Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Lost Knowledge of Food

Sweet Pea
I have always been a health conscious person.  I grew up interested in herbs and how they heal the body, how food can make us healthy or make us sick and how being in nature can cure the mind including depression and anxiety.  I always feel like I am playing catchup though, lagging behind in my knowledge, learning on the fly as I find time or when a problem appears.  Americans have a severe learning curve when it comes to the simplest things in life: how to eat, how to heal, and how to live.  The secrets of the world have been forgotten on the path civilization.  As each culture shed who or what made them special to assimilate to the American ideal, we have cluttered the road with recipes for health, wellness, and long life. This is not solely an American problem, Europe and other nations are following suit, forgetting the knowledge of the past for a more pristine future.  As a nation we are obsessed with health, we are obsessed with doctors and weight loss, and yet we are obsessed with keeping our unhealthy way of life.  We want to lose weight but still eat whatever we want, not taking a moment to realize that burgers and fries with a beer may be “the American Diet” but it is so far from our natural constitution it is killing us.  We want to live without sickness and pain, but we refuse to change our everyday routine until it is too late, until pain and sickness have entered are body.  By clinging to this way of life, we are insuring our own demise. 
Summer Chives

I don’t remember when I started being interested in how herbs can heal, but I know I was still in elementary school.  I was convinced that there was a better alternative to pharmaceuticals. I was starting my knowledge from scratch without any direction.  By the time I had children, many years later, I was still lacking in basic knowledge, having to take my son to the ER with Croup because he stopped breathing.  Of course after a few hours of waiting, they sent me away with a prescription for over the counter cough syrup and the recommendation that I get a humidifier.  This should have been something I could have taken care of at home.  In a panic, I called our pediatrician and she told me to take him to the ER.  All she knew was that my son had stopped breathing.  Had she asked questions, had I been stronger in my resolve, we probably would have had a long night, but not in the ER.  When it comes to healing, I have a solid foundation now. I will always be learning, and my kids always finding new ways to test that knowledge, but I can recognize and treat the simple, common problems of childhood.  Today, I am more concerned with the medicine that we use every day to fuel our bodies and how that affects our health. 

I grew up with very little food knowledge.  My mother was part of the weight obsessed, and diet obsessed, eighties so margarine was on the menu.  We struggled to make ends meet so cheaper was better, vegetables were canned, fruit was rare, and grains made up a large portion of our diet. I am not blaming my parents.  They didn’t grow up with food knowledge either and their parents were the first generation with microwaves and TV dinners.  Bits and pieces of cultural food knowledge had been falling away for generations as we moved from traditional ways to cities and modern ideas.  Science muddied the water even more.  The learned minds declared fat, salt, and meat bad for you, then recanted, then restated.  People were encouraged to buy boxed food and not consume food from the fields.  We outlawed raw dairy and red meat.  The farms were taken over and run to feed a country instead of a county.  Pesticides were sprayed to cure the problems of single crop farming.  Everything was focused on high yield. We forgot about seasons with grocery stores filled with berries in December and oranges in June.  We have become so separated from what we eat that the concept of ground beef once being a cow is now repulsive. 

Chicken Stock
The typical American cupboard is full of boxes and cans, the freezer full of pre-made meals, fried foods and sugary sweets, and the refrigerator quite empty of fresh vegetables and whole fat dairy.  Food is easy and ready to consume and the first thought of hunger.  There is no wonder why our nation’s health is failing.  We have been wooed by diet foods, claiming to help us lose weight, bamboozled by healthy jargon boasting natural ingredients, and won over by the ease of food in a container. There is a plethora of material out there claiming it to “not be our fault” or whatever excuse you choose to believe, but it is our fault.  Nothing continues to exist in the American capitalist society unless people are buying it, and people are buying it.  McDonalds hasn’t started closing its doors, Hersey’s isn’t going out of business, and Coca-Cola is still at the top of its game. Corporations are not the problem, it is the consumer who purchases that lab produced food who is keeping the cycle going. It is only one burger, or candy bar, we tell ourselves, but it is filling our bodies with the cheapest ingredients, filling our stomach without nourishing out bodies.  This pseudo food turns into fat, which is what everyone is talking about.

We are we are obsessed with weight: how much we weigh, how to lose the weight, how to eat less so we don’t gain weight.  It is a silly game that no one wins.  When I was a teenager, I was told that I would be fighting my weight my entire life.  I wasn’t a skinny girl, and I never would be, but I was so offended by the concept that I would battle over how much I weighed.  I have been less concerned with how heavy the scale says that I am and more concerned with how big my middle has grown, or how jiggly my thighs have become.  It was the fat that I wanted to lose, not the weight.  It wasn’t until I started being concerned with what I was eating, not how much or how many calories, but the QUALITY of the food that I was eating, that I really started to notice my body was doing its job, and I was losing fat. It was the only time in my life I had managed to “lose weight”.  Though our culture does have a problem with “Weight” it is really a problem with fat.  Our diet is full of bad fats that have been sold as good fats and in the end have made us fat. We have been convinced that food created in a lab is better for us than food created by nature.

I am in the middle of my search for food knowledge, trudging through the history books and modern research.  I am not calling for government legislation like Jamie Oliver, but I do hope you take a look at the food you are eating and opt for an egg and homemade toast for breakfast instead of the box of donuts that is sitting on the counter.
Want to read more?
Check out books by Penelope Ody
Especially The Complete Medicinal Herbal (which is what started me writing this piece)

The Lost Art of Real Cooking

The Art of Fermentation

Nourishing Traditions

Ayurveda: A Life of Balance

What efforts are you making to eat healthier and live a healthier life?

Thank you for reading,

Sarah McTernen

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