Sultry Summer Ruminations

My relationship with natural organic foods spans almost five decades, back to the late 60's. I was a teenager who would occasionally shop at the local "health food" store to purchase the likes of wheat germ, brewer's yeast and protein powders in the hope of becoming a better high school athlete. Various stints in food co-ops during college and after, followed by my tenure at the Living Earth have afforded me with many wonderful experiences working with, cooking with and eating some of the tastiest and nutritious foods available, with new delectables constantly being introduced. 

It may come across as an oxymoron, but my parents, first generation Irish-Americans born in New York City, were true foodies long before the term was ever coined. Sure, we had meat and potatoes but we also had French bean cassoulet as well. Kale, collards and other "greens" were served on a regular basis fifty years before they became the iconic vegetables they are now. The diversity and ethnicity of the foods we ate were a reflection of my parents cosmopolitan tastes, love of cooking, their interest in the nutritional and socio-cultural importance of food and the cornucopia of edible delights that NYC had to offer. In my case the apple didn't fall far from the tree. 

The renewed interest in organic farming (the traditional form of agriculture) began in the 1920's with Austrian Rudolf Steiner's biodynamic philosophy and continued into the 30's and 40's with the work and ideas of Albert and Gabrielle Howard in England and J.I. Rodale in the U.S. My parents weren't privy to this "new" movement but at least we ate real food and avoided fast food joints popping up all over. The back to nature, back to the land counter culture of the 60's helped to propel the organic movement into the public's consciousness and the seed of hope for pure, wholesome food was cultivated. 

The past forty years have brought about incredible changes in the organic foods movement. What was once the domain of hippies (perceived or real) has blossomed into a multi-billion dollar industry. During this time I have witnessed the pendulum of public (and the so called experts') opinion swing wildly from one extreme to another. The protein-perfect egg was vilified as a cholesterol-laden heart attack time bomb only to be exonerated in recent years. The fat phobia of the 80's morphed into the carb phobia of the 90's and continues to this day. The horrors of tropical oils (coconut and palm) and their supposed artery clogging saturated fats are now considered to be some of the healthiest fats and have become so popular that issues of sustainability are habitat and destruction are now concerns. Soy foods, once heralded as nutritional power houses, have been demonized as if they were poisonous mushrooms. This despite the fact that the cultures with the highest consumption of traditional soy products, including Japan and Chinese cities as such as Shanghai and Hong Kong have the highest life expectancies in the world. The virtues of whole grains and breads, which played integral roles in the birth of civilization, are now eschewed by the paleo people and their meat-centric diet. 

In the end, it's not really about the eggs, the oils, the carbs, the soy or the grains but what we've done to alter them. The CAFO's (concentrated animal feeding operations), the petroleum and pesticide dependent factory farms, the genetic engineering experiment that we are all a part of and the fast food industry that manipulates our taste buds with generous doses of salt, sugar, processed oils, chemical additives and "flavor enhancers" are all responsible for our current predicament. To paraphrase Michael Pollan from "The Omnivore's Dilemma", the industrial food complex has thoroughly obscured the foods it produces by processing them to the point where their relationships and connections to nature have become so diminished that they appear as novel products of the modern world. 

Our obsession with the latest food fads and trended has led us astray from the wisdom and common sense of tradition, culture and Mother Nature. Be moderate, eat a variety of real organic unrefined foods, avoid your allergens if you have any, minimize sugars and thank the sun and the chloroplasts that make it all possible.