We all eat – that much is clear. And we all want to feel good and be healthy, presumably. So let’s take a deeper look at eating, so that we might be able to become “better” at it.
- What you are eating, and what the food is “called”, are two very different things.
We all fall victim to this misunderstanding – you and I can be eating something that is called the same thing, and yet be putting into our bodies two completely different substances, with two completely different effects on our physiologies.
Let’s say we are both drinking “milk”. One of us is drinking fresh raw milk from a small local herd of grass-fed cows, boiled right before drinking and drunk warm.
The other is drinking cold homogenized, pasteurized milk, from a large industrial dairy, from cows that have been regularly administered antibiotics, as well as the rbGH growth hormone, and who subsist on GMO corn and other grains.
Now both of the substances we are drinking is called “milk” – they’ve both been extracted from the udder of a cow – but isn’t it safe to say that the nature of the two substances is significantly different, AND that the effect they have on our physical body will also be significantly different? Wouldn’t one milk be nectar, and the other milk poison?
And this reality is not only true for milk, but for virtually every food and substance we put in and on our bodies. Everything has the potential to be either helpful or deleterious to our health, depending not only upon what it “is” – i.e. what we call it – but what it consists of.
This particular facet of reality is proving very challenging for many humans at this time. Humans need story, and what is “milk”, for example, but a story? We say the word “milk”, and we are flooded with associations and idealizations that have precisely nothing to do with the actual glass of white liquid that’s in front of us.
So it is immensely important, not only with food but regarding every aspect of our world, that we learn to recognize the difference between reality, what is actually there, and our stories about our reality.
The actual thing that we are putting in our body – “milk” – is an aggregate of substances – pure or adulterated, fresh and alive or old and dead, tainted or not with hormones, toxic chemicals, additives, and GMO’s. That is not a story – that is reality. It is good to live in reality.
- The main reasons we eat are to nourish our physical bodies, to nourish and balance our mental and emotional bodies, and to provide us enjoyment.
This seems rather obvious, but is this obvious statement actually driving what and how we eat? Yes, enjoying food is important, but for far too many of us, enjoyment carries more weight than actual nourishment. This is a recipe for illness.
And illness isn’t enjoyable, is it? So to live completely in reality, isn’t it true to say that by prioritizing enjoyment in the present, we are actually choosing illness – non-enjoyment – in the future?
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, if that is the actual conscious choice we are making. But how many of us would actually admit to making that choice?
The truth is that most of us who consistently choose eating for enjoyment over eating for nourishment, are doing so unconsciously. So let’s become conscious about what we are doing.
And then if we still find ourselves consistently choosing present enjoyment/future suffering, and we aren’t happy with those choices, we can consciously explore why we are making those choices. We will have the opportunity to grow and evolve.
- Fresh food is better than old food.
Most of us recognize the truth in that statement. Many of the things in food that nourish us – life-force, probiotics and micronutrients – degrade over time, and many of the things in food that harm us – mold, rancidity and spoilage – increase over time.
Yet, when it comes to actually eating, how much of what we eat is fresh, and how much is old? Indeed, what IS fresh? Is a fruit shipped from South America fresh? Is a loaf of bread fresh? Is a carton of milk fresh? Is a “fresh-frozen” meal from Costco fresh?
It is important to realize that there are no black-and-white answers to these questions, only shades of gray. What matters is that we become aware of the factors involved when judging freshness, so that we can consistently make the best choices for ourselves and our families.
Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
These are obviously the freshest of foods, yet there are crucial gradients to consider. Fruits and vegetables begin losing nutritional value from the moment they are picked. Are you picking the fruit/vegetable from your own garden, are you getting it from the farmer, are you buying locally-grown produce from the market, or are you getting produce that has been shipped from other regions, countries or continents? How fresh is “fresh”?
Oils, Nuts, Seeds and Grains
These are stable or dry, so how old they are is not a problem, right? Not exactly. The main enemies of nuts, grains and oils is rancidity, which is quite deleterious to our health.
Rancidity occurs when fats and oils, which feature strongly in nuts and grains, oxidize due to exposure to air, light or moisture. Although it is more a function of improper storage than age, it still becomes more likely the older the food is.
Why is rancidity a bad thing? Rancid oil forms free radicals, which cause cellular damage; health problems associated with the consumption of rancid oils include advanced aging, neurological disorders, heart disease and cancer.
How many of us are sensitive to the odor of rancid foods? It is an acumen well worth picking up, but be prepared to reckon with how many “healthy” foods – energy bars, rice & other whole grains, nuts and seeds in bulk bins – are rancid, and should be avoided.
Even if the foods are not rancid when we buy them, they can easily go rancid in our cupboard, especially if they are exposed to air, light and heat. That’s why grains, nuts and seeds are recommended to be stored in the freezer (storing in the fridge can lead to mold) if they aren’t going to be used fairly quickly.
Is fresh-baked bread fresh? Well, yes and maybe not. How many of us wonder how recently the flour used to make the bread was milled? If you’ve ever eaten bread made with freshly milled flour, you would understand the difference.
As with whole grains, flour can be adversely affected by air, light and heat. But even more, because the structure of the grain has been obliterated during milling, the vitality stored in the grain inexorably decays over time. Think of a “use-by” date on herbs – the same principle goes for flour. Flour milled in the past month will have more nutritive value than flour milled 6 months ago.
The point of becoming aware of these things is not to bum ourselves out, nor to create some unattainable standard of healthy food in our minds. But it is always important to live in reality – only then can we be empowered to help ourselves and the ones we love. We do the best we can with what we have, and we always strive to do better. That is the purpose of educating ourselves. Wishing you all healthy eating!