04 September 2006

The Hundred Year Lie; The Ten Day Fix

Dave Pollard raises a very interesting issue in his How to Save the World blog – the nutritional value (or lack of it) in our food. I urge you to read his review of the book "The Hundred Year Lie" before continuing, since the rest of this post won't make much sense otherwise. Dave goes on from reviewing the book to contemplating the use of probiotic supplements to combat the problem.

I would say there is a simpler way: Food Gardening.

Growing your own food – need I say "using organic methods"? – means you can very simply eliminate the whole Industrial Food Complex, and feed yourself and your family whole, wholesome, fresh, untainted vegetables. You can choose varieties that taste good, rather than those that transport and store well. You can be sure of avoiding frankenfoods by growing open-pollinated varieties, and enjoy marvelous flavours that you will never find in any supermarket by growing heirloom varieties.

It is a truism that we only preserve the things that we use. Heirloom varieties are usually ignored by the Industrial Food Complex, because they may be a little more trouble to grow, and that translates to added cost of production, and thence to reduced profits. Or they may not have the super-long shelf-life that the supermarkets require. Or they may not look as appealing – where "appealing" has been defined by some market research group, and only applies to the visual appeal. Or they may not be as hardy to mechanical harvesting and packing. These factors that Industrial Agriculturists, Food Processing companies and Food Retailers seek in vegetables usually result in veggies that

  • Grow fast
  • Respond "well" to intensive artificial fertilisers and pesticides

  • Look good on the shelf
  • for a long (sometimes unnaturally long!) time
  • cope well (i.e. don't rot or discolour) when chilled or frozen
  • have thick skins to withstand the rigours of mechanical harvesting and long distance transportation

You may notice that nowhere in this list do we find mention of flavour or nutrition.

If you grow even just a little bit of your own fruit and veggies, you create a huge supplement to your diet.

But That's Not All

There are the other beneficial aspects of Food Gardening. It gets you out in the open air, doing mild, low-impact physical exercise. Pretty much what our bodies evolved to do! You sweat. Exercise and sweat are one of the best ways to reduce stress and the by-products of stress in our bodies.

Gardening is a meditation. It gently occupies the mind with not-very-taxing tasks, and allows the dross of modern life to drain away.

Gardening brings you in direct, literal contact with the Earth. You quickly stop feeling "disconnected" when your hands get grubby with Earth. And gardening by organic methods means that you are actively engaged in fostering all life forms – particularly the soil biota – rather than running amok in a Death Rampage trying to kill things.

It has long struck me as a bewildering paradox that faces Industrial Agriculturists (I refuse to call them "Farmers"; they long since stopped deserving that title). Industrial Agriculturists on one hand try to grow food – and remember that only living things can grow – food that is supposed to, in its turn, sustain life – and yet they run around killing everything they can. Remember that the "cide" part of the words pesticide, herbicide, insecticide, bactericide, fungicide, means "death". How does fostering death support life? It's completely insane, and this insanity is built deep into the modern food chain. Is it any wonder that things seem out of kilter?

I do foresee one argument: "I don't have space for a food garden". Nonsense. Even in a high-rise apartment you can create some small space – a window box, a few containers on a balcony. If you have the will you can find space. Depending where in the world you are there may community gardens, allotments, public land that the local council is happy for you to use, roof-space that can support containers. Get creative! Find someone who has garden space, and swap use of a little piece of their garden for a portion of your produce.

A Warning

If you start gardening, you may find it addictive. You may start wondering about thequality of the water you use in your garden. Where does it come from? If you turn to using rainwater, you may begin to ask questions about the air-quality, since the rain falls through that air and picks up contaminants on its journey from the clouds. You may begin to wonder about the seeds you plant, and who is trying to control that seed-supply.

In short, gardening may turn you into an environmental activist.

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