again, many of these thoughts will be courtesy of joel salatin. i’m not sure anymore exactly where the line is between which things i’ve read directly in one of his books and which i’ve seen or heard in other places and which things his books have inspired me to think on my own, so please excuse any inadvertent plagiarism. all credit for greatness certainly goes to him. any mistakes are mine.
i know for sure that his lecture over this summer and now his books gave me several ‘aha!’ moments around how/where our food is grown. we all know that food comes from soil (mostly at least, unless we are talking about hydroponics or other exceptions), but few of us give thought to exactly what that means. i think we all assume that we insert seed, add some sunlight and water, and presto- the plant grows and we harvest it and eat it. we (okay- i- ) never really realized that in this scenario, the food can only have the nutrients that are in the actual soil.
makes sense, right? a carrot can’t go to walmart and get a vitamin A pill and swallow it to supercharge it, and while the DNA of a given thing will allow it to synthesize its own _____________ (fill in the blank) to some extent, it can only work with its resources. so if it has limited building blocks, say because it is grown in depleted soil, or only given chemical fertilizers with a very narrow range of fertilizers, then your carrot is bound to be missing some crucial components of its essential carrot-ness. since we have such a limited grasp of what we actually need in our diet, and since we choose to play little demi-gods and act as if we know what we don’t- like that NPK is the fertilizer and will provide everything a plant needs to grow (even though it’s clearly not all a human eating the plant needs to get from that plant in order to benefit from it… we continue to grow plants in a chemical soup of a soil instead of a naturally rich soil.
what do i mean by a naturally rich soil? when there is a natural cycle of soil fertility, thing grow and things rot. the things that rot put back into the soil the things that it needs. the nutrients from plant life and even some well-fed animal droppings will decompose into the earth to make it a rich humus and then the next generation of plants can grow in this well-balanced diet. since we have almost no understanding of the interplay of all of the factors that go into why and how these things create healthy food, we can’t replicate them in a lab. all we know, from all of our senses and all of our experience, is that food grown this way looks, smells, and tastes healthier. people who grow up eating this type of food are hardier. people who grow up eating anemic grocery store food are sicker and weaker.
yes, there are other factors. of course, it is not straightforward. “country people” get more fresh air and sunshine (like their food). they get more exercise. “city people” are packed more tightly together. they are more sedentary. they are more rushed and more stressed. i get that. but time after time you hear stories (yes, this is only anecdotal evidence) of people who decide to join a CSA- even in the city, or shop a local farmer’s market, or eat pastured beef instead of industrial, and their health improves.
i think they are finally getting some balanced nutrition.
so why can’t you just pop a vitamin pill?
because we don’t understand how to replicate nature. as much as we try we just don’t get it. we can put things under a microscope and study them and look at them and sketch them out and do doctoral dissertations on them, and we still can’t fathom how they interplay.
it would be like a martian coming to earth to study love. he watches a couple and sees what they do. they sit together on the couch and hold hands. they eat dinner together. they wash the dishes. they brush their teeth. they get into pajamas. they kiss goodnight and go to bed together. the next morning the wake up together and smile at each other and say good morning and have coffee. they talk about their plans for the day. they have breakfast and each go to work.
perfect. the martian has seen love in action. he’s taken perfect notes. he’s recorded it with a video camera. he repeats these steps faithfully. but has he really captured love? if he does every one of these steps has he really captured love? can he really recreate love in a lab by doing these things? of course not.
ditto with a mother and a child. mom tickles her baby. changes the diaper. gives lots of kisses. carries baby around. changes more diapers. feeds baby many times. lots of kisses. makes funny noises. seems to love belly button area. talks in funny voices. baby spits up. changes baby’s outfit. you can do every single one of these acts a million billion times perfectly, but does this replicate love? of course not.
sometimes we can copy what we see and what we can know and observe but still completely miss the boat. and if you don’t think we are doing that with our food, just look at our results.
our produce is bigger and bolder and lasts longer and yet it is less tasteful, less delicious, less nutritious, and more likely to make us sick than ever before (ok, ever since modern sanitation). we are more likely to suffer disease, more likely to have chronic heath problems, more likely to be on medication, and more likely to feel better if we change our diet. that’s hard news to hear, but it has to mean something.
so, back to square one.
maybe, just maybe, we can’t get out of our food more than what we put into it. if we don’t put real nutrients into the soil- in the form of compost and a rich diversity of nutrients- then how can we reasonably expect to pull those things out of it? if we grow our food in burned out soil that has been overused to grow too many of a single crop and then hypercharged with overdoses of NPK to make up for the shortfall and trick the soil into shooting up yet another crop of whatever, then we are going to keep going to the grocery store and getting big pale nutritionally empty food.
but if we are ready to buy from a farmer, and if we are ready to buy food that doesn’t always look perfect, and sometimes is lopsided or unevenly colored, then our guts are in for a treat. food that is alive and food that rots (as opposed to food that can sit on a shelf or a store display for weeks looking pristine) is food that is alive with enzymes that will nourish our bodies.
so bodies can finally get what they need.
we can finally get nutrients from our food.
of course you need to ask the farmer how he grows. a farmer who feels pressure to dump chemical fertilizers to keep up his yields is sad but is not your friend.
but the farmer who uses compost is a treasure to treasure and pass on to your friends.
and don’t be afraid to grown your own!
and lets hope that one at a time the land can get healed (no, i haven’t turned into a hippie- not that there’s anything wrong with hippies 😉 – but the land has been abused for too long and it’s partly our fault for demanding the outrageous stuff we do in the grocery store!)- and in the process our internal organs can get healed, and we can use food as our medicine.
because it has less side effects than the other stuff.
and it’s so much more yummy.