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Long before there were Cheetos, Oreos and Ritz Crackers, and processed meats were identified as some of the worst possible foods, we ate what we could grow or forage. The advent of the American snack food industry was two centuries ago, although I might posit that any handful of berries or a ripe apple is just as much a snack, and vastly better.

And yes, we know that. We got that. We’re tired of hearing that.

Hand me the donuts, please. My hand is up. They are very hard to resist. That’s how they’re designed. Many of us battle with this every single day.

I used to think it was just about the calories. Many still do, and that includes too many nutritionists and many more health care folks. And they are wrong. Please see Dr. Jason Fung’s fine Medium piece here.

For one, too many of us use our Fitbits as an excuse to gorm a pizza based on calories alone. And, using a calorie as a measure doesn’t take into account the value of the food to our bodies. Even then, I could chow down on a granola or a KIND bar thinking (incorrectly) that I’ve just given myself a nice boost. Yeah. To my butt. Because there’s little difference between those so-called good foods and a Snickers bar, which, frankly, tastes a whole lot better. If you’re going to do damage, hell, at least have fun.

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Honestly what can we believe from anyone about anything?

For example, pundits, politicians and professional healthcare folks have pounded us about salt (incorrectly, as it turns out, although pouring a cupful down your throat may not be such a good idea). Any farmer or horse owner who really loves his animals puts out a salt block. In fact, animals will walk a very long way to get salt, because the body needs it. We do too.

Show me a farmer or a horse breeder who puts out an entire solid sugar block. The occasional cube, yes. But a block? They’d be blockheads.

And about those fries, or that sushi or that soy sauce? That pepperoni?

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Salt on your fries isn’t the issue.

It has more to do with the extreme high heat necessary to cook those fries, or make those great-tasting lunch meats.

This article outlines a number of bad foods, but perpetuates the lie about salt. It’s the kind of thing that doctor and author Ken D. Berry writes in his book Lies My Doctor Told Me. Someone does some questionable research, said research is picked up swiftly by a headline-loving media, then it evolves into gospel without the slightest challenge. Berry refers to those as medical lies. We’re still being told not to eat salt.

Salt isn’t the issue. More so sugar. And, the Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) or BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) that many of our popular cereals contain. Those are thought to be carcinogens, and are widely banned by other rich countries. Why are we eating them? Why would parents who (and I heartily disagree with this) virulently fight against vaccines, then turn around and feed their kids processed meats that contain advanced glycation end products (AGEs): inflammatory compounds that are created when these processed meats are dried, smoked, and cooked at high temperatures.

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Just because a sweet cartoon character on a cereral box insinuates himself into our consciousness or a manly man hoists a container of (largely useless and even dangerous) protein powders doesn’t make those products friendly to us. It makes money for the producer, and often makes us sick, which makes money for the predatory medical system, insurance companies and hospitals with shareholders.

What’s a body to do?

The body is geared to like sweet foods, the taste of fat and salt- because we need them. In their natural states. What we don’t need are the pesticides, the additives, and all those chemicals that make certain foods more convenient because they are kept from rotting. The problem is that a lot of the stuff that keeps certain foods from rot may well rot us from the inside out.

Salt, as a preservative, as a spice, still works.

Done in moderation.

Besides: too little salt? Not only does our food taste like crap, here’s what else happens:

And low-salt diets could have side effects: when salt intake is cut, the body responds by releasing renin and aldosterone, an enzyme and a hormone, respectively, that increase blood pressure.(emphasis added).

Another article, although it too, perpetuating the lie about sodium intake, speaks to a great overall concern about food. It’s not so much what we do eat, which is what we most often discuss, it’s more so what we don’t. Fiber, which is far better for us than any probiotic supplement, is missing in most all of our diets.

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When we had to forage, the body had to wait until we could find or grow or catch or kill a source of nourishment. This is just one reason that there is a faddish fascination with fasting, as it has significant health benefits. Foods are seasonal for a reason. You and I, as Northern Americans, aren’t intended to be eating nectarines in the dead of winter. I have to wonder if the environmental costs of shipping and transport truly worth it any more.

Now while you and I don’t necessarily have to consume eleven Indonesian wicker baskets before breakfast to get our daily fiber content, there is a strong argument for trading expensive supplements for the real thing. In most cases we take too many, and most are so full of fillers that they actually endangered folks with allergies. Utah’s retired Senator Orrin Hatch virtually guaranteed a completely unregulated industry --which, by the way, paid him off handsomely for the courtesy — and loosed billions of bottles of bullshit upon us all. Caveat emptor. Don’t assume your government is here to help you when it comes to either the Food Pyramid (influenced by huge farm lobbies) or supplements, thank you. Hatch’s son, is of course, in the business. Of course he is. Orrin himself got his start in the business, shilling shit in a capsule to unsuspecting old folks. Now that same crap is in GNC, Walgreen’s and likely, your own kitchen cabinet.

Down the hatch all right. Billions upon billions down the hatch of the murderous Hatch family. For excellent advice on supplements and in fact, which can do serious harm, go here.

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What’s left of going natural?

Even if we do eat what might be traditionally fiber-rich foods, that may no longer be enough. We are getting a fraction of the fiber that our near-ancestors consumed.

This change isn’t just attributable to the advent of fiber-free processed and fast foods in advanced economies. More than 10,000 years ago, before agriculture and selective plant breeding, early fruits and vegetables were almost unrecognizable by today’s standards.

Generation after generation of farmers have since bred them to be bigger and tastier — in many cases increasing their sugar content and stripping them of fiber. Milling, meanwhile, cleared the whole-grain fractions out of our bread and bakery products, which were a major fiber source, Walter said. And meat replaced fibrous beans and lentils as the main source of protein in many parts of the world. Researchers are now documenting the health impacts of that change.

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I have been appalled at the American arrogance about “pretty food.” I once showed a photo of a twisted carrot to a women who exclaimed with disgust that “I wouldn’t eat THAT.” Well, honey, I can introduce you to billions the world over who would be damned grateful for one single ugly carrot. The ones we have are so overbred, so beyond what Nature might have intended.

We don’t want to be inconvenienced by seeds in our grapes and watermelons. I for one, miss the hell out of those seeds. Nature does not make a better projectile with which to pelt one’s older brother than watermelon seeds, spat at warp speed by a hightailing sister. Farmers took all the damned fun out of my favorite summer fruit. Not just the fun, but the too much of the nutritional value.

The rich, sweet flavor that marked the carrots and tomatoes of my youth on the farm have been replaced by pretty, pithy and tasteless products. Ask anyone over fifty about the long-ago wonder of a steak tomato, so good that you’d slap slices of that bad boy into a sandwich with mayo and you’re in heaven.

They no longer exist, at least in those countries that use single crop mass production. Pesticides. Where insects no longer thrive. Where even the soil is now toxic. Places where water is so scarce because corporations like Coke buy up the supplies, toxic soda is cheaper than water.

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I was driving south on I-75 from Tampa to Naples when the overloaded truck in front of me lost a few fruit from its load. I though they were limes.

Nope. Tomatoes. Hard, like rocks, not even breaking upon landing on asphalt at 75 mph.

That’s not food. That’s filler. A very pretty package in the supermarket with almost nothing for nutritional value. No wonder we’re sick, when so much of what we might once have been able to count on as food has been fiddled with to the point that it’s barely water with a skin around it.

Organic? Really? No. Not Really.

And, as you probably know already, organic doesn’t mean much any more, except that you and I likely paid a very high price. The standards have such large loopholes that big producers drive their semis and profits right through them. And we still get pesticides. Here’s a way to think about it and possibly protect yourself.

That doesn’t mean all organic is bad. It does mean do your due diligence. Follow the money. There are good people out there, but you have to work to find them. I don’t buy organic unless I know the producer.

The point of food isn’t just to shut down the growling in your stomach. Nor is it solely to show how much money you have by wasting thousands on gold-covered ice cream in Dubai.

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Yah. Gold is a mineral for us like a potato chip is a vegetable. Like beer is a whole grain food. Like…well, you get the message.

We can laugh ourselves into oblivion with such ridiculous excuses. That said, how can any of us navigate the minefield that is our food choice spectrum and the unique demands of our bodies, mine, yours, everyone else’s?

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Food causes suffering. And relieves it…depending.

Such as, if I feel sorry for myself, I have been known to stuff eight chocolate covered Krispy Kremes into my gullet because of the emotional pain. I am quite sure nobody else has ever done this. Of course not. I swear, the bad snack food industry would collapse if we were all sublimely happy.

The great Buddhist monk Thich Nihat Hanh wrote that when we identify the source of our suffering, it can set us free. By this he meant that when we see that there are things we do that make us suffer, we can stop. If there are things we ingest that make us suffer, we can stop. There’s more, but I’ll stop there because I suffer to consider how many things I do which create suffering. As in:

Part of the problem, and I suffer from it like everyone else on the planet, is that when something tastes good, we want more of it. One piece of Cadbury’s turns into the whole damned bar, particularly if it’s been a hard day. My body rewards me with cramps, sickness and a horrific thick feeling. I know it’s coming and I damned well do it anyway. As do we all at one time or another (kindly, consider, tequila.)

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This is my fundamental issue with my arch enemy, the Brussels Sprout. Yeccch. I would rather eat breaded cardboard. This is also precisely what Big Food knows that we crave: sweet, salt, fat, because we are wired for them for survival. In their natural forms. Ugly or not. That’s why their highly-trained food chemists manipulate their products to make them ever so much more tasty and addictive.

Pure shit like Cheetos and Oreos and all the other chemical-laden, toxic crap that overwhelms most of the middle of every grocery store (and increasingly, the rest of the world’s stores and shops) are often what we turn to when we are anxious, and are often the cause of even greater anxiety.

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In this Medium piece by Ruth Henderson, this passage gets to the heart of it:

As I unloaded the details of the past few weeks to one of my closest friends, he said, “Wow Ruth, what a sh*tty summer. And also, I think you should go to Dairy Queen and have a huge Blizzard and eat all the toppings possible.”

We so often turn to what we euphemistically refer to as “comfort food” which is anything but. That food all too often, as Henderson writes, results in

negative physical responses for me, including inflammation, migraines, joint pain, thyroid issues, and, in many ways worst of all, anxiety.

Key to her comment, is “for me.” Aye, there’s the rub.

If you and I are trying to lose a pound here and there, and we grind through three bags of Chips Ahoy because we crave comfort, not only do we get sick as shit, we now feel like shit because we know what we did to our poor beleaguered bodies. Double whammy.

This New York Times piece discusses the connection between food and anxiety further. While I do not in any way ascribe to meds — with the exception of those who have extreme mental health issues — I do believe that the right foods eaten with joy and pleasure can go a very long way towards helping what ails us.

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In all these arguments about food, nutrition (eggs are good, eggs are evil) and the ongoing ridiculousness that are national good guidelines, there is but one final truth:

It’s all about what works for you. Literally and figuratively speaking, what does your gut tell you? What does your body tell you? What and whom do you trust? For my part, farmer’s markets, where I can find them. Green grocers, where I can find them. If I’m fortunate, perhaps where I land next, I can grow my own. But I won’t buy any seeds from Monsanto, the world’s Darth Vader. While this article might be a bit hyperbolic, it does speak to many of the fundamental issues of this massively evil food giant.

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My final salvo: Almond Milk. Sugar water with a smattering of crushed almonds. If you’ll buy that bullshit as healthy, you’ll buy anything. Big Food is counting on it. I’m sticking with water that I have filtered myself. At least I know what the hell is in it. As for the rest? Listen to your body. Not your tongue. Not the ads. Not the messaging. And that, finally…

I grew up on a farm. Part of a dying breed. I grew up with rich soil, dense nutrients in my foods, sweet carrots and hearty potatoes that didn’t need irradiating. I don’t know where we go from here. But for my part, I don’t trust anything with a label or the promise of a better food through chemistry or fiddling by food scientists.

Who do you listen to? Who can you trust? I like reading Markham Heid. He does his research. I read voraciously, and take everything I read with a rather large block of (perfectly good) salt. I read materials from folks who are NOT funded by Nestle or Coca Cola or Monsanto any other Big Food. There is nothing about packaged food that is healthy enough to dump fresh water for Fresca, or toss out your turnips for Taco Bell.

Ultimately, if you are going to live well, you have to listen to the only wise voice you and I have: our bodies. Do the research. Understand what your unique body needs, and how those changes shift each decade, through sickness and health and injury and aging. We are our own best doctors, but we must do the research, and find nutritionists we trust.

Your body will tell you precisely what it needs, when and why. Nobody else can possibly give you better advice.

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