Who is really “on the top of the food chain”? -By Dr. Laura Ruby
In defense of food…
In his book In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan makes a critical point by suggesting that we need to start thinking about food as less of athing and more of a relationship. From an ecological perspective, eating, simply put, is the relationship among the species in the system we call the food chain. The food chain or web reaches all the way down to the soil. If the soil is sick or lacking essential nutrients it will ultimately affect the entire food chain, impacting not only the grass that grows from the soil, but the cattle that feeds off of the grass, and the humans that consume the cow’s milk.
“Health is, amongst other things, the product of being in these sorts of relationships in a food chain….when the food chain is disturbed, it can affect all of the other creatures in it”. Michael Pollen
Thus, personal health is interconnected and interdependent upon the health of the entire food web.
Plants and animals in the food chain develop a symbiotic interdependence. ”I’ll feed you if you spread around my genes”. Species evolve around the foods they eat. Over time a plant will gradually change to become “more attractive” to its consumer. As the plant evolves, the animal will slowly adapt over time to accommodate the modified plant by gradually acquiring the digestive enzymes it needs to digest and optimally utilize the plant’s nutrients. This type of genetic evolution occurs over many centuries , not years.
For example, cow’s milk did not start out as a nutritious food for humans, rather it made us sick. But as people that lived near cows adapted, many of them developed a tolerance to milk. From a historical perspective, the gene responsible for digesting milk used to turn off in humans shortly after weaning until about 5,000 years ago. As farmer’s raising cattle started consuming more cow’s milk a genetic mutation spread throughout European countries that turned the milk digesting gene back on. The evolution of these genetic traits can, in part, account for the some variability in food sensitivities seen in humans today.
Herein lies the problem
The industrialization of eating, which has resulted in a diet of high processed, calorie dense, nutrient devoid foods has, from an evolutionary perspective been a radical, abrupt change, that has not only impacted the food itself, but also our food relationships. Michael Pollan also points out that eating is the relationship between the eater and the whole food, not nutrients or chemicals. Thus, the processing and industrialization of our foods has created toxic a food relationship impacting all parts of the food chain, leading to metabolic imbalance and ultimately, chronic illness. For example;
“Our bodies have a longstanding relationship with corn that is does not have with high fructose corn syrup. At some point, humans may develop “super-human insulin systems that may evolve to handle large inputs of pure fructose and glucose, but for now, this relationship to modified corn products only leads to ill health”.
Follow this month’s post to find out more about how the industrialization of food is disrupting our natural food chain and who is really on the top of the food chain.
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