Just like that we’re into the holiday season, and the various preparations and scrambling and spending that goes along with it. In the uncertain world we live in, holiday food is at least something we don’t have to “figure out”. Gingerbread, sugar cookies, pies and clementines on the coffee table and buffet; roasts, squash, goose, and gravy on the table.
Traditional meals call for traditional ingredients and the classic Canadian Christmas meal hearkens to a simpler and smaller world – and one with far fewer food options on the table. It’s a very odd thing that in the current year, while we have more food options, gym equipment and nutritional information than ever in human history, we also seem to be becoming less and less healthy.
Life expectancy is actually declining, obesity is considered more or less normal, and degenerative diseases like cancer and autoimmune disorders continue to plague us. So what’s going on? It’s anyone’s guess: is it the food? is it the plastics and various chemicals that saturate our day to day life? is it an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and too much time in front of screens?
There’s no way to know exactly of course, because it is such a complicated situation with so much “noise” and so many variables, but I tend to think that there is an intangible energetic or spiritual component to this equation. (Or maybe we were just “smoking ourselves thin”!)
Prisons are a great place to study human beings. It is the definition of a “controlled environment”. Penitentiary food is not particularly “healthy” though it ticks all of the boxes on the conventional food pyramid. It is high in starches and vegetable oils, and short on things like healthy fats and animal proteins. Inmates can supplement their diet somewhat with their meagre “wages” at the commissary, but you basically have a baseline diet that reveals our shape and health is determined by more than what we put in our mouths.
The cliche “inmate physique” – absolutely shredded from thousands of chin-ups in the prison yard – is far from what you generally see in institutional settings. On the contrary, most prisoners resign themselves to their situation, and their health and physique reflect the static and hopeless nature of their lot. Most inmates are rather pudgy, pale and passive. What is remarkable is that there are those who, despite the grim nature of incarceration, transcend this, and do indeed look like Greek statues and maintain some measure of mental strength and control over their own lives.
Same food, same conditions, completely different outcomes. This is based largely (as far as I can tell) on how we let that little spark of vital energy we all have guide our attitude and actions. Much easier said than done! Reinhold Niebuhr’s (founder of Alcoholics Anonymous) Serenity Prayer cuts to the quick of this discernment, or where and how we can control our own lives:
God, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,The courage to change the things I can,And the wisdom to know the difference.
Which reminds us of the most unpleasant truth about health: it often just comes down to genetics and luck. The medieval “Wheel of Fortune” (when everyone ate a purely local, organic, seasonal diet and got tons of physical activity btw!) defined a worldview where no matter what we do or who we are, the outcomes of our lives are subject to change and beyond our reign. A bit fatalistic, but fundamentally true.
So all this being said, I hope you enjoy our food because it tastes good, because it makes you happy, and you appreciate the efforts of our farm. Unfortunately, it will not instantly transform your health, or make you live forever.
I recall a CSA farm that went crazy one year and grew the “purple” variety of everything (carrots, kale, potatoes, cauliflower, tomatoes etc.) because of the magical health giving anti-oxidants these varietals are supposed to contain. I can only imagine the deathbed scenario, as the angels’ wings flutter over one’s head, “But… I ate all of the purple vegetables…!?”
It is very contrary to our contemporary scientific worldview, but I am of the mind that a grateful attitude and hopeful, humble spirit is better for our over all well being than any dietary choices we can make. So as the world turns, and just gets stranger and stranger, I encourage all of us to be of good cheer. Life is short, let’s make the most of it! Thank you for working with us on this trip around the sun.