May 28, 2013 by KAREN FOSTER
Two-thirds of disease would vanish if society could revert to the way it did certain things just 100 years ago. The emphasis on faulty genes is misplaced and a misguided attempt to cast blame on a culture that has lost its way in terms of survival. Genes are not the problem since their products are largely dependent on lifestyle choices. Our quality of food, activity levels and family structure is essentially killing this generation of human beings.
Our food supply has been completely adulterated over the past few decades alone, more drastically than during any other time in history. Although our genes have hardly changed, our culture has been transformed almost beyond recognition during the past ten thousand years, especially in the last century. We have strayed so far from our ancestral diets and lifestyles that the human metabolism has been unable to adapt and modern diseases have flourished.
Food is the raw material for our cells and even our very thoughts could not have arisen without these building blocks. Food even controls the very expression of our genes. We are connected to our food and where it comes from in ways that we have not yet fathomed. The ‘prophylactic’ removal of of body parts due to what is considered faulty genes is a disturbingly popular trend, and despite the lack of scientific evidence for the effectiveness of this approach, it is increasingly being celebrated in the mainstream media and medical establishments as a reasonable choice. But genes are not the problem…it’s the food!
Ancient peoples and even isolated hunter-gatherer cultures that still exist today ate wild, fresh foods in their natural state with minimal processing and certainly without synthetic chemicals. Their lifestyles were also very different from ours. They cooperated as family units to source and prepare food and with that came a level of activity that does not exist today. They did not suffer the same rates of degenerative diseases that plague modern society.
The majority of food we spend our money on is packaged, processed, sweetened, chemically-altered and genetically modified foods. It may resemble food, but it certainly is not real food. It is virtually devoid of nutrients. Food manufacturers oftentimes must add vitamins and minerals that have been lost during the processing back into the food. Enriched flour is really just refined flour that has had a few nutrients re-added to it, but not enough to make any food made from this nutritionally worthy. Enriched vitamins and minerals are artificial and unrecognizable by the body as nutrients that can be assimilated.
These synthetic vitamins and minerals, usually isolated from their natural forms, act more like anti-nutrients than nutrients in these foods, adding to the body’s chemical burden. Modern methods of food preparation and processing have effectively depleted many nutrients and co-factors necessary for the absorption and utilization of foods that in order for the body to process these modern foods, it must use its own store of nutrients.
When talking about our food system, we are referring to everything from the farm to the plate–food production, harvesting, processing, marketing and distribution. Industrialization describes the increasing tendency of economists, policymakers and agribusiness companies to treat farms as rural factories, with off-farm inputs (energy, antibiotics, synthetic fertilizers, genetically modified seed) marshaled in the service of producing caloric energy (feed corn and starches, soybeans and refined flour). Industrialization also describes a system in which economic return is paramount–more important than concern for the public’s health, the potential health effects of pesticide exposure, the long-term resilience of the land where crops are grown, and the methods by which food is processed and delivered.
Most of the calories we consume come from the added fats, sugars and refined grains commonly found in highly processed foods and junk foods. These specific types ofl calories have overwhelmingly come from genetically modified sources including corn (corn starches, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, feed corn fed to livestock), soybeans (soy proteins, vegetable oils, salad oils, partially hydrogenated oils, and fryer oils in fast-food restaurants) and wheat (refined flour) which has been defined as the perfect chronic poison by experts. These three crops account for the vast majority of crop acreage planted in the United States.
Factory farms and monoculture are responsible for most of the food that makes it to your plate. Consider factory farms — the animals from these operations are given massive doses of drugs not only to stave off disease in such conditions but to increase their growth as well. They are fed unnatural diets and have little or no access to their natural environment leaving them prone to disease and suffering. Their meat is unhealthy and should not even be considered fit for human consumption. Agriculture has been around for thousands of years, but the way it exists now is a far cry from what has existed before this modern age. Intensive farming and monoculture has left our soil depleted resulting in poor quality plant foods, which then affect the nutrient composition of animal foods. Also, with today’s technology, we are able to manipulate the genes of plants and animals, something that nowhere near resembles selective breeding techniques used by our ancestors.
The hallmark of any system is that–for better or for worse–it functions as a complex whole, making it impossible to easily divorce one part from another. The plethora of problems in and related to our food system do not exist in isolation. They are intimately connected. Put another way, the healthfulness of our food, the health of the natural world (the soil, water, bacteria and genetic resources that gives rise to it), and the health of our patients cannot be considered apart from one another.
More than 60% of disease would vanish if we would start focusing on food as our medicine. We don’t have to live in a medicated world, but we certainly choose to even though there are natural counterparts to almost every prescribed drug in the world. At one time, it was thought that cancer was a “disease of civilization,” belonging to much the same causal domain as “neurasthenia” and diabetes, the former a nervous weakness believed to be brought about by the stress of modern life and the latter a condition produced by bad diet and indolence. It turns out all may be true since our food convenience is at the root of our health woes.
But we cannot place all the blame on food manufacturers because we play a part in the food system. We demand convenience and cheaper foods and that’s what we got. We must examine the cultural and socio-economic factors that spurred the demand for convenience foods. For example, considering the busy lives most people have nowadays, it often becomes difficult to prepare homemade meals for the family (much less yourself) every breakfast, lunch and dinner. It ultimately boils down to our priorities. If we place high priority on our health and understand that what we eat determines and shapes not just our physical characteristics but also our personalities as well, we’d all take what we eat much more seriously.
We have an abundance of food that is easily accessible at any time of the day whereas our ancestors did not have this luxury. They hunted and gathered their food and farmed later on, allowing nature to do most of the work but they also expended a certain amount of energy in food preparation. The family meal may be more important than ever and mothers play a critical role. Researchers speculate that maternal attitudes towards the importance of family meals may reflect a broader respect for good nutrition. This might extend to practices such as keeping healthy foods in the house or limiting the amount of times their children can eat “junk food.” People who are more concerned about family meals are also more concerned about nutrition.
We have lost the family connection at it all starts there. A higher incidence of family meals is associated with a better nutrient intake and healthier meals. If we want to reverse the disease trend and stimulate a health trend, we must transform the food supply to one that relies on fresh nutrient dense foods free from chemical alteration, from start to finish, and place a greater emphasis on family which fosters a dependence on health rather than sickness.
Karen Foster is a holistic nutritionist, avid blogger, with five kids and an active lifestyle that keeps her in pursuit of the healthiest path towards a life of balance.