At some point along the way, our ancient and most basic human connection with our food has gone way off-track.
And it's glaringly obvious that with chronic health conditions and obesity on the rise, we’re really paying the price. Never before have we had SO MUCH food available to us – literally it’s on just about every corner, and can be brought to us at the touch of a button - but we’re unhealthier than ever. Not only in terms of physical ailments and disability, but also lost productivity and the overall effect on our quality of life. We're exhausted for no reason, our tummies often aren't happy, we don't sleep well, and we just feel 'blah'. Without anything actually being wrong...
So What Happened?
Of course, our busy lifestyles are at least partly to blame. We're burning the candle at both ends trying to fit everything into the time we have available (believe me, I know!). We tend to do our shopping in supermarkets and convenience stores, and fast food outlets are everywhere. We’re also bombarded with marketing messages that influence our food choices – whether we are consciously aware of them or not.
Our fruits and veg have been stored for who knows how long? Our meat is presented on a tray that looks exactly like the packet next to it, and there’s not a single clue as to where it came from, or how it was raised. Those little punnetts of herbs have most likely spent their life under artificial light and have never actually seen the sun. Your burger has been slapped together by someone who probably just wants to finish their shift and couldn’t care less about the effect it's going to have on your body.
We've Left Some Important Things Behind...
We need to remember that the value of food goes far beyond the energy, vitamins and minerals it provides. Our connection to food is one of the most human experiences we can have. As a race we’ve always gathered, hunted or grown food. Celebrated with food. Nurtured with food. Discovered new foods and new ways of preparing food. Learnt from people from other cultures when it comes to food.
We've also evolved in such a way that messages are passed from our food to our body about what's happening in the environment around us. Phytochemicals in plants (such as carotenoids and polyphenols) are a great example of this. They have the potential to interact with our genes, boost our health and protect against various diseases as a result of our body 'reading' and acting on these messages.
If you stop and think for a minute about how our forebears lived - the kinds of foods they had available to them, and how they grew, stored and prepared food - this picture looks VERY different to how we do things today. The simple truth is that many of the chronic health conditions we suffer from today are a direct result of having moved so far away from the kinds of foods we should be eating as humans.
But it's not all doom and gloom! The good news is that we also happen to live in a time where we have plenty of information at our fingertips. We can become aware of the habits we have fallen into - and ask ourselves whether these habits are doing us good, or harm. We have a unique opportunity to reverse the trend, and reconnect with our food again. In a way that gives us so much more control over our health trajectory.
It can be simple, with a little forethought and planning, and the return on investment is absolutely worth it
If you'd like to start doing things differently, here are a few ideas:
- Find out what’s available in your local area. I’m often surprised by how many clients are not aware of what’s around and where they can purchase items outside the big stores. And it can be fun! Make a date with your partner or girlfriends to go and and see what kind of interesting things you can find in your community. It’s highly likely you’ll find all sorts of unique goodies that you can’t get with your usual grocery shop.
- Learn as much as you can about where your food has come from. Where was it grown/raised? Check out local farmers markets and roadside stalls for local produce, and talk to the stallholders about what they have available.
- Your local specialty stores like greengrocers, butchers, fishmongers and delis are an absolute wealth of information. Locate the best greengrocer – they’ll be able to talk to you about what’s in season, factors affecting harvests at the moment, how to store fresh produce for maximum longevity, as well as ideas for using fruits or veg that you are unfamiliar with. This is what our grandparents and great-grandparents used to do!
- Your local butcher will be able to give you insights into different cuts of meat and how to use them. They’ll usually also be happy to mince certain cuts for you, which means you know exactly what’s in it and how fresh it is. The same goes for your best local seafood store – have a look, and ask them when is the best day to purchase the freshest seafood. Maybe challenge yourself to try something new each time!
- If you don’t have a lot of spare time, try reducing your supermarket shop to once or twice a month and buy only your essential items – and purchase your fresh items from your local supplier instead. We often ‘nip into the supermarket’ for top-up shops WAY more than we need to – which tends to cost us more time and money in the long run. You may also like to look into having the essentials delivered, or even forming a co-op with friends and family to buy items in bulk and share the cost.
- Plan your meals so you know exactly what you need to get, rather than buying on the fly. Not only is this a great way to ensure you are eating better quality, more nutritious food, you’ll also save money in the long run by reducing takeaways.
- If you need to find a particular food, and are unsure where you can source it, don’t be afraid to ask! Many smaller stores or independent grocers will be happy to order products in for you.
- Grow a few of your own basic herbs or veggies – even just a pot or two will do! Not only is growing your own far more economical, it can also be fun. There’s a lot you can do with a basil plant, some rosemary, a chilli plant and a few leafy greens.
- If you enjoy socializing around food (who doesn’t?!) it can be a good idea to brainstorm something different you can do. Visiting a restaurant or café can be fun, but we’ve turned what probably should be a special treat into an almost everyday occurrence. Can you do something different, like host a meal, plan a picnic or BBQ in the park, where you have more control over where your food has come from? In our family, I host a weekly Sunday evening meal – and I usually make a simple meal in my slow cooker which means I’m not stuck in the kitchen.