Dean and I were having a discussion the other day, just in passing, about the foods that we can access these days and how since the current global pandemic has affected imports of certain things, we have been seeing gaps on our supermarket shelves.
Where does our food come from?
Where we might have expected to have year-round access to certain things, in the short-term that may no longer be the case. Examples of some of the things that come into our supermarkets with big airmiles and which we may no longer be able to find are things like blueberries from Chili, asparagus from Mexico, garlic from China or Spain and lemons from the USA.
We’ve become very used to being able to buy anything any time of the year. We consume amazingly exotic fruits, vegetables and packaged products from far flung places. We can get currants from Iran, cacao from South America, prawns from Thailand and chocolate biscuits from England!
We also definitely have much more access to products from Australia all year round, but we have to ask ourselves how they grow tomatoes in Victoria in the middle of winter and what is the nutritional profile of this way of growing?!
How is it stored?
Preservatives have become big business probably since the 1950s and again we have to ask the question as to whether it’s natural for a baked product to have a use by date two years into the future.
Freezers came onto the market in the 1940s, changing life dramatically because who can’t live without a gallon tub of cookie dough ice cream!! It’s now possible to freeze almost anything to preserve and eat it later. While freezing is probably one of the less detrimental ways to preserve foods, one has to consider the fact that microwaves and freezers often go together and microwaving is a pretty undesirable way to cook food, changing the molecular structure of the food as it cooks. And what actually is the nutritional value of a pre-made and frozen microwave meal heated up in a plastic container and eaten in front of a screen?
Bottling and canning go pretty far back and canned food has long been a way to preserve foods, developed in the early 1800s to preserve food for the troops. Going much further back, in Egyptian times big amphorae (jars) were used for some products like olive oil and wine. Again, over time the way we’ve produced the containers for these foods has given little consideration to the materials they are made of and the fact food sits in them often for months if not years. It’s a great idea but in the past the food has been sealed in tin or a mix of tin in the old fashioned unlined cans and more recently steel, aluminium and of course plastic lined, where the plastic leaches into the food. And don’t even get me started on the carcinogenic properties of plastic containers, plastic wrap, etc and the xenoestrogens (artificial estrogens) which are part of all plastic products and which we can see through hair analysis raise copper and cause a myriad of health problems, including hormone issues and cancers.
Eat seasonally, buy local, grown your own!
So, getting back on track, eating seasonally and buying locally is definitely a recommendation and it makes for lovely, interesting and sustaining meals through different times of the year. It might mean that you can’t always eat what you’d like when you’d like it of course! We do have a habit these days of picking a recipe and then seeking out the ingredients come what may, rather than picking an ingredient that’s available and cooking a meal around that ingredient. One of those classics in Australia is having to have Brussel Sprouts with Christmas lunch, even though they are a winter and early spring vegetable!
Certainly, in times gone by our ancestors would have had to eat seasonally – hunting and foraging for what was ripe and available, and eating what they could grow when it was harvested until they learned to store food.
And while we could just say “well why not if we can get it”, there perhaps needs to be a question around whether it is actually good for our health. Not only might it be unnatural to be eating tomatoes in August, we do need to question how they are grown and what that does to the finished product and in turn what impact that might have on our health over the longer term.
What about our gut ancestry?
This thought process about eating seasonally came out of an earlier discussion with a client who came from the Middle East. The extended family in Australia had a huge history of a particular condition, so I asked if the client knew whether this was a problem back home in the country of her parents’ birth. She wasn’t sure, but didn’t think so.
This took me on another thought process; what happens when you migrate to another country and try to reproduce the things you’ve been used to eating in your homeland? It’s great if you can grow that familiar produce yourself but often you are having to choose products which are grown elsewhere, in the soil (or “terroire” as they say in the wine industry) of your new country.
Much like the gut microbiome, which we now know so much about, the soil varies widely from place to place and has its own microbiome, so what your system is used to in terms of food back home, is not just determined by the products you can or can’t buy, but undoubtedly where they have been grown, what is in the soil, what chemicals have been used, how they’ve been processed and packed and so on. And as anecdotal proof of this, so many people talk about going back to their birthplace on holiday and having absolutely no problems with eating the foods there that they are unable to tolerate in Australia.
How has migration affected our gut?
Dean threw in this little teaser: in some places you may be growing your food on land which holds the DNA of your people from aeons of living and working the land, from the burials of ancients in that land and from the energy held there by a race of people. With migration, not only have we left our land and our people, but we’ve left the physical soil and food strains and varieties our systems have been used to over generations. Of course migration has always happened, although maybe not by such great distances in such a short timeframe as we can achieve by hopping on a place. But in a more gentle, wandering process as people walked and herded their animals seeking out those places with water and good soil to grow crops short term or long term. What has been clear through history is that these people knew they needed to care for the places they passed through and the places they settled and they nurtured their soils, to nurture themselves and they only ate what was available each day, until the time when they worked out how to store what they had caught or harvested.
And in a slightly tangential turn, many of our migrants in Australia have arrived because of war, often after perilous journeys and it’s common for fear, worry, anxiety and of course trauma to affect the gut, so not so much the change of food on a physical level, but the daily memories of a home lost and a new home being created and understood. Daily thoughts of the homeland and perhaps its devastation, a place of no return.
Australia only a little over 200 years ago was a land nurtured by our indigenous people for many thousands of years. They treated the land with care, many of them moved through the year to the places which held their food sources and they took only what they needed. We know that some of them were also farmers, growing crops, trapping fish and so on, but again growing what was already indigenous, probably not clearing whole tracts of land to do that but knowing they needed to care for the land in the long term.
The soil is the microbiome of the planet and probably the DNA of the planet?
The soil is the microbiome of the planet, and maybe someone has already written somewhere that this is the DNA of the planet, it contains the history of our place, the history of the love and respect our ancestors gave to the soil in the understanding that they needed to nurture the soil to reap and harvest and in turn for the soil to produce what they needed to sustain and nurture them.
When the white man arrived on their conquests they brought absolutely everything they thought they’d need. Not just the seeds and animals they were familiar with, but even the hedging they had used in their homeland, the birds they liked to hear, the foxes they liked to hunt, and they began unsustainable and biologically unhealthy practices. They pillaged the land, ripped out the trees, planted things which were inappropriate to the land, and grazed imported animals on the delicate soil. They had their failures but over time by changing the way they farmed, they were able to achieve what they wanted and eventually we ended up with stores and supermarkets and meat in plastic!
Add into that mix all the fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides and GM seeds that are now used to produce what supermarkets and manufacturers think the consumer wants to eat, to give us uninterrupted year-round supply, and we begin to see this impacting on health as well.
And now we might have to consider whether the soil – the microbiome of the planet – and in turn the produce that results, contains the memory of the abuses, toxicity, and oppression (for example the workers in third world countries who harvest and grow our coffee or our chocolate) that the cells of our planet now carry.
I know that for some people this is getting a bit deep and probably a bit “way out” and I know that the farmers out there may be offended because I do think they care about their role as primary producers, but we are in a place in time where we just need to step back, take a breath, and ask what we are doing and whether it will sustain us for the future.
Just as a slight throw-in: I’ve had a long-held theory that gluten intolerance is not actually about gluten but much more likely about the glyphosate (Roundup) and other sprays that our wheat and other products are literally soaked in to get them to grow and produce a harvest. So our great Aussie breakfast of Weetbix and milk (again don’t get me started on dairy) for kids is definitely not a healthy choice day after day!
The same problem goes with most grains (and other produce of course) unless organic, but as I always say “how organic is organic??” Our planet is so toxic that we can’t now even rely on the quality of the water or the air. I’ve done a lot of detoxing in clinic over the years for pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, among other things, and you can see the health benefits over time, usually beginning with an aggravation at the start as the system begins to balance up and release the toxins from the liver and the fat cells.
Our fat cells are one way the body stores toxic materials we ingest to protect the vital organs. We only have to look at the obesity issues in the USA and now increasingly in Australia and ask the question as to whether this is the result of poor-quality ingredients, as much as poor food choices. Therefore, an important part of any diet needs to be a consideration not just of what you put in your mouth and how much, but the ingredients, the quality and the components. Where does it come from, how was it grown, what is the level of toxins likely to be and how healthy is it really! Is it going to nurture and sustain us?
Going back to my very first question, if we come here as a migrant but our diet has become westernised or we have substituted ingredients and foods to be able to eat what is familiar, is this something that our systems are able to adapt to and work with to sustain us in a short time frame.
Is the nature or quality of the foods our ancestors ate in our homelands different because of the soil – not just physical but emotional, cultural, historical?
As recent migrants, are we designed to eat these foods which are now on offer? How long does it take our system to adapt to new foods? Has the accessibility of foods which our systems are not adapted to eat caused our health problems? Has this change in nutrients affected our body and even our mind?
Is there an element in this change in nutrients, ingredients or indeed eating altogether, a loss of culture and of our ties, because what we eat and how we cook it is part of that culture that we bring with us from our homeland.
Is this how we should be living?
Can we ever adapt? Can we adapt in time!
What can we do?
- Be aware of your body and of your food. Connect with how certain foods make you feel physically, but also emotionally.
- Learn what’s in season and cook accordingly.
- Pick an ingredient and build a meal around it. Lots of cookery books are now written around ingredients rather than recipes that require you to forage the supermarket for something that is not in season or not grown locally, meaning you have to buy tinned, frozen or preserved.
- Eat less broadly, so more simple food, and cook with the best ingredients you can find.
- Think about how things are grown and when.
- Read the labels for country of origin.
- Consider your airmiles – where did your food come from.
- Ask how the use by date can be so long!!
- Learn to read labels for nutritional content, salt and sugar levels and of course preservatives.
- Buy organic when you can afford it or grow your own.
- Grow your own! Even if you only have a tiny balcony you can grow things like green leaves, salads, radishes, tomatoes and some things do grow all year round.
- Plant based eating is better for the planet but it isn’t necessarily healthy. Read the labels, make sure you’re not consuming a diet high in one ingredient, such as gluten or packaged foods which are made on the other side of the world.
- Growing in your back yard or on your balcony means you can supplement what you buy from the supermarket and you know what it’s grown in and what’s been sprayed (or hopefully not) on it. It puts us in touch with nature and it’s fun to watch the first seedlings pop out of the soil, the blueberries ripen or the first tomatoes forming on the bush.
- Look for truth and authenticity.
- Ask questions.
Be kind to yourself!
You can’t do it all, change it all in one day or one week, but you can heal yourself and save the planet one step at a time.