The connections between the rising rates of chronic disease and the production and consumption of modern foods can no longer be ignored. Our food supply is not healthy, nor is it sustainable. It has changed so dramatically that we have yet to adapt to the changes. Our food supply has been completely adulterated over the past few decades alone, more drastically than during any other time in history. In an article by Eaton et al., it states that “although our genes have hardly changed, our culture has been transformed almost beyond recognition during the past 10,000 years, especially since the Industrial Revolution.”1 We have strayed so far from our ancestral diets and lifestyles. 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. According to another article by Eaton et al., “groups whose way of life tends to continue the Stone Age pattern have low rates of complex degenerative diseases.”2 They did not suffer the same rates of degenerative diseases that plague modern society.
The majority of food Americans spend their money on is processed food. It may resemble food, but it certainly is not real food. Food that has been overly processed and packaged into a container is not food for 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. 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. Consider the stress that your body undergoes, the vast amounts of energy that is required for digestion, only to be left short-changed and worse off than before you had that food in the first place.
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.
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. 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.
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 hunting, fishing, growing plants and raising livestock. Though it is impossible to return to such conditions, we can at the very least, try our best to obtain foods in their most natural state. Maybe we can mimic the conditions of ancient humans wherein they went through periods of feast and famine and engaged in physical activity to procure their food. Perhaps it would also be wise to re-examine traditional methods of food preparation and consumption in order to reverse the chronic conditions that have become so prevalent in this day and age. We can regain the vitality that we all deserve by returning to real food as nature intended for us to have. How long can we go on experimenting with our food and our bodies, using our children and grandchildren as guinea pigs?
Eaton, S. et al. (1988). Stone Agers in the fast lane: Chronic degenerative diseases in evolutionary perspective [Abstract]. The American Journal of Medicine, 84(4): 739-749. (http://www.amjmed.com/article/0002-9343(88)90113-1/abstract)
Eaton, S. et al. (2010). Diet-dependent acid load, Paleolithic Nutrition, and evolutionary health promotion. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 91(2): 295-297. (http://www.ajcn.org/content/91/2/295.full.pdf+html)