For quite a number of years now, I’ve been rearing and growing my own food (well trying to). I say trying to, because as any hobby gardener knows, growing your own food is difficult. Every growing year is different and it’s a constant struggle balancing environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, sun or lack of and rain or lack of. Yes, even here we have prolonged and very dry spells.
Lately I’ve seen quite a lot of commentary about how we are living longer now (than we did in the past.) We humans love trying to comfort ourselves that we are doing everything right and everything is all right with the world. Of course, the vast majority of times we are utterly delusional. And this is one such case.
The photo above is of my maternal great grandparents’ grave. As you can see they lived to a great age. Sadly two of their children did not, but one son did. Usually back then children died from something as simple as a lack of antibiotics. My maternal grandmother had 12 children (my mother is the youngest). She lived to the grand old age of 94. Her husband, my grandfather was in his late 80s. My mother is 87 and the only one still living. All her siblings (except one, a surgeon who emigrated to the US) lived well into their 80s and even 90s.
I digress slightly here to tell you a funny story about her last living sister, before she died. She was 97. We all thought she would make the tonne. She was funny, fiesty, witty and very, very well read. They all were. She awoke at 5am the day she was to die and asked her equally elderly husband (a few years younger) was it time for a martini. He said no, it was 5am not pm. She had got a taste for martinis from her brother who had emigrated to the US and who returned regularly for visits.
She later died quietly and we all felt sad he hadn’t given her a martini, her last. After her funeral I saw one of her grandchildren carrying a tray filled with martinis over to the others. I stood quietly with tears in my eyes and said ‘sláinte Ita, you taught them well!’
Obviously genetics play a part in longevity. The genes for longevity are in all 4 branches of my maternal ancestors. But I am fully convinced that nurture (nurture vs nature?) plays an equally important role. And by nurture I mean diet and lifestyle. We now have an horrendous diet in comparison to back then. We eat highly refined processed foods and a huge amount of refined sugar and carbohydrates. In addition, our intensively produced food is sprayed regularly with what I call ‘icides’ (pesticides and herbicides). Cide is Latin for killer or the act of killing. What kills pests is also killing us, albeit more slowly.
These ‘cides’ are killing the soil and all its inhabitants. These inhabitants (earth worms, microbes, beetles, insect species) all beaver away below ground synthesising nutrients essential for plant and crop health and indirectly for us. The simple fact is, our food is not as nutritionally beneficial as it was in the past. How could it be?
It’s not only food grown in the ground that’s less beneficial. Animals reared on this grain and grass produce food for us. If we need a healthy soil to grow our food, so do they. Ruminants (cattle) are herbivore. They never evolved to eat grain. They don’t need it. But we are impatient and want to fatten them up in a shorter time. So we feed them grain. We feed it to dairy cows who have been bred to produce vastly more milk than they ever needed to in nature. And because they produce all this milk they need more intensive feeding.
A huge proportion of the grain (and the protein soya) is produced in far flung countries and shipped here. Of course it’s grown in heavily-depleted soils and sprayed within an inch of its life. It has to be because it is grown as huge monoculture intensive agriculture.
It’s no surprise that beef from grass fed only bovines has healthier fat. Fat that we need for healthy brains and hearts. This fat has more saturated fat than trans fat. Trans fat is produced because the animals are fed an unnatural diet. Likewise eggs and pork from pasture-fed hens and pigs is also healthier. The latter are different to bovines though because they are omnivores. There is no earthly reason treated food waste couldn’t be fed to them and it would make eminently more sense than destroying rain forests in South America and shipping the ‘icide’ laden crops half way around the globe. Obviously this food waste would need to be real food and not the processed crap people pile into their trolleys (that I wouldn’t give to any of my animals here.)
So intensive animals apart from leading a miserable unnatural life produce food that is less beneficial for us. And in doing so are trashing nature, the environment and ecosystems. And we in turn are dying younger and from more disease.
The only winners as far as I can see are big food and big pharma. And don’t kid yourself that they care about the human race. The only thing they care about is their bottom line.
This is why I live the way I do. I appreciate not everyone can. People are time poor now or money poor. People have no space to grow and to buy real food is expensive. But it’s also true to say that many people can afford to but choose not to. Personally I’d prefer to spend my money on food rather than pharma.
Nothing in life is easy. But equally nothing in life is impossible. Humans have survived thus far by being resilient. We are facing a huge wake up call. If we don’t improve the way we produce food we will have nothing left to produce food from.