The Good Food Revolution

Positive perspective: David Barrie explores the importance of good nutrition and the growth in popularity of wholefoods since the 1960s

The only man ever to win two unshared Nobel prizes, Linus Pauling, declared: “You can trace every sickness, every disease, and every ailment to a mineral deficiency.”

There is now a wealth of evidence that supports his view. And since the birth of the environmental movement in the early 1960s – with the publication of Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, which documented the effects of pesticides on the environment – a food revolution has taken place. This journey has lead to a flourishing demand for wholesome foods and today celebrity chefs are challenging the fast food industry.

Here in the UK, the government’s own scientists, McCance and Widdowson, when measuring the mineral content of vegetables and comparing those harvested in 1934 and 1989, concluded that our vegetables were 45-125% nutritionally richer back then.

Education is now key to revitalising the health of our nation. A significant percentage of our population still believe that a good diet is enough but there is a lack of understanding of the impact we have had on our soil. The 1992 Earth Summit report stated that over the last 100 years, average mineral levels in agricultural soils had fallen by 72% in Europe. One eminent forward-thinking doctor, Paul Clayton voiced what many of us working in the field of nutrition felt: “We don’t get enough of all the things we need in our food, no matter how carefully balanced our diets.”

The human body requires some 40 minerals to function properly. Conventional farming returns just three to the soil. Many more people now recognise the need for supplements but too many do not realise that synthesised vitamins, where the nutrient is separated from the food, are not nearly as effective. This is because the body is designed to get its nutrition from food, for nothing in nature works in isolation. Calcium carbonate (chalk) for example is poorly utilised on its own, whereas the latest food form’ varieties offer far greater absorption.

The latest scientific research suggests we could live to 120 in good health. Most of us live for some decades less than that and this can often be due to poor nutrition; generally a processed and junk food diet. Our relationship with nature is also important, which began to break down in the early part of the 20th century.

The prevailing view then was that we could bend nature to our will, increase harvests by using chemicals and treat the farms as vast open-air factories. But a growing number of individuals resonated first with Rachel Carson’s outlook, then John Seymour’s concept of self sufficiency, and the move back to working with nature began.

The tide has turned and yesterdays ‘cranks’ are now seen as pioneers. In one famous trial Professor Bernard Gesch used both diet and supplementation, to determine whether nutritional imbalances could be responsible for aggressive behaviour in young offenders. The results proved conclusively that the answer was yes. Antisocial behaviour was reduced by 37% compared to placebo.

Other research suggests eating a diet rich in vegetables may be one way to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists from St. Luke’s Medical Centre in Chicago found that a diet high in unsaturated, unhydrogenated fats – found in vegetables and some oils – may help lower risk.

The growing evidence that organic food can feed the world is also gaining credence. Avoiding chemical fertilizer reduces levels of nitrates in food; better quality soil increases the availability of trace minerals; and reduced levels of pesticides mean that plants’ own immune systems grow stronger, producing higher levels of antioxidants. Slower rates of growth also mean that organic food frequently contains higher levels of dry mass, meaning that fruit and vegetables are less pumped up with water and so contain more nutrients by weight than intensively grown crops do.

I am optimistic about the future. The demand for organic, fairly-traded, nutritionally rich food is growing at an astounding rate. With 80,000 people waiting for allotments, the resurging popularity of farmers markets, and as more and more individuals make informed choices and regain their own power, the writing is on the wall for those who prioritised profit, not nutrition, in the food manufacturing industry.

The return to nature that began some 50 years ago is becoming the norm as we learn to respect nature, as we find ways to heal the soil, and as we realise that nutritionally rich food consisting mainly of fresh fruit and vegetables is the way to better health.