Google recently released their Food Trends for 2016 . If you were in any doubt about the role food plays in our lives, then look through this report. It is as much a social commentary as it is an aggregate of the thoughts and concerns of millions of people. A contemplation of this report is thoughtfully presented in 2016 Food Trends on Google - The Rise of Functional Foods.
The report caught my attention because it highlights Turmeric as a "rising star" in Google searches (after a long period of being a "sustained riser" on the search engine). It was this opening paragraph that spoke to the intersection of social concerns about our food and diet, the access technology is giving us to food and wellness information, and the ability to customize our lives.
The report stated "The dinner table looks quite different than it did just 10 years ago. For one, there's likely a smartphone next to the fork. And on each plate, there might be a different meal—mom's paleo, dad's vegan, the kids' gluten- and nut-free. At first glance, you might think these changes are unrelated...."
I think that knowledge of what we eat, where it comes from, and how it got to our plate is powerful. The choices we make several times a day about our food are perhaps the most important decisions we make in our lives. Increasingly these are individual choices. As the report points out, we have the ability to customize our food choices and roll them into a meal plan the same way we can customize and organize the apps on our smart phones.
As positive as I feel about the ability to access food information, I have a deep concern. This newfound dietary personalization speaks to our troubled and stressful lives. The fact that over the last five years there has been a 961% increase in the search "what foods are good for acid reflux" speaks to the challenges we face with our lifestyles. It is essential that people use this access to information to lead better, healthier lives.
In his best-selling 2008 book "In Defense of Food", author Michael Pollan does a masterful job of explaining the shift after the Second WW to deconstruct food into its separate components (fat, sugar, salt, calories...) and then recombine these and represent them as a nutritional label. He explains how this was an underlying cause of the widespread obesity and inflammatory diseases that we have seen since.
The problem is that while a natural food diet is in theory a simple proposition, the chemistry of food and the chemistry of our bodies is anything but simple. Break food down into its chemical components, add a few chemists (like me!) plus some good marketing people, and you get the breakfast cereal aisle that’s in every grocery store.
As Michael Pollan points out, the problem is not that we were provided information, nor is it that the information was incorrect. In fact, nutritional labels and particularly Ingredients Panels are a great source of information on prepared foods. Food labels were developed over several decades and represent a good faith effort to provide the current medical science on diets. The problem is that food, real food, is so much more than a few categories listed on a nutrition label. The problem is that “ingredients” can be used to synthesize foods to meet specific marketing objectives. In addition, the "current medical science on diets" has turned out to not always be correct. The beliefs that all fat is bad, that all dietary cholesterol is bad, have turned out to not be correct. My concern is that the access to "Internet quality information" mixed with excellent marketing can be a blessing and a curse. One thing for sure is that food, like fashion, is based on trends that are ever changing.
While food trends change, the body's need for nutrition has remained pretty constant. At Verdant Kitchen™ we have looked to ancient history and some long culinary and health traditions to smooth out the trends. The Rise of Functional Foods is much more of a return to age-old nutritional traditions than it is a new idea.
The key aspects of wellness continue to be:
- Eat food that provides Naturally Complex Nutrition™. That includes the spices like ginger and turmeric, and the colored fruits and vegetables packed with phytochemicals, antioxidants and natural inflammation regulators.
- Pursue an active lifestyle that includes exercise, sleep and joy.
- Be educated and informed. Make conscious food choices.
The "Rise of Functional Foods" is a great example of the positive good that can come from access to food information. Technology builds bridges between people and information that delivers useful knowledge. Functional Foods are a mashup of information between what tastes great and what is good for us. At Verdant Kitchen™, we call ourselves a Gourmet and Wellness company because our core Ginger and Turmeric products stand at the intersection of taste and function like they have for at least 7000 years. An ancient Egyptian may not have recognized the term "functional food," but you can be very sure that they understood only too well the concept.
Another interesting observation to take from the Google articles is people's apparent search for ways to use food and ingredients that may be unfamiliar but have strong functional benefits. A few recipe ideas can help. I would also suggest a couple of kitchen essentials to get you started:
- Ginger Infused Honey for marinades and as a sweetener
- Turmeric Dusted Ginger for salads, drinks and snacks
- Whole ground organic Turmeric Powder for cooking
- Ginger Turmeric Green Tea to try and combat our stressful lives
Will we be misled by the overwhelming torrent of food and wellness information that now washes over us? Most certainly we will, but the trends are positive. The Rise of Functional foods is a trend that is worthy of becoming a way of life.
#2 in a 4-part series of discussions, Bodies Out of Balance - Chronic Inflammation, we will look at when there is no balance and our bodies move from health to chronic inflammation.
In the first part of this discussion "A question of Balance - Healthy and Unhealthy Inflammation" we talked about healthy inflammation. The cascading series of steps our bodies take to protect and heal. A rapid automatic and amazingly complex set of reactions designed to find and eliminate the infection or damage that our body has suffered. Lasting from a few hours to several days the results can be unpleasant. It is a fast-paced battle. The enemy (infection or damage) must be dealt with quickly before it overwhelms us. The end result though is a body ready again for activity.
In the second in the series we will look at "Bodies Out of Balance - Chronic Inflammation."
Sometimes the battle does not end. The signals and chemical messages that trigger our inflammatory response do not reduce. The result is chronic or long-term inflammation. Inflammatory disease that in and of itself is debilitating, but also has cascading impacts as the byproduct of these chemical reactions leave our bodies awash in free radicals and toxic wastes. These chemical wastes of the battle further stress our liver and kidneys and cause cascading chain reactions of pain and loss of life quality. So what went wrong with our beautiful and oh so finely tuned defenses?
We can look at three broad categories of the cause of inflammation:
- Autoimmune diseases
A group of diseases where our own immune system triggers and begins to see our health bodies as the target for destruction. The widespread attack on our bodies causes painful chronic inflammation as a byproduct of the disease.There are unfortunately over 80 documented autoimmune diseases that affect some 50+ million people in the US alone. Just a few of these diseases include:
One of the most troubling aspects of autoimmune diseases is that the exact triggers and causes are often little understood. Bacterial and Viral Disease, prolonged stress, environmental toxin exposure all have been linked. Often developing later in life and often running in families these are debilitating diseases.
- A breakdown of our natural response systems
Our bodies natural defensive response can become unregulated or damaged. A most common example are those who suffer from seasonal allergies. Responding to the presence of dust, mold, pollen and spores, our bodies see these mostly neutral substances as invaders and launch a full-scale response with the result of watering eyes, sinus pain and endless sneezing. Medications, foods, environmental toxins can all trigger these overreactions. In some they become chronic.
- Repetitive damage
Runners, tennis players, hikers, factory workers, chefs, moms, truck drivers, the obese all suffer from the repetitive use of specific parts of their bodies. Repeated wear and tear and damage to muscles and joints trigger repeated responses.
Each in their own way have the end result of chronic and often system-wide inflammation and its downstream problems. It feels like we are all doomed, but our bodies have amazing powers of healing and are full of redundant backup systems. Look just at the soldiers in the battle, our white blood cells. An array of specialized warriors, with lives from hours to years, each with a targeted purpose rapidly replaced in our lymphatic and bone marrow systems.
We truly are the amazing assembly of biological systems. Our complexity, that so often leads to disease, can also be harnessed to heal.
Medical science has developed a wide array of chemical treatments, never without their own side effects, often unwanted and damaging. Nevertheless these treatments are a miracle to those suffering chronic pain.
The real question to be asked is not "how do we treat these diseases," but "how do we help our bodies heal from and minimize the impact of these diseases."
As you read the literature, the answers have always been with us. Each one by itself is never a complete solution, and often they are so obvious they are often overlooked and dismissed. They form the foundation of strong disease resistant, faster recovering bodies, with healthy well regulated natural inflammatory responses.
Think long-term prevention. Have a long-term plan. Most times our chronic inflammation results from years of accumulated events, and we will not solve it overnight with one pill.
Remember we "carry our scars," we accumulate the good and bad in our lives. Focus on prevention. Include foods and supplements rich in phytochemicals and polyphenols that help naturally regulate our body's healthy inflammatory responses and soak up the free radicals and help our livers and kidneys quickly and completely tag and eliminate foreign substances that do damage. Turmeric, ginger, red grapes, cabbage, green tea, carrots and a wide range of spices, legumes, nuts and colored vegetables are all part of our long-term battle plan.
The added benefit is that these products, part of our diet for thousands of years, are not only healthful but delicious and bring us the joy of great food and the happiness of friends to enjoy it with.
#1 in a 4 part-series of discussion on "A Question of Balance - Healthy and Unhealthy Inflammation," See also a presentation by Verdant Kitchen CEO Ross Harding at National Health Policy and Clinical Practices conference March 2016
A few weeks ago I was in Los Angeles and one perfect spring morning I walked the 10 miles from pier to pier and back along Venice beach. I felt great. The next morning my right ankle was a mess. Swollen, hot and sore.
I didn't remember doing anything to it, but my body knew much better. My immune and repair system, a subconscious biochemical wonder of sensors, receptors, transmitters and regulators had gone into action. Overnight, a series of cascading chemical reactions had caused increased blood flow to my ankle, the muscles had become more porous allowing blood to better penetrate the region. Macrophage cells had been called to and concentrated there, pumping out a chemical cocktail of enzymes to dissolve, consume, reform, nourish and repair. The cascade of reactions had continued. An acute inflammatory response, designed to repair damage and neutralize infection.
Over the next week the inflammation reduced, my ankle felt better. My body had healed itself. The soup of breakdown products had been carried away, processed by my liver and expelled into bile and by my kidneys. New nutrients from my diet were used to reassemble and replace the chemicals and cells needed and ready for the next fight while I slept.
A healthy inflammatory response is critical to our wellness. Without it we would die, quickly being overwhelmed by muscle damage and infection.
Our lives are truly in the balance. Unregulated Inflammation is now better understood as perhaps the central problem affecting our quality of life. Once the natural cycle of healing inflammation becomes chronic, long-term damage results. Asthma, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Alzheimer's, Crohn's Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus. . .all unregulated, out-of-control inflammatory responses. The most common diseases afflicting our societies and robbing people of joyful and productive years include heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer; all have unregulated and chronic inflammation at their core. The National Institutes of Health in 2015 identified Inflammation and alleviating chronic pain as a research area of special focus.
The central questions remains. What causes our healthy inflammatory cycle to become chronic and out of control? What can we do?
I remember as an undergraduate, standing in the hall outside my biochemistry lab looking at a portion of the Krebs Cycle (the pathway in our bodies that convert fuel to energy). I was struck then and still am now by the overwhelming complexity of our chemical self. There are hundreds perhaps thousands of complex reactions. Each one with feedback loops, regulating chemicals, chemicals to catalyze reactions, chemicals to mop up, bind to and expel products.
My point is that there is a lot that can go wrong. Each of us share similar chemical pathways but each of us is unique and unique in time. Our chemical self at 20 is different than at 40 and at 60. Stress, lifestyle, environment, diet and environmental exposure can and do affect these delicate cycles and can cause them to go wrong. The cycles can be overwhelmed with reactive (free radical) compounds.
The answer is as simple in concept as it is complex to implement in our modern lives. It is a question of balance.
Reduce the things that cause inflammation and increase the things that help regulate inflammation.
Sounds simple right? Part of the answer is naturally complex nutrition™. There is positive news and there is a great deal that we can do.
We are what we eat and so much more.
I was looking at this picture of Michael mulching some organic turmeric beds with straw at the farm at Verdant Kitchen and I remembered a recent conversation about the cost of our food. The question was "is my organic food expensive or is it just that my non organic food is so cheap.....?"
It turns out that in the US it is both. Our non organic traditional foods are very inexpensive and relative to them our organic food is expensive.
The majority of our food staples such as corn, rice, wheat, soy and milk are not produced organically. US farmers are some of the most productive in the world. They leverage three resources to produce very consistent and high yield - that common thread is "GO BIG"
i) Large Capital Farm Equipment (tractors, planters, harvesters) that reduce labor
ii) Synthetic Chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides that provide high yields and can deal with monoculture plantings
iii) Large scale monoculture that reduces costs
As a farm business, like any other production manufacturing you make money by driving up scale.
By contacts an organic farm can not GO BIG - nature will always fight monoculture agriculture. Pests, diseases and weeds will target these monoculture fields and unless controlled with fast chemical treatments will overwhelm the crop. Without the use of these treatments the organic farmer has a different model
i) Small rotational fields that reduce disease
ii) Slow release nutrients, soil fertility building, mulching and manual weed control
A consequence of this model is
iii) High labor and expensive small equipment (relative to the yield of product)
The picture that triggered this article was covering organic turmeric beds with straw, a labor and material intensive job. I calculate that spraying the beds three times with a synthetic herbicide and would be 10% of the cost of this mulching process. This is just one costs, there are many more.
When I look at the retail price premium of organic v's non organic (which varies but is often a 50% increase) and the fact that 90% of small farms in the US do not make any on farm profit, it seems to me that the current price of organic food is based on what the market will accept, rather than the price required to receive a adequate financial return and provide a high quality organic product to market.
It seems to me that the costs are what they are. It is the job of the organic farmer to be productive and smart and to ensure they educate their customers about the benefits of organic food. I recommend that you go to an organic farm if you can and see the fundamental difference between large scale production agriculture and organic farming - the differences are stark. The quality, purity, taste and sustainability of the organic farm produce is a fundamentally different product than the non organic alternative. Be educated and buy the best quality organic food that you can afford in your life.
Our congratulations to Howard Morrison, 2015 Helen V. Head Small Business Advocate Award. Howard has lived a life dedicated to the belief of entrepreneurial drive. With the right passion, the right product and most importantly the right people amazing things are possible.
Perhaps there is nothing more important than we can do, than teach our children about their environment, the soil and how their food is grown.
We recently hosted at our farm, the 1st Grade class from St Andrew's School in Savannah GA. The class and their teacher Ms Adams helped us plant turmeric in the rich coastal loams that we are blessed with on the farm.
Sure it is fun to get your hands in the soil, especially if you are 6 and your teacher Ms Adams lets you leave the classroom and go wander around with dogs, sticks and worms. Better still if you know that you will get to come back and see the young shoots come out of the soil, perhaps get to pull out a weed. That is part of the lesson, perhaps the main lesson, that there is pleasure in being outdoors, to have your hands in the soil. The mystery of planting a seed or in this case a rhizome and seeing it grow, being part of the creation and regeneration of something, is a special feeling.
There are many lesson that we need to teach our children. A love of growing things is a foundation class for life.