Monday, September 14, 2009

how far we've come?

i was rootin' around one of my favorite places to root around (not for truffles under an oak tree by the way).    in a used bookstore i came across a book written by a Dr. Jarvis entitled Folk Medicine: A Vermont Doctor's Guide to Good Health.

And i quote:

" relation to chronic fatigue, let us think about the food intake with which we build and rebuild the body.  There are several foods you should avoid eating if you have a problem of chronic fatigue.  Here we may borrow the guidance from the animals.  For instance, birds will not eat wheat.  If a prepared bird food containing wheat is put out for them, they will separate out the wheat and eat the rest.  Farmers in Vermont tell me that if wheat is mixed in with scratch feed hens will not eat it at all or, if very hungry, will eat it last. If there is too much wheat in a cow's ration she will not eat it.  Animals seem to know instinctively that eating is for strength, not to produce weariness and weakness, and that if they eat wheat they will have weak offspring."(italics are mine.)

eating is for strength.  wow, what a concept.  cave girl knows this.  that is why we are to eat. we give the body what it needs to be strong and energized.  of course, food does so much more than that.

it strengthens relational bonds.  it makes someone feel nurtured, even loved.  it defines people groups.

the problem, is that somewhere in history...oh, i don't know...about 10,000 years ago, we started to eat things that produced weariness and weakness AND still had it meet all the other needs.  now, we confuse love with cheesecake.  we confuse relationships with chocolate.  we confuse culture with couscous.

the irony is that human "culture", the universal entity that is the same in northern michigan and southern bombay, western saskatchewan and eastern punta cana, has the same genetic source.  all of the people in the world have one way of eating that will maximize their health.  meat, vegetables, some fruit, some nuts, and healthy fats are the foods that the human animal has evolved to eat.

understand that a slim jim is NOT meat.  ketchup is NOT a vegetable.  calcium fortified orange juice is NOT a fruit.  peanut butter is NOT a nut.  anything hydrogenated is NOT a fat.

notice there are not any grains listed here.  we didn't start eating grains until we settled into cities.  until we began to stop being our "animal" selves.  what i mean by that is when we stopped living according to our nature, our genetics and started planting grasses that we started to eat.  we're not meant to eat cereals or grains (one of which is corn).  we're not ruminants.

the cave girl way of eating was my favorite way to eat as a child.  it was what felt right to me.  breakfast was a huge vegetable omelette or a bowl of vegetable and beef stew.  lunch was usually skipped because i wasn't hungry.  dinner was meat and more vegetables.  on special days, there was a huge fruit salad for dessert.  culturally, we ate rice and beans.  i did that.  but, it didn't give me pleasure.  eating whatever animal that had been converted to a delicacy through the magic of fire gave me pleasure.

i would spend long saturday mornings eating the fruit around an almond and then crushing open the pod with a rock to get to the nutty meat.  i could polish off seven coconuts by the time i was eight years old.  when we would go the sea, the fishermen would bring their catch up to a bonfire and grill it in banana leaves.  figuring new ways to cut an orange to get to the biggest slices in the quickest way was a fun challenge.  mango season turned me into a mangovore.  avocado season found me eating avocado at every meal.  it wasn't turned into guacamole (i'd never heard of that stuff.).  it was just sliced and eaten in its buttery simplicity.  my father's family in the province would send homemade butter from their goats or cows in large jars.  it was white, densely creamy, and melted down my throat with a coffee chaser.

my father taught me to eat butter like a cheese.  hunks of it set on my tongue and allowed to melt.

i ate watercress fresh from the stream.  lime from the prickled tree was squeezed onto mirliton (chayote peppers).  leeks recently freed from the earth would be washed of their dirt in large muddy puddles in the sink and turned into soup.  garlic was added to everything after being creamed into a paste in the wooden mortar and pestle.

i grew up loving food.  i could recognize food.  it was not wrapped in plastic or from a box.  it came from the earth or ate the grass the sprouted from it.

i don't really remember bread until my dad brought home a baguette from the bakery one day when i was about nine or so.  it was a special occasion kind of treat.  but only good if it was barely recognizable underneath a mask of butter.

then, they started to import foods from the states.  farmers and their stands receded into a faded background until they were gone completely.  there was no more butter from the provincial relatives.  there was margarine.  there was chef boyardee pizza.  does anyone else remember that stuff?  the box that you added water to the powder, squirted a sweet red sauce onto it, then shook a cardboard-y "cheese" on top?  i can remember my sister and me begging my mom to buy that happy looking box.  THEN i would be popular and the kids would want to come to my house.  pizza was so foreign, exotic.  doing it all from a box was such an independent notion.  cooking didn't have to be a communal, all day affair.  it would just take twenty minutes and any kid could do it.

except, it wasn't food.  it was something else altogether.  it didn't make me strong or energized.

the cave girl would not know what to do with cardboard or styrofoam trays or plastic boxes.  i don't really know either.   not instinctively, not with my gut.  i know what to do with those things because i've been brainwashed, i've been "educated", i am a modern girl who others think is cool.  but, i am weak and weary when i eat food twice removed.  i want direct contact.  i want to wash the dirt from it.  i want to look the animal in the eyes as it dies so that i can thank it, so that i can understand the true price of being an animal myself who wants to thrive.  i want to watch the fruit ripen on the tree, growing fuller, juicier each day as i walk by it until it falls into my outstretched hand.  it has worked out a trade with me.  i eat it.  its seeds are freed to reproduce.

then, one day, i want to be planted into the ground and return the favor to the plants that feed the animals that feed us.  that is what it means to eat food.  it is to realize that we are food ourselves.  that we do not stand above this earth and its other inhabitants.  to eat is to take part in the death and the life that coexist in everything that eats food and is food.  to eat is to live.  to live is to convert that into strength, into energy.

food is supposed to create strength.  if we eat according to our cave selves, we will create that strength cooperatively with the whole world.

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