Posted by: Ken Homer | April 26, 2008

Life in a Digesting World

“You are what you eat.” – Old folk saying

“There is an old folk saying that you are what you eat, I think more accurately, you are what you don’t poop out!” – Swami Beyondananda.

Each of the above contains some pretty profound wisdom.

The cells of our bodies are nourished by what we put into our mouths, chew, digest, and assimilate, and they are cleansed by what we excrete. 

The last fifty years have seen a revolution in the way food is grown, processed, packed, shipped, prepared, cooked, digested, and assimilated.

Unfortunately, this is having some impact on the cleansing function of waste excretion – in many cases wastes that should be excreted are being stored – usually as fat.

After living close to the land and eating local foods grown in season or preserved by natural processes like pickling, fermenting, drying and salting, for as long as anyone can remember, suddenly we find our diets flooded with foods from around the world, shipped vast distances, grown with chemicals that are toxic to insects and other biota.

Most of what is in the diet of the average American contains elements refined far beyond anything recognizable to the digestive system of our great grandparents.

Often the additives in our food are not food at all, but waxes, fillers, dyes, and flavorings made of the by-products of the chemical and petroleum industries.

We now have foods so highly processed and refined that they deliver huge amounts of calories, while being nearly devoid of nutrients our bodies can use to repair and maintain cellular health.

Besides the toxicity to our soils and aquifers – a post for another time perhaps – our bodies are paying the price.

Obesity among people with incomes below the poverty level is now common. This is feature markedly different from that of poor people in the past.

Even among the affluent, the paradox of being overfed and undernourished is a common feature of the peopled landscape of the Western world.

The fact that our food is shipped over vast distances – some estimates give an average travel distance of over 1,200 miles from place of origin to place of consumption – also plays a role in contributing to our climate change challenge.

Consider the carbon released into the atmosphere through the exhaust of the many machines – tractors, trucks, trains, planes, and the coal or diesel-fired generating plants that make factory processing possible.

So, what to do?

Here’s the short answer:

“Eat food. Not too much. Locally grown. Mostly vegetables.” – Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan is rapidly becoming one of my all time heros.

Anyone who can examine the complexity of the interlocking systems that make up the globalized industrial agriculture of the 21st Century, assess its detrimental effects on people, planet, economy and ecology, and offer up in nine simple words a surprisingly effective remedy for what ails us, is someone worth paying attention to.

In an op-ed piece this past week in the New York Times he wrote a marvelous reflection entitled “Why Bother?”

In it he reframes for us the radical and empowering act that is planting a garden, and how much the world can change from this simple, humble act.

He also delivered a fantastic speech at last year’s TED conference.





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