Ain’t What It Used To Be

In my recent travels a message keeps coming through to me:  Our food—even the organic— is not what it used to be.

Labeling for products that meet the USDA-NOP s...
Labeling for products that meet the USDA-NOP standards (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other day I was talking to the produce manager at my store and we were talking about organic farming. He was telling me that he knows for a fact that some of the local farmers do not use pesticides on their produce but they cannot afford to leave acres of land dormant for five to seven years and do all the other things that are required of organic farmers in order to be certified organic.

I can see how this would be both challenging and expensive.  I was reminded that being certified “organic” involves a lot more than just not using pesticides and chemicals.  It also has to do with replenishing the soil so it becomes nutrient rich and many other factors. That makes me want to kiss the ground those organic farmers walk on because they do go to the expense and they do take the time to be truly organic.

We have to replenish and safeguard our natural resources because they are not physically infinite on this planet.  They can run out or be destroyed.  And good, mineral rich, life-sustaining top soil is definitely a vital resource.

I have known for some time that even organically farmed food is no longer as nutrient rich as it used to be.  How do I know?  The main way I know is by eating it and realizing that there is something missing. The food doesn’t provide all the power it used to.  The other way I know is common sense.

Have you ever read about how we began using chemicals on our crops and why? And what happened once we started down that very slippery slope?  The chemicals were put on the crops to boost growth, the chemicals made the soil weak which invited more pests, chemical pest control came into play, the animals on those farms were affected by the chemicals and got sick, animals were routinely given antibiotics and also hormones since they were also having trouble reproducing. That is the short version and there are many detailed explanations to be found online.

So here we are in 2013 protesting GMOs (genetically modified foods).  I say to my produce manager, “Unfortunately, even if we start labeling GMO foods, lots of people will still buy them.” Money talks here just like everywhere else.

But the fact that we’re talking about it is a plus. Another plus: the growing popularity of diets and diet books and diet gurus promoting whole food, plant-based diets.  That’s a big plus! And there are others.

But we stil have the problem of depleted soils and many foods that have long since been altered to suit a better bottom line.  Here’s a good example a friend just told me about regarding wheat. This is not simply about gluten-free, wheat-sensitive issues. This is about wheat period. All wheat, apparently.  It was another delivery of the same message: Our food—even the organic— is not what it used to be.  It’s a May 2013 article called, “Modern Wheat Is The ‘Perfect Chronic Poison’ Says Expert.”

I’m not trying to make a point about wheat and I remain undecided about the information in the article.  But what I do know is that wheat is definitely not the same as it was before. It is weaker and offers us less than we think we’re buying.  Just like other foods.

If you’re like me and interested in healthy, life-giving whole foods then you probably do what I do. You look for the best sources of the cleanest, untouched, unaltered food. Heirloom fruits and veggies, organic–of course, locally grown where you know the farmer, and growing it yourself even though you probably don’t have any better soil than anyone else because think how many years it would take to bring soil back to where it was in the 1940’s?  We don’t give up though, because we know that doing these things is far better than not doing them. And we are focused on creating our future, not destroying it.

And even if you’re not particularly gung ho about organic foods and GMOs, who hasn’t become interested in one or more so-called super foods?  Marketers dissect food into categories making a particular fruit, seed or vegetable a “super food” because it has some phytonutrient in it that is good for you. No doubt it is good for you, but there’s only one problem.

The problem is that for all the known, scientifically tested and proven micronutrients, there are a myriad of those that haven’t been discovered. And how are we to know on any given day at any given meal what exactly we need to supplement?

We can’t.  That pretty much brings us full circle to the question, what are the natural, whole food, truly super  no, spectacularly super foods?  The ones that not only have what we need, but are in an organic, whole form that our bodies can assimilate—using what it needs at that moment and safely, naturally discarding the rest?

Mother Nature has been shackled and tortured all over the planet, but she is not so easy to conquer!  She has her resources of sustainable, life-giving nourishment that has not been degraded by “modern” agriculture. That is what we are looking for and it does exist.

Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon (Photo credit: Lance and Erin)
Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon (Photo credit: Lance and Erin)

What’s Good Enough to Eat?

They’re everywhere – diet programs, weightloss systems, food philosophies, miracles promised if you take certain nutritional products.  There are just about as many opinions on what a human being should consume as there are “experts” on the subject!  Books, TV doctors, websites, blogs, health gurus, traveling side shows, official government recommendations . . . and food advice involved with social/political/economic issues.

I joined the United Farm Workers as a teenager.  My parents kept receiving brochures and letters signed by Cesar Chavez asking for donations to his cause, which at the time was about protecting the rights of migrant farm workers who were exposed to dangerous chemical pesticides in the grape fields.  (Remember the grape boycott?)  I read that the migrant workers came into the fields with their entire family and that the mothers and children were suffering with all kinds of health problems because of their exposure to poisonous substances. “Something,” I thought, “should be done about that.”

This truly concerned me and I joined for $10.  This was my first interest in a social cause and I continued paying for this membership for several years with my own allowance.  And of course, I did not eat grapes.

As I grew up my personal lineup of diet and health advice came from my mom and Soupy Sales (“Don’t forget your vitaminnies!”), Jack LaLanne, then Adelle Davis, next came the book, “Sugar Blues” by William Dufty, closely followed by George Ohsawa who coined the term “macrobiotics” and Michio Kushi who really brought this philosophy to life for me, and recently Dr. Robert Cohen and his research.  I have experienced being a meat-eater, a vegetarian, and a vegan over the years.  And what did I learn?

I learned that there are some very basic concepts that should be put in place before you can even begin to know what foods work for you.  They seem obvious to me now, but they weren’t at first and apparently they aren’t obvious to everyone else either.

The first concept is that you have to eat real food.  A friend of mine sent out a photo the other day taken by Deb Mahan showing a fast-food factory producing what looks like a pink, styrofoamy boa constrictor of foodstuff and asking you to guess what kind of food it is.  (I find the cardboard boxes with no other wrapping disturbing.) Anyway, it’s pretty easy to tell this is not real food.

I remember in college my boyfriend and I would chuckle over the fact that packages of individually-sliced and wrapped American cheese were labeled “cheese food” not “cheese.”  We knew that wasn’t real food.  We called it “plastic cheese.”

What about all those ingredients on so-called “food” packages that are mostly unpronounceable and that we mostly don’t have a clue what they are?  They aren’t real food, that’s for sure.

I think you get the point. Real food is not made of plastic, petroleum or chemistry-lab products.

[Additional case in point: Twinkies, the Undead Snack – Check out the third footnote at the bottom and click on it – there’s a list of the 39 ingredients in “Twinkies.”]

The second basic concept is that once you have chosen to eat a real food, you need to look at how refined or processed it is–i.e. how much has the original food been altered?  Most people know that refined white sugar is nothing like the original sugar cane plant.  Maybe you’ve heard that “carbs are bad.”  Well, that depends.  Are we talking about refined white flour products in which the flour bears no resemblance whatsoever to the original fields of waiving grain?  Rice that has been stripped down until there’s nothing left but the white carbohydrate part?  Or are we talking about whole grains like whole wheat, brown rice, whole barley or whole oats that are called “complex carbohydrates,” act nothing like refined carbohydrates when you eat them, and used to be staple food all over the world?

Brown and white rice.
Image via Wikipedia

The third basic concept (and this is closely related to the second concept) is that no matter what type of food you decide you should eat, choose the highest quality of that food that you can.  “Quality” is relative, certainly.  But this is where you should look into what it means for food to be organic and why that is important.  And why your food should not be genetically modified.  The subject of food quality is worth learning about because it is key to understanding how what you eat will affect your health and how you live. I encourage you to gain that understanding and get into the drivers seat of deciding what effects you will create for yourself and your family with your food and don’t just leave it up to the “chefs” at the local fast food place or your favorite chain restaurant or the marketing directors of food manufacturing companies.

There is so much data to sort through on the subject of food!  Unfortunately it is can also be a highly political subject.  After all, what better way to control people than to control their food sources?  Diet and health advice is rife with rumors forwarded by vested interests.  Here’s an article that reminded me of that fact:  CDC researchers say mothers should stop breastfeeding to boost ‘efficacy’ of vaccines

But take heart and just start finding out.  Find out about organic food.  Check out the subject of “whole food.”  And if you can confront the political/economic realities, find out about GMO’s (genetically modified organisms). Following the three basic concepts I gave you will take you a long way toward understanding what’s good enough to eat.