Plants are created with the interaction of sun, wind and soil, and ooze with vital energy that gives life to animals in the food chain above. The same goes up through the food chain - the vital energy is transmitted along with active nutrients as animals consume other animals and so on. And then the need to increase production was felt due to increase in populations and people started cultivating crops in fields rather than just hunting / gathering. This was bound to reduce the life-giving properties of the soil, but all ancient communities had developed their indigenous ways of managing the soil and the crops that gave back to the soil, through natural and organic methods. The fertilizers they used were organic, like cowdung; the soil was kept healthy by living things like earthworms; and the insects were kept at bay by using natural insecticides like neem.
Then along came the scientists and isolated the 'active' ingredients of the sun, the soil, and nature. Modern science (and medicine) is one of "reductionism" where we isolate one compound from a mix that nature created for a reason, and think that we can use it in isolation - thus doing the job better. How can the part take the place of the whole? Where is the synergy in this, that nature had created over millions of years? Where is the interconnectedness with all other systems on the planet? All that is lost when you follow the reductionist approach. The so-called active ingredients were packaged into chemical fertilizers and we started poisoning the soil with them. Ditto with insecticides, deadly poisons sprayed on the crops. The resultant produce is not what nature intended and we still insist on calling it food.
And then the modern transportation system takes over. It transports mangoes to arctic regions, and carts arctic produce to tropical climes. We thus end up eating out of season, and not of the region. Certainly not what nature intended. We still call it food. The industry that transports it needs to reach it to the consumers in good shape, so they start doing things that will preserve it and enhance its appeal. They coat apples with wax in factories so that they won't get spoilt. They pluck food before they are ripened on the tree, as nature intended, and ripen them chemically at the destination - raw fruits are obviously easier to transport than ripe ones. The food needs to look good on supermarket shelves, so they start interfering with them while they grow - apparently it is not only humans that need to be cosmetically enhanced to appeal to us, we demand that of our food as well. So we get uniform-looking produce on the shelves - tomatoes that are perfectly red and perfectly round, and bananas that look like they have come out of factory, which, in effect, they have. In Japan they even produce watermelons which are square in shape so that they stack better. And we still insist on calling it food.
And then comes the process of converting the food into forms that we can use. Like the seeds into oil. Obviously the extraction has to be 'efficient', so they apply chemicals and heat to the oilseeds to increase the yield, destroying all the vital enzymes in the oil in the process. But what about the smell? The oil still smells and, being a living food, is likely to turn rancid faster. So they 'refine' it by using all kinds of detergents to remove all the smells and stuff, and add 'preservatives' to make it last. The wordsmiths have given it the word "refining" which makes us feel that it is actually something better that we are buying, the kind of conditioning that takes place all the time. But we still insist on calling it food.
Take another common product, salt. Natural salt, whether sea salt or rock salt, has more than 50 trace minerals in combinations that the body can use. Every animal in the world needs salt, it is essential for survival. Every landlocked civilization from the dawn of time has gone to extreme lengths to obtain salt. But then modern industry cannot just leave it alone. Their chemists inform us that salt consists of its main ingredients, Sodium and Chloride - NaCl. A lot of different industries need pure NaCl for varous industrial applications, in fact, over 90% of the salt produced in the world today is used for industrial applications. So they of course have to produce pure NaCl. Since it is 'pure' it will be pushed for human consumption as well. And since the word 'pure' gets hammered into us, we as consumers want only the 'pure' salt. What happens to all the trace elements that the body needs? What happens to the magnesium and potassium which is there in natural salt in the right proportions to help the body absorb the sodium in the NaCl? What happens to the minerals that have been lost in the 'refining' process? But then, the resultant salt is "pure". Along the way, they realize that iodene deficiency is a major health problem in the world - what is unsaid is that this is the case only in regions of famine or when people do not get enough to eat, that this happens. But then, why not kill the problem in one clean sweep? What product is used by everyone without fail? Salt. So voila, add iodene to salt, and you will solve this problem once and for all! Anyone who is reading this article does not need this iodene from the salt, since I am sure he or she is already eating well. To add iodene to the salt, it needs to go to the factory and be 'refined' first. So out go all the trace elements. What remains is just 'pure' NaCl enhanced with iodene. The one food that is essential to every life, completely tampered with. In some cases, through laws making it illegal to sell any other kind of salt. And we still insist on calling it food.
Apart from salt, another food that modern man consumes in almost every item he eats, is sugar. Nature never intended sugar to be consumed separately. Natural foods have sugar in them that the body can process. It is in small quantities and in a form the body can assimilate. The body produces insulin to help assimilate this sugar. But then, somewhere along the way we managed to make "sugar". We all have a sweet tooth, and we learned to add sugar to everything that we consume. The amount of sugar that we consume per capita in a day is more than the amount of sugar that we used to consume in a month, just a century back. It is not only the sugar that you add to your tea and coffee that is the culprit here, it is all the processed foods that we eat. They contain inordinate amounts of sugar, in extremely harmful forms like 'refined white sugar' and 'high fructose corn syrup'. The body is not designed to cope with this sugar rush. With every food that we consume the body gets into emergency response mode because of all the sugar that we dump in. Over a period of time, the body's natural mechanism for dealing with sugar collapses. We are of course familiar with diabetes - many people we know suffer from it, and the odds are greater than 50% that we are going to get it. Along with associated lifestyle diseases like heart ailments, blood pressure, and kidney problems. But we never wondered why this is the case. We will continue to abuse our bodies by eating all the processed and packaged foods in the world, for the privilege of taking insulin injections later, and worry about why our cholesterol is high and take useless drugs to combat it. We don't ever question the need to do this; we accept diseases like diabetes and heart ailments as inevitable and part of the process of aging.
What about maida? Try taking wheat to the local chakki, and running the atta through a fine sieve. You will get you own homemade maida which is not so bad, in spite of the loss of some fibre. It is still good to eat. That maida is never pure white like what you buy in the stores. Consumers demand pure white maida, so industry 'bleaches' them with ingredients that are so deadly that some of them are known poisons. What about dalda / hydrogenated vegetable oil? It is a chemically altered substance that is no longer oil, a substance that the body cannot digest. Most of us may not be using it in our homes any more, but most commercial establishments that fry stuff use hydrogenated vegetable oil since it is far cheaper than using oil.
I don't even want to touch upon milk, that other non-food that we have been convinced is so essential for our well being. I shall reserve that for a separate article.
The unfoodification of food does not stop there, of course. Modern life demands that we need everything processed and packaged. Every processed and packaged food that we buy (read biscuits, breakfast cereals, bakery products, soft drinks, noodles, ready-to-eat foods, refined oils, maida) uses one or more of the ingredients listed above, with many preservatives and chemicals further added to them, the entire process being such that that it no longer remains food - the 'prana' is long gone from it. It is just a bunch of modified food items with a host of chemicals. But then, we still insist on calling it food!
And we lament that whole populations are losing their health, that obesity is an epidemic, and younger and younger people are visiting the heart specialists. We have started defining health as the taking of medicine to control health problems and regular health check-ups to catch problems that are inevitable, not as an absence of disease, far from the real definition of health that means absolute positive radiating vitality, which is the way God intended us to be. And as to the medicines that we take to combat what the food industry pushes down on us, I shall reserve that for another time.
And we still insist on living like that, and still insist on calling it life!
2 August, 2013