June 22, 2012

Freshworthy Friday: Dirty Food

Dirtying Up Our Diets
New York Times, Jeff D. Leach

I read this yesterday and immediately sent it out on Twitter and Facebook. Why? Because I totally agree. To add to the problems of today's food supply—it's too far from real food, it's too dirty, it's too processed—think about this. It's too clean. Way back in the day, we ate food off the floor (who started the 5-second rule, anyway?). These days, food allergies and autoimmune diseases are at "alarmingly" high rates, and the Leach argues it's because we're missing important stuff in our food supply. Namely, the dirt.

Leach goes on to write that we need microbes and pathogens in our bodies, much like probiotics introduce bacteria to our guts. And where do we get this dirt?

Farmer's markets.  Ohhhh yeah. Bring it on.

OVER 7,000 strong and growing, community farmers’ markets are being heralded as a panacea for what ails our sick nation. The smell of fresh, earthy goodness is the reason environmentalists approve of them, locavores can’t live without them, and the first lady has hitched her vegetable cart crusade to them. As health-giving as those bundles of mouthwatering leafy greens and crates of plump tomatoes are, the greatest social contribution of the farmers’ market may be its role as a delivery vehicle for putting dirt back into the American diet and in the process, reacquainting the human immune system with some “old friends.”

Having grown up on a farm, I got a taste of running around barefoot, shoveling hay into the trough for the cows, and picking caterpillar-ridden tomatoes from the garden ("Let's just cut that part off, and... perfect!"). While cleanliness is important to avoid really bad stuff, like salmonella or E. coli, a little bit of dirt never hurt anyone.

[Full disclosure: I habitually rinse before eating. I know, I grow 'em and I can trust 'em. But my mother must have drilled it into me at a very young age: rinse your food before you eat it, no matter where it came from! Also, when I was eating my thoroughly rinsed cherry tomatoes at lunch yesterday, I picked one up with a suspect-looking dot on the top. I pressed on the dot and out came a tiny (like, less than a centimeter long) green worm. I squealed as if a roach had just walked onto my plate and threw it directly into the trash.]

I was really struck by this article and hope all of you will read it and understand the importance—can we say it enough?—of eating food as close to the source as possible. Get to know your local farmers, and visit the farms if you can! Shop at the market, or grow your own food.

It's good for ya.

Oh! And another thing the author mentions briefly is that diets of the past included many more preserved and fermented foods. We don't eat as much of those as we used to, and I heard a compelling piece about fermented foods last week on NPR

Yes, compelling.

Fermented foods—anything from yogurt to kombucha to pickles, and including cheese, coffee, and alcohol—are wonderful for our guts and introduce a bunch of probiotics (good stuff) to our bodies. 

[Another fun me fact, since you asked: my favorite foods as a child were: 1) Dill pickles; 2) Hamburgers. I still LOVE dill pickles.]