*WHAT DOES HEALTHY EATING REALLY MEAN?
I’m always being asked this question.
Why? Because I have been eating healthy since 1978, took my last aspirin when I had my wisdom teeth pulled 15 years ago and rarely eat fast food. I was raised this way. My mother fed us to grow healthy bodies and not just to fill our bellies. She fed us meat she could recognize the animal it came from, never from a casing. At 94 she goes daily to the gym, lives alone, pays her bills, fights with insurance companies and drives herself everywhere. Not the image most of us hold of what 94 looks like.
Yet sometimes in my excitement I share too much information and overwhelm or insert foot-in-mouth. Sometimes I forget to start with definitions so that we are both coming from the same place.
The other day I hurt a sweet young friends feelings and it has been breaking my heart ever since. I never meant to insult her; foot-in-mouth strikes again. What I was trying to go for was clarity on ‘healthy snacks’. My niece thinks Ritz crackers are NOT junk food and I say they are. Navigating the world of food today is very complicated and very hard and in any discussion the first step is definitions and I did NOT take the time to clarify before I shared a comment. My bad and I am sorry.
Yet the central issue is one that follows me, how do you define healthy in a world that knows so little about where our food comes from or how our food grows. Michael Pollan explains it so well here:
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy. I hate to give away the game right here at the beginning of a long essay, and I confess that I’m tempted to complicate matters in the interest of keeping things going for a few thousand more words. I’ll try to resist but will go ahead and add a couple more details to flesh out the advice. Like: A little meat won’t kill you, though it’s better approached as a side dish than as a main. And you’re much better off eating whole fresh foods than processed food products. That’s what I mean by the recommendation to eat “food.” Once, food was all you could eat, but today there are lots of other edible food-like substances in the supermarket. These novel products of food science often come in packages festooned with health claims, which brings me to a related rule of thumb: if you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid food products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a good indication that it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat.
Uh-oh. Things are suddenly sounding a little more complicated, aren’t they? Sorry. But that’s how it goes as soon as you try to get to the bottom of the whole vexing question of food and health. Before long, a dense cloud bank of confusion moves in. Sooner or later, everything solid you thought you knew about the links between diet and health gets blown away in the gust of the latest study.” *
And he is right. The more you start asking questions the more complex the food landscape becomes and the farther a simple answer gets. 150 years ago growing food organically was the only choice available to us. For as long as humans have walked the planet organic growing was all we did, it is not a new invention.
Like grass-fed beef and free-range chickens. That was the way ALL creatures were raised and most of us hold the illusion of those pastoral scenes that rarely happens in today’s agricultural landscape.
Food is complicated. Why? Because of definitions and a lack of information and experiences. Most of us have never seen a cow up close, gathered eggs from a chickens nest, harvested garlic or beets and have no idea what time, resources and energy goes into growing food. In other words we have become ignorant enough to be swindled by an industry that cares only about profit and corrupts words to confuse.
Remaining ignorant to the facts of food puts money into the pockets of people that care not one twit about your health, your ethics, or your desires. Profit over people is the standard of the day and I for one refuse to play in that playpen. I stay informed; I know that grass fed is best and that it naturally takes two years to raise a cow for slaughter so I am willing to pay more for that beef. I know that a chicken doesn’t start laying eggs until its 8 months old and only lays eggs when the sun is out and the weather warm. So spring and summer I eat a lot more eggs then I do in fall or winter.
The word organic gained momentum as we started to loose contact with our agriculture. In its infancy organic meant more than the absence of chemicals, it meant an ethics in business, in charging customers fair prices, treating employees humanly, paying fair wages AND charging fair prices while caretaking the health of the soil. As a labeling program for the USDA these definitions are no longer synonymous for organic.
The intent to clarify has gotten muddy and people now think that if they drink an organic soda or buy an organic cake mix they are eating healthy. The word organic does not guarantee health or an abundance of healthy nutrients.
It is confusing to navigate the world of health and the food industry is not eager to help, they profit from our confusion. If you want peace with food follow Michael Pollans ever so simple statement:
“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”
Or as La Leche League used to say: ‘Eat foods in as close to their natural state as possible’.
The problem is too many of us are raised isolated from where our food comes from and think that butter is made from corn or spaghetti grows on trees. How can a generation far removed from the farms understand ‘as close to its natural state as possible?’
So the first step in this venture into the land and quest for health is to: define YOUR path to health and along with that there is the need to be an educated consumer so that you don’t get swindled by the folks interested only in the profit margin and NOT your health.
Keep it simple and do your best.
* The complete article by Michael Pollan: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/28/magazine/28nutritionism.t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Natural is another word in need of clarification. This video sums it up beautifully.