Food information is everywhere now. It beckons to us from magazines (thanks Synergy) and television shows and commercials. Documentary movies teach about farming practices and corrupt politics of food companies. Non-fiction books about food choices such as the The Omnivore’s Dilemma have become best-sellers. Since food and water, and all things agricultural, sustain our lives, it is necessary that learning about food continues to be an ongoing process.
Today it’s a given that what we eat directly affects the state of our health. Yet only 25 years ago, during a four year American medical course, an average of only 21 hours of nutrition education was provided. Compare this to the focus on healthy eating by the hippies, who made a point of studying nutrition, because they knew that food was the basis of good health.
In our quest to become knowledgeable eaters, our challenge is to discern the truth behind controversial nutritional claims of certain foods. Which is better for us, butter or margarine? Is soy as nutritious as claimed? Is cow’s milk as beneficial for humans as Canada’s Food Guide taught us as children? In the 90’s, it was the trend to advertise foods with no fat; more recent research says we need fats in our diet, but only the good ones… which means learning what the good ones are.
What will never change is that whole foods are more nutritious than processed foods. And the most vital way to eat whole food is raw, since cooking destroys nutrients. If you haven’t attempted to eat only raw food, try it first in the warmer weather. In the 70’s as 20-something hippies, a group of us who tried a raw food diet during our damp west coast winter ended up with recurrent staph infections from such an extreme detox program.
There are of course better ways to detoxify. Drinking fresh juices gives us a power hit of enzymes, however this healthy rush comes from juicing a heck of a lot of veggies or fruits. Another way to detox is to fast every now and then. It can help quiet our “hungry desire” natures, and give our body a rest. But some people rarely give their body a rest – they eat throughout the day, and call it grazing, saying it works for their body.
The most universal eating routine is dinnertime with family. My mom had food ready when my dad got home from work, and we ate what was served. Nowadays, there may be several different dishes at the family table because of specific health requirements, and allergies. Its a fact that some folks can die if they eat hazelnuts or peanuts, leading comedien Jerry Seinfeld to lament about no more peanuts being handed out on airplanes, and causing schools to ban peanut butter sandwiches being brought for lunch lest a child allergic to peanuts might be persuaded to take a bite. Lactose intolerance has become so commonplace that soy has stepped up to the plate (literally) with processed cheese alternatives. Dairy allergies have led to a boom in the milk substitute market; now we have milk from soy, rice, nuts and hemp seeds. The down side is that milk tetra-paks are not recycled, which creates a lot more garbage. The more self-reliant amongst us could try blending our own non-dairy milk.
We’ve come a long way in learning about food. The movie Food Inc. served as a powerful educational tool on its mission to “never look at dinner the same way again”, and for the moviemaker’s efforts received an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary. The more graphic images show how most of our beloved traditional holiday celebration foods like roast turkey, chicken and ham come from Industrial Meat operations. Millions now know that the days of the idyllic scene from the famous Norman Rockwell painting are over … that animals raised in these places lead miserable lives, and anyone eating that meat will be ingesting the animal’s fear as well as all those antibiotics and hormones. This awareness is causing some meat-eaters to become vegetarians.
This brings us to the need for protein. Does a vegetarian diet provide enough? In the 70’s, as many of us embarked on a vegetarian diet, Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe, taught us that beans and whole grains eaten together are a complete protein. This is yet another large area of nutritional education about diet, called food combining, to ensure we have all the essential amino acids to make human protein. Proper food combining can also prevent gas and bloating. Bean cooks learn to soak beans up to 24 hours before cooking, for the soaking pre-digests the beans’ starches that cause gas. If poor digestion is a problem, check out information on food combining. Also try chewing food longer, and eating at a slower pace in general.
That is one of the goals of the emerging Slow Food Movement. It teaches a true appreciation of our food, linking the pleasure of good food with a commitment to community and environment. It was founded in 1989 to counter the rise of fast food and fast life, including the disappearance of local food knowledge and practices. Slow food is about truly being interested in the food we eat – where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.
We don’t have to be official “Slow Fooders” to want clean, unadulterated food produced with fair trade labour and sustainable agricultural practices. The politics of food is a highly charged issue, with nothing less than the survival of both the planet and its inhabitants at stake. Therefore, people are eager to know more about the companies we buy food from. Does their business promote vast fields of monoculture crops? Do they use GMO (genetically modified organisms) ingredients? Do they have a monopoly of a certain food item that makes it harder for small farms and businesses to stay alive? Three controversial transnational companies involved with food are: Monsanto (controller of GMO seed), Cargill (giant food monopoly) and Nestles (famous for promoting baby formula in poor countries instead of breast milk). It is possible, if we do some homework, to avoid buying items from these companies.
When people become completely divorced from the actual reality of appreciating where food comes from, it does not bode well for the future of life on our planet. One reviewer of a movie about food actually seemed to revel in his ignorance, saying the movie was “obviously trying to entice people into watching a film about something that sends most people to sleep: agriculture and botany.” It’s statements like this that lead students of the earth to say that we are the most ecologically ignorant civilization in human history.
To me, it always comes back to eating, growing and buying local produce as much as possible. It is a sight of beauty to gaze at the rows of gorgeous vegetables growing at our local organic farm. And its impossible not to have enormous respect for and gratitude to these dedicated farmers, both gray-hairs, who earn their living, while also finding fulfillment, in working hard all day to feed us.
Tsiporah is a Gabriolan of 37 years, and keen observer of our times and evolutionary potential as compassionate human beings.