I grew up in a coastal town in Australia, my father was a butcher and my extended family lived on a farm. We learned to fish when I was very young. At 9 or 10 I could harvest oysters, help make sausages, and milk a cow. At the time I didn’t realize the true value of these skills, but I do now.
In my herbal practice I see patients for a range of disorders, but many symptoms have roots in inflammation. As an herbalist and nutritionist the questions I ask patients around their diet inevitably branch into relationships around food and eating, as they are inextricably linked. I clarify this with follow up questions such as; do you like food? Do you enjoy cooking? Do you prefer convenience over self made? The reason for these questions are to establish whether my patients care about what they eat. Take a moment to answer the question truthfully – do you see food as a partnership, one that nurtures and heals? Or, is it more a function of survival? Believe me, it matters.
If you answered yes to the former then you understand that flavor is a gift, fresh raw ingredients provide energy, focus and improved health. Cooking allows your senses to prepare for optimal digestion. Sourcing, planning and preparing food consciously can impact your environment and overall well being. If you answered yes to the latter, belive me I get it! Working parents, busy households, single people rarely at home all have reasons for choosing convenience over labor. But there is a true cost, and I see it in your health.
This was apparent to me when I compared my grandparents lifestyle. Our maternal grandparents were traditional ‘tea totalers’, lived on a farm, ate what they grew and baked their own bread. My paternal grandparents were city people, they preferred white shades of food, smoked and drank and loved packaged sweet treats. My mums parents had a deep relationship with their food, it took time to harvest and prepare and thus they appreciated the bounty and flavor of each ingredient. My dads parents hated cooking, were terrible at it and thus brought food that was devoid of nutrients, full of preservatives and delivered copious amounts of sugar and salt. Overtime I was able to see how these relationships inpacted health.
Fresh food is healthier – Research shows that diets rich in antioxidants (fresh fruits and vegetbles) decreased the development of Alzheimer disease, and improves cognitive impairment. The website EatWild summarizes nicely the nutritional benefit of purchasing local and unfarmed meats, eggs and fish over commercially raised, and the implications of added hormones and chemicals. Both my dads parents were depressed, had cancer, dementia and Alzheimers. My mum’s father was in excellent health until his sudden death, and his wife of a broken heart some years later. Case in point.
Prepepared goods are expensive, you pay for the labor, the packaging and transport costs. There is also the health cost of eating packaged foods long term. Eating locally and seasonally can be cheaper in the long run. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, an English chef , restaraunt owner and writer offers some perspective on the the financial benefits of cooking simply with what you can grow and forage on his show River Cottage.
The benefits of eating farm to table are many:
1) Sustainability – eating locally farmed and raised supports local businesses and decreases shipping/travel costs and foot print of your food.
2) Seasonal – follow nature. The body needs different nutrients depending on whether it’s cold or hot outside. Our local environment has darwinized which produce thrives in each season, providing prime ingredients each season.
3) Health- eating local, fresh, and seasonal ensures we ingest foods with the highest quality nutrients. Transported foods are usually chemically treated and deplete of nutrients.
4) Psychological and emotional health- there are many research studies showing the benefits of working in a garden. Engaging with your food is a crucial part of childhood development, it releases endorphins and elevates create mindsets. Digging, harvesting, growing, picking, hunting and gathering is an element of primal care that is innate in humans.
5) Taste – I ask you to pick a fresh tomato off the vine in late summer when they are at their prime sweetness, low acidity, and rich flavor. Then pick up a tomato you bought from a large marketplace, grocery store, and compare the difference in taste. Farmers understand this, but the longer you eat store bought foods, your taste buds forget. Store bought organic foods usually reflect this scale of enhanced flavor, but the price isn’t often doable for everybody.
How do I start?
If you’re living in a rural area you have easy access to fresh and locally farmed ingredients. Living in the city still provides ways to build a relationship to your food – search for your local farmers markets, bulk co-ops and delivery services such as Imperfect Produce.
There are shared lots, buy in wholesale programs and rooftop gardens.
Local foraging groups (rural and urban) are a fantastic way to learn, connect with your environment and meet people. These are all options that improve carbon footprint, improve finances, food quality and overall well being.
Changing habits and keeping it simple – changing one habit a week can set yourself up for success. Do an internet search on what is in season and buy only those ingredients, you’ll find you are eating more variety of flavor and nutrients. Don’t stress out about making it fancy! Fresh ingredients tast great with a little olive oil salt and pepper.