Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Food talk & some traditional good earth know how

It’s time for another blog post about good nutrition, and the wisdom about how to live a balanced life that has been lost, forgotten, or distorted over the past forty years. Here’s an example of how to view food AND what is good for the earth.

When I was growing up, if you went to the store to buy nuts to eat, they virtually all came with their shells on. People bought the traditional bag mix of almonds, hazel nuts, walnuts, pecans and Brazil nuts and then when they wanted a handful of nuts to eat as a snack, they sat there with a bowl with a nut cracker and picks. Shelled nuts such as cashews and macadamias were an exotic treat, and not found on every shelf like they are today. The Brazil nuts came from Brazil, and the almonds and hazel nuts were grown in the USA. I have this lesson in mind because last week I bought a bag of Brazil nuts at Wal-Mart for $3.69 and while I’ve been eating them I realize that knowledge I take for granted is no longer common. Here’s how I think when I buy them.

Nuts are one of THE most beneficial foods for humans. There is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t have nuts, often in the form of a handful of walnuts added to my cereal or oatmeal. If I don’t have cereal that day I will usually have a serving of nuts as they are. Sometimes I eat the walnuts but for variety I try to have other types in my pantry. Hence I bought the Brazil nuts. Now, nuts are healthy as they are raw. If they are cooked in oil they lose some nutrition but more important you gain all the calories and the possibly harmful ingredients of the oil, depending on the type and amount of oil used. So it is best to eat raw nuts but do not skip having nuts because of the oil used on some roasted nuts, just shop and consume wisely in that regard. So one reason I chose Brazil nuts for the pantry last week is that they are obviously raw and uncooked, being still in their shell.

Here is the second advantage of shells. People know that pesticides are a concern. Pesticides are a necessary tool, like it or not, for much of the world and many of the world’s crops. People alive today have forgotten what it is like to grow the food you depend on day to day (or starve otherwise) without pesticides. Billions of people are alive today because of pesticides. However, like all things with humans, the pendulum has swung too wildly in both directions. People demonize all pesticides (without actually rolling up their sleeves and picking worms off of crops of the poor people themselves) so that extreme is wrong, but of course the planet has become foolishly pesticide saturated, and that is the wrong extreme too. In the 1950’s-1960’s people started gaining wisdom on this problem by laying new insight about the worries of pesticides ON TOP OF the traditional wisdom about how to grow crops. Today there are VERY few people who have both insights, and that is a real worry. Both sides have been forced to polarize. Pesticide salespeople cannot be moderate because if they admit a problem the other side leaps on them as that argument being in support of no pesticides at all. And the anti pesticide people are so fearful and indignant about pesticide side effects that they lose their heads over the pesticides in total, not remembering that people still need to be fed with reliable food sources. When humans live all year off of the summer’s crops, a wave of pests can destroy in a matter of days a year’s worth of survival food for thousands of people. This is why people seem to “pour on” the pesticides “before they need to.” Once pests arrive the crop is ruined and destroyed and people starved. I remember those days very well, as does anyone of the World War II generation. So while I buy (expensive) organic when I can, I also am pragmatic that pesticides are going to be with humanity for a long, long time. So here is the nut lesson. When people use pesticides on vegetables, fruit and nuts, they usually use it early in the growth of the plant so the pesticide is not actually ON the food you are consuming. It was usually used on the young blooms or shoots. However, people know to wash all their foods before eating. Here is something, though, that environmentalists who were well rooted knew. If your food absorbed pesticides, the pesticides themselves tend to be concentrated in the skin, peel, rind or shell. So if you eat an apple that has been exposed to pesticides, peeling it makes you very safe from the effects, because if any pesticide residue was absorbed into the fruit, it tends to be concentrated in the peel, not in the interior. This is why I’ve made the decision to peel fruits that I have concern about. Now, there is a dilemma because the peel often contains the best nutrition, such as apples and potatoes. Yeah, think about it potato lovers, those great stuffed potatoes and potato skins. I’m not accusing (in fact, potatoes are quite safe regarding pesticides, unless things have changed since I last looked at it). I’m sharing with you the knowledge we all obtained in that generation, which is that pesticides, when present, tend to concentrate in the outer surface, being a rind, skin, peel or shell, and if removed you have a safe bet even if you don’t know the origins and treatment of the food regarding pesticides. So this is a long way of explaining that when I shell the Brazil nuts myself, I know that I am removing the surface that has been collecting “whatever” handling contaminants it received and I’m left with a relatively pure interior food. It’s not the same guarantee as getting pre-shelled nuts, since obviously you don’t know what standards of washing and so forth are used in the shelling and the mixing of the shelled with the pre-shelled.

So if you were reading my mind you’d not pick this up because it’s like brushing your teeth or washing your hands; you don’t think, “Now I pick up the toothbrush. Now I uncap the toothpaste. Wow I bought this toothpaste because it has this ingredient at that price. Now I use the tap water. I know the tap water has been purified to this or that degree.” You make lifestyle habits and choices based on your upbringing and your life education, and then you automatically and reflexively make wise choices without thinking about it. So when I buy a bag of unshelled nuts, part of it is the reflex of knowing that I am in control of the sanitation as best as I can because I will be removing the shells myself.

I also automatically think in terms of thrift, but not in the way that some today may think of it. I still think in terms of food benefit and cost per serving. I mentioned that the bag of Brazil nuts cost $3.69. The label indicates that there are about six servings of ten nuts each. Ten nuts is a filling and generous serving and gives you 200 calories. So if you get 6 servings out of a bag that means that healthy and clean Brazil nuts cost 62 cents a serving! That is not expensive at all. It’s less than a candy bar, and while it is generous in calories, it has fewer calories than a candy bar or chips snack AND the calories are all beneficial and helpful. Nuts, especially Brazil nuts, have a high percentage of fat, but this is the good fat that people need to have a healthy day. Fat provides slow burning and lasting nutrition that is for the long haul during the day, rather than a sugary carbohydrate boost. Now I eat lots of carbohydrates and sugars, so I’m not arguing against them. I’m just explaining how to get the balance right, instead of always glorifying or demonizing food groups and ingredients. It is wise to have one snack or meal serving that has nuts as its basis.

Brazil nuts are of course one of the fundamental ways out of poverty for their growers. It was one of the obvious way that young “environmentalists” in this country promoted being consumers of foods that helped poor agriculturalists around the world, and in this case Brazil. This was the fundamental thinking before the “fair trade” movement. Sometimes you need to go back and think about where your food comes from in the first place, and who you are supporting by virtue of your purchase, before you worry about the price. The price is important but this generation sees “fair trade” and they figure, wow, this is a good thing. But they don’t know if the crop itself is sustaining the local economy or individual farmers, just because the price is fair. Maybe “fair trade” locks them into growing a certain crop rather than something else. You just don’t know unless you take a look and have some education in these matters. Anyway, with Brazil nuts you KNOW that this is indigenous crop that benefits the Brazilian farmer and the grassroots economy.

So I grew up in a generation of kids that could wield nut crackers and thus put a little sweat equity in getting their own snack. Kids eat less if they are cracking each nut one at a time. They are also getting a little exercise, and I’m not being silly here. Well, maybe a little silly, but not too much. I laugh when yuppies do arm curls with expensive exercise gear but they would cry that they are deprived if they actually had to sit down with a basket and crack nuts for their snack, or shell the peas. People used to stay fit because they lived against a background of physical activity. Moms and dad used to sit with the kids and peel apples and cut them into slices for their kids. Kids would sit down and work their way through a bowl of nuts, doing the work of cracking the nuts open themselves. This is funny: recent health studies show that “fidgeting” is good because it burns off excess calories. Well, hello! With so much “convenience foods,” people are less and less active, and they fidget as they sit glued to their desk chairs, airplane seats, and couches in front of the computer or widescreen. Parents would actually stand in the kitchen for a half an hour or so preparing food, rather than drop it into a microwave and then flopping down in a chair again. So one of the “automatic” thoughts that I have when I buy something like Brazil nuts is satisfaction, not frustration, in the buying of a food that actually requires some activity to prepare. I never view peeling vegetables and so forth as a “waste of time” or a punishment. I view it as being a good cook who has good food quality and preparation control, and is staying active doing so. True it doesn’t give me “abs of steel,” but that sure ought to not be the point of having a bipolar existence of extreme activity with extreme inactivity.

Here’s another point about why it is important to eat nuts, and actually, this applies to all foods, including meat, vegetable, fruits, grains and beverages. A given food cannot be dissected down to its “healthy” and “unhealthy” components. I mean, yes, you do need to observe and discern based on the information on the label (protein, carbohydrates, fat, etc and vitamin/mineral composition). But it is the entire content of the food that is of benefit to humans, with many micro level ingredients that people are not even aware of nor realize their benefits. Yes, people have started to identify them, like antioxidants and riboflavin and so forth, but the usual result is to glom onto a “miracle ingredient” or “food” and hype the entire food based on that ingredient. Or worse, people try to extract the ingredient and think a pill contains the same benefit. Here’s an analogy of the healthy way to think. The food is the “piece de resistance,” the epitome of the animal or plant’s life force production. It is maximized to have beneficial ingredients, and has expelled all that is not good (obviously I’m talking about food fit for humans, not poisonous or tainted foods). As a rose is the culmination of the plant’s “beauty production,” so is the food the culmination of the plant’s “nutrition production.” All of the food is of benefit to the consumer in its totality. If scientists distilled the components of the rose flower into the chemicals that give it color, fragrance, and its form and then gave the viewer plates containing piles of those ingredients instead of the rose bloom itself, it would not be the same. Also, think of the wall of a house. A house wall contains the framework, the surface material, the interior material, and electrical outlets. If you bought a house, what if one wall was missing because the “electrical outlets” were the most “useful” part of it, so they did not bother giving you the rest of the wall, just the dangling wiring instead? That would be crazy. Well, this is how it is with healthy food and living. It is the wisdom to discern and select the “entire package” that is the epitome, the peak of goodness in total. So a Brazil nut is an example of a complete food selection and people do not need to concern themselves with extracting any further from it. Another example is how people call bananas the “perfect food,” because in total it contains so much of benefit.

Remember I mentioned how parents would take the time and sit to peel food for their kids, such as apples? Well, here is another thing I remember from those lost times. Parents would shell nuts and then show their children how to make toys out of the nut shells. When I was little the best thing one could strive for was to get a perfect walnut shell half, clear the inside out, and make of the hull a toy boat out of it. Parents would show their children how to crack the nut so that the shell would be as complete as possible (or do it for the kids) and how to put a toothpick in the center with cork and glue, making it a mast, and then preparing sails for the nut boat using tissues or paper. Kids would color and decorate the sails and the hulls themselves. This was back to when people didn’t buy plastic throw away toys, or put kids in front of the TV with videos. Parents actually showed children not only how to live but also how to learn and play. I used to make toy boats out of walnut shell halves and also tiny hazelnut halves. The maple tree out in front would shed winged seeds and I’d use them as sails too, and collect the beautiful pink seeds for decorations.

I hope that the juveniles and alien wannabes have been able to read this so far without going crazy over the use of favorite double entre words such as nuts and bananas. People would have starved to death and died out a long time ago (and maybe that would have been a good thing) if they lived on anagrams and double entendres like they do today. We want entrées to feed our children and ourselves, not double entendres. Also, kids were taught to use their imaginations and to learn crafts, such as the nut boats I describe, and not to sob into their beers thinking that they were interested in toy boats because they were “reincarnated from the Titanic.” Gosh, I wish I could speak to anyone sane and human without having to constantly include these mind freak disclaimers, but so far, obviously I can’t. I am hoping that my blog is read by people who are on their way back to sanity, though, and that I can share some of the learning and lore that the World War II generation had.

So I’m not trying to move the stock market or influence Brazil nut futures LOL. I could have written about my Zen about celery too (another double entendre food, oh no). But because I waste my time here actually trying to teach serious and real advice based on what I’m really doing and actually thinking, I thought it would be helpful to write about the Brazil nuts. I hope you find this helpful.

Food Caution:

As I've repeatedly told people, do not obsess with consuming a specific food, because anything (even water) is poisonous at worst or imbalanced at best if taken in extreme quantities. Here is a great website that contains a caution against excess consumption of Brazil nuts.


It is exactly the presence of a needed and beneficial component, in this case selenium, that makes some people think, "if one is good then ten is better," which is a substance abuse or OCD mentality. Brazil nuts should be a part of an overall sensible balanced VARIED diet in moderate quantities of all foods. It should not be eaten "because of selenium" or avoided "because of selenium." Like the poor lady who died in the water drinking contest, people need to use common sense and not obsess. You cannot go wrong if you eat from all of the "food groups" a wide variety of specific foods with MODERATE PORTIONS.

Glimpse at my menu

For example, three days ago I had a generous handful of pistachios as my daily nut snack. Two days ago I had about eight Brazil nuts. Today I am eating my Fruit Loops cereal (yeah, I know) with a handful of walnuts added. This way I automatically have the "best of all worlds" by having a wide range of beneficial nuts, but not settling into overdoing one variety or the other and possibly causing an imbalance, allergy or dangerous accumulation of one nutrient or the other.

Developed countries are blessed with the ability to select among a wide variety of healthy foods every day. Poor folk have to eat the same food that they grow or can afford day after day, and therefore are vulnerable to repeat exposures to anything that might not be of constant benefit, to say nothing of growing in polluted areas.

The body is the soul's temple, and so people should be more mindful of what they eat. Mothers used to teach their children, "You are what you eat," which in more cynical times became the punchline of the obligatory jokes. But the basic message is that food is what you refresh and nourish your body with every day and therefore is worth much more consideration than it receives today, but not in the "magic thinking" that has permeated so much un-scientific and un-home making thinking that is rampant today. For example, I am all for identifying harmful human produced food additives, such as transfats, and making large scale decisions based on that. However, where people today get in trouble is that they try to do the same thing about natural foods (for example, warring against meat), which has no true scientific basis and veers very close to "magical thinking."

When I sold my house a few years ago the man who bought it is delightful. I liked him very much and was glad to sell the house to him and his son so that they could afford it, even though I lost money on the property. I joined his family that year for the holidays. But one odd thing stuck in my mind, which is not all that uncommon. He told me that he was moving toward a vegetarian diet. And his evidence for it's benefits? Um, not to be indelicate, but he noticed a nicer, um, odor of his output than when he ate meat. Um, if you study biology you will learn that the anal port is intended to expel the materials that the body cannot use from the food. The scent of the expelled matter is not an endorsement of the food that you have or have not consumed. But this is the type of thinking that infests the media and comes from poor science and home making formation. The body basically divides each piece of food into the "part it can use" and the "part it cannot use." Even the part it cannot use performs a valuable role, for example, fiber scours the lining of the intestines while it is "on its way out" and therefore is a natural cleanser and limits the growth of items such as polyps.

If you study biology and evolution you will remember one fundamental thing. Human life, as all life, started out as single cell organisms. One of the first huge steps of sophisticated life occurred over a billion years ago when single cell life organisms developed an anal port. If you look at microscopic photos of life at that time (as my science class did in college), you observe your basic blob of early life, a single cell, but one end has a dot or a gap in the cell wall that "takes in" the nutrition that it needs to survive and the other end has a dot or gap in the cell wall that "flushes out" the unusable part of the nutrition. It's simply a matter of what goes in, in total, is divided into the part the organism can use to survive and to grow, while the part that it cannot use is pushed out of an opening for that purpose. That was a HUGE development of life when it occurred. Goodness, the knowledge that people have at their fingertips and yet ignore or distort into magical thinking is so very sad and destructive.