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Food, Farming & Health by Vandana Shiva, et al.

The book Food, Farming & Health shows how our health is a continuum from the soil, to the plants, to our bodies. It demonstrates how chemical farming depletes the soils of nutrition, producing plants that are nutritionally empty but full of toxic residues, which cause us – its consumers – to suffer from diseases related to nutrient deficiency and/or toxins.

Among the authored chapters is Dr. Vandana Shiva, an Indian scholar, well-known environmental activist, food sovereignty advocate and author.

The excerpt below, written by Maya Goburdhun – director of Navdanya, a seed and organic produce network in India – discusses how industrial food production robs our food of its nutritional values.

Biodiversity is Health

As food travels from the fields to reach our table it goes through two more stages: the processing and the retailing. Traditionally processing food was in women’s hands and was for the most part artisanal. For example, women cleaned the wheat, washed it, dried it and then proceeded to hand grind it for flour: the chakki ka atta; till about twenty years ago, one could still go to a chakkiwalah and have one’s wheat ground to flour. However, with the advent of the liked of Cargill and Pillsbury, shops mostly retail industrially processed atta from which nutrients have been robbed as it has gone through high intensity processing machines which heat up and thus destroy precious nutrients. This of course works to the advantage of the food industry which and then get into the fortification business.

Industrial processing is violent in more ways than one: there are of course the high intensity processing machines for grinding but also for extruding and applying pressure, all of which lead to structural changes in the food with negative consequences on the health, as has already been pointed out. Most industrial snacks are subjected to these denaturing processes. Moreover, as we shall see in the section devoted to indigenous oils, e.g. soya oil and canola oil, are subjected to denaturing processes to extract the maximum volume.

If we go to foods like boxed cereals, snacks, confectionery and such, their processing is as fraught with dangers to our health. These highly processed foods contain a cocktail of chemical additives in the form of:

  • i) preservatives, to prevent them from rotting;
  • ii) colorants, to make food more attractive or natural;
  • iii) taste enhancers and flavors to increase palatability or impart a certain flavor;
  • iv) texturants: to give a particular texture to the food; and
  • v) stabilizers to increase shelf life.

After reading this list you can well ask yourself so, where is the real food in all this? To make matters worse, often processed foods manufacturers do not list all the additives used on their labels, especially as with rising awareness, consumers are getting more savvy at decoding the label.

The industrial meat industry is another danger zone where not only are animals kept in dismal and cruel conditions but heavy doses of hormones or antibiotics are used on them to increase yield, which means more empty, dead and toxic food.

Before food reaches the shelves of stores or super markets, it has to be packaged; very often the packaging consists of plastic bags or containers or aluminum foil, both being highly unecological as well as sources of further contamination of the food they contain, since the chemicals of the plastic or aluminum always leach into the content.

It is ironical that this food, contaminated in more ways than one with chemicals at the processing levels and chemicals from the packet/containers, is considered safer than what is sold in the open. Yet the truth is very different.

Research by eminent scientists, such as Dr. Seralini and others, point to the fact that food that food that has been subjected to all those various way through which they have become less and less natural, not to say denatured altogether, when consumed, interferes with our brain functions. It causes inflammation in our body, at times, as in the case of junk food, it becomes addictive; in short it leads to foodstyle diseases. It is dead food and results in dead metabolism.

Now let us see what happens once these dead, killing foods reach the Market. Since globalization and liberalization, the Market, everywhere in the world, has become a World Market; throughout the year, goods from all over the planet adorn the shelves of stores and supermarket. As Marion Nestle points out in her book Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, a veritable food strategy is put into place by the Food Industry to trap people into consuming more and more, regardless of the maximum intake considered healthy, fueling obesity which in any case is already factored in through processing (use of fructose corn syrup, transfats, etc.). After all, the excess food produced to satisfy the high volume model of producing, has to find takers.

Then there is the expiry date battle. Given that liberalization means countries who have produced excess or are producing items no longer popular in their market, such as chicken legs which store more fat, can dump their goods on third world markets, there is a big expiry date scam in practice. Often, those consumers who are not very attentive to such details will then buy food that is no longer fit to be consumed, leading to further health complications.

Another consequence of globalization/liberalization is that nowadays all food items, from mangoes to melons, which are actually very season-related food, are available throughout the year. This has many negative impacts; of course the health impact is there, as our body ideally is tuned to eat as per the seasons, something that Ayurveda emphasizes very strongly. Added to that are the socio-ecological impacts, since local farmers are often marginalized as unaware consumers seek exotic over local; and moreover these items have a very heavy ecological foot print, having accumulated food miles.

So, in the face of such a scenario, what is the consumer, the co-producer of agriculture to do? As Marion Nestle says, “Choose food according to freshness, taste, nutrition and health but also social and environmental issues.” Making such food available is exactly what the endeavor of Navdanya has been and is for the past thirty years. From the field to the table, Nadvanya has sought to ensure that the end user of the food, the co-producer, is able to access food that is precisely what Nestle advises one to purchase.

About Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva

Dr. Vandana Shiva is an Indian scholar, environmental activist, food sovereignty advocate, and anti-globalization author. Shiva, currently based in Delhi, India, has authored more than 20 books, and speaks out about pressing issues around the world, including the degradation of land, climate, politics and health.

This book was co-written by Dr. Shiva as well as Prof. Dr. G. G. Gangadharan, director  of Ramaiah Indic Specialty Ayurveda; Prof. Dr. Rama Jayasundar of the Department of NMR & MRI Facility, and All India Institute of Medical Sciences; Prof. Dr. Bhushan Patwardhan, Director of the Center for Complementary and Integrative Health; Dr. Mira Shiva, coordinator for the Initiative for Health & Equity in Society, and founding member of Doctors for Food Safety & Biosafety; and Maya Goburdhun, director of Navdanya.