This is a blog about gardening, growing you own food in a suburban setting. Creating your own food stream. Today we spend a minute or two on the why of gardening, on the larger picture of what we eat, and why, and who says so. It’s all my pediatrician’s fault.
I sat in the pediatrician’s office this week with one of my kids who was getting a physical, looking at the Food Pyramid he has posted on the back of his examination room door. To educate growing minds, presumably, about how to be healthy, be strong, and live long.
Sigh. In every other way my pediatrician is such a brilliant guy.
The first problem I have with Food Pyramid is that in every version the whole bottom layer, the widest layer, indicating “eat the MOST of this!” is made up of carbohydrates, a completely unnecessary food source. (The body can make glucose from fat, and fat from glucose. Check it out for your self about carbohydrates ) Don’t get me wrong – carbohydrates taste yummy. I love them. Many people can digest starchy veggies like carrots and even potatoes ok without triggering an huge insulin problem. And some number of people can eat the various grass seed heads that become bread, pasta, cakes, cookies without any ill effects. Good for them. But alas, even though I am not celiac, and am otherwise pretty healthy, meaning that I am not overweight, nor dealing with diabetes, nor dealing with ADD or ADHD, and have none of the auto-immune diseases so common today, I cannot eat grain-based foods without getting sick. This is just from being intolerant. What does that mean? Although I love to lie to myself about it, grains trigger a host of symptoms, particularly when mixed with sugar, as in pies, breads, bagels, cakes, crackers, doughnuts, pasta etc,etc. Instantly, itchy bumps form at my hairline and behind my ears, in my eyebrows. My ear canals itch and crack open and ooze liquid stuff. I can get away with a little cheating – I am not celiac – but if I persist in eating grain based foods for long enough, allergies, colds, and ear infections follow. If I just have a little bit, I only risk increasing my interest in them – and it is so hard to turn off the carbohydrate machine, once he is aroused.
The next problem I have with the FDA and food charts is the amount of influence large corporations seem to have over what is printed on the chart. For instance, Big Sugar. How is it that sugar on the chart at all, even as “eat sparingly”? Sugar is an addictive substance (come on, you know this. Do you really need a bunch of research mice to prove it?) Who eats sugar sparingly? Besides, it is now added to most stored-made foods. From lunch meats to pasta sauces to mustard. Even though my ear canals were telling me first, Dr. Lustig and the World Health Organization are there to remind me that sugar is liver-toxic. (Why believe my ears? see for yourself about Dr Lustig, and WHO sugar guidelines) And then as far as corporate influence goes there’s Big Dairy. Dairy is in the third row on the Pyramid, after vegetables and fruits. In the newest FDA recommendations it has it’s own spot, in your glass:
Current FDA recommended daily allowances diagram
Just speaking personally, I began to claim my health back about a decade ago when I mostly cut out dairy, which I only did in support of one of my children who was on a special diet. That was when I stopped having seasonal allergies. Wow. If I want to have seasonal allergies again, all I have to do is enjoy dairy in the season. Especially if I combine it with wheat. Believe me, I have tried this. I experimented with grassfed raw dairy to see if that was any better — I am very fond of dairy, much more so than sugar — but nope. Apparently I am not alone in this (Dairy Products, by Dr. Gina Shaw, MD )
On the top of the Food Pyramid is a tiny space for fat and sugar. WE talked about sugar, but why is fat up here, at the top? My best indicator of what I should eat or not eat is how I feel when I do it – that’s the only measure that has ever been any good to me.The fads come and the fads go. I tasted some “low-fat” foods and could tell right away that they would irritate me. All sugars, no fat. I know that I need fat desperately. I notice that I will not over-eat of fat. It stops being appetizing. When you need fat, you know it! When you eat too much straight butter, butter becomes unappealing. I notice that naturally occurring fats, such as butter on my vegetables, bacon with my green vegetables, avocados and olive oil with salt on my salads tastes SO GOOD! I have read that the vitamins in greens and broccoli are absorbed best in the presence of fats, because they are fat-soluble vitamins. Vitamins A and D. This could be true – how would I know? I am not a scientist. But what I know for sure is that eating dark green with butter or bacon tastes awesome , and makes me feel great. Whereas pancakes with bacon fat makes me feel stuffed and uncomfortable. And Gluten Free crackers with butter don’t hurt me much, but never really satisfy, even if I eat the whole bag…
By now it should be obvious that I have a very crummy digestive system. You may be wondering, what does work, Wystan? Thanks to the support of my sister Ann (also on a quest for her health), I have discovered some wonderful things. The broth of bones cooked for 24 or more hours, with carrots, onions, garlic, celery, mushrooms, and some meat cubes makes such a delicious stew. Chicken bones cooked overnight, allowed to cool, and then reheated for another day release amazing things from their marrows for a fabulous healing chicken vegetable soup. Awesome with curry!! Bacon fried up with onions and any kind of greens (kales, mustard greens, collards – each has it’s unique texture and flavor) are nourishing for hours. Greens steamed a minute and touched with butter are delicious, if you find you don’t want bacon. Brussels sprouts chopped are also delicious sauteed with butter or a slice of bacon chopped up with onions. Then there’s fermented foods: one head of chopped Cabbage, pounded with sea salt, stuffed into a mason jar and left alone for four days in the dark makes amazing, buttery sauerkraut. It’s alive with probiotics, and chases away colds, it’s true, but I eat it because it tastes so – yum- well, I don’t know anything that tastes quite like it! Wonderful! Especially if you add some fresh ginger and red pepper flakes.
Vegetables are dah BOMB. But as with any source of food, you need to know how to work magic on the raw ingredients. Years before we began to fry Kale up with butter or bacon and onions, kale I bought would wither in my fridge. It looked so – ugh. Dull. Scratchy! How was I gonna put that weird stuff in my mouth?? Yuk. But steamed in a little water, and touched with butter, and your tongue AND your body tell me YES! You want this stuff! There is a reason people eat have eaten collards with the ham bone or a piece of fat back for hundreds of years.
This season, I am going to do my best to put my garden where my mouth is – increasing the rows of kale in my garden by about 100%. 🙂 (Like I said, we didn’t use to like kale much.) The temporary greenhouse that we have struggled to finish (it’s getting there!) will be temporary only in the sense that the plastic walls and roof can be rolled up part of the year. It will be a permanent part of growing. In terms of “growing my own” there is nothing we eat more of right now than salads and dark green vegetables, and this simple structure should allow us to keep growing our own well into winter. We’ll see! Always so much to learn – whether it’s tuning in to your body’s messages, or tuning in to what nature has to teach you outside it. When choosing your seeds, listen to what you love to eat, and listen to what your soil and climate want to grow. It’s always a dance.
But as for what the FDA’s Food Pyramid knows that can help you – fahgeddaboutit.