How should we eat? The answer to this question has enormous consequences for
the Earth and all of the living things on it, including us.
Study after study suggests that for our health we should eat plenty of
vegetables, especially dark green leafy ones, as well as fruits, and whole
grains. These foods help us to resist cancer, heart disease, and other
To prevent these diseases, we should eat fewer animal products and processed
foods, as well as fewer fats, especially saturated and hydrogenated ones.
Humans have been living on this planet for about 10,000 generations, nourished
by the plants and animals that live near by. We extract energy and nutrients
from our food in the same way that our distant ancestors did. Since it's
usually easier to pick a leaf or fruit than it is to capture an animal, plant
foods probably dominated most diets. Lean, wild game took considerable effort
to hunt and process.
It was only about 300 generations ago that agriculture began. Grains were grown
and stored. Animals were domesticated. Wild plants and animals, however, still
provided important foods. Their use continues today. Until the last several
generations, however, in most places, fats were rare and their consumption was
balanced by vigorous exercise. It may be the strong survival value of scarce,
energy-rich fats in our hungry ancestors' diets which explains our troubling
fondness for them today.
Since we've eaten plants for roughly 300,000 years, it isn't surprising that
scientists have confirmed that the fiber, complex carbohydrates, and other
nutrients they contain are good for us.
In the last few generations, however, we have made radical changes in the way we
eat. Just over a hundred years ago, the creation of margarine through the
process of hydrogenating fats, was one of the first applications of industrial
technology to the production of food.
During this century, the pace of change has been accelerating. Widespread
application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides began after World War II. In
our lifetimes, a steady stream of new artificial sweeteners, spreads, and
chemical ingredients to provide color, flavor, shelf life, texture, or
mouth-feel has invaded our food supply. New processes such as high-temperature
pasteurization and irradiation are more common. Increasing numbers of the
animals we eat are injected with hormones, antibiotics or other drugs. Now, we
can manipulate the genes of many species. Increasingly, the plants and animals
that we eat are the creations of laboratories. They are unable to survive or
reproduce outside of a very energy-intensive, industrial, agricultural setting.
We've produced tomatoes that won't rot and potatoes that produce pesticides.
The desire to manufacture high value foods from common raw materials produced on
megafarms continues to produce a barrage of new food products, about 16,000 per
Last week's FDA approval of the new fake fat, Olestra, actually a non-digestible
polyester, reminds us of how hard the food industry is working to develop stuff
for us to eat which is made in a factory rather than grown in the soil.
There seems to be general agreement that Olestra's designer molecules pass right
through the body, taking with them some of the most important nutrients from the
real food that we eat. Because this negative food has powerful financial
backing, it will probably be widely available, and heavily advertised, soon.
It is arrogant to think that over the course of just a few years, we can so
radically change the materials we take into our bodies for nourishment.
It seems insensitive and unproductive, in a world with almost a billion hungry
people to convert edible sugar and vegetable oil into a negative food.
I'm afraid, however, that visions of greater profits will continue to encourage
the food industry to play with our food and our future. We can send them the
most powerful message with our dollars. If we don't buy these foods, and don't
invest in the companies that produce them, they will have to listen.
We should instead invest our money and our time in the gardens and local farms
which can feed us in a way which is consistent with the heritage of 10,000
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
C1996, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491