In my last blog, I explored how your diet affects not only your personal health but the health of the soil, water, air, and global climate. What we choose to eat determines whether or not we deplete nature's capital as well as our human capital, the richness that comes from a healthy, vibrant community.
Fossil Fuels and Drugs Hidden in Our Food
How could it be that the price of gas and the price of our food are correlated? As gas prices rise, so do food prices. This is largely due to confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which are the factories that produce our meat. Cows raised in CAFOs are "grown" on a bed of corn, and the corn they eat is grown on petrochemical and pharmaceutical farms.
The fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides used on these farms are generally oil byproducts. The more oil that's used -- both by way of gasoline-driven farm equipment needed to process such massive monoculture crops and the increased use of these chemical inputs -- the more expensive the meat raised on CAFOs becomes.
These factory farms are producing "Frankenmeat" that destroys our bodies and degrades our environment at an ever-increasing cost. We must ask ourselves every time we shop, "What is the real cost of cheap food?"
Industrial food production doesn't just require more energy and contribute to global warming, it also exposes us to harm because the foods we eat contain altered proteins, fats, and sugars, as well as unhealthy antibiotics and hormones.
Pharmaceuticals have become essential to our "modern" food production. Of the 24 million pounds of antibiotics produced each year in this country, 19 million are put into feed for factory-farmed animals to prevent infection (which results from overcrowding) and to prevent cows' stomachs from exploding as a result of the excess gas produced by fermenting corn in their rumens, the first chamber of a cow's stomach.
Hormones in our food supply create similarly severe problems. They are typically used to promote rapid growth of our feed animals. They also promote rapid growth of little girls' breasts, which is why we see 8-year-old girls going through puberty and an increase in reproductive cancers such as breast and prostate cancer.
The truth is that we consume far more animal products than our bodies need. In the China Study, Colin Campbell from Cornell University showed that animal protein might dramatically increase the risk of cancer. (i)
Health experts recommend a maximum consumption of 8 ounces of animal protein a week, yet we eat about 8 ounces a day. If you were to take the 10 billion animals that are produced on factory farms every year for our consumption and line them end to end between the earth and the moon, they would go to the moon and back five times.
We use one-third of the earth's surface -- 70 percent of the earth's agricultural land -- to "produce" these animals. (ii)
Frankenfoods and the Farm Bill
As problematic as it is, the modern cow is still only one piece of the puzzle. The food industry comprises 17 percent of our economy and is controlled primarily by Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and Cargill, the largest privately-owned companies in the world.
They are the creators of "Food Science," Orwellian double-speak for "Frankenfoods." Food used to be just food. Now what we eat is a byproduct of industrial manufacturing.
Our $288 billion Farm Bill, and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) policies associated with it, fuel the growth of the processed food industry that drives the epidemics of obesity and chronic disease that threaten the future of our children and our society.
The Farm Bill includes our food stamps or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and $4 billion of that goes to help the poor buy enormous quantities of soda. Our government pays for 29 million servings a day or 10 billion servings a year of soda for the poor.
Common Sense Nutrition: Take Back Our Kitchens
Mark Twain said, "The problem with common sense is that it is not too common." And so it is with food. That we need nutritionists and doctors to teach us how to eat is a sad reflection of the state of society. These are things our grandparents knew without thinking twice about them.
What foods to eat, how to prepare them, and an understanding of why you should share them in family and community have been embedded in cultural traditions since the dawn of human society. Now, most Americans don't know how to cook or say they don't have enough time to cook. Yet, Americans spend more time watching cooking shows on television than they spend actually cooking.
One hundred years ago all we ate was local, organic food -- grass-fed, real, whole food. There were no fast food restaurants, there was no junk food, there was no frozen food -- there was just what your mother or grandmother made. Most meals were eaten at home. Now, one in five breakfasts is from McDonald's and 50 percent of meals are eaten outside the home. (iii)
Ultimately, there is no confusion about what constitutes good nutrition, despite the "conflicting" scientific studies and media reports designed to confound rather than enlighten.
If we were to gather the world's top nutrition scientists and experts (free from food-industry influence), there would be very little debate about the essential properties of good nutrition. Unfortunately, most doctors are nutritionally illiterate. And worse, they don't know how to use the most powerful medicine available to them: food.
Common sense and scientific research lead us to the conclusion that if we want healthy bodies, we must put the right raw materials in them: real, whole, local, fresh, unadulterated, unprocessed, and chemical-, hormone-, and antibiotic-free food.
There is no role for foreign molecules such as trans-fats and high-fructose corn syrup or for industrially developed and processed food that interferes with our biology at every level.
Broccoli, peaches, almonds, kidney beans, and other whole foods don't need a food ingredient label or bar code, but for some reason these foods -- the foods we co-evolved with over millennia -- had to be "improved" by Food Science. As a result, the processed food industry and industrial agriculture have changed our diet, decade by decade, not by accident but by intention.
We need to resize our thinking when it comes to eating plants vs. animals. And we need to reassess completely our perception of processed foods. Animal foods, if eaten at all, should be a condiment, not the center of the meal. Processed foods, typically, shouldn't be eaten at all. If it comes out of a package or a can, it isn't real food.
The sustainability of our planet, our health, and our food supply are inextricably linked. The ecology of eating -- the importance of what you put on your fork -- has never been more critical to our survival as a nation or as a species. The earth will survive our self-destruction, but we may not.
That is why I believe the most important and the most powerful tool you have to change your health, and the world, is your fork. Imagine an experiment -- let's call it a celebration, a global Eat-In. Join the first global Eat-In on April 7, 2013.
We call upon the people of the world to join together and celebrate food for one day. For one day, we will all eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at home with our family members or friends. For one day, we will all eat only real, whole, fresh food. And if you don't know what to make, don't worry, when you join the global Eat-In, I will provide you with a complete toolkit for the day. Or you can choose from over 175 recipes in my new cookbook, The Blood Sugar Solution Cookbook. Imagine for a moment the power of the fork to change the world.
Please leave your thoughts by adding a comment below -- but remember, we can't offer personal medical advice online, so be sure to limit your comments to those about taking back our health!
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, M.D.
Make the commitment and join the global Eat-In. When you do so, you will get the complete Eat-In Toolkit, which includes:
- Access to my live video feed of my own Eat-In at 7 p.m. ET
- Joining my twitter chat at 4 p.m. ET
- Meal plan and shopping guide -- Your complete meal plan for the day, including two options each, whether you are on The Blood Sugar Solution Basic or Advanced Plan
- A Guide to Mindful Eating
- Prizes throughout the day -- Signed copies of The Blood Sugar Solution and The Blood Sugar Solution Cookbook
Click here to learn more.
[i] Campbell T. The China Study, BenBella Books, 2005.
[ii] Bittman M. What's Wrong with What We Eat?, TED Conference, Los Angeles, 2007.
[iii] Hyman M. UltraMetabolism, The Simple Plan for Automatic Weight Loss, Scribner, 2006.
Mark Hyman, M.D. is a practicing physician, founder of The UltraWellness Center, a five-time New York Times bestselling author, and an international leader in the field of Functional Medicine. You can follow him on Twitter, connect with him on LinkedIn, watch his videos on YouTube, become a fan on Facebook, and subscribe to his newsletter.
For more by Mark Hyman, M.D., click here.
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