Eating a nourishing meal every time hunger reoccurs isn’t easy.In fact it’s a problem.Think of the factors that play into what will be eaten next: What is close by?What ingredients were used?How was the meal prepared?Is the choice enjoyable? Not only are the answers to these questions not easily found but the message behind food’s intent is often times foggy.With the marketing channels food companies use, hungry people find themselves in crossfire of interference when trying to choose a nourishing meal.Despite the confusion, some things have gotten easier.“Where to get full” is a dilemma of the past.With convenience stores and drive thru’s on every major street and snack machines stocked in every office building lobby, eaters can get full with little effort or knowledge.“How to eat right” seems like a question that’s been conveniently answered for us as well. Food companies and diet programs claim to have the road map to optimal health.From paleo, low-carb and low-fat diets to gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan philosophies, (although these concepts each have their merits) it seems there’s a food philosophy for just about anyone.But the hooks that food and diet companies use have people paying attention to which celebrity is skinny while distancing society further from what’s actually on the lunch plate.In the midst of finally making a sound food choice, one thing stands clear: there’s a difference between being full and being well-fed. In the spirit being well-fed, we offer four sustainable philosophies to enjoying your food, building your relationship with food and improving your overall health:
1.Eat Only The Food You Love.Forcing a switch from eating foods someone loves to “diet foods” can only distance a person further from their desired state.As long as the foods you love are nutritious (use common sense for this) you should stick to your gut on this one. One fast and easy rule for making nutritious choices is to choose food in its natural state and avoid food in cans, boxes, bars and bags. Processed foods will always offer less of what you want and more of what you don’t want.Dinner plates heavy in vegetables and fruits should always compete for your palate.The greener the vegetables the better while fruits that don’t grow in the tropics offer the least sugar and the most nutrition, fiber and antioxidants.In making these choices, opt for variety - eat great foods while eating many different types.If you’re stuck in “eater’s block” try eating seasonally.You can easily research which foods grow in each season while changing with the times becomes natural.Food is an experience to be enjoyed.From smell, sight, taste and texture, each meal should be enjoyed.Once your palate adjusts to nutrient-dense meals, the body begins craving foods with the nutritional quality your body needs.Once this state is obtained, one really can see with their stomach.
2.Choose Foods With The Very Best Ingredients.Not all food is created equal.And to eat well is to eat food raised and grown in the most natural state possible.One of the best parts of eating for nourishment is to find food suppliers who raise crops and animals with nourishment.Food is energy you put into your body and no food is better than those coming from plants and animals that were grown and raised with the same philosophy.When animals are left to forage and roam, they produce the best tasting and most nourishing diary and meat ingredients imaginable.Chickens raised in pastures with the freedom to peck and eat insects in pasture produce eggs with dark orange, nutrient-dense yolks, firm whites and rich taste.Beef from a free-range herd produce a steak so strong with natural aroma and a deep taste that can only come from a forging animal with a healthy gut flora and naturally high in omega-3 acids.Raising animals with the husbandry that allows them to carry out their normal life behaviors and consume a natural diet will always create the best energy sources for people.
3.Match Portioning with Appetite.Equally important to the quality of food eaten is consistently choosing the right amount of food for nourishment.After fasting or exercise, a larger portion is often warranted.When eating throughout a day of rest, small portions will nicely suffice without the storage of excess energy in the body.The key is to consciously select quantities of foods and after routinely practicing your guesswork on matching hunger with portion size, choosing the right size meal becomes second nature.One necessary skill to master is the 20-minute pause.When strong hunger pangs set in, select a meal that seems to be the right size for nourishment.After eating, it’s natural to still feel hungry.An eater won’t know if his portion guess turned out to be correct for about 20 minutes after the meals is eaten.Only after this pause does the brain recognize the body has been nourished and equilibrium is restored replacing the deficient feeling of malnourishment.Begin to manage this hungry-full mirage and become a master of controlling portions.Over time this self-awareness empowers almost anyone to control their body weight in a consciously-aware and sustainable fashion.
4.See a specialist for individual conditions.Many people have specific dietary needs.We can discover these personal conditions about ourselves instantly from allergic or digestive reactions or other ways our bodies signal to us what we must consume and avoid.When we see any hints of our bodies telling us about a condition, it’s best to seek the guidance of a specialist.After the condition is identified, it’s best to continue the practices of proper nourishment while knowing the condition will cause detours.Special requirements and deficiencies in dietary needs should never stop a person from pursuing their healthiest body and most enjoyable food experiences.
Every meal presents a choice - an opportunity to better your health.With each chance to try new foods comes more awareness about the enjoyment food can bring.Building a relationship with food and knowing how to nourish your body is a practice that can be used to create a foundation of sound health forever.Continue to understand your likes and keep refining your palate.Once a connection is developed between quality food and feeling good, finding your way to nourishing meals through society’s misnomers and food confusion will no longer be a challenge.
Chicken. It’s our country’s preferred protein source. The average adult consumes 83 pounds of it per year- 23 pounds more than beef! And why? Well, it’s cheap or at least it appears to be cheap. But like Michael Pollan said best, “cheap food is an illusion. There is no such thing as cheap food. The real cost is paid somewhere.” When we take a closer look at today’s poultry, we find perhaps one of the most abused farm animals in the world and another cog in our unsustainable food system.
The Chicken Factory
The majority of today’s broiler chickens (chickens raised specifically for meat) come from our factory farming system. According to Food & Water Watch, these concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) raise over 1 billion broiler chickens annually- more than 3 per American. This methodology of raising poultry dates back to the very beginnings of factory farming in our country and has resulted in a vicious system that can raise and slaughter a broiler in a mere 6 weeks. It all starts by cramming the broilers into sheds- upwards of 40,000 at a time- leaving little if any room for movement or ability to exhibit natural behaviors. There is no scratching and pecking due to no outdoor access and the common practice of beak-trimming which causes chronic acute pain for the animals. The broilers are fed a steady diet of ultra low-cost, genetically modified corn and soy which includes dosages of antibiotics and arsenic. Yes, arsenic- a poison to humans and is a common feed additive which helps to stimulate growth and improve pigmentation, providing the “healthy” pink shelf color which appeals to shoppers. The antibiotics are a requirement for two reasons: first and foremost, the crammed quarters and lack of ventilation combined with residue from dust, feathers and ammonia from bird droppings causes respiratory distress and even can lead to heart failure in broilers. Each year, a certain percentage of broilers die under these conditions and this is an expected part of the business. Antibiotics are needed to keep the broiler from getting sick but they’re equally used for weight gain- another added benefit to antibiotic use in farm animals of all kinds. The broilers end up growing at such a fast pace that their leg/hip bones and muscles can’t keep pace with their rapid body weight gain and the bird becomes sedentary.
This production methodology produces what appears to be the low-cost chicken which lines our supermarket shelves today. But what are the real costs embedded here? Well, the real costs are passed on to our bodies and our environment. This type of chicken is not only nutritionally deficient compared to pasture-raised chicken, but it’s ridden with toxins that can only damage our bodies in the long term. From an environmental standpoint, the impacts are profound. According to the Environmental Integrity Project, which was formed by former EPA agents, broiler producers in the top 10 states emit nearly 482 million pounds of ammonia (from feces) or more than 8 times the combined total from industrial sources (also keep in mind that this feces have to go somewhere). We must also consider the vast swaths of mono-cultured, nutrient deficient land that must be used to grow the GMO corn and soy feed for the broilers (see the article “Soy To The World But Let’s Not Celebrate). This is land that is losing its soil integrity with each passing year.
A Better Way - Pastured Poultry
Thankfully, there are far healthier, sustainable alternatives to raising broilers that exist today and are based upon old-fashioned farming skill along with some added ingenuity. Joel Salatin and his Polyface Farms are an example of one such model. Over the past 30 years, he’s developed a beyond organic, mobile pasture system which allows broiler chickens to lead a natural life. They spend their lives outside- scratching and pecking, growing on a diet of nutrient-rich forage and GMO-free grains. His methods are also sustainable- the portable chicken enclosures are moved daily so the fields get adequate time to digest the nitrogen from the manure (the manure is not toxic and there’s no need to dispose of it elsewhere). As Mr. Salatin states in the following video, one of the greatest benefits to the methodology is that it provides a low barrier to entry for young farmers to get into the business- a small piece of land and some inexpensive materials versus a $500,000 investment in a factory chicken shed and a life-restraining contract with a major poultry purchaser. One of the greatest issues with our current food system is that we don’t have enough young farmers. The Polyface model and others like it help to remedy this issue by attracting young people to a reputable, fulfilling and profitable profession.
This past summer, integrative medical practitioner Dr. Joseph Mercola spent some time with Joel Salatin touring Polyface Farms. In the following video, Mr. Salatin explains the Polyface method for raising poultry and why it and systems like it are the right answer to our country’s poultry problem (more videos of Dr. Mercola’s Polyface tour including an interview with Joel Salatin can be found on Youtube). ~ F
We hear how soy is healthy. More people are drinking soy milk, eating soy burgers and buying tofu in hopes of eating healthier sources of protein. People choose soy to avoid casein protein and lactose in milk while others substitute soy for meat to avoid saturated fats. Some choose soy for animal rights beliefs. On the flipside, studies say soy has its downsides. We’re hearing how recent studies uncovered how soy can elevate estrogen levels in humans and cause reproductive and fertility problems in women. Animal studies are showing complications in early-life development in mice and rats. Long-term studies of human consumption of soy are only underway. As soy becomes more pervasive in food, these studies will become even more important. Then there’s the fact that soy grown in the Americas (accounting 80% of world production) is almost 100% genetically modified. More on that in a minute. Deriving a “healthy or not healthy” conclusion to soy is not the point of this article. What will be examined are the not-so-obvious yet pernicious methods of producing soybeans at the cost of both human health and the environment.
Soy Is Everywhere. Why?
Americans today ingest far more soy than they intend to consume. Taking a close look at ingredient lists on food labels, it’s surprising to find how most packaged and processed foods contain some derivative of soy (I recently found orange soda at a chain grocery store containing “modified soybean oil”). Even foods like fresh meats and poultry that don’t come with an ingredient label are likely from animals rose eating a soy-based diet. The fact is, soy is ubiquitous in America. Soybeans were non-existent on American soil back in 1770. They were a Chinese crop. It wasn’t until 1851 that soybean seeds were distributed to farmers in Illinois and the Corn Belt states. Then In 1879, American farmers began feeding soybeans to livestock. By the turn of the century, the government began its involvement in the domestic soy industry with the US Department of Agriculture conducting tests and encouraging soybeans as animal feed. In 1904, American scientists discovered that soybeans are a source of protein and oil and in 1919 the American Soybean Association was founded. In 1933, the federal government got involved in the agriculture business in a big way with Congress enacting the first Farm Bill (under President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal). From there, government and industry continued to promote the soy industry through subsidies and loans while soy began venturing down its unsustainable path. Every five or so years, US Congress assembles to vote on the Farm Bill. To influence legislation, big companies hire lobbyists to push for a Farm Bill that will create an economic advantage for the companies who lobby. In the Farm Bill, subsidies get granted that artificially and perpetually push the price of soy below its market price (along with other production crops like corn, sugar and cotton). Once this economic advantage becomes imbedded in the industry by lawmakers, the ingenuity and creativity begins. Bio-chemical companies invent ways to create pesticides that increase the tonnage production of soybeans per acre. Food manufacturers look to increase their profits by researching and experimenting infinite ways to use soy in products without violating food safety laws. 1940 was a pivotal year for the soybean industry as it exploded to fulfill the global demand for soybeans during WWII. Farm animals of all types were taken off their natural grass and hay diets and fed corn and soybeans. America today is the largest global producer of soy and with Argentina and Brazil, the Americas account for 80% of global soy production. Global production in 2003 was 180M tons and is expected to grow to 300M tons by 2020. Soy is now everywhere and as an American staple, it has become a common ingredient today in food, ink, paint, crayons and plastic.
What’s Wrong With Eating Soy?
As with most natural foods, consuming soy in moderation is probably healthy. The key word is natural. Why? Because one thing is for certain – genetically modified soy (almost all American soy) has both obvious and unknown risks. Not because it’s soy but because it’s genetically modified soy. When a soybean seed has been genetically altered, it’s been changed through cell-invasion technology for only one reason – to increase the profits of the producer. Unfortunately this creates a health risk to the consumer. The genetic code of almost all soybeans in America has been modified to resist the toxicity of the pesticide RoundUp. Monsanto, the biggest genetic modification and food chemical company in the world owns the patent to the RoundUp herbicide as well as the patent to the genetically modified seed that allows soybean plants to grow after being doused with the Roundup herbicide. How does this increase the profits of the producer? Simple – labor. If the farmer can kill anything alive in his acres of soybean plants except the soybeans, he doesn’t have much weeding to do. This allows him to use factory farm equipment on perfect rows of soybeans that won’t be slowed down by weeds and pests. What does genetic modification do for the consumer? Nothing good. What might be okay is eating soybeans in their natural form. What’s not okay is eating soy products derived from soybeans with altered DNA and doused in chemicals before they were harvested. To add insult to injury, Mother Nature always finds a way to win. Through natural evolution, weeds have found a way to grow in a chemical environment. And they have. Since 1996 when genetically modified soybeans came to be, the use of glyphosate (the chemical name for RoundUp herbicide) has grown rampant. Farmers are spraying RoundUp, re-spraying and spraying it again as “super weeds” grow back stronger in the face of what once seemed to be the “sliver bullet” to weed problems in large-scale agricultural production. Where does this leave the consumer? The obvious health risk from chemical exposure is blindly accepted everyday by most Americans as their exposure to consuming soy is pervasive in fast food, processed food, animal products and many products marketed as healthy like protein bars and weight-loss drinks. But wait, there’s another risk beyond chemical exposure. What about the genetically modified food being eaten? These foods pose unknown risks as long-term human health studies have not been done. So far, only mammals with much shorter lives like mice have had multi-generational health impact studies done on them. The outlook for humans is still not clear but the tests done on these mice are not promising. Animals are showing side effects including tumor growth, reproductive organ development abnormalities and infertility just to name a few.
Growing Crops is Good For The Environment. What’s Wrong With Growing Soy?
The Americas account for 80% of soy production. And the biggest growth opportunity for more soy is in South America where farmers deforest the pristine Amazon jungle and replace it with miles of “gold desert” funded by a handful of multinational soybean companies. Industries have moved into the rainforest while governments have remained silent. The result? Hundreds of farmers have been displaced through the purchase of their land or in many cases, a hostile takeover of the farmland. Not only is the soy takeover harming the forests and extricating the native culture of the people but it is creating ecological changes that could potentially be global in their impact. If the trend continues its course, more of the Amazon jungle could turn into many square miles of genetically modified soy. This will, of course, be paired with the expanding application of RoundUp. This chemical kills not only weeds but all the microorganisms that make rich, organic, nutrient-dense soil. When chemical farming practices occupy acres of land year after year, the health of the soil continues to erode. What was once soil that had the nutrients to grow massive trees in the jungle barely has enough nutrition in it to support a 2-foot tall soybean plant. As the soil loses its beneficial microorganisms, chemical fertilizers are the only tool left to stimulate the growth of a monocultured crop. As of now, an area the size of France has been leveled in the Amazon. We suffer not only an atmospheric imbalance and water vapor loss from the disappearing vegetation but what’s gone is one of the richest and most biodiverse places in the world. The Amazon jungle has never been studied in its entirety so what unknown species have been lost can never be recovered. Some studies predict that at the current rate of deforestation taking place, the Amazon jungle could be largely gone in 30 to 40 years. A huge price to pay for a single crop that fuels industries causing obesity, climate change and rapid depletion of fresh water resources.
How Do I Make Better Choices About Soy Products?
The choice is easy. When deciding which soy product to consume, choose products marked with the green organic seal. Organic products by law are grown without the use of genetic modification. Without genetic modification, RoundUp cannot be sprayed on a plant. Products marked organic are not allowed to have harmful chemicals of any kind sprayed on them. Choosing organic soy products is a “vote” for healthier soy products for your body and healthy farming practices for the environment. Throughout the entire production chain of soybeans from the chemicals used to grow them and the seeds engineered to resist the chemicals, to the companies and governments chasing short-term gain over long-term conservation, soy has become a crop with far-reaching tentacles. Become an informed consumer and be able to identify the food products that will both nourish your body and sustain a healthy planet. ~ F
Each day we take witness to evidence of the causes and ramifications of our country’s badly broken food system- the diabetes and obesity epidemics, rising medical costs and lack of sustainably raised food to name a few. One can easily get overwhelmed when considering the sheer magnitude of the problem. But thankfully each day individuals and businesses are stepping up to do their part in solving the crisis in some very traditional and non-traditional fashions.
This past week, one such company, FarmedHere , announced plans to expand their urban farming operations in Chicago with a new 90,000 square foot vertical farming facility. You might be asking yourself- “farming facility?” Well, FarmedHere is not a farm in the traditional sense. They grow USDA organic certified produce indoors utilizing various alternative growing systems such as hydroponics, aeroponics and aquaponics. Their growing methods are some of the most sustainable, reducing the use of both energy and water, shortening the growing cycle and because they’re indoors, produce can be grown year-round. What’s also interesting about the recent FarmedHere announcement is that it’s supported by Whole Foods via their Local Producer Loan Program. Whole Foods is a devoted supporter of farmers and food artisans, providing up to $10 million annually in low-interest loans to budding businesses. The program issued a loan of $100,000 to FarmedHere.
We know that part of the answer to our food system crisis is simply more farmers- today a mere 1% of our population considers themselves farmers versus 20% some 80 years ago. But we also need to be open to using alternative growing practices such as aquaponics- a methodology that dates back to the Aztecs. These practices fit perfectly into the urban landscape, massively reduce the travel time of our produce (saving energy) and offer prospects for a new industry and jobs.
Take a peek at the following video explaining their aquaponics growing method, which is a food production system combining aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (cultivating plants in water):
Back in the day, people had a relationship with food. Before processed and fast foods, all that existed was whole, natural foods that came from vegetable gardens, grain crops, and animal farms.Many families had their own farm.In fact in the 1930’s, with a total US population of 122 million, there were 6.3 million farms.Farm employees accounted for 30 million Americans which made up 21% of the labor force.Much of the food grown on American soil was eaten by Americans.Food labels didn’t exist.Americans were not concerned with food additives or preservatives.Apples were apples.Home-baked pies were home-baked pies.These foods were pure while the origins of our food could be easily traced back to the farms who harvested them.
Things have changed over 80 years.In 1953, Swanson invented and heavily marketed a new “ready-to-eat” style dinner that could be enjoyed easily while sitting in front of America’s newfound captivation - the television.“TV Dinners” were created and food-on-the-go started becoming an American trend as highway systems erected and workers began to commute. Many of the popular processed foods we see today like M&Ms, Cheerios, corn dogs and ranch dressing all originated from the ready-to-eat revolution that was happening during post World War II as the American economy began to re-flourish. These foods would withstand transportation and a lengthy shelf life giving food producers the ability to transport ingredients through food systems (eventually global food systems) in order to put a product on a consumer shelf for a profit. America began to demand more convenience with women entering the work force and food manufacturers quickly evolved their products to sell to this growing convenience economy.
As companies began expanding their food offerings, the government agencies to regulate them began mounting at a significant rate.The Food and Drug Administration has grown today into a 10,000 employee $4.5 billion dollar department of the Federal Government that now regulates every food safety decision for America (except domestically-raised animal products, that’s the USDA’s job).The EPA, created in 1970, has quickly grown into 18,000 employees with a $9 billion budget and controls the chemical pesticide approvals in all of our foods.With corporations pushing for approvals on substances to make their products as tasty and convenient as possible, the FDA, EPA and USDA are work closer than ever with the corporations who push for approval. With many of the top executives in these federal decision-making positions having previously worked for the companies who push for approval, a demand for transparency has developed. The Organic Standard began developing in the 1970s as a growing number of consumers felt the need to be personally conscious of products they put in their bodies. Like the 1940-50s, the 1990s was another decade that further distanced Americans from the origins of their food.Genetically modified foods made their way though legislative approval when the permission to patent crop seeds became law.Legislation like the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 has been signed into law shifting the burden of proof to the substance manufacturer to convince the government their products are safe.With each step our country takes in providing food to each other at a profitable exchange, we see how America’s relationship with food has evolved over time.
Today America has a 310,000,000 person population.There are 2,000,000 domestic farms and less than 1% of American workers claim farming as their profession.Skimming the first paragraph above again, we can see an unsustainable problem brewing.America has a 30% obesity rate among its adults and over a 20% rate among its children.The American palate has shifted to sugar, salt and fat.Even the freshest foods can come from across the world and look as fresh as food from a local garden.Looking back to the beginning of the 20th century, America desperately needs a reconnection to food.
A New Food Revolution
Despite the 80-year decline in America’s relationship with food, a new food revolution is brewing.Organic food is grown using sustainable practices that respect the soil, food and the consumer.These foods accounted for $1 billion in sales in 1990.Today they account for $24 billion in sales and have grown at a rate of 7 times the average of conventional foods.Restaurant chains like Chipotle have risen to the challenges of America’s food systems and are transparently stating that all of their food is not yet produced in the ways they want it to be – but they are trying.The CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Program has flourished in big cities allowing urban residents to gain access to locally grown produce by purchasing share of a farm’s future production, thus offsetting the farmer’s risk with guaranteed future sales.Farmer’s markets continue to gain steam where consumers can make a direct connection between food and producer.Real farm-to-table food offerings are being made in restaurants from Boston to San Francisco where a sit-down meal is made from local and/or hyper-local ingredients.There is no substitute for quality.We’ve known this all along.“You Are What You Eat” is a true statement - it always has been.America is starting to become aware of its food challenges as people demand to build back their relationship with the food they eat. ~ F