Down to Earth
| Lewis Akenji
The more we undervalue our food, the less fulfilling it is, the less
we’re in touch with ourselves, and the higher the tendency of
unhappiness. Why food? Because as a primary, natural building block
which we send directly into our bodies, if we cannot make love to it,
then we cannot make love to ourselves, and without being able to make
love to ourselves we’re unable to make love to the community. It
becomes just a physical act, and then we roll over, wondering why on
earth we’re unsatisfied.
Investigators at the Harvard School of
Public Health, looking into links between fruits, vegetables and cancer,
studied the habits of over 40,000 health professionals. They found that “men
who ate the most tomato-based foods (like cooked tomatoes, tomato sauce, and
pizza with red sauce) had a 35 percent lower risk of developing prostate cancer
than those who ate the least amount of these foods.” Carotenoids (the pigments
that colour dark green and orange vegetables) help protect body cells against
damage that can lead to health problems, including cancer, heart disease, and
In another study of some 120,000 men and
women, Harvard researchers further found that “diets rich in fruits and
vegetables may also reduce the risk of stroke,” and that “people who ate five
servings of fruits and vegetables every day had a 30 percent lower risk of
ischemic stroke. Cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli); green, leafy
vegetables (like spinach); and citrus fruits and juices seemed to provide the
greatest benefit. Ischemic stroke is by far the most common type of stroke and,
like coronary heart disease, is caused by the blockage of blood vessels.”
Fruits and vegetables are rich in essential
vitamins and minerals, fibre, carbohydrates, and phytochemicals. And – excuse
me, nothing against the steak sizzling on your plate – Salmonella, the
intestinal bacterium E. Coli 0157, mad cow disease, bird flu, resistance to
antibiotics, you name the rest, do not come from the garden.
Andras Ujhelyi kicked off his shoes in the
orchard surrounding the small cottage at Balatonszarszo. Summer had rendered
the grass plush; he combed it with his toes, walking from one pear tree to the
next, harvesting the fruits. There were hardly any supermarket-perfect pears.
Many of them had spots, a few housed warms, some had been twisted out of shape,
a good many were smaller than Tesco would be willing to put on its shelf. He picked all, assured that there were
neither fertiliser chemicals nor pesticide residue, and no artificially
modified genes that would strain his natural biological rhythm. He is conscious
of what goes into his body. At over 50 he swims, jogs, laughs and loves with
vibrancy that would challenge thirty-somethings of the factory-fed generation.
Psychologist Tim Kasser, of Knox College,
Illinois, USA has shown that those who tend to make choices that respect their
awareness of positive trends have a higher tendency to feel better about
themselves, and a more positive psychological outlook in life. This in turn
makes them to feel even better. Those healthy choices could include things as
simple as cooking your own food, taking garbage to the recycle bin, meeting
friends often, eating organic food and less meat, smiling.
Interesting enough, researches recently
published in National Geographic, Science, Newsweek, have all picked on the
relationships between happiness or longevity on the one hand, and eating habits
or lifestyles on the other. By looking
into studies on Psycho-cardiology, “the profound connection between emotion and
the cardiovascular system,” Newsweek underscores that better psychological
outlook is a strong determinant of cardiovascular health. The National
Geographic, looking into vast studies done among populations with a high density
of centenarians, highlights that besides having a strong vision in life and being
active in the community, one of the common characteristics of these
centenarians is that they have diets rich in grains, fruits and vegetables.
Should everyone then be vegetarian – or
vegan? Labels would often have a reductionist tendency – flawed with
judgements, charged with self-defences – that easily act contrary to the
intended practicalities of a concept. Not to be sidetracked by semantics, it’s
not the label that matters. It’s the consciousness we have of living wholly –
the attitude, and ultimately the behaviour. Choosing consciously and
responsibly can benefit our personal lives while also conserving natural
resources and improving the environment.
In various forms, people have chosen
proactive lifestyles: limiting their meat consumption drastically; using
natural herbal remedies for illnesses; growing common gardens for all residents
of a building or neighbourhood; ordering periodic deliveries of vegetables
directly from farmers; supporting local farmers’ markets. There are so many
forward initiatives going on, what we really need to do is to bring our
individual efforts out and share or involve others in our healthy lifestyle
initiatives. To paint a broader, common picture.
“It’s ironic that though we have plenty to
eat – more than enough,” says Karen Christensen, author of The Armchair
Environmentalist, “food has become an aspect of life that’s fraught with
anxiety, and even fear.”
With manipulation (GMO, growth hormones),
processing and additives, packaging, we are growing less connected to what we
eat; our food seems more abstract, distanced from mother earth. In developed
countries, the cost of processing, storing and distributing food accounts for
more than 50% of the total food bill. David Leonard, an agro-nutritionist from
Arizona calls it the “mind-boggling array of supermarket food choices and the
proliferation of low-fat, fake-fat, artificially sweetened, or
The value of food is not only in the taste,
it’s in the what and the how. Our psychological appreciation of food affects its
digestion and biological assimilation in our bodies. Put this to context: an Asian
woman sitting on the floor eating unsalted rice from her own farm and your
friend Lajos taking a plastic pack of Maggi-flavoured turkey out from the
The more we undervalue our food, the less
fulfilling it is, the less we’re in touch with ourselves, and the higher the
tendency of unhappiness. Why food? Because as a primary, natural building block
which we send directly into our bodies, if we cannot make love to it, then we
cannot make love to ourselves, and without being able to make love to ourselves
we’re unable to make love to the community. It becomes just a physical act, and
then we roll over, wondering why on earth we’re unsatisfied.
One of the most heartening results of the
Harvard study was its conclusion that “increasing fruit and vegetable intake by
as little as one serving per day can have a real impact on heart disease risks.
For every extra serving of fruits and vegetables participants added to their
diets, their risk of heart disease dropped by 4 percent.”
your fruits and vegetables before you go out to play,” says Grandma. How many
times have you doubted her wisdom, only to secretly realise that she is right.
This article first appeared in the Conscious Consumer magazine, issue 9.
Lewis Akenji is Editor-in-Chief of
Conscious Consumer magazine, and a consultant on Sustainable Consumption.