Archive for October, 2011

Why What I Eat Matters

October 16, 2011

“What I eat matters.”  I almost feel I’ve known this forever; but why what I eat matters, has changed over time.  When I was in high school, my mother made clear to me in words or actions, that diet would be important to me, my entire life.  In this case, diet meant not gaining weight, not getting fat, rather than about good nutrition.  At the same time, I was raised with having to eat everything on my plate, whether I liked it or not; and unfortunately, I still do that for the most part; so my hope for controlling consumption is left to not taking too much to begin with.  This is helped, by a long habit of splitting entrees with my husband, when we eat at any restaurant. 

I have tried more diets than I care to remember; and have reached a point where I truly hate dieting and think it is generally detrimental; but find I must resort to that technique on occasion, to reign in weight gains in excess of my body’s need for long-term well-being.  I constantly seek to not need to go “on a diet”.  Yet, I am not obsessive about my diet either.  My dad left instilled in me the thought that – “you have to eat a little dirt” – to be healthy; and so, I eat a varied diet, at least.

When my husband and I conceived our oldest son, we made a commitment to obtaining as much food that was natural and/or organic, as possible.  We live in a rural wilderness area; so, such foods are generally not easily available, at the local grocers.  We do eat some foods off the land – mostly fruits as we have an abundance in season of black raspberries, wild blueberries, blackberries, wild cherries, pawpaws, autumn olives and persimmons.  There are not any organic farms close by, locally; although some regionally, they are not really in convenient locations, to where we live.  So, we must travel 2 hours one way, as often as our lives allow it – to visit Whole Foods Market and other upscale urban grocers in St Louis (Dierbergs), where I can purchase the best foods I can manage, for my family. 

Fortunately, WalMart makes some effort; and though they are certainly not my favorite for many reasons; still, they are the best quality there is available to me locally.  Sadly, our “hometown” grocer focuses on poor quality, cheap versions of basic provisions.  Since my elderly in-laws passed from physical existence, taking with them my reasons for the long journey to St Louis (for their numerous doctor’s appointments, at the end of their lives); WalMart is my weekly provider.  And I still happily commit to the longer trip but keep that to once or twice a month only, stocking up as best I can.  When it comes to produce, that’s a significant issue, for it spoils so quickly; and I know that focusing on fruits and vegetables is an important aspect of a basic, healthy diet for my family.  I can only do the best that I can do; and be grateful that I am able to do, what I do.

Cancer took both of my in-laws, but they had each led long lives (both died mid-80s) and had long health-spans, only suffering illness during the last few years of their lives.  Still, as I see cancer take the lives of more of my acquaintances, at much younger ages than my in-laws, I am suspicious that the changes in our modern human diet, have been adversely impacted by chemicals and all the artificial ingredients now put into convenience foods; which are the ones that much of the population consumes.  It does not help matters that, these are also the least expensive but the least nutritious choices available, to many people. 

I seek to provide my family with simple, home-cooked meals of very basic foods, prepared minimally (and not pre-processed and packaged) to avoid the excess sodium and chemicals, I would prefer to keep out of our diet.  I am an avid label reader; and make many food selections on that basis.  So choosing organic and natural foods is one way to avoid chemicals.

Choosing to support organic food producers helps to preserve water and air quality – both important elements in health and global well-being.  Organic producers help to prevent soil erosion, while enhancing soil quality; and these practices are also respectful of the health of those who work at farms.

One of the challenges we face in our time is a decline in biodiversity due to environmental impacts, the loss of habitats, organisms, standardization of genes in food crops and species extinction.  As humans, we are single-handedly one of the greatest threats to a healthy biodiversity; and therefore, our own significant risk factor, which could eventually lead to our own extinction. 

With healthy biodiversity, wasps and birds can prey on pests that might otherwise destroy our food crops, without depending on toxic chemicals to do that for us.  Insects, birds, bats and some other animals pollinate our crops, making the fruits they produce for us possible.  There are even living organisms in our soil, that decompose matter back to nutrient rich soil; and with broader genetic diversity, our plant and animal food sources are definitely better able to weather disease and pests. 

Where humans over history have relied on 7,000 different species of plants for food crops, we now rely mostly on only 15 plant and 8 animal species for 90% of ALL human food.  The infamous Irish Potato Famine was caused by a fungus that was able to destroy their entire crop of single variety potato. 

Thousand of non-commercial animal breeds and crop varieties have disappeared due to industrialized agricultural practices.  Even though none of the major species of domesticated food animals is in danger of extinction, we still lose 2 breeds to extinction every week.  Half of all the breeds that existed in Europe in 1900 are now extinct (300 of the 6,000 breeds worldwide have been lost in only the last 15 years).  The loss in genetic diversity for livestock creates a system dependent upon a carefully-regulated environment, that requires climate controls, antibiotics and high-protein feed and produces massive amounts of concentrated waste products.

Biodiversity is lost as untreated animal waste, chemicals and soil erosion damage the natural environment.  Enormous amounts of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, used by industrial agriculture, continue to leach into the ground and water.  All of these pollutants kill the living organisms that should naturally thrive in the soil and that depend upon the soil for sustenance. 

I happened to be driving through cotton fields, ready for harvest in SE Missouri yesterday.  I was struck by the “dead appearing” quality of the soil – only cotton growing in bleached white earth.  And I was also staggered by the significant amounts of cotton waste left behind, by the enormous machinery used to create giant round bales of cotton.

There is one more thing that matters a lot to me personally – it is the spiritual aspect of all of this thinking – I should remember to appreciate and hold precious every bit of the food that I do have, in recognition that there are always some who do not have enough, some who’s food is not at all healthy and many who’s food is lacking in some way, even lacking in an acknowledgement by the people eating it, of all the aspects of Life that the food has touched, on its way to nourishing the body. 

I do not need to feel guilty that I have enough to eat; but I should not over-consume the food that I have, even if it is of good quality and highly nutritious.  It is important to be mindful; and in balance, for the health of the self, and for the health of our world.

I seek to have a balanced, personal expression, relative to the food I eat – I want to be mindful of adequate but not excessive consumption, aware of all the energy and labor that went into my food’s production, supportive of efforts to reduce any negative impact that my need for nourishment may make, and grateful to have provision and waste it not.  In seeking an end to the suffering of any person, sentient being, or living aspect of my planetary home, the Earth, I intend to be a beneficial presence, in the living of this lifetime.  Food is a very important aspect of that impact.