Why we eat the way we do (revised 2013)

Updated 1 September 2013

“You still won’t live forever, you know!”

Yeah, we know. What we eat or don’t eat won’t allow us to live forever. There isn’t even any real assurance that we’ll live a moment longer, regardless of how we eat.

So, why are we so careful about what we eat? What makes it worth our while to seek out high-quality, locally grown grass fed meats and eggs, and organic, locally grown bio-dynamic vegetables? Why do we eschew “healthy whole grains”? Why won’t you find “normal” processed foods (which our family refers to as “plastic foods”) on our plates?

What we don’t eat includes refined and processed foods, hydrogenated fats, corn syrups, sulfates, MSG, sprayed on vitamins, and genetically modified food products. That includes purportedly healthy things like whole grain cereals, juices, low fat or artificially sweetened anything, and anything else that comes in a package containing more than a single ingredient.

As we have said, we don’t necessarily think it will help us to “live forever” and it certainly isn’t to save money. Biodynamic vegetables and grass fed meats are more expensive than their industrially produced counterparts. Fresh foods are more expensive than canned and processed foods, and not eating grains pretty much eliminates most inexpensive, filling alternatives.

So then,…why?

First and foremost has to be overall health.

Rod and Jack are celiac and they can’t eat gluten – the primary protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.

On our way to learning to deal with that dietary change in July of 2009, we discovered the specific carbohydrate diet (SCD), which is reputed to help heal the damage done by gluten damage to the health of celiacs. As were experimenting with that through slow replacement, I started to notice that my pretty consistent arthritis started to fade – only to have another flare up whenever we ate grains for dinner again.

Clearly the problem wasn’t wheat, per se, because we’d cut that out completely immediately after Rod was diagnosed. I tried to narrow it down further, but most grains seem to create a lot of inflammation in my joints. Four years later, I find that I can eat amaranth, quinoa, and rice in very limited amounts, as long as I soak them for 24 hours before I cook them. Even so, eating them more than once a week still causes me problems.

Rod also can’t eat commercially produced meats. At one time, that seemed to be largely responsible for the downturn in his health since he arrived in America, or perhaps more correctly, for his inability to recover from setbacks to his health that come with aging.

Within a year of arriving, he found that his blood pressure had sky-rocketed, injuries that he sustained weren’t healing, and his energy levels and ability to focus had fallen through the floor. In retrospect, we think it may have been the grains that the animals were eating that were triggering his health problems, but whatever it was, it started to heal when we switched to grass-fed, grass finished meats.

When we realized what the meat here was doing to Rod, we tried more vegetarian foods and while some of Rod’s health issues changed, they didn’t resolve entirely. The obvious next plan was to try foods more like what his body was accustomed to. Grass fed, antibiotic free meat was still the standard in Australia when he left, so that’s what we tried. Soon after we made that switch, Rod’s ability to bounce back improved dramatically, though what we now know to be celiac and milk sensitivity symptoms for him continued to get gradually worse.

As we looked for grain free recipes, we encountered the concept of Paleolithic eating. The idea being that as our species developed, it ate entirely whole, wild foods and those are the foods we evolved to thrive on. It wasn’t until the agricultural revolution began about 10, 000 years ago that we, as a species, started to eat grains and dairy in great amounts. In the broad span of our evolution, that just isn’t much time.

Unlike many in the “paleo movement” I am not convinced that grains, beans, and dairy are inherently toxic, but I do think our bodies would probably benefit from more of the kinds of nutrients they evolved to use most effectively and I think it’s self-evident that for some people (like me) depending too heavily on grains and legumes can be detrimental.

We have been pretty much grain-free for four years, but I hope that one day my body will stop reacting so dramatically to them and we can go back to adding a small handful of grains to soups and stews regularly, as even our earliest cooking ancestors might have done.

So, while we don’t expect to live forever because of how we eat, we do hope to be as healthy as we can be for as long as we’re here. We hope to be strong and hale enough for as long as we live to be productive and to continue to make a contribution to the world. Being pain free and able to move around probably will extend our lives at least a bit, since chronic pain makes it impossible to get enough exercise. We are both far more energetic these days — we now have the energy to exhaust ourselves!

The second reason to eat the way we do, of course, is taste. I have thought of myself as a “foodie” for decades. I love good food, I love to cook and I love to eat. Biodynamic vegetables taste wonderful! Grass fed meat and pastured eggs have a depth of flavour that is just amazing. They taste like the foods I ate as a child!

Biodynamic vegetables and fruits are grown based on the idea that flavor and nutrition are imparted to the food by the living processes within the organism. Those foods that taste best to the unjaded human palette are most appealing because they are the freshest and they offer the densest nutrition. Modern food production tries to replace this living flavour (reduced by chemical fertilizers and mostly removed by hyper-processing) with flavouring agents that imitate natural flavor, but since we have adjusted our palette to natural foods, the chemical imitators taste just bad.

Third, the way we eat reflects our belief that eating is a political act.

By choosing locally grown, bio-dynamically nurtured vegetables and grass-fed, pastured animal products, we can opt out of the industrial agribusiness model that has been closing down small independent farms for decades.

We can support a more humane way of raising food animals, in which the animals live a happy life true to their species before becoming our prey, rather than spending short lives of malnourished misery in conditions that transform our farming facilities into prisons and death camps.

In choosing locally grown foods, we support our neighbors and we develop a relationship with the people who grow our food. We can know exactly where our food comes from and exactly how it’s grown, because if we have a question, we can ask the farmer. If we have a doubt, we can visit the farm to discuss our concerns.

In eating locally and avoiding grain-fed animals, we reduce the amount of petroleum involved in our food supply and reduce the amount of chemical pollution in our waterways and air.

We also reduce the impact of our omnivorous ways on the world. When cows eat grass, when chickens eat bugs and seeds and grass, when sheep eat what they find in the fields, when pigs can forage, when our prey eats what they’re supposed to eat, the grains our farmers grow can go directly into the human food supply in their traditional human-food forms. When animals range over the land, their waste is returned to the land to act as a natural fertilizer for the grasses and herbs growing there rather than being washed into, and poisoning, our waterways. As a bonus, no chemical fertilizers are required to grow their food.

There are lots of good reasons to eat the way we do, but it is more expensive. Since we are living on one income, we have made some accommodations to our meals to reduce the amount we have to spend for our healthier diet. We work to wring every last drop of value out of our food by making stock and broth from the part of the vegetables we don’t serve and from the bones left after a meal. Those broths become a flavour component in our cooking, and are the basis of all of our soups and sauces. They are truly amazing tasting and they add to the sense of “fullness” that comes with eating nourishuing food. Even better, because our food is highly nourished as it grows, the stocks and broths are a rich source of additional nutrients themselves.

One unexpected side-effect of preparing highly nutritious meals and eating almost entirely meat, dairy, nuts, eggs, fruits, and vegetables is that we find that we are eating a lot less food than we once did. Rod’s need for the nutrients in meat is largely satisfied by stock in an otherwise vegetable meal several times per week and a casserole that would once have served us for a meal now serve us for two or three.  That means that in its way, over the long term, we have cut our food bill by maximizing nutrition.

There are a lot of reasons for our food choices, but I think it can be summed up by the philosophical statement that eating the way we do supports the principle of wholeness and wellness that we try to make central to everything we do.

And it tastes good.

Third, the way we eat reflects our belief that eating is a political act.