Saturday, March 7, 2009

We Are What We Eat

66% of Healthy Harvesters indicated in our survey they wanted to learn more about healthy cooking, and once our gardens start producing I'll be giving some healthy cooking seminars.

Eating healthy is as much about eating fresh, unprocessed, clean, local food as it is about dumping things from our diets that are not so good for us. I am a consummate label reader, and it's becoming very difficult to find products that don't have corn syrup added. It's often found listed as one of the first through third ingredients of all processed food--a good reason to eat as little processed food as possible. It's alarming to me that packaged breakfast cereals have crept up to 18 grams of sugars, even the healthy-looking fiber-filled granolas which look so healthy and are promoted as such.

How did our food get so out of control? There's a good article in today's Washington Post "Where the Obesity Grows" by George F. Will. If author Michael Pollan is right, the problem is rooted in politics. The American diet has us undernourished and overfed.

"After World War II, the government had a huge surplus of ammonium nitrate, an ingredient of explosives -- and fertilizer. Furthermore, pesticides could be made from ingredients of poison gases. Since 1945, the food supply has increased faster than America's population -- faster even than Americans can increase their feasting.

"All flesh is grass" says the scripture. Much of the too-ample flesh of Americans (three of five are overweight; one in five is obese) comes from corn, which is a grass. A quarter of the 45,000 items in the average supermarket contain processed corn.

"Four of the top 10 causes of American deaths -- coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer -- have, Pollan says, "well-established links" to diet, particularly through "the superabundance of cheap calories of sugar and fat." What he calls America's "national eating disorder" is not just that Americans reportedly eat one in five meals in cars (gas stations make more from food and cigarettes than from gasoline) and that one in three children eat fast food every day. He also means the industrialization of agriculture, wherein we developed a food chain that derives too much of its calories -- energy -- not from the sun through photosynthesis but from fossil fuels.

"A Pollan axiom: "You are what what you eat eats, too" -- has made it profitable to fatten cattle on feedlots rather than grass, cutting by up to 75 percent the time from birth to slaughter. Eating corn nourished by petroleum-based fertilizers, a beef cow consumes almost a barrel of oil in its lifetime."
At some point, I'd like to rent the DVD “King Corn” by Director Aaron Woolf and co-writers Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis and show it to the group. Rick and I watched this documentary last fall and found it to be entertaining and educational. If we are what we eat, then Americans are mostly made out of corn. In this eye-opening documentary, Cheney and Ellis--with the help of some real farmers, lots of fertilizer and government aide, and some genetically modified seeds--manage to grow one acre of corn. Along the way, they discover the absurdities and scary, hidden truths about America’s modern food system.

The next time you go shopping, read the labels. Look for corn syrup as an ingredient, and look under the nutritional analysis to see how many grams of sugars are in the products. You will be amazed, and hopefully inspired to put it back on the shelf and go home to work in your garden!


  1. What a great post. We watched King Corn too. We have been eating a vegetarian/vegan/raw food diet for about 5 years. We feel so much better now than before. My asthma & allergies went away & Steve's no longer on cholesterol meds. The best we felt is when we were eating all raw foods. Energy levels were soaring! A toast to healthy living!

  2. Hi Barb and Steve, thanks for joining us. Our son lives in the Chicago area, and Rick is from WI so you have something else in common! We are also vegetarian (although most of the Healthy Harvesters are not) with macrobiotic leanings. I have been a vegetarian almost my entire life and attribute my good health to it.