Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Return of Nutrition, or does your tomato splat and split when it falls?

An arrangement of fruits commonly thought of a...Image via Wikipedia

Last week, blogger Ryan Harb, a budding permaculturist, posted an article on The Return of Nutrition (pdf file). The article begins: Did you ever wonder why today's supermarket-purchased fruits taste like mostly water?

I know I have. I was fortunate during my daughters' early childhood to provide them with fresh, organic fruits and vegetables from our small garden. They may still have body memories of the rich flavors, textures and juice of the apples, pears, berries, tomatoes, and many vegetables we grew together. Thanks to their grandmother, who brought a seedling from her favorite peach tree shortly after their father and I married, every autumn we gathered more succulent, sweet, fragrant peaches than we could possibly eat. The juice ran down our arms when we bit into them, so good we licked it off shamelessly, rather than lose a drop.

Many children then and many more children now have no idea that a true peach is not hard and crunchy like an apple, but soft and squirty with juice. Nor do they know the acidic deliciousness of ripe tomato, nearly bursting from its thin skin. If a small child, gnoshing sun-heated tomatoes from the vine let one slip through her fingers when I was growing up, it split, spilling its seeds and fluid on impact, however soft the soil. How long has it been since you last dropped a tomato--supermarket-bought, organic, or farmer's market--only to watch it thump to the floor with nary a dent?

Bringing back good-tasting produce is more than a mission to satisfy the senses, according to The Return of Nutrition author. It's a mission to feed our bodies foods rich in the nutrients we need to thrive, fight disease and live long. The answer is in the soil.

You see, as Big Agriculture has co-opted ever larger tracts--square mile after square mile--of land to monoculture food-growing factories, fueled by petrochemical fertilizers, antibiotics and tons of pesticides, the soil in which the crops are grown has become merely a holding material, it's own rich nutrients systematically stripped away.

The people of the Real Food Campaign and Remineralize the Earth, both featured in The Return of Nutrition, seek to replenish our depleted soils that we may once again taste foods rich with vitamins and minerals, trace elements, bright colors and the flavors and juices some of us are fortunate enough to remember. I encourage you to take time to read the article.

Reclaiming our soils is a matter of survival for our species, and not only ours. Many of the animals with whom we share the planet are as dependent as we on the nutritive qualities of our soils. Without good soil their habitats, already diminished by ever-expanding human settlement, are less and less fertile, increasing their exposure to disease and possibly hastening extinction.

There's more, and it's good. Imagine simple fruits and vegetables so mouthwatering delicious that we don't need heavy sauces or sugary concoctions to make them palatable. Imagine food so satisfying that we experience no residual cravings and leave that post-dinner pint of ice cream in the freezer without regret or feeling of sacrifice. Imagine the colors, scents and textures of food so pleasurable that cooking and dining became a family affair again, the nightly meal a time of energetic discussion and creativity.

It is no accident that food is an integral part of the vision of the Village of Ordinary. Villagers take direct responsibility for their health and well-being, and much of that depends on the foods with which they fuel and nourish their bodies. More, they genuinely enjoy the time they spend together preparing and eating meals.

I'll be researching and posting my findings on food often in the coming weeks and months. Not only is a local, sustainable model important to the story, but some climate researchers feel that reclaiming our soils and returning to smaller, family-style agriculture may be the single most important way to slow global climate change and ensure plenty of fresh drinking water for generations to come. Our food source and supply is that important.

So important, in fact, is this issue that I urge you to delve deep and engage in dialogue with me, with your family and friends and with your elected officials. Some of our most foremost and respected scientists believe we need to solve these problems by 2020. That's just eleven short years from now. Others think that's an optimistic figure. One thing is certain. There is no time to waste, so please share your own food journey and resources in the comments section below.

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