So sorry about the lack of posts, I’ve been thrown headfirst (a week late) into studying Nutritional Medicine at an institute of Natural Health, woohoo! Both the teachers and students are utterly inspiring and I’m finally lapping up yards of health knowledge on a (near) daily basis, which is a dream come true!
Apart from the joys of sifting through hours of chemistry and biochemistry, anatomy charts and nutritional stats, the most exciting thing about my course has been the fact that some of my astoundingly clued-up health lecturers have verified a lot of the of the nutritional info I’ve dug up myself from various sources, and the validation has given me a that extra confidence in my own knowledge and findings that I share through this blog. Plus, meeting up with the gorgeous Katey, Natural Health enthusiast and blogger extraordinaire from over at Bonne Sante, has inspired me to commit to writing again! Be sure to check her fabulous guest posts at High on Health!
Today I took part in a particularly riveting discussion that revolved around organic agriculture, synthetic pesticide usage, GM foods and toxicity in the body. All fascinating stuff so I thought I’d do a little recap!
Basically, for those not in the know, a certified organic stamp on a food means that that product cannot have been manufactured with the use of artificial or synthetic herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers, it cannot be genetically modified or have been cultivated using growth promoters or regulators, and, in the case of animals products, the animal itself cannot have been injected with or fed antibiotics (unless truly unwell) and no hormone stimulants can have been used in production.
Of course, the nutritional profile of organic versus conventional food is difficult to measure, as all soil varies in quality. There is always a small risk of cross-contamination from neighbouring lands, as well as from underground water sources. However, foods grown in organic soil that has been allowed to properly regenerate are generally considered to be of significantly higher nutrient value and carry a drastically reduced amount of toxic residue (which I’ll come back to shortly). This all relates back to what Kyle Valli suggested about ‘nutritient potency’ being one of the three key factors in determining a particular food’s health-giving properties (the other two being that food’s digestibility and our own digestive efficiency), but I’ve covered this already.
The question was raised today about the need to feed an ever-growing population, and whether organic foods could indeed meet this demand. This triggered a somewhat controversial discussion regarding the overpopulation of our planet, and the problem of far too many mouths to feed. Perhaps Nature is saying, if we can grow our foods in accordance with Natural Laws (ie organically) and feed a certain population, is that then the population we should not exceed for the planet to remain in natural balance? I honestly don’t know the answer. I do however know that food wastage is a huge problem in developed nations. We apparently produce enough bread to feed the world three times over, yet so much of this is carelessly discarded while people in other nations go hungry. Also, I believe that if we reduced our animal product consumption drastically, the world would thrive on an abundance of vegetarian and vegan food sources with far less of these resources and the soil required to produce them going into the production of animal food products. Not to mention that this would also be conducive to higher levels of human health in the long run, in my opinion.
People have perhaps mislaid their concerns about making the switch to organic farming practices worldwide in regards to sustainability, as it is entirely valid that more and more ecologists are now warning seriously about the maintenance of soil fertility being critical to the sustainability of our food supply. While conventional agriculture corporations rape the natural land, sights set on yield, profit and individual gain with total disregard for Nature’s laws, our soil quality is rapidly being depleted (perhaps eventually to the point of no return which is a scary thought). Without sufficient crop rotation and with the increased saturation of soil with unnatural chemical fertilizers, poor soil health has peaked in a nutritional crisis of our own making. The fertilizers widely used today are made up of primarily three nutrients, Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium, and as Charlotte Gerson asks in the documentary Food Matters (watch it!), “Where are the rest of the 52 minerals needed for optimum soil health? They are missing!”. So, poor soil health leads to poor plant health, to poor animal health, human health and so on. Health crusader Jerome I. Rodale, founder of Prevention Magazine, sums it up quite nicely, “The health of the people is dependent upon the quality of the food they consume. And the quality of the their foods depends on the quality of the soil on which that food is grown”. It is now estimated that more than 3 billion tons of topsoil is eroded from US farmlands each year and that soil is eroding seven times faster than it is being built up naturally. With soil the foundation of the food chain, this leaves me cringing at the possibility of a future without organic and sustainable agriculture for the health of generations to come.
But organic food is generally more expensive, you say? Damn. True, you may face a higher price tag because of the greater labour costs, smaller crop yields and specialist skills required for production. Well, firstly think about the cost in the long run in terms of healthcare and illness down the line caused by toxic residue in the body (wait, it’s coming!). Next, I’ve found that by talking to the local providors at farmers markets in Sydney, you often are paying a hefty markup purely for the certified organic logo. That is to say that many smaller businesses operate within the organic guidelines, yet have not registered and paid for the official stamp of approval. If the price still irks you, check out the list of the ‘dirty dozen’ fruits and vegetables that, on average, have been found to carry higher amounts of toxic residue from pesticides and the ‘clean 15’ that are a little safer to buy conventional. If you have a garden, get growing! For those that can afford it and to whom organic produce is available, I feel like we have a duty to vote with out wallets. When society speaks, manufacturers have to listen, and I do believe that we have a voice, a choice and an influence in the promotion of sustainable agriculture and organic farming.
The subject of genetically modified (GM) foods is a tricky one. On the one hand, there seem to be immediate gains from the use of GM methods of food production, however these likely align with the short-sighted visions of modern agricultural systems as pointed out above. Yes, pesticide usage may be initially reduced with increased crop resistance, and the possible yield gains may seem tempting to begin with. But the disruption of the natural ecosystem at a genetic level can very quickly lead to mutational species, new diseases, allergens and superbugs (setting us back at square one anyway), and end products that the body no longer recognizes on a biochemical level, not to mention the ethical concerns raised when you cross genetic material from different plant and animal species. In my mind, the overall question should be asked: should we really be deviating from Nature’s blueprint? And, if so, at what cost down the line?
In conclusion, is the toxicity from conventially farmed foods really something we have to worry about? Well, yes! I’ve discussed in many a post the huge issue of toxicity and acidic waste build-up in our bodies today (see here, here and here for more), toxic substances of course being anything that enters the body which the body cannot recognize, break down and eliminate in its entirety. We may no longer dilute our flour with limestone or preserve it with borax (ant killer), as we did in the 1800s. ‘Poisins’ are now monitored, but this doesn’t give assurance against the possibility of finding out another ten, twenty or 100 years down the track that we shouldn’t have been allowing certain materials in our food. This concern aside, the FSANZ (Food Standards Australia New Zealand) does a good job of strictly regulating the amounts of today’s ‘allowable toxins’ in most foods, ensuring that they must be below a certain level. But… here’s the clincher: this level of toxicity is measured outside the human body, and does not take into account the fact that many toxins fail to be eliminated by the body, and are stored in fat cells (the body’s way in which it attempts to protect vital organs from toxic substance), which greatly compounds the levels of bodily toxicity over time. These toxins, now of course at much higher levels than what is FSANZ approved as ‘safe’, do not just naturally ‘fade away’ somehow. Today, traces of the chemical DDT, a highly toxic synthesized insecticide that was banned from use back in 1972, are still being found in the fat tissue of animals carrying the genetic material of a past generation of creatures exposed. It is the same for humans: stored toxins greatly compromise our overall blood chemistry at a cellular level. This toxicity is passed on from generation to generation (it is the foetus that is affected the most by the toxicity of the mother’s blood), which means that today we now are all suffering from generations worth of compromised and toxic blood. For how many more generations do you think our bodies will be able to withstand becoming increasingly toxic before they begin to break down, which indeed is already a problem manifesting in the form of rapidly growing rates of lifestyle diseases such as obesity, diabetes, stroke and cancer? When you think about it, do we not have a duty of care to future generations to try and reduce the toxic load on our own bodies, and that which will be passed on genetically to our offspring?
With all this in mind, I’ve jumped on the pro-organic bandwagon again with gusto. If it’s a case of taking one for the team, I’ll take the worms in my apples and a few more dollars out of my wallet, if not for my own health but for the good of future generation and the planet, please.