Eating for health and environment
As permaculturists, we know the value of diversity and the detrimental effect monoculture crops have on the environment. In my research into diet due to a health issue I had, I came across information which shows that monoculture crops also have a detrimental effect on our health*¹. The largest monoculture crops in the world*² are sugar cane, wheat and corn. A lot of that goes to livestock feed, which is an unnatural way to feed animals that would traditionally free range in fields and eat grasses.
But a large portion of sugar, wheat and corn goes to feeding humans. Research shows that 67% of peoples caloric intake comes from wheat, corn and soy. Those three foods however, have a very low ranking in nutrient density*³, which means that people are eating calories without getting the amount and quality of nutrients they need.
In my quest for total health, I decided to eliminate grains and sugars from my diet completely. As I cook for students and volunteers here at PRI Maungaraeeda, Sunshine Coast, this has meant that I cook very little grains and sugar for them as well. In the time that I have done that, we have had amazing results from people who came here with health issues: skin conditions cleared up (in one instance the person had had the skin condition for over 10 years!), digestive issues cleared up and people lost weight. People leave the property feeling rejuvenated and with more energy than before!
When Tom and I went to Brisbane for Valentine’s day, we had a couple of meals at the Paleo Cafe, one of the few places that had a menu I could actually choose from! The place was packed and the food fantastic! Most people in the cafe looked fit and healthy. Paleo is a lifestyle, not a diet, and it seems to slot in perfectly with our vision of Permaculture (note I say “our”, not everyone’s! I am aware there are a lot of vegans and vegetarians out there who would not agree, but please stay with me.) Paleo advocates a “caveman” or paleolithic diet, which science has discovered our forefathers used to eat before agriculture came into the picture. This means it recommends eating vegetables, meat, fish, eggs and some fruits, nuts and seeds. Healthy (saturated) fats are also recommended, like coconut oil, avocado, olives etc. Some paleo eaters also add raw dairy to their menu, like cream, milk, cheese, yoghurt and butter. It just depends on whether or not people can digest the lactose and/or casein properly. There is a fair bit of scope, but basically paleo cuts out all sugars, legumes and grains, with the exception of honey and sometimes maple syrup or coconut sugar, but these only in moderation.
The meat and eggs eaten must be grass fed and grass finished*⁴, free range, hormone free and organic if possible. Paleo prefers organic, because any man made alterations or additions to the food (apart from cooking it) is not paleo.
They also prefer a large range of different vegetables, as our forefathers ate a large variety, much more than what is grown (and known) now.
All this perfectly suits our Permaculture lifestyle. Even vegetarians on our property love the vegetable diet and feel so much better!
Grains are a very labour intensive crop to grow and particularly harvest and most Permaculture farms will probably not grow much of it. Legumes are also labour intensive to harvest and prepare and are not recommended in the paleo lifestyle. Nuts and seeds are not as labour intensive, but are still more difficult to harvest than vegetables and fruit, so they are only recommended in small quantities. This all seems very logical to me, as the only reason we are eating so many grain based foods is due to modern farm machines, which make growing and harvesting easier on the farmers. People are eating more and more grains and getting less and less healthy.
And as to the argument that we have too many domesticated animals in the world that contribute to erosion and climate issues, please watch Alan Savory’s presentation about holistic management*⁵, where cell grazing or rotational grazing of large herds actually repairs the soil and sequesters carbon. Conventional monoculture cropping (like grains) degrades the soil and releases carbon into the atmosphere, thus exacerbating climate change. Another reason to move to a diet high in vegetables with some good quality protein!
In the past few months I was asked so many times for my recipes, that I decided to put a food blog together (www.wholefoodcookery.com) where I try to post a recipe daily. Having been a vegetarian for 14 years, some of those years a vegan and raw vegan, I have a lot of vegetarian and vegan recipes to draw on as well. I just alter a lot of them to exclude grains and sugars, using dried fruit or no added sugary substances at all!
A bit about my background. After 14 years of being vegan and vegetarian, I became very ill. I was unable to digest anything anymore, experiencing severe bloating and discomfort after every meal, and ended up having an organ removed, which was a huge wake up call for me. I had been a through and through vegetarian until then, convinced that vegetarianism was the healthiest diet in and for the world.
After my hospital stay I decided I needed to make a change and started eating meat again. This was a very big thing for me, all my previously held beliefs being thoroughly tested. As I was so malnourished, it took me 3 months before I could function reasonably again. A year after my operation I became very ill again. Modern medicine could not tell me what was wrong with me and I ended up (after a year!) being recommended by my GP and a specialist to take anti depressants, as the side effect of those would stop my symptoms…
Needless to say I said “no thanks” and finally was able to get an answer from a doctor practicing functional medicine, who was able to determine the cause behind the symptoms. Basically my gut was infected, which could have been an after effect from the severely infected organ that was removed. I was able to target the cause and the symptoms disappeared, but I was still not able to feel 100%. After getting a stubborn skin condition, I felt I had to adjust my diet to try and get my body back to 100% health. I was advised I probably had leaky gut syndrome so I embarked on a dietary program to heal my digestive system. This then led me to Paleo. As I mentioned before, Paleo is a lifestyle. It also recommends regular exercise, in particular weight or body weight training. As I also had a thyroid problem, my personal program also includes eating 6 small meals per day rather than 3 big ones. My improvement has been amazing. My skin condition cleared up after 3 weeks of sugar and grain free. My energy levels have escalated to where I feel full of energy and positive about life every moment of every day. I do weight training 3 times per week for ½ hour per day, with light exercises on the other days of the week. I have lost 3 dress sizes at least and am the lightest and fittest I have been in forever.
And the beauty of this lifestyle is that I feel it totally synchronises with what Permaculture is about. Diversity, free ranging animals and variety, organic growing and sustainability. I feel it combines earth care, people care and fair share perfectly, which shows in all the happy, energised and enthusiastic people that are and have been on our property. I would like to thank all of them for being so excited and full of compliments about the food I make them and for encouraging me to post my recipes online. I hope they keep feeling the benefits of a diet high in nutrient rich foods and that my recipes will make it easier for them to cook this way also. I am not saying that this way of eating will suit everyone, but we have seen many positive changes in ourselves and in a lot of people that have been on our property and have enjoyed the food on offer here.
*¹ http://news.discovery.com/human/why-you-should-probably-stop-eating-wheat-121214.htm. This is only one resource, you can find plenty more online!
*⁴ Some farms grass feed animals until a few months before they are slaughtered, and during those last few months feed the animals grains to fatten them up. This is called grain finished. Grass finished are animals that eat grass until they are slaughtered.
©2014 Permaculture Research Institute Sunshine Coast – Permaculture eating, a way of eating for health and the environment.