Friday, October 15, 2010

Nourishing the Wild: Part 3- nourishing foods and local food

The human body is an amazing system that runs, heals itself and prospers when given all the right tools or nutrients to do so.  Many of our herbal therapies revolve around NOURISHING herbs like Nettles, oatstraw or rosehips.  The wild body is made up of all that you eat.  Shouldn’t the food we consume be firstly, nourishing?  The wild body needs NUTRIENT DENSE foods.  This excludes foods that have little nutrient content.  This includes processed foods, especially those which have to be fortified to have any nutrition.  White flours, sugars, sodas, chips, cakes, pastas.  I tend to think of industrial foods, foods which come in a fancy box or bag, and bear little or no resemblance to the original plant or animal from which it came.    Nutrient dense foods are whole, unmodified, and vital.  This includes fresh produce picked at peak ripeness (not artificially ripened with chemicals in shipment from two continents away), animal foods from healthy, free range, wild sources, nuts/seeds.

Modern vs Traditional Foods
  The work of people like Weston Pricehave brought to the forefront the fact that for much of history, and prehistory, the diet that humans ate served them well, and we were free of most chronic diseases (diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancers, autoimmune conditions).  These types of diseases are known as the diseases of civilization, and only showed up in societies after the introduction of widespread consumption of grains, and worsened dramatically with the introduction of modern processed foods and sugar.  Many traditional peoples living on their traditional diets into the early 1900’s suddenly were found to have “modern” diseases shortly after the introduction of these modern foods by colonizing societies.  Doctors who worked in colonies traced the appearance of these diseases.  The human species literally ‘grew up’ on foods that consisted of wild or pastured meats, seafood, eggs, nuts and seeds when available, wild fruits like berries and wild plant foods. 
Our modern food system has further decreased the nutrient content of our food by depleting the soil, and feeding animals inappropriately, and in both cases growing the ‘product’ in a way that is not in line with the needs of that organisms biology.  Soils that have been under cultivation for any extended period of time gradually get depleted of minerals, through uptake into the plants grown there.  Modern industrial agriculture only replenishes the soil with three nutrients (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium), that are required for plants to survive, but neglect to replenish the soil with other minerals like magnesium, calcium or other trace elements.  This is including all the soil that runs off in irrigation ditches, or blows away as dust in drought years.  Thus- an apple is not what it was 100 or even 50 years ago.  The nutrient content has decreased by leaps and bounds.
Likewise animals raised for meat are confined and fed corn and soy (much of which has been genetically modified), which disrupts the delicate balance of gut flora, increases the incidence of e. coli, and completely changes the fat profile of the animal, favoring the production of Omega 6 fatty acids vs Omega 3 fatty acids, unlike their wild and grass-fed cousins.

So the wild body needs and desires nourishment- what precisely do we need to feed our wild body in the most optimal way? 

Minerals- minerals are abundant in plant foods like greens and fruits.  Grains and legumes tend to prevent the absorption of minerals unless fermented and sprouted.
Seafoods like kelp, oysters, etc are rich sources of many minerals, including the precious trace minerals that are no longer found in our agricultural soils.   Certain minerals are richer in animal foods like zinc and iron.

Healthy Fats- Contrary to what “modern’ knowledge has been telling us for the last 50 years, fat is an essential nutrient.  Fat phobia is rampant in all circles, but fat is not our foe.  Fat is a dense source of energy, rich in fat soluble vitamins that are hard to get otherwise in the diet, fat makes up our cell walls, 70% of our brain tissue, is the precursor for hormone synthesis.  Most commonly Americans are deficient in the Omega 3 fatty acids, which for much of history we got from eating wild, grass-fed animals and fish.  Modern meat production practices have virtually eliminated this from our food.  Eat wild fish and grass fed meat.  Many fat soluble vitamins (A, E, D) are deficient in folks who avoid healthy fats.

Vitamin D – Though present in small amounts in fatty animal foods like fish, liver, full fat dairy products and eggs, adequate vitamin D intake has most often come from our skins ability to make it when we are exposed to sunlight.  The wild human optimally spends time outside in the sun everyday.  To fully nourish your wild body – you need to get outside.  Go out and forage some wild foods, grow a garden, and take off the long sleeves and sunscreen for a little while. Make some Vitamin Sunshine D.  For many of us  who live in cold climates in winter, or who work inside all day, getting enough Vitamin D can be downright impossible.  Many practitioners of all walks (natural and allopathic) are beginning to see the importance of Vit D in all sorts of chronic ‘modern’ diseases, and recommending to their clients/patients to supplement with Vit D.  Range can vary between 2000 i.u. to 10,000 i.u. per day.  You can get your Vit D levels checked with a simple blood test (25(OH) vitamin D) and it should be somewhere between 50–80 ng/mL.  For most people this requires at least 4000 i.u. per day.  Nursing or pregnant mothers may need more, as do those with serious health issues (cancer, diabetes, autoimmune disease, osteoporosis etc).

Eating Local:
Eating locally is all the rage these days, for many reasons. The food tastes better, is more nutritious, supports local economies and puts us in contact with the people and the land producing our food.  In what ways does this nourish our communities and land bases? And how does it nourish our wild selves more deeply?
Food grown and produced locally is generally fresher, more nutritious, and most often grown in a sustainable way.  When you buy food from local farmers, markets and vendors you support the right livelihood of those people in your community.  You give these people who love the land, and who love what they do a chance to do just that, and a way of nourishing THEIR wild self. When supported by a community that values what they provide, and asks for what they want, these people can become important stewards of the land base which the community depends.  It becomes less about how much money, and growing more and more, and more about what is valued by the community, and how to sustain the land, and the community.

 When you support local growers/ranchers/farmers you can also ask them for what YOU want.  Knowing that they are supported by their community, they can respond and provide for what the community asks for.   
By sourcing your food locally you can also disengage from the industrial food system which is so damaging to the environment, local economies and our health.  Another important aspect of this disengagement from a very unsustainable industrial food system, is peak oil.  I don’t know when we will run out of oil, and if we’ll have developed an alternative energy source, but at the very least, the reduction in cheap oil availability is going to seriously impact how food is delivered.  No more oranges from Chile in December or lamb from New Zealand.  Wouldn’t it be nice to know that you and your family will still have access to nourishing food sources that are local if and when that happens?  And by engaging in the local food market you also strengthen your ties and relationships with the community, the community that you may be dependent on in an emergency, or when things go awry.

Places to get your local food include farmer’s markets, which are springing up all over the country, both urban and rural.  CSA’s (community supported agriculture) where your dollars go directly to the farmer to produce food for you over the season.  I’ve lived in many places, and have found that local ranchers and farmers often sell their products right at their home.  Ask around in the community- chances are someone knows someone who is selling their eggs, or raising their own grass fed bison.    Local co-ops often are full of local products as the local movement gains strength.  Make sure to ASK for it!

Of course, the most obvious way to eat locally is to grow your own food.  It is true that many of us live in apartments in the city with no garden space so to speak of.  Many urban areas have thriving community garden organizations that will rent you a small plot for a fraction of the cost it would be to buy that much organic produce at the market.  When I was a member of the community gardens I paid somewhere between $30- $200 for an entire season/year of garden space and water.  Add another $100 for seeds and plants and soil amendments.  You’ll pay for that in a month of buying produce at the market. In addition, community gardens have a unique mix of beginning and well seasoned experienced gardeners, who are all eager to help each other, and learn from each other.  Even if you’ve never gardened before, the community garden will have someone who can answer your questions.   Learning to feed yourself and your family from work and love you put into a seed and the earth is an incredibly nourishing experience for the wild self.  It provides freedom, confidence in yourself and deepening connection with the land and ecosystem you live in.  You become closer to understanding that plants are living beings no different than animals, and the finer nuances of what each individual plant needs, and where the water comes from, where the nutrients for the soil comes from, how often it is raining, and what the seasons are asking of you in tending your food garden.

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"The mother of us all, the oldest of us all, Hard, splendid as rock, Let the beauty you love, be what you do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth"~ Rumi ~