by Dr Amy Chadwick, ND

This spring, I find myself thinking a lot about food. Every treatment plan I put together for a patient begins with a discussion of what to eat and what not to eat, possibly how much to eat, where to get this food, what makes some foods better for us, some worse. And, it often strikes me as incredibly odd and disturbing that we have to think so much about what to eat. When did food become so complicated that it takes a doctor, or a book, or a team of researchers to sort it out for us?

To answer this question that seems to be plaguing our society and our well-being, we have to first look at what is food? Our grocery stores are crammed with food-like items, giving the illusion that our options are limitless and our omnivorous diets can be fully satisfied with an abundant variety. Add to this the health claims in bold colorful letters and one would be led to believe we have the healthiest diets in the history of humanity.

However, diet related illnesses abound, obesity is on the rise, and it seems we spend much more time talking about and worrying about which foods or food-like items to eat or avoid and less and less time truly enjoying our meals, experiencing food with gratitude and pleasure.

Michael Pollan in his more recent book, In Defense of Food, recommends “Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Vegetables.” Seems simple and wise, doesn’t it. But, he wrote a 200+ page book describing just how to go about this simple task. In summary, Michael offers the following guidelines for determining what is food in the grocery store – food that will nourish, support and vitalize our bodies.

✦ Number 1: Avoid food products containing ingredients that are A) unfamiliar, B) unpronounceable, C) more than five in number, or that include D) high fructose corn syrup.

✦ Number 2: Avoid food products that make health claims.

✦ Number 3: Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle or even better

✦ Number 4: Get out of the supermarket whenever possible and buy from farmers markets, local farms, and CSAs.

In 1960, Americans spent 17.5% of their income on food and 5.2% of national income on health care. Since then, those numbers have flipped: Spending on food has fallen to 9.9%, while spending on health care has climbed to 16% of national income. We eat more processed, pre-packaged foods, spend less time at the table with our families, eat many more meals in the car or on the go, and spend more time, money and energy worrying about our weight and our health. For most people, for most of history, gathering and preparing food has been an occupation at the very heart of daily life. Now, it is something we do in passing.

We have lost our connection to food, and with this, we have lost much of our connection to nature and to our own bodies. Food is nourishment, food is pleasure, food is culture and community. Food is agriculture. Food is life. In order to honor this, we must get out of the grocery store. We must be connected and in order to do this, we must shorten our food chain.

My challenge for you this spring is to get connected, find “local” sources of food, shorten your food chain, and hang out in your kitchen smelling and cooking food, eating with your families and friends. If we eat locally, from sustainable resources, we are automatically improving the nutrition of our food, whether or not the farm is strictly organic. Farmers in our community are connected to soil, to life and to food. By buying local or as local as possible, we expand our awareness, we support our community and we gain benefit from healthy whole foods.

Some suggestions for beginning this process:

✦ Join a CSA (community supported agriculture). This is a great way to try out new vegetables and recipes. Eggs, chickens and some meats are available through local farmers as well.

✦ Shop the local farmers market for produce, eggs, and more. Yes, CSAs, local farms and farmers markets may take a little more money and a little more effort, but remembering that this expenditure is a vote for health, both personal and global, makes the extra cost seem like an awfully worthy way to shift the budget.

✦ Plant a garden, or at least plant a few herbs in a sunny window. Watch your food grow and enjoy the fun of preparing a wholesome meal with your own herbs and produce.

✦ Increase the number of times you sit down as a family for a wholesome meal, and discuss where your food comes from. Honor the incredible bounty of nature, the work of the farmer, and the creativity of the cook as well as the mystery of your own digestion and utilization of all that is healthy and good in whole food.

May you enjoy great food this Spring.