Why do we need to turn the food menace into a savior? The significance of food as a savior and a menace is best understood in its contribution to the rise of life expectancy during the past century and a half. Average life expectancy almost doubled. This great achievement I have always attributed to the presence of clean water and better health care. This is only relatively true. The rise in life expectancy must be mainly attributed to the mechanization of food production in the USA.
However, the past couple of years in the ‘Western’ world the rise in life expectancy has come to a standstill. This is the result of the decline in the quality of the food, more particularly the prefabricated state of most of it. This is a serious threat to the health of more and more people. Food no longer is the savior it also became a serious menace. How can we turn the food menace into a savior again?
Sewers and better health care
For a long time I have considered hygienic measures and our health care system as the most important contributors to the extended life expectancy. Due to collectively organized retrieval systems for feces (first barrels and after that sewers) water got cleaner and less and less young children died of all kinds of dreadful diseases. Such as cholera, typhoid, tuberculosis, diphtheria, measles, smallpox, worm disease, and malaria.
Moreover, I supposed health care had contributed substantially to the longer life expectancy. The improvement of clinical science, drug discoveries and innovative technologies, reduced the risks of premature deaths due to heart attacks and cancer.
However, both contributions to the rise of life expectancy are modest. The most important reason is the revolution in the food supply and the subsequent increase in the standard of living of the general population. With no exception, regardless of age, gender, income, power or property, this revolution provoked a general rise in life expectancy.
Food the savior
In the middle of the 19th century, after the civil war, in the USA the rapid mechanization of agriculture provided for abundant crops. Furthermore, the home market had become too small. As a consequence, the surplus was shipped to Europe and caused there a fall in food prices. This enabled more people to buy more food and more varied foods. As a result their physical condition improved. People became stronger what made them more resilient to diseases. Gradually they were able to work harder and thus to improve their economic circumstances. From 1870 and onward all of a sudden, almost from one year to the other, life expectancy started to rise steadily.
Modest contributions of hygiene and medicine
Summarizing, the causes for the extension of life expectancy can over time be classified as follows (in parentheses the estimated percentage of the contribution per cause):
- 1870-1900: revolution in the availability of food (75%);
- 1900-1940: improvement of hygiene (10%);
- 1945-1970: medical progress (15%).
Food the menace
It’s a comforting thought that as long as we keep our food supply on a tolerable level, our health and life expectancy will probably also remain fairly intact. But the increase in body weight all over the world during the past couple of decades implies that the quality of the food has become a menace. It’s no coincidence that life expectancy no longer increases, at least not in the ‘Western’ worlds.
No medical savior
Neither is it a comfortable thought that from 1970 and onward medical improvements no longer contribute to the rise in life expectancy. The dynamics in medical progress have almost come to a standstill. Doctors are increasingly frustrated with this lack of progress. Despite the enormous increase in life expectancy the public is increasingly neurotic about its health. However, medicine will surely not save us from the food menace.
Food the savior
To turn food from menace to savior, you can apply several rules of thumb:
- Follow dietary guidelines. Fortunately most dietary guidelines are similar if it comes to health goals. All highlight a largely plant-based diet over a meat based diet;
- Do not eat meat more than once or twice a week and only in small amounts. The same goes for fish. Avoid the consumption of red meat and processed meat or fish;
- Buy fresh fruits and vegetables and of course organic;
- Eat carrots and tubers and turnips over salads;
- Eat fruit and vegetables from the season and preferably from where you live;
- Alternate raw foods with cooked versions;
- Use little amounts of water and oil for cooking. Don’t overcook your food. See to it that you have to chew your food with some perseverance.
Grow your own food
Get to know more about food. The best way to do this is to grow your own. Expand your food supply with a kitchen garden. It’s good exercise, the plants have to be watered, the garden has to be weeded. The bigger the garden, the more work of course, but your harvest might also be more promising.
If you have no garden, or just a very small one, ask a farmer whether you’re allowed to work on his or her field and whether you are allowed to grow your own food there. You might even start a community garden together with your neighbors. This will not only supply you with the proper food and the food you like, but will also improve social relations.
Avoid the seductive powers of pre-fabricated food
Food is a savior because it keeps us healthy, strong and fit. To grow your own food is very rewarding. As is the preparation of food. Avoid the seductive, and at the same time menacing, powers of pre-fabricated foods. If you renounce pre-fabricated food and buy fresh food, you will have to prepare your own meals. I think there is a lot of fun in this. Moreover, you can make many people happy with a well prepared and nutritious meal.
Have a nice meal
Here is an example of a simple meal I procure regularly.
- Fry freshly cut (green) garlic in a little bit of olive oil.
- Add pre-cut carrots, red paprika, zucchini, and eggplant.
- Let it caramelize for at least an hour.
- For flavor you can use some lemon skin and juice, freshly grated ginger, and dried marjoram leaves.
That’s it. If you prepare this for two days, the next day the caramelized vegetables taste even better. No side dishes are needed.
Have a nice meal!