By Lily Joan
Food is sacred.
It’s not about us, it’s about a bigger whole. The connection between our planet and us, about the exchange of energy. Ironically, mother nature doesn’t need us to survive, but we do need her.
Yet, somehow over time, we have steered ourselves away from the living with, instead leading lives as if superior. We are now more likely to trust the indications on a medicine box more than our own bodies, we are more likely to trust the expiry date on packaging rather than use our senses to judge what is edible; we are more likely to eat a fast-food meal than cook ourselves something with fresh ingredients. I could go on. It boils down to this though: we are accustomed to convenience. We are spoiled to within an inch of our lives. We are used to having anything, at any time, anywhere. We will consume, and keep consuming, and the planet will be juiced dry in the process. And does it actually make us happier? Will we ever be satisfied? My answer is no. I don’t think we are getting happier OR healthier. Quite the opposite!
But let’s not linger on the negative, let’s focus on the good stuff. How can we do better, how can we live happier, healthier lives and save the planet in the meantime?
My way to make a difference is through food. As food is the most obvious way we internalise our environment. When we eat, we feed both the body, the mind and the heart. When we eat, we are taking in the food’s energy and nutrition. When we eat, we are activating all of our senses, connecting us momentarily to ourselves and our environment, both physically and mentally.
This opens up a world of opportunity to be steered into the ‘right’ direction. Food is a powerful medium, because it’s an indispensable life source. Whether we like it or not, we must all eat.
It can become a burden, with today’s layers of pressures: financial, cultural, agricultural, ecological, ethical and ideological. But there are two sides of a coin. Food can really work magic.
Let’s celebrate that, embrace the possibilities, learn from our ancestors, invent news ways, open our minds and heart to the concept of food changing the world for the better.
Okay, so food can make the difference. Now what?
I think there’s too much weight in the idea of trying to save the world as an individual (although many out there do have huge impacts). We can just think small. All smalls add up.
And a few smalls may inspire others, creating a wave of a movement without them feeling like it is taking over their life. We just need a little nudge sometimes, a little spark of inspiration.
Even if it’s through a tiny initiative like buying local seasonal veggies, it can get the ball rolling. And that’s my goal. To empower people with positive do’s.
The beauty of the food-theme, is that we help ourselves in the process of making a more global difference. Good food, from the right place with the right story, influences our personal health and happiness directly.
So it’s a win-win! In other words I strongly believe that if we aim to lead healthier lives, we automatically feel better, and help mother earth in the meantime.
Let’s looking into what ‘healthy’ actually means then.
In the English dictionary, ‘Healthy’ is described as ‘a state of bodily or organic soundness, freedom from bodily or mental disease or decay’, and ‘Healthy food’ as ‘types of food, e.g. organically grown or with no synthetic ingredients, regarded as promoting health’. There you have it, it’s as simple as that: pure, untampered with ingredients for a body or mind that isn’t suffering from illness or deterioration.
So eat healthily, what does that even entail? How can we make sure our bodies don’t get ill? Aha! This is where it get interesting.
A huge player for overall health is gut health. Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? But what if we learned that gut health makes you happier, healthier, clear-minded, more efficient, stabilises hormones, reduces medical bills, increases your energy, sleep and reduces your stress levels. Interested now?
The gut is the main source of overall inflammation, the core of the good & bad is filtered, and home of about 80% of our immune system.
We learn to live with sore muscles, swollen stomachs, cloudy minds, energy dips during the day, rashes, joint pain… and we deal with these symptoms with medications. Yes, symptoms, as they are the result of chronic inflammation. ‘Chronic’ meaning long-term infection our body can’t handle, compared to a short-term fight it puts up against toxins, bad bacteria and viruses. Chronic inflammation is a slow process, resulting in us becoming accustomed to the symptoms. But those headaches, the exam, spots, low libido, clammy hands & feet, brittle bones, repetitive coughs & colds, dandruff, early balding or turning grey and sleep disorders, they’re not something to put up with, they are signs our body is suffering, our immune system is failing. The good news: food is a source of all types of protection and help we need (alongside good sleep, exercise and stress regulation)!
In short, we have billions of bacteria in our gut, thousands of types. Each type with their own speciality. They convert the food’s nutritional package into substances our body needs to live. These bacteria are mainly found in the small intestine. This means we need to eat food that isn’t broken down too early on, leaving nothing left for the bacteria to use lower down. The good bacteria protect us from illness, but the bad bacteria cause it. The bad live off empty carbs, sugars and things like pesticides. The good bacteria however thrive off minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, fibres & good fats. If we feed them, they become our army that fight the bad bacteria, mending our intestinal wall so the toxins don’t get into our blood stream. Foods like white bread, pasta and white sugar are absorbed by the body in the large intestine, converted into sugars instantly, giving us an energy boost (but nothing nutritious), overusing our insulin production to balance out the instant raise of our blood sugar level, also starving our gut flora. If this goes on too long, we become addicted to the constant feed of sugar, which our body then stores in fat cells when they can’t be burned. Our gut flora diversity diminishes, making it harder and harder for our body to process our foods the right way, leading to serious vitamin shortages. On top of that, our intestine is where a huge part of our hormones are created, including the happiness hormone serotonin. It also contains as many nerve cells as our entire spinal column, capturing all activity in our gut and directly reporting to the brain, which in turn decides which hormones to produce, which organs to activate, which triggers to send out, which emotions to express. So a happy gut equals a happy mind.
Don’t worry: just by eating fermented foods, healthy oils like omega 3, high fibre ingredients and colourful antioxidant-rich fruit, herbs & veg, you’re already on the right track!
But the point is: if we wean ourselves off the processed crap, and get into the beauty of cooking ourselves fresh meals using quality & varied products, we are doing the planet a favour too.
But I do realise it’s hard to wean ourselves off what we know. It’s not actually about changing what we eat, it’s about changing how we feel about food. It’s the rewiring of our brains we need to focus on, relearning the art of eating, to find a way to want to eat what’s good for us, bringing what the heart wants in line with what the body wants.
That’s when the processed, packaged foods come back into the story. Companies push foods high in sugar, fat & salt and we learn to like them, we are even brought up with them as comforting treats. Treats that become habits. They are designed to get us hooked. So now it’s up to us to be aware of that, and reconnect to that old-fashioned concept of ‘nourishing’ ourselves. We can learn new preferences, understanding that joy and comfort can come from healthier, more sustainable options too.
Yet, it can take time, to reach that state where food is something that nourishes & makes us happy, rather that tormenting or sickening us. Our society is focussed on temptation, quick-fixes and contradictorily, the idea of resisting desirable foods. And we identify with memories of food experiences, which often outweigh knowledge of health and even taste (as we may not actually enjoy the taste of a double-sided Mars bar, but seek the reliving of a happy childhood memory it triggers). It’s up to us to relearn the meaning of ‘delicious’, even if it doesn’t correlate with the diet we were brought up on.
It’s absolutely possible, and can even be an enjoyable process.
Dive into the exploration of new ingredients, new flavours, new herbs and spices. Allow yourself to be triggered, enriching your meals rather than depriving yourself of anything. It’s just about daring to let go of the fixed ingredient combinations we have been brought up with. Open up your senses to the pungent, salty, sour, bitter and sweet. And know you are feeding your body with a multitude of nutrients in the meantime.
Let us pay greater attention to the physical sensations food gives us, let us slow down a little and savour flavours, use all our senses when cooking and eating.
Let’s integrate mindfulness into our meals, fall in love with the stories behind the ingredients, the process of preparation, the creative flow of bring new flavours together, being present in the moment of consumption, the joy of sharing with others, the satisfaction of self-care, the connection to our environment.