Friday, 11 May 2012 10:33
Politics and the Art of EatingWritten by James Milnes Gaskell
There is all this talk about healthy eating, about fast food, slimming diets, low fat diets, high carb diets, sugar free diets, how does one make sense of it all?
At the beginning of Genesis, God having created man, we read ‘And God said Behold I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed, to you it shall be for meat’. Science shows us that the world as we know it took some billions of years to evolve. No one who understands his science believes that the world was created in seven days. Bang, bang, bang. Nevertheless what both Science and Genesis say is that life evolved in a certain order.
Until about 10,000 years ago, when mankind became an agriculturalist, he roamed the earth and ate whatever appeared good to him. He ate only the natural wild produce of the earth and sea. There was nothing else. He did well on it. So far as we can tell he was not afflicted by the non-communicable diseases (NCD’s) that are the curse of modern Western Society. His whole metabolism and digestive system designed itself, evolved, to ingest a multitude of different wild plants and animal life.
What has changed? If we understand how mankind lived in his early days on earth does this help us to establish helpful principles for life in the 21st Century, in particular in respect of what we should and should not eat? There are too many of us to go hunting and gathering, and we have lost the skills, and we rather like our permanent shelters, our electricity, running water and labour saving devices.
The utilization of food in and by the body is intensely complex. If one studied the subject to PhD level and for the rest of ones life some of the complexity might unravel, but most of us do not have the inclination, the opportunity or the capacity.
So let us view the matter on a simple level. For this we have to accept certain things as fact.
1. That our Hunter Food Gatherer (HFG) ancestor ate only fresh wild natural food and, importantly:
2. That many nutrients within his natural diet boosted his immune system or were protective and beneficial to his health in some other way, and
3. Because of the above he was not subject to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and the other NCD’s which have modern Western man in their grip.
4. That modern conventional agriculture and factory food processing do not produce that which our ancestors evolved to consume.
5. That the human system has not been designed, evolved, to deal with and live healthily upon a nutrient deficient diet with added chemicals. The digestive system we have is the same as that of our HFG ancestors. We need, as he did, the complex carbohydrates, the fats, proteins, minerals, vitamins and phyto nutrients that he obtained from his natural diet.
So what are we to do about it? How far removed from HFG’s diet is that which we eat today. Raw fruit and vegetables are pretty much the same, but other major parts of our diet are very different. The way a crop is grown or an animal is fed affects its biochemical composition.
Take wheat, the grain from which we make the flour for our bread, cakes, biscuits and some cereals and pastas. Conventional farming uses water soluble artificial fertilizers and chemical sprays against fungi and pests. These fertilizers force feed the plant, which affects the mineral balance within it. Some chemical sprays are absorbed by the plant, and their residues are consumed by us. When we mill the wheat we separate out and reject both the outer part of the grain, the bran, and the germ at the centre. The germ is the embryo or kernel of the grain. It contains a concentration of minerals and vitamins, proteins and polyunsaturated fats. The bran contains dietary fibre and also is nutrient rich. Manufacturers do not want to keep the nutritious wheat germ in flour, because it contains oils that after a time go rancid. They mill and make white flour from the starchy endosperm only. They may add back about four vitamins and minerals, in place of the fifteen or so lost by rejection of the germ and bran. We are then told that this is enriched or fortified flour. Our systems are not designed to thrive on an unbalanced artificially contrived part food from which, for commercial reasons, the most important nutrients have been removed.
Next take sugar, but not literally if you follow Dr. Robert Lustig a leading US expert on childhood obesity, for he states that sugar and high fructose corn syrup are both equally poisonous. All the vitamins and minerals are refined out of the base crop to give what some refer to as bare calories. It is an unnatural product unknown to our HFG ancestors.
Finally take meat. How cattle are fed affects the constitution of its flesh, in particular its fat. A diet of grain used in factory farming raises the level of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fats to what is an unnatural balance. All other stock fed on a diet they would not have utilized in the wild will also have a flesh differently constituted from that of their wild ancestors. Nevis cattle and small
stock roam and graze off natural vegetation. We are lucky at least that our local meat is nutritionally excellent, and of course wild fish from the sea are the same as our ancestors fed on.
Modern farming alters the mineral balance of crops and retains toxic spray residue within those crops.
Today, for profit, in food processing factories, we take protective nutrients out. Then we add preservatives, emulsifiers, colorants etc. of no nutritive value, many of them harmful. We also transport food long distances and keep it for long periods. The Food Industry likes a product with a long ‘shelf life’. However the longer it is kept the more nutrients it loses. Then we cook it. Heat destroys some nutrients, and if vegetables are boiled substantial amounts of nutrients leach out into the water which is usually thrown away.
Western man pays a depressing penalty for the way he eats. So much so that we read that according to the US Centre for Disease Control, America is in the midst of an epidemic of diabetes which if unchecked will produce an intolerable burden on the health care system and quality of life over the next generation. Statistics show the percentage of the population affected:
2030 33% (estimate)
These are frightening figures, especially coupled with their statement that ‘Overall the best efforts in Public Health have not been effective in reducing high risk behaviours in Americans. There has been no improvement in food preferences or physical inactivity’. We are on a similar path. Our diabetes statistics are incomplete, but our neighbour Montserrat in its recent census revealed that 10% of the population was diabetic.
The continuation of the trend is not inevitable. But we have to progress beyond speeches and articles like this to effective action. We have to learn about food and how to cook it. That is where the Charlestown Primary School kitchen should come into its own. I trust that the lessons it gives and the meals it produces will be beneficial. It will have to do better (and I am sure it will) than another school in the programme which, on one day of the week, provides a white bread sandwich whose filling is tinned ham and tinned cheese. Fake ham, fake cheese I would call them. I wonder what influence the Director of School Meals has upon this? Time for a change. All those sugary trifles and sweet soft drinks sold outside several schools undermine and defeat the purpose behind the provision of nutritious meals at school. Some schools in England, faced with the same problem, oblige the children to stay within their compound for the duration of the school day.
We all have a part to play. I heard to my disbelief that one parent on a call in programme disparaged the Charlestown Primary School Kitchen on grounds that it was an NRP creation and said that his children would not make use of it. That is an unfortunate position to take. We need the Community involved. That Kitchen should be built up, not referred to as a political position. It is for everyone. We have to recognise that. We are in the midst of a serious health crisis, and each of us has a positive constructive part to play.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of neither this newspaper nor its advertisers.
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