Monday, May 10, 2010

The Whole Foods Story

By Deb Torrreso
Outreach Editor

Fast food; what a concept! There was nothing fast about watching a carrot grow, but I don’t think making crops grow faster was the idea behind it. It had more to do with meeting the changing lifestyles of consumers and their needs. People are spending more time out of the home which ultimately leaves less time to shop for and prepare meals.

The family experience of buying food from farms and local distributors, and sitting down together over a home-cooked meal has been replaced for many by grabbing a bite here and there, while connecting with loved ones via cell phone or texting. This devolution was unavoidable. The problem is that no one saw the long term danger to our health as a result of this lifestyle.

While fresh foods were the better health choice, they had to be consumed in a timely fashion; busy lifestyles were making it more difficult to do that. A viable option was to create foods that could be stored until someone had the time to prepare them. TV dinners and the microwave solved that problem. At the same time, in order to create a fast food industry and provide the convenience of keeping foods on hand longer, foods would have to be modified in some way.

One of the processes to make this possible would be the making of Trans fats-a process called hydrogenation (adding hydrogen to vegetable oil). This substance has since been used in the manufacturing of foods, allowing them to stay fresh longer and have a longer shelf life. Trans fats are found in many snacks and fast foods. Unfortunately, the effect of ingesting these fats on a regular basis can be devastating as it can raise cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease.

It seemed like the world around food started moving at a faster and more competitive pace; mass production, packaging and marketing all played a role in the quality, or lack thereof, of the food we were putting in our bodies. Many of us didn’t realize the toll it took on the industry to develop new methods for food consumption.

A movie called Food, Inc. is as disturbing as it is informational as it takes us on a ride through the modern farming communities, examining the mistreatment of animals. Many farms have to administer antibiotics and steroids in order to keep animals alive under unhealthy conditions, and to “plump them up” for mass production.

Among many other issues, the movie takes a peak at the process of making packaged hamburgers. The producers report that hamburgers contain meat filler (which is used to create more product) after which it is cleaned with ammonia to eliminate the possibility of the E-coli bacteria. This process has itself actually become a competitive market. You can find more information at

While many of the food industry’s dark secrets are surfacing, there is a light on the horizon as a result of it. There is a lot of buzz out there right now about healthy nutrition. There are informational books, classes, CD’s, and seminars popping up all over the place. Careers are being created in health coaching and counseling, and at the very least, there is an overdue awareness that if pursued, promises positive results.

Many people in communities are giving their time and energy to help change the nutrient-lacking path so many people are on by starting with America’s kids. British Chef Jamie Oliver is intent on “changing the way America eats.” He has been working within the school system of West Virginia to educate the kids, as well as the adults, in the benefits of eating more whole foods such as fruits and vegetables.

The country has witnessed Oliver slowly progress from being ridiculed by the naysayers, who believe there is not enough time and money to create healthy, proportioned meals, to evoking tears from appreciative parents and kids.

Don’t forget, kids eat what we let them. Their habits and behaviors are instilled from an early age and if no one tries to help change that, they may become overweight and unhealthy. Oliver proved his insights could arrest some of the thinking that leads to those behaviors - but it wasn’t easy.

For some kids, realizing they wanted to change this self-destructive habit was a painful experience; many of them had never gained the knowledge or support they needed to understand there were options.

Connecticut is following Oliver’s lead with a movement that is sweeping its way through Fairfield County to promote better health and wellness through exercise and nutrition.

Obviously, it’s easier to follow a healthy lifestyle if it’s started at a young age. Bringing this awareness to the school system is a crucial piece of the puzzle. A staunch supporter of this premise is Amie Haul, Director at From Your Inside Out. Haul teaches workshops using a new concept called Square Foot Gardening.

The kids learn to build a 4foot by 4 foot wood structure, divided into square-foot beds of organic soil. Haul teaches them what and how to plant. For example: as the beans grow up she has the kids build a trellis; and so on.

Haul believes in teaching kids better health by exposing them to growing their own foods, and understanding the value of eating foods that have not traveled long distances to reach the supermarkets. She wants to share with them the enjoyment of watching the vegetables and herbs grow, and to show the connection to how it affects their environment. The opportunity has been provided in part by Family Consumer Sciences (FCS), which is likened to “home economic” class.

According to Haul, building the gardens not only helps with woodworking skills, but helps to expand the abilities acquired for mathematics, history, sociology and spelling. There is also a positive by-product in that the kids are experiencing “the feeling of community and caring for something,” Haul said. “It’s really about getting people connected to each other, their food, the community and the land.”

Haul sees this project as a useful tool in life for these young people. Not only do students learn how to start and tend a garden; she also provides cooking classes where she demonstrates how meals can be made with these whole foods.

Fortunately adults are rethinking their eating habits as well. Parents, along with health care professionals are more aware of the positive effect good nutrition can have on health and lifestyle, and as a result are setting new examples by making changes in their own lives.

Yoga instructor Patti Tower, of Laughter with Yoga ( has been slowly changing her eating habits over the last four years. She never thought she would give up certain foods like onion rings, but now she prepares the majority of her own food and eats very little processed and packaged foods-and no fast food.

“My advice to people just starting out is to drink a large glass of water 30 minutes before eating meals and chew food slowly and completely,” Tower said.

While changing one’s lifestyle can be a stressful option, taking control in even a small way could start someone down a path that leads to better health. Doing as little as replacing one unhealthy food with one healthy food, buying produce locally, and reading labels at the grocery stores to determine the fat and sugar content, are just some ways to make a big difference.

You can find more information as well as lists of farmers’ markets in your area at the following sites:
Northeast Organic Farming Association, (NOFA)
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and

Good Luck and Think “Health!!”

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