In the past two days I’ve come across a number of articles on “real food”, as well as the connections between food and health. Taken together, these provide a pretty good starting summary for why we shop, cook, and eat the way that we do.
The first topic is the most visible in the news: factory farms are nasty places. The conditions, combined with the 100mph processing that the animals go through combine forces to spread pathogens. Add to that the fact that the animals are pumped full of antibiotics to combat those same conditions and the not-great health profile of animals that are force-fed corn to fatten them up, and you have a recipe for a chicken dinner far less healthy than the one your grandmother used to make, and one that could potentially be deadly.
We pay more for our meat to opt out of this system, and we eat less of it to compensate.
The second topic is the “nutritionalization” of our diets. We’ve come to believe that as long as we get vitamins X and Y in sufficient quantities then we can eat cardboard for our meals and we’ll be just fine. Not true. The digestive system and the human metabolism are incredibly complex, and evolved over the course of hundreds of thousands of years to extract nutrition and deliver it to our bodies in certain ways.
In the last 100 years we decided we could just take pills instead. In the last 10 years we’re discovering that it isn’t that simple.
We rely on our food to deliver our nutrients and we assume that quick fixes don’t work.
The third topic is really about specialization and hectic lifestyles. Anyone with an intense enough academic and career path probably never learned how to cook, and if they did they probably never actually cooked frequently enough to master it. A major sub-group here: doctors.
Your doctor has never mentioned changing your eating habits in order to impact your health for the simple reason that they have no idea what they are talking about in this area. Our society completely compartmentalized medical professionals from people that can advise on food health, who are all too often “hippy granola” types whom most people don’t take seriously. That’s starting to change, though because doctors are realizing the significance of this gap.
We recognize that we are empowered to make ourselves healthier in ways that doctor’s don’t always fully understand.
The fourth topic is the “unknown unknowns” of the epigenome. Yes, we’ve mapped the human genome. We thought that would give each of us the power to get a genetic test that would tell us each and every genetic malady that we would ever get. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Our genes are not fate. Whether or not a gene is “activated” depends on diet and environment in ways that we don’t really understand yet.
I’m not sure about any specific linkages at this point in time (such as the one to Autism in this story), but they are certainly there. The bottom line: we don’t really have any freaking clue how the changes to our diets in the past 50 years are impacting our health, but we DO know that many maladies have skyrocketed: food allergies, asthma, autism, obesity, arterial plaque… the list goes on and on. The answers are not simple, and we may never know them in our lifetime.
We choose to try to go back to the old ways of eating, before these changes, to whatever degree we can.