Healthy eating is simple


A couple of years ago buying healthy food was easy. I ate five fresh fruit and veg a day, watched my red meat intake, chose whole grains over white wheat, and often purchased products with the words "natural", "low fat", or "healthy" on the box. I purchased my food from the trusted, proper, supermarkets and was doing everything the "experts" told me to. Piece of piss this healthy living. But recently that has all changed. What happened to my easy healthy living? I now hear about pesticides, growth hormones and Genetically Modified foods, why can't all food just go back to being good for me? When did "Natural" become "definitely not natural", "low fat" mean "replaced with something dodgy" and "healthy" wait...surely all food is healthy!?

"Healthy" salad greens in the supermarket

There is so much confusion around it all, perhaps I can simply follow a nice structured diet plan? Dukan, Paleo, Atkins, 5:2, Akaline, Cambridge....forget it... who has time to figure all that out? It's enough to throw in the towel and just hope pot noodles won't kill me too painfully. Unfortunately, the only ones who pay a price for avoiding the topic is ourselves. Bad food = bad health.

organic fresh grown salad from the CSA

But it's not all doom and gloom. Turns out the answer to eating healthy food is actually the simplest option of the lot. No counting calories, no eating after a set time, no avoiding carbs or only eating carbs. Just eat real food. Organic, fresh, in-season and not processed. Real food that grows in the ground and isn't "extracted" or "added" or "enhanced". The fewer middlemen in-between you and the farmer the better. You don't have to stop eating meat but it probably wouldn't hurt to only eat organic, ethically sourced meat once or twice a week instead.

You don't need to do it everyday but if you want to eat healthier you should probably start someday.

Connect and learn about food without growing it yourself


Living in a city isn't ideal for growing your own food. I have been city bound for several years in London and now Vancouver. I have always wanted to grow my own food and become a little more connected to the whole process but time or space has often offered me enough of an excuse to avoid starting. This is the first year I have ever really prioritised learning about food. It's strange, with hindsight, to think it has taken me 32 years to get around to learning about something I am so reliant on and interact with every few hours. I still face the same issue of lack of space but this year I have made more time for learning. That extra time has allowed me to start a Permaculture Design Course and volunteer one day every week on an urban farm. While these experiences have taught me a lot about food they have also made me realise that food production can be very time consuming and some people simply don't and never will have the time. But what I have also discovered is that there is still lots of ways to understand, connect with and learn about food than working on a farm. Here are a list of ways you can learn more about your food without growing it yourself.

Avoid the Supermarket. Supermarkets might give off the impression that they are in it to provide healthy, affordable, nutritious meals for you and your family but lets face it, at the end of day they just want your money. The supermarket experience disconnects you from your food. Too much choice, everything wrapped in packaging so it lasts longer, picked way before it's ripe so it ripens on the way to you, lots of waste and staff who often aren't connected to the food supliers. Buying food in a supermarket is a chore and there is very little opportunity to learn about the food you are buying other than the fact it comes with another one free.

Shop at local stores instead of the supermarket. Buy your food from local grocers, delis and butchers. The experience allows you to connect with the food much more as you can ask the staff questions about the food. You'd be surprised how much information the staff in a smaller grocery store can provide if you simply ask. Most are happy to tell you and can even give you advice on other things you might like to try. There is more of an interaction between staff and the food and therefore there is more interaction between you and the food. It is often locally sourced, less packaging and you can ask them to order things in or offer advice on how it should be cooked.

A typical scene at a local farmers market

Farmers Markets allow you to speak directly to the person who most likely nurtured that carrot from seed to food. You can ask whether it is organic or not, where it was grown, how big the farm is, how many staff, do they have chickens? All of these interactions allow you to understand the process behind your food getting to your plate which makes eating it much more enjoyable.

Community Supported Agriculture or CSA for short raises the stakes once again. The concept is that you sign up in advance for a share of food for a whole season. The farmers get busy growing the food and you collect the food each week. A CSA directly connects you to your food. You eat seasonal produce that was harvested the same day, you share the experience with the farmer of abundance and shortages, and you taste what real, fresh, nutritious food is supposed to taste like. You can ask all the questions you want, you will build up a relationship with the farmers and you can more than likely actually help harvest the food if you can spare a little bit of time.

Fresh CSA food ready for the customers to collect.

Bake, Ferment, Preserve offer relatively quick and easy ways to start understanding your food a little more than just handing over money in exchange. Bake some bread, ferment some cabbage into Sauerkraut or simply preserve some pickles for winter. I can assure you that baked bread tastes considerably better than any store brought bread (N.B. this may only apply to you the baker).

Sourdough bread

Sprout some seeds. While technically sprouting seeds is growing something it is so amazingly easy and quick to do that I can't think of a good enough excuse for you not to try this at least once. It will cost you next to nothing as all you need is a window sill, a glass jar, water and some seeds. They may not feed your entire family but they offer that connection to seeing food, that you have looked after, grow. It will take you back to being at kindergarten growing cress and you will be just as excited the first time you see the seeds grow. Sprouted seeds are also incredibly nutritious for you too. Here are some great instructions on how to sprout.

A jar of nutritious, sprouted, seeds.

I know for some people the cost of food can be the main priority in all of this. While some delis and butchers can be over priced you don't need to buy all of your food from them just a few pieces once every few weeks and sprouting really will not cost you more than the price of a loaf of bread.

If you have any other suggestions for how people can start to better understand their food please share in the comments below.

Why I eat organic food


2 years ago a friend asked me if I ate organic food and I remember my response was something like "It's too expensive, we can't feed the world on organic food and the research doesn't prove pesticides do us any harm". Today the same question would result in a very different answer from me. The reason for this change is not because I suddenly came into lots of money and could now easily afford organic food, it's not that I read a report that says organic food can feed the world, and it's not that I have seen studies that conclude that certain pesticides "probably" do cause cancer.  No, I had heard all of that before and despite deep down believing them to be true I still continued to buy non organic. Besides for each of the hundreds of articles you can read spinning it this way you can find just as many going the other way. Pesticides are safe. GMO's are the best bet for feeding the world....etc, etc.

The alarming reports did little to change my habit.  We're an odd bunch us humans. We have an amazing ability to disconnect from realities that aren't convenient for us. Take smoking for example. As someone who grew up in the early 80's I was fully aware that smoking was bad for me. It was conclusive. No questioning the facts. Yet still I wanted to try it. Thankfully for me it didn't go much further, turns out attempting to smoke an entire packet of Marlboro Reds is enough to put a 13 year old off for life, but lots of people I knew continued to smoke and some still do. Even though we all know 100% that it can cause cancer, cigarette companies still make millions each year from new customers. It's madness. I'm sure a psychologist would be able to explain what it is in our psyche that causes this and if anyone knows please do let me know in the comments. Anyway, I digress...

So despite the reports I had read about pesticides,  I was still taking the smoking attitude to my food consumption. I was choosing convenience and price over my health. But this has changed. I am not any richer but I now make sacrifices elsewhere in my life to ensure I can afford to buy good food. I heard a quote the other day which sums up my new attitude towards this perfectly

Don't ask why organic food is so expensive ask why junk food is so cheap

It wasn't that one day I woke up and had an epiphany that non organic might be bad for my health. The shift in my mindset actually came from gaining more of an appreciation for nature and realising that if I believe in evolution then maybe I should trust that the planet wasn't simply sat around for 3.8 billion years waiting for us humans to come and save it. 

3.8 billion years. That's quite a long time. Us humans have been around for, give or take, 200,000 years. Which is 0.0052% of the time that the planet has been going. Us clever humans only discovered modern, synthetic pesticides in the 1930's which is roughly 85 years ago. 85 years is 0.0000022% of the time the planet has been evolving. If you are lucky enough to live to 100 years old that would be less than a second of your entire life.

So despite all the reports, studies and food documentaries telling me organic food was bad for me it was actually the realisation that it's a little bit arrogant of us to assume that we know better than 3.8 billion years of evolution. We are only just starting to understand how amazingly nature has evolved, and when we look at nature versus man made creations nature wins every time. Spider silk, bee hives, dragon fly wings, we haven't come close. So for us to rock up 3.8 billion years into the job and tell mother earth she hasn't a clue is a pretty dickish move on our part.

Sure organic food production comes with it's own set of problems. It still has a considerable level of tinkering in it from us humans.  When it comes to food perhaps large scale mono-culture farms in any format conventional or organic aren't what we need and maybe smaller scale intensive farms or permaculture is what we need to strive for. I don't have all the answers. It's just what works for me.

Convenience v Conservation


"Would you like a water?" a friend offered. I was really thirsty, I'd been working outside all day and had forgotten to bring water. The thirst could so easily be quenched with a bottle of water...seems a pretty obvious solution. However the bottle I was offered was made of plastic. Before this journey to be the change I want to see began I wouldn't have thought twice about simply connecting the dots, I'm thirsty, here is some water, problem solved. But now I seem to have acquired an environmentally conscious little voice in my head "for someone who is trying to reduce your plastic consumption you're not very good at it". I am facing more and more decisions like this since starting down this path of trying to be more sustainable. I could easily drink the water, ignore the voice, and choose convenience over conservation, or I could make a minuscule step in the right direction towards the change I want to see.

The problem is it's not just water bottles that creates this internal debate, it is with everything. We as a society seem to have started a war, convenience v conservation, and convenience is winning. We are presented with so many choices as a consumer and each time we have an option, choose the convenient option or sacrifice that for the sustainable option. Buy a takeaway coffee, forget your reusable bag at the store, whatever it is very rarely it seems is the convenient choice the most sustainable.

The convenience option is to take the water bottle which creates waste from the single use plastic . The conservation option is to go thirsty, I'm sure I'll survive, after all, it was my fault I didn't bring a refillable bottle. I realise this might seem a silly debate to have and am well aware that drinking water is important. However I can't help but feel a bit arrogant in deciding that my need for water that day far outweighs the damage of leaving that piece of plastic around for future generations.

"No thanks" I replied.

I went to a nearby washroom and drank the warm water from the tap, it tasted horrible, but I looked in the mirror and grinned.

Community Supported Agriculture


Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) was a new phrase to me a few months ago. Since then its been shaking things up in my world a bit. What is it? It's unsurprisingly pretty much as it sounds. Agriculture that is supported by the community. Local farmers grow food in your area that you buy into on a mostly weekly basis. You, the community, support the farmers by agreeing to buy a share of the food in advance which allows the farmers to plan how much to grow accordingly and means they know what their expected income for the season will be.

Why is this different to the normal way you buy food? Because it's local, seasonal, usually organic, fresh, real food thats why and it doesn't come in pointless plastic! It also means that because the farmers know how many people they are feeding in advance of actually growing the food they can reduce the amount of food they waste. According to this reasonably respectable looking website of all the food grown for human consumption every year roughly a third is wasted...A THIRD! That really isn't good enough, what the hell are we playing at?

Having learnt more about it I have now started volunteering 1 day a week at a Community Supported Agriculture urban farm in Vancouver. It's early days yet but I already feel much more connected with how my food is grown, when it is in season and the effort that goes into making it. On top of that the food tastes considerably better when it comes straight from the ground. Having lived in cities for the last 5 years I realised I could probably count on my hands the number of times I had taken food direct from where it was grown and eaten it straight away. The reality is the food we buy in the supermarket, even if it's local and organic, is at best several days away from being fresh. I want to see more of these programs so that we can move away from relying on a broken, wasteful system and support people within our community who can grow the food sustainably.

If, like me, you love a good infographic to explain things here you go (this is for the USA but is mostly relevant to everyone):

Community Supported Agriculture


If you have been looking for a way to buy more sustainable food I highly recommend seeing if there is a CSA in operation near you, if not maybe set one up!

If you are based in the UK (where I'm from) you can see what CSA's are near you here:

And if your in Vancouver (where I live) here is a list of CSA's in the area: