The good old days. It’s a concept with an appeal that you can kind of understand; that of returning to some ideal past, even though it’s one giant lie usually peddled by bigots to keep minorities and poor folks down and out. But the problem is that the ideal past never really existed. That doesn’t stop people from having beliefs about the old days that are full of crap, though, like…

“The food was healthier.”

The so-called War on Obesity has waged on, with the crosshairs aimed firmly at modern food nutrition. And while this comes from a fairly justified point of view, some of this obsession is thoroughly steeped in a few myths about modern nutrition, like food being unhealthier than food from the past. 

For starters, contaminated food was a major crisis in the 20th century, which fairly often led to things like tuberculosis and scarlet fever. Writer Upton Sinclair described the sordid conditions of the meat industry in his landmark book The Jungle, which exposed how little the government cared about whether our food was safe to eat or not, leading to sweeping reforms and regulations.

For much of the 20th century, we also just had a pretty bad idea of what was even in our food. We didn't really know jack about vitamins till around 1916 and didn't bother with nutrition programs until decades later. Things like pest control were also incredibly dangerous, as there was little to no regulation and legislation to make sure any of the pesticides used were safe until 1910. In fact, tighter regulations for pesticides didn't even come into play until the '70s.

“Jobs were plentiful and easy to get.”

Unemployment rates took a staggering climb throughout the pandemic, and if you focused only on this moment in American history, you might think that unemployment was getting worse over time. But that’s simply not the case. Jobs weren’t any more abundant back in the 20th century, and in fact, we’ve had equally big economic upsets throughout the century.

For starters, even during the most stable years of the 20th century, such as the 50s, you still saw fairly high unemployment rates among both men and women. In 1952, over 10 million men and women faced long periods of unemployment in-between jobs. On top of that, there wasn’t a system to give aid to unemployed workers until 1931, and even then, it wasn’t enough to stem a lot of the leftover effects from the Great Depression onward. 

Tracking unemployment throughout the years, unemployment rates were actually similar, if not sometimes outright worse than they have been in the past two decades. This all torpedoes the idea that your great-grandpa/grandma had an easier time getting a job when things were basically just as messed up as they’ve ever been. 

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“Air was fresher and cleaner than today”

Air pollution is one of the most prominent health issues going on today. Scientists estimate that over half of the human population is suffering from it to this day, and things are only going to get much worse. There’s also a running idea that back in the day, air quality was much higher in your grandparent’s time before mass industrialization hit, but this isn’t the case, as air pollution is a problem much older than you think.

Turns out, we've been adding toxic pollutants into the air for at least 2,000 years now, but things really took a turn in the 19th and 20th centuries, when industrialization had become widespread, and numerous industrial giants had planted their factories in various cities, driving up pollution even further. At one point, pollution got so bad in London that it has its own Wikipedia article with the scary title of “Great Smog of London,” which sounds more like a Bloodborne boss than it does a major ecological disaster that killed 12,000 people.

Researchers say that an estimated 260 million people in third-world countries alone died from air pollution in the 20th century, which is a scientific way of saying, “Holy crap, the air can kill you.” So while we have our own modern problems with keeping the air clean, never forget that we’ve all been fighting this fight for a very long time now. 

“There was less money and corruption in politics!”

You’ve heard it a million times before: the only thing politicians care about is money. This age-old adage has seemingly held up over the years, as we’ve seen a litany of the Trump presidency making decisions guided directly by financial interests, and it’s easy to see why people want to get money out of Congress as soon as possible. But if you look far back enough in history, this has been a problem for well over a century now. 

In the 19th century, you had a slew of politicians and presidential candidates that were basically bought wholesale with money. James Garfield’s election of 1880 was tinged with financial interests, and Republican president William McKinley got backing from big oil companies in 1896 to help him beat William Jennings Bryan. 

Some historians even say that the Gilded age (1865-1896) was the most corrupt moment in the history of American politics because the amount of influence that corporations had on elections and congress was staggering. Rutherford B. Hayes once said in 1886, “It is a government by the corporations, of the corporations and for the corporations.” So America hasn’t always had clean hands when it comes to money and politics, and you can be sure that it won’t be the last time either for probably a very long time. 

Thumbnail: saritjokro/Pixabay

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