Food vs. Medicine

Wendell Berry once said, ““People are fed by the food industry, which pays no attention to health, and are treated by the health industry which pays no attention to food.” To me, this is an amazing observation. And one that we’re seeing played out now perhaps more than ever.

We have a global pandemic, which may or may not be more of a health threat than the chronic and acute illnesses that have been on the increase for the past seventy years. During this pandemic, the health advice of various “experts” are told and retold to all of the populace. And while much is said about hygiene, disinfecting, vaccination, and a host of other self-protection do’s and don’ts,  we hear next to nothing about the value and saving grace of the human immune system, and the role food plays in the support thereof. Why is this?

Perhaps there is no single answer to this question. However, we do know that food in the world we’re in has largely become the responsibility of national and multi-national corporations—and an afterthought to the populace (many Americans are better versed on who’s who in Hollywood than the contents of their next meal). For the most part, food is no longer sourced from the backyard or the local farm, but comes in a box or package from the local grocery or supermarket, often having little resemblance to the raw material it’s derived from. Because of the distribution network necessary in this scenario, shelf life is paramount, which in turn affects the life—and viability—of the food we eat.

That said, let’s consider the opposite end of Mr. Berry’s quote—health. What is health? There are five main aspects of personal health: physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and intellectual. The wellbeing of the human immune system affects all of these. A major portion of the immune system is made up of gut flora. To state it another way, the ability to combat disease and illness is in proportion to gut health—or digestion. Nearly 2500 years ago, the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates said “All disease begins in the gut.” Gut flora is directly dependent on the quality—or life—of the food we eat. The world of microbes doesn’t operate by happenstance.

Modern healthcare in the western world is far better at treating symptoms than remedying the basis of illness. It revolves around pharmaceutical drugs and surgical procedures. Alternative medical treatments are viewed as quackery and the practitioners thereof as pariahs. Nutrition is virtually non-existent and food as medicine is worthy of scoff. And as a result we have the largest collective cost of healthcare in the world.

This is perhaps the foremost example in modern history of wrong-headed thinking—and a misleading accepted narrative led by so-called experts in the food industry. On one side, we Americans place a naïve trust in the status quo food system to serve safe, healthy food, and on the other we look to mainstream medicine to cure all our ails. Where’s the disconnect? And that’s the View from the Country.

Quotes worth Re-quoting – 
Why should conservationists have a positive interest in… farming? There are lots of reasons, but the plainest is: Conservationists eat.” ~ Wendell Berry

“An economy genuinely local and neighborly offers to localities a measure of security that they cannot derive from a national or a global economy controlled by people who, by principle, have no local commitment.” ~ Wendell Berry

“To be interested in food but not in food production is clearly absurd.” ~ Wendell Berry