In the last month, a collection of information has been thrown at me from three different directions - all coming to the same conclusion.
This information is ... powerfully fascinating? Freakishly scary? Obvious?
It goes like this: There is nutrition within food that we have not yet labeled. It is there and we need it, but we just don't understand it yet. Agriculture takes a lot of that out and slips in a lot of toxins that we don't want. And then we get sick and try all sorts of things to become healthy again - including working more toxins (medication) into our systems.
The theory is that wild foods and polyculture foods would give us what we need and then our illnesses would just go away. Further, that this food is usually consumed within hours or minutes of being harvested.
I'm not saying that this is something that we all need to do. But just the concept is mind boggling.
The one source is the book on CD I have running in my car now (almost done): The Omnivore's Dilemma seems to touch into this space a fair bit.
It's ofcourse true that in modern agriculture, people use chemicals to protect the crops from being eaten prematurely by insects and other pests. But jumping to the conclusion that this causes 99% of the diseases that people can get is taking it way too far.
Hundreds of years ago, when people weren't using chemicals in agriculture, people were not much more healthy than they are today - on the contrary! Nature itself also produces many toxins which can make us sick. For example ergot, which is a fungus that grows on rye. In the Middle Ages, the toxins produced by that fungus were sometimes in the bread that people ate, causing them to drop dead.
So, ofcourse it's a good idea to avoid getting toxins into your body as much as possible, but this will certainly not enable us to eliminate 99% of all medication.
I'm not suggesting that it is limited to the chemicals that are added, but it is also forcing a crop to grow in a monoculture. And a few other the other industrial ag practices ... that have compromised our long term health.
It is, indeed, a bit of a stretch. And yet .... it has me thinking .... how much truth might there be behind this.
Let's take a look at ... potatoes ... if the potato plant grows near dandelion and comfrey, plants that are famous for taproots and accumulating deep nutrients, will the potato be a stronger plant? With the potatoes have more of some nutrient that we could really use that isn't there when grown in a monocrop? Some nutrient that we have not yet documented? Then imagine that potato plant mingling with 30 different species of plant.
It seems that nearly all crops grow far better in a polyculture than in a monoculture. They are just harder to mechanically harvest in a polyculture (unless you count the fukuoka technique as polyculture).
In current monoculture, we would load the potato field with heaps of petroleum based fertilizers, pesticides and all sorts of other stuff and eliminate any other plants in the area.
We could also talk about tilling the soil, which destroys soil structure and releases 30% of the organic matter into the atmosphere. I propose that a plant grown in a rich, healthy soil is going to offer more than a plant grown in near sterile dirt.
All of these little bits and bobs add up.
It makes me wonder ...
I was attending an event a few weeks ago, and attending the same event was a physician from the east coast. She was telling me that cancer rates in the US have risen by a factor of 400. I said "Surely, you mean to say that cancer has risen by 400%" - no, she made it clear: a factor of 400.
Jesper, you mention hundreds of years ago people were not using chemicals in agriculture. And yet, they were growing stuff in monocultures, yes?
Another aspect that I'm trying to wrap my head around: how many people are eating 90% or more of their diet from a rich polyculture? What is their health like?
I'm not saying that this stuff is fact. I am saying that this stuff is really interesting. And has a lot of potential.
Cancer RATE is up a factor of 400, or cancer DIAGNOSIS is up a factor of 400? I'm pretty sure that not too long ago, my father would have died of 'natural causes' and not 'pancreatic cancer'.
Further, cancer seems to be a disease of older people - the older you are, the more likely you are to get cancer. people are now living longer, so to me it makes sense that more people are getting cancer.
There may be a large amount of truth in what this doctor is saying, but i don't think you can draw too many conclusions from a casual comment.
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From what I gather dark chocolate (cocoa) is a good example [ and its not quite April fools day yet!!]. The most common processed variety has had all of the benefits removed during processing and then extra fat, sugar and milk added. So all of the benefits removed and a lot of extra of calories!
Mind you, I like the preventative ideas of diet, good posture (etc) but modern health care has so much to offer.
paul wheaton wrote:Jesper, you mention hundreds of years ago people were not using chemicals in agriculture. And yet, they were growing stuff in monocultures, yes?
Yes, and growing stuff in monocultures can indeed lead to big problems. I saw a documentary recently on how potatoes were introduced in Europe, specifically in Ireland. They were discovered in Ireland after a Spanish ship sank near the cost and the potatoes washed ashore. Farmers started growing them and after a few years they became the most important crop in Ireland. But then a disease hit the potato plants, ruining the crop and leading to a massive famine in which many people died.
But that's a totally different subject than what you seemed to be discussing in your first post.
fred rosenberger wrote:Cancer RATE is up a factor of 400, or cancer DIAGNOSIS is up a factor of 400? I'm pretty sure that not too long ago, my father would have died of 'natural causes' and not 'pancreatic cancer'.
Actually the third option, which you talk about in your sentence is "Cancer rate/diagnosis up because folks live long enough to get it"
Less cases of folks dying from TB, falling into a well, being eaten by a combine, more folks to get cancer.
When cancer is cured, what will be the next "terror" disease for the media to panic over?
I recently went on a trip and scrambled to pack some food (because I would be far from restaurants). I stopped at the store and picked up a bag of "road food" which included some ... snack bars ... "cliff for kids"(??) -- so they turned out to be something I don't care for. But the idea is that it is supposed to be a nutritious snack. They added lots of vitamin stuff in the ratios we need. But that's where my concern is. We barely have any idea of what our nutritional needs are.
And we put down fertilizers for plants grown in rows that represent what we know so far about what that plant needs to be healthy. But, again, our knowledge is very limited.
Even if it is organic.
.... anybody here familiar with the "slow food" movement?
I was very interested to read about this black coal-like substance made by roasting dung for hours on end at high temperatures. Ancient South Americans came up with the process and used it for fertalizer and over 400 years later the soil is still extremely furtile without the need for crop rotation or added nutrients.
Also, I don't know what you mean by
Some nutrient that we have not yet documented? (Paul)
What nutrient would we have not documented? I'm sure if we went up to some plant growing among many other different plants and plucked it out that within a short time we could name every single vitamin and mineral that the plant contains. Unless you are talking about yet undiscovered plants I don't see how different plants growing together could be doing anything that we're not already aware of. I'm not saying there is no benefit, I'm simply saying that we'd know about it at this point.
I'm saying that our understanding of nutrition - both for people and for people food - is just getting started. I suspect that there is far more to nutrition than what we currently understand.
So, for example, 20 years into the future, we might discover "vitamin X" (as opposed to "vitamin C" or "vitamin K") that is critical to us, but we didn't know it. And for decades, we have depleted it from out soils and, thus, from our food, until we have an epidemic of sickness due to the lack of this thing. Because, out of ignorance, it wasn't pushed into the soil or our "full day supply of _____" nutrition bars.
Whereas, food grown in polyculture probably contains vitamin X, even though we don't measure it.
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If there is an undiscovered vitamin that is critical to us then A) we are either going without it, making it non-critical or B) we'd have found it by now imho. I do believe that in the future we will better know what exactly we need and have better methods of getting these into our bodies. I don't think this will have much effect on diseases though.... I believe that most of the deseases we get are caused by environmental, aging, or hereditary factors and that all the healthy food in the world won't stop them. The rest that can be prevented by better food, ie heart desease, can already be prevented by avoiding to much of a good thing.
What you put into your body is important but every breath you take you are bringing in untold amounts of pollutants and toxins. The same goes for the products we use. Better food no matter how good would not eliminate 99% of medications.
My point is that with the current methods of farming, our food is becoming less nutritious. While we can supplement both our crops and ourselves with known vitamins, minerals, etc., our existing knowledge is rather simplistic.
So, we could have an epidemic, of, say, cancer ... and 50 years from now we finally figure out that it was due to a deficiency of "vitamin X" or something in plants that we didn't know we should even look for.
Consider - before we learned of vitamin C, people died of scurvy.
With my knowledge of agriculture, it is my opinion that this concern is quite valid. I guess my purpose in bringing all of this up is more to express myself than to be persuasive.