-mails are one thing, but once you have actually held an old-fashioned pen in your hand and written in the flourish of cursive script that is now extinct, you can’t help the pang of nostalgia, even guilt. It’s understood that this way of life will only return again in dreams.

Now, pardon me while I go Twitter all of this…

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