Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Season, geography, and diet

I have been pondering a dietary theory for a while now. I don't know if it's on target because I am unable to find research on it, but it makes sense to me. See what you think.

We sometimes hear of people in other countries around the world who eat foods that we have been told are "bad," but the people who eat those foods are reasonably healthy so we speculate there is something special about the particular combinations of foods they consume. We name diets after their geographic locations, and try to emulate their health and vitality by following the "Mediterranean Diet" and the "Japanese Diet," etc.

It occurs to me that those diets keep those people healthy not because the diet contains one food or another in any particular quantity or order, but because the basic diet is of foods local to the area, local to the people, local to their physiological growth and development. The foods and the people grow in the same area, and I honestly believe they may be connected in ways we haven't even begun to imagine, never mind understand. Maybe we should give some serious time and study not only to what we eat, but when we eat it, and how far the food had to travel before it arrived at our table. Do you suppose it is possible that foods not native to your specific area are somewhat unhealthy if included regularly, or in large quantities, in your diet? I wonder – I really do – if that could possibly be true. Unfortunately I have been unable to discover any studies on the topic. However, perhaps the best "study" we have are these geographic diets we keep creating because the people who do eat a diet consisting mostly of local foods, no matter what those foods are, seem to be the healthiest people!

The other thing that occurs to me, somewhat related, is that over its course of development, human physiology spent thousands of years eating and digesting seasonal foods seasonally – berries in the spring and summer, pumpkins and apples in the fall, cereals and meats in the winter. Are we, just possibly, throwing our bodies out of balance by striving for an unnatural state of dietary equilibrium when we should be striving for dietary cycles of seasonal varieties of fresh foods instead? (What actually got me wondering about this particular aspect of diet is the post below where I share what I've labeled "The Seasonal Diet" from a book by Maurice Messegue who was a famous French herbalist in the 1970's. He doesn't call it "The Seasonal Diet" though; I added that tag.) Our bodies go through seasonal cycles of varying levels of hormones, vitamins, minerals, etc. Could we possibly be causing chronic illness (or at least chronic "un-wellness") by eating foods that our bodies are not chemically prepared to deal with because it's the wrong season? When we take supplements, are we upsetting the way our physiology works by trying to maintain throughout the year a steady level of a particular mineral when that mineral is supposed to be low at a particular time of year?

I don't know. I really don't have any answers to these questions, it's just a topic I've pondered from time to time. It's certainly something to think about. I just may make a serious attempt to follow "The Seasonal Diet" this year. If I do, I'll let you know what happens. If you do, you let me know how it goes, too!

P. S. I am heading south this weekend if I have to crawl, though I'm much better now after last weekend's sudden bout with the flu. We're doing things a little differently, not trying to do the whole drive in one day, so I'll likely be offline Saturday and Sunday, and hopefully hooked back up for Monday morning.


JLB said...

I really appreciate your thoughts on seasonal and local consumption Michelle. I have often considered the same things, and I'm sure we aren't the only ones... I've read about some folks who get into the "buying local" trend, and learn to love it so much that they just don't feel *right* eating a fruit or vegetable out of season.

We associate many foods with seasons and holidays, and that sense of well-being that we get from those meals undoubtedly is a combination of the energies of celebration, a well-prepared meal, and a seasonally-appropriate meal.

While not entirely on the same lines, the book Folk Medicine by D.C. Jarvis, M.D. (Fawcett Crest, 1958) includes some discussion on "regional consumption." (I've dubbed this book the "Apple Cider Vinegar and Honey Book"). Dr. Jarvis tries to identify certain genetic lines which are better suited to particular foods. While I think there are some major holes and oversights in Dr. Jarvis' line of thinking, in other ways I think he's on to something - eating what is appropriate for our body type, our region, and essentially what makes us feel good and stay well, are all important factors.

Personally, I think there is also a lot to be said for foods we grow, harvest, cultivate, hunt, slaughter, etc. for ourselves. I have yet to learn to raise livestock, and the only time I've killed an animal for food is by fishing (and that fish was amazing - both beautiful and delicious). However, I have raised my own foods in the garden - and there is just something completely different about the food that comes from your garden, around the corner to the backdoor, and onto the kitchen table.

I would love to hear your observations should you choose to try to follow your own "Seasonal Diet."

Enjoy your weekend, and I hope you're feeling better soon.


Geraldine said...

This is such an interesting post Michelle and I think youve touched on some very important points.

I remember reading a book MANY years ago (and unfortunately lending it out, never to be returned) called: Diet of 9 Heathier Societies (or close to that wording) can't find it now. It was all about the diverse diets in the world and as you mentioned, seemingly unhealthy ones.

The Eskimo diet 'of olden days' comes to mind: blubber, fish eyes, lots of oils etc... and these people were very healthy in comparison with their Southern neighbours. Also about the Hunza's (of Pakistan) but these people did eat lighter fare and lots of fruits and veggies but in season and local of course.

It is something to ponder. DIets should be very individualized, not cookie-cutter solutions, Im finding that out personally and more and more as time goes on. Still working on the right mix for myself and making the right choices MOST of the time. I don't know if chocolate is ever the right choice but it sure would be hard to live without LOL.

Thanks again and do take care on the roads...Huggs, G

caroline brown said...

Hi Michelle, great post. Supporting local farmers and eating local foods is one of my hot buttons, but I've never thought about it quite in these terms. Usually I think about the benefits of local foods with regards to local economics, better taste, etc.

However I think you may have hit upon something here. Though I haven't seen research that deals specifically with your question either, I think I HAVE seen studies whose results could be extrapolated to support your theory.

For ex, I read a study several months ago that showed that the nutritional value of vegetables had decreased over the last several decades, primarily due to the fact that the "farmers" (read: agribusiness/ industrial farmers) who supply the majority of what we eat grow vegetables differently now. Their focus is on size and speed--growing bigger vegetables and getting them to market as fast as possible, so they can get more money. Because vegetables are grown too fast, they aren't allowed to develop the nutrients they need. And because they're grown bigger than they should be, their nutrients are "diluted," if you will.

So....when we eat food from corporate farms, that's probably what we're getting. There's no proof that small, locally-focused farmers DON'T farm this way as well but my suspicion is that most of them don't. Most local farmers grow what's in season, and they don't focus on getting super-sized vegetables to market fast fast fast.

Maybe there are some other studies like this whose results could be interpreted in the same way.

Here is some more about the research from a few months ago:

Anyway thanks for giving me something to think about this morning.

Michelle said...

JLB, Geraldine, and Caroline,

Thanks for your input and ideas, too. I'm headed for CA today; my husband and I are meeting half-way and spending the night in a hotel so we can look around the town a bit this time (normally we just zoom through).

I am going to check your researches, and see if I can find the books you mentioned. (I had also heard that veggies have less nutrients today, too; I figured it was because of the chemicals used to kill bugs and weeds.) There are a number of things here I want to follow up on, and will post more on it at a later date.

Have a nice weekend, everyone!