In Context: Healthey Food and Oneota

In Context: Healthey Food and Oneota

by:Lyle Luzum Oneota Community Co-op Board of Directors

In previous articles in the “Scoop” I discussed the W. K. Kellogg Foundation’s definition of “Good Food:” food that is Fair (does not depend on exploitation of people), Green (does not depend on exploitation and degradation of the environment), Healthy (encourages health, not chronic illness or obesity), and Affordable (available to all, not just the rich).

Good food sustains health and life. For untold generations people around the globe have developed what we now think of as “ethnic” diets built around natural foods adapted to their environment. It appears that humans, being omnivores, don’t have one “right” way to eat. The wide variety of foods that have sustained people through the millennia suggests that humans and the foods nature provides have evolved together, and in great variety. They tend to be whole foods; balanced in essential fatty acids (omega 3 & 6); with limited fat; not too sweet; not too salty; and balanced in protein, unrefined carbohydrates, and fiber.

But it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a “wrong” way to eat. Through most of human history sugar, fat, and salt were scarce, precious commodities that our taste buds crave. Unfortunately, we have built a food system in the last 50 years that turns things upside down. In our hubris, we have engineered and built an agricultural and industrial processing system around, as Michael Pollan says, “edible food-like substances” made primarily from industrial by-products of corn and soybeans.

Unfortunately, these substances have characteristics that are the inverse of nature’s foods. They are mere components of whole foods; unbalanced in fatty acids (excessively toward omega 6); laden with fat, sugars (in the form of high fructose corn syrup), salt, and refined carbohydrates; and low in fiber. Our animals, also fed with these same products, produce protein that is of the same general nature. As Michael Pollan observes, “’We’ve all heard that ‘You are what you eat.’ But it is also the case that ‘You are what, what you eat, eats.’” (This applies to plants, too.)

The result is the “Western diet” that (not coincidentally) brings Western diseases with it wherever it goes – heart disease, obesity, and diabetes among the most obvious. We gobble it up because it provides in abundance of what our taste buds have evolved to seek out as scarce luxuries – fat, sugar, salt. “Treats” are now embedded in massively excess quantity into almost every food and that is taking a huge toll on our health.

Even when we know this, few of us are good enough to eat only what is good for us. But try the 80-20 rule: Eat 80% whole, nutritious foods and don’t obsess about the other 20%. Over time, the taste buds adjust and treats can again become just that – treats that bring variety and appreciated pleasure to your life.

Eating is one of life’s basic pleasures, as well as being essential, but it shouldn’t kill you. At Oneota Co-op we have wonderful treats because we know that these, if made with appropriate ingredients, do make life better. But our specialty is whole, natural foods that maximize the natural balance that provides a basis for a healthy life.