Sunday, May 24, 2009

HEALTH 101 - Food as Medicine


Tibetan Medicine and Indian Ayurveda tell us that "food is our first medicine." It implies that food choices can soothe what ails you, or by eating what is in harmony with your body type, you can maintain your good health and skip altogether the experience of getting sick. Perenial wisdom of the 80's assured us "You are what you eat." Feed lot fattened beef filled with chemicals? Chickens so top heavy they cannot walk even if they had room to try? I would suggest that our culture of fast foods, highly processed foods, and allegedly 'fresh' produce that travels >1,500 miles to reach us is not exactly what makes for healthy strong bodies. Small wonder diabetes and immune dysfunction are skyrocketing - we've forgotten what life giving food looks and tastes like and are losing the tribal knowledge of how to prepare food from scratch! (Definition: 'Scratch' means having meat or other protein source, veggies, carbohydrate, beverage, perhaps fruit or desert that you put together and cook to create a meal - not thawing or heating up a pre-packaged item or warming soup from a can!)


How many young people launching into adulthood know how to cook for themselves? Unfortunately that issue is not new to this generation - how many middle aged to elder men know how to cook for themselves? A family tale tells of a young woman whose mother wouldn't allow her to enter "her" kitchen, and upon her marriage in the 1940's, the young couple survived on BLT's until the husband couldn't bear it any longer and offered to teach his bride a few more meal menus. How many times a week do you or someone in your household cook a meal from scratch?


How many people know about gardening? How many people know how to raise a food animal and care for its needs now that family farms have been consumed by agribusiness? I read a disturbing report last year about a survey of both urban and rural students who were asked to identify where common foods come from, answering questions like "Do beans grow on trees, plants, or are they part of a root?" "Does bacon come from a plant or animal source?" Respondants didn't do so well...I guess our young people believe that beans come in cans or frozen in plastic bags from the grocery store and never think more about it. That is, if they eat green things at all! I cringe remembering how my son would assert that "Vegetables are what FOOD (ie cows, chickens, deer etc) eat!" even though he was raised eating salads and fresh veggies from our garden. I'm not sure I want to know what his dinners look like in his bachelor pad.

In my grandparents' generation, gardening and home canning of food to last through the winter was a way of life. The whole family participated from little kids to elders. Victory gardens sprouted in urban yards in response to World War II's food shortages. We began to lose our knowing as refrigeration, transportation and manufacturing boomed and made available to us food from all over the country and now, from all over the globe. But despair not - organic farmers teaching us about healthy soil and are showing us the delightful outcome of preparing food without the petro-chemicals of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Farmers' Markets are thriving and popping up in many communities to provide life-filled, truly fresh produce. We have universities teaching adult learners to be Master Gardeners as we realize just how wonderful a process it is to produce flavorful food from our healthy soil, sunshine, fresh water, seeds, and sweat.


Author Barbara Kingsolver and her family have gifted the world a wonderful book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life that chronicles their year of exploration of what it means to "eat local" - food that has been produced within 100 miles of their home, and to eat in harmony with the season, foregoing summer fruit from South America in the dark of winter here in the states. The book includes recipes, political and social commentary, web resources, and helpful informational "how to" for things like making your own cheese, mingled with narrative of the successes, frustrations, challenges and satisfaction that accompanied this family's growth. There is also a web site on which people from all over the globe have contributed stories and ideas for furthering the work begun in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle...a down-loadable index to the book's topics and resources, updates and photos. It is an inspiring site to browse! My hunch is that this book will either scare you into finding the nearest Big Mac super-sized meal to hide from the truths told, or it will inspire you to never look at food in quite the same way again. It may even become part of your personal eating evolution! Enjoy, and let me know what you think about all this new/old information and ways of living. May our food be our medicine and may we be healthy and happy!

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