As new parents, my wife Becky and I were faced with many challenges and questions about the way in which we live. In turn we have come across many ideas and an alternative lifestyle that provides us with greater health and vitality. We are in no way finished on our path but we wanted to share some things that we have learned in hopes of generating interest for this way of life.
In the United States there are many paradigms in place that people encounter every day and don't even know they are there. We go to the store, we make dinner and we go about our lives. Then something else starts to happen and we don't understand why: our kids get sick and diagnosed with attention deficiency, our brothers and fathers are dying of heart disease in the prime of their lives and 1 out of every 8 women will get breast cancer.
I recently spoke with a woman in her mid-twenties, she was lamenting how her son has advanced attention disorder, her daughter has recently been diagnosed with allergies to pretty much everything and she herself has been tired and throwing up for years and doctors can't find out why. I suggested that it would be wise to dissect her diet and lifestyle. This was immediately met with vehement resistance. It's unfortunate, we Americans are killing ourselves but the relativist movement has convinced us that we can do whatever we want with no impunity and no one can tell us otherwise.
So who is to blame? There must be a reason? Like so many things, there must be thousands of contributing factors to these complex issues? Right?
Well, we are lucky, this problem is easy to solve. It's our diet.
The human body is an intricately designed machine. Like my haybine here at the farm, it requires maintenance. I need to make sure it's greased and oiled and free of debris, I have to do this every season and during as well. If not, the machine rusts, cracks and dies. Why have Americans come to this point when they think that we can put whatever we want in our bodies, an infinitely more elaborate system, and expect no repercussion?
The unfortunate thing is that there is much money to be made in this flawed system. Farmers pay almost all of their profits to have the newest genetically modified seed and have it sprayed with the newest savior of chemical medleys. They plant like mad because they don't even make money from the crop any more, they make it all from government subsidies. The end result is we have a glut of corn that we don't have anything to do with so we make things up. We feed it to cattle and glorify the benefits of "grain-fed" beef (which is all the beef you buy in the store, even "organic" if it doesn't say "grass-fed" on it) when a cow is not designed to eat grain. They are even breeding farm-raised salmon to be able to grow on corn because it is such a cheap commodity and there's no where else to go with it.
When a cow eats grain, it gets broken down quickly and the starch is quickly utilized. In small amounts this can be a beneficial addition to a diet. In large amounts it causes the animal to get sick as it is not getting the beneficial grasses it is designed to eat. So, it's immune system breaks down and it has to be given large doses of antibiotics to stay healthy. Couple that with the growth hormones cattle are given to expedite their growth process and their detestable living conditions and you have a breeding ground for sickness.
Unfortunately, that does not take care of our glut of corn that the subsidized farmers have produced. One of the biggest uses of our excess of corn is one of the largest contributing factors to our obesity and diabetic epidemic: high fructose corn syrup. The charges against high-fructose corn syrup are exhaustive. Predominant is the fact that fructose in your diet contributes to obesity and insulin-resistance which are two of the largest contributing factors to Type 2 Diabetes (if you'll remember, a few years ago, Type 2 Diabetes was known as "Adult Onset Diabetes" but because of the huge amount of children acquiring the disease, the name was changed).
Unfortunately, nothing seems to be able to escape the clutches of the industrial foods revolution. The vast majority of our fruits and vegetables are devoid of the amounts of vitamins and nutrients of their heirloom counterparts. Because of our "gotta have it now" society, Americans are not content to limit their diet based on season. If I want a salad in January, I don't care where it has to come from. The sad betrayal is that most commercially produced food has had the health bred out of it. If a salad green has to travel across the U.S. to get to your table, what do you think the producers are more interested in: providing you with a healthy, nutrient-dense food or a product that is able to travel thousands of miles, withstand drastic climate changes and be stable on a shelf for an extended period of time?
The final end result here is the same as our haybine. Rusty, cracked and dying. Because we lacked the preventative maintenance we must instead try to fix the symptoms, not the problem. That is why we are bombarded with pharmaceutical adds on television, why our health care system is out of control and why our mortality rates in the U.S. continue to climb. Diseases and disorders that were all but unheard of 60 years ago are commonplace, and we are concerned but not willing to change our lifestyle.
In Europe some of the healthiest people reside in the southern countries of the Mediterranean. Italians for instance live on a diet of fatty meats, fresh breads, pasta and wine. They also spend 20 cents of every dollar that they make on food, we spend 8 cents. We spend 8% of our income on food; and people wonder why were getting sick. You wouldn't search out the bargain basement contractor, would you? Or choose the cheapest car to drive your family? Why is it that food is the exception? We've been trained to think that cheaper is better, and for some things that may be true. But $0.79/lb. chicken should make you wonder why it is such a deal. You pay with your health.
Fortunately the solution is relatively simple. The veil has been lifted on the world that is around us, and we can see it for what it is: a manipulated and money-driven lie. We have the opportunity to write our own lives with the intentional choices we make. This is in no way an exhaustive list but these are things we have to consider. We cannot go forward voluntarily holding blinders up. We have a responsibility as stewards of this world be it's saviors, not it's cancer.
1. Buy locally! Attend farmers markets, go to farm stores, join a CSA. You go to the store all the time, just change where you shop. How much more fun is it for your child to be munching on fresh carrots or sucking down a stick of unpasteurized honey on someone's farm or downtown as opposed to sitting in a grocery cart being told to sit still.
2. Avoid High-Fructose Corn Syrup – That's right folks, do you really need all that soda? What about all that processed bread (my wife has a bread recipe that is NO KNEAD, and only take MINUTES a day and the end result is one of the most delicious home baked breads you'll ever have). High fructose corn syrup has been added to so many of our processed foods, it's staggering. If you are curious, start reading the ingredients label. Becky and I did this a couple months ago and began boycotting, so to speak, any product with it added. That cut down on our grocery bill immensely and caused us to get creative in the kitchen. That may not be for you, and that's ok. Just be aware of it and try to avoid it when you can. After all, high fructose corn syrup didn't even exist until 1984. That makes ME wonder!
3. Do a budget: Want to know what is killing you? Follow the money. If you track your finances for a mere 3 months, you'll be amazed to find out what you are supporting.
4. Plant a freakin' garden – this one's a no-brainer, it's easier than you think and the results are astounding. I'll never forget this last summer when I pulled our first carrot out of the ground and crunched into it – the flavor, the texture, the sweetness...it made me remember what carrots used to taste like! If Michelle Obama can tear up a plot of ground at the White House, chances you could grow some tomatoes and beans.
5. Start cooking ALL of your own meals. If you avoid pre-prepared meals, you have control over what you put in them and in turn, what you put in your family. Can't cook? Suck it up and learn; it's easy. If you ever need a recipe idea or want to learn how do something, just go online or stop at your library and grab some books.
That is just a fraction of all the things that you can do to improve your life and the lives of those around you. Let me paint one final picture for you ...
It's fall, the sky is grey, the wind is cool and the leaves are falling. Inside, the lights are low, the house is warm and quiet, and your family is drawn in a trancelike state as your pull your loaf of fresh wheat bread out of the oven. You sit down to a quick and easy bowl of chili with local ingredients that tastes like nothing you've ever had, and you sit and enjoy the company, the intentionality but most importantly the knowledge that you made a change for the better.
Here are some more resources to help you on your way to good health:
Mercola.com – Dr. Mercola is a nutritionist and a fanatic for the health benefits of slow foods.
The Weston A. Price Foundation – Weston A Price was a dentist who researched the diets of people all around the world. The result of his research is a wealth of information about eating the way human kind used to.
Micheal Pollan – Mr. Pollan is a writer and strong advocate for an intentional America. His book, The Omnivores Dilemma is a must read for anyone concerned with their food. He is witty and wise.
Local Harvest – Find local farmers producing great healthy food. You pay a reasonable price for a great product and the farmer gets to maintain their family farm and continue doing something they love, caring for you.
Never stop asking, never stop questioning, surround yourself with people who support you and your choices and care for you and your well-being and we can do it, we can change it, we can make it all better.
Be intentional, the journey is the reward.
Rebekah Sell lives on a small plot of land with her husband, Andy, on which they are hoping to build a sustainable homestead. With a small business and four kids, life is always interesting as Becky and Andy live fully the idea that the journey is the reward. Find her on Google+.