food as medicine

We are what we eat.

That is my experience. 

I don’t get my food from a store, I find it in the bush, in wild open areas and in the sea. Every day. My food is gathered, hunted and fished.

This was not always the case. I had definitely been on a healthy diet before I started eating wild food, but I just couldn’t get rid of my chronic stomach pain and dandruff that I both had for about 20 years, no matter what I tried. Chronic health problems are widespread and on the rise. Prevalence in diabetes, for example, has doubled in New Zealand in the last ten years, we also have one of the highest obesity rates in the world, which has more than doubled in the last 30 years.

When I stopped eating refined food and started eating wild plants, animals and fungi instead, my health increased rapidly. After only a few days I was rid of my stomach ache, 2 weeks later the dandruff was gone, and my joint pain is reduced to only an echo of what it has been. But these advantages and more are not only my experience. 

Our biology was formed while being hunter-gatherers over hundreds of thousands of years. Only 10.000 years ago we started changing our diet and relying mostly on grain, cultured vegetables and fruits, and domesticated animals. Now only very few indigenous tribes remain that are still living as we were before the agricultural revolution. The comparatively brief period of agriculture has been too short to substantially change what our bodies need and rely on every day. There are scientific studies and real-world observations proving this. One of the best examples is Weston Price, an Ohio dentist who traveled the world to study people who did not suffer from dental illnesses. He found people on each continent (also here in NZ) with extremely low rates of dental cavities and palates that were wide enough to fit all their teeth, i.e. also their wisdom teeth.  These people all had one thing in common, they were living isolated from modern foods, still relying on their traditional diets. His findings were that the causes of cavities, smaller jaws, even smaller skulls and hips was malnutrition caused by non-traditional diets.

Another health professional, Dr. Eugene Payne spent 25 years in Brazil and Ecuador examining approximately 60.000 people native to that region, and reported finding no (!) evidence of cancer among the natives isolated from western lifestyle. Modern research backs these observations, that hunter-gatherers have been extremely healthy compared to modern humans.

Why then was their life expectancy so low? This is easily explained. Not enjoying the blessings of modern trauma medicine and by living a life exposed to environmental risks one out of three children died before the age of fifteen, dropping the average life expectancy substantially. Once beyond the age of fifteen people regularly lived into their sixties and seventies, some even into their nineties without the help of modern life prolonging measures.

It took me a while to digest this knowledge.

So what does this mean for us as modern humans? If we mimic the traditional diet of hunter-gatherers, suitable to our climate and individual genetic setup, we too can live healthily and feel energised in a way unknown to people consuming refined food. The first step could be changing where we source, and what sort of food we buy. Even in big cities, we can harvest wild foods, and we can expand the amount of wild food in our diet in incremental steps.

Wild edibles can make up an important and diverse part of a healthy, and even healing diet. They are nutritional powerhouses, providing fibre, complex carbohydrates, niacin, B vitamins, copper, potassium, selenium, and other vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. Wild growing purslane for example contains more of the important  omega-3 fatty acids (underrepresented in our modern diets) than any other leafy vegetable plant. And it is an excellent source of Vitamin A, one of the highest among green leafy vegetables. Wild edibles grow abundantly in a lot of places, need no watering or fertiliser and are not sprayed with chemicals (don’t pick them right next to the road where they could be sprayed). They contain phytonutrients that have medicinal properties too, so your daily food can be your medicine.

Livestock is raised under conditions that are not suitable for their true biological needs. The industries goal is generally to produce as much meat (or milk etc.) as possible in the shortest time. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently called on farmers to stop using antibiotics to promote growth and prevent disease in healthy animals, because the practice fuels dangerous drug-resistant superbug infections in people. And residues of antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals in meat and milk can cause health issues for consumers. Wild animals, however, grow up in a diverse natural habitat and eat the food they are designed for. Their meat is free of pharmaceuticals. You can also choose to eat much more of the animal than just the lean muscle meat. Have you ever looked at the nutritional properties of liver for example? The amount of minerals and vitamins contained in this organ is quite amazing.

In the end it is quite simple: wild food is generally more nutrient dense and trustworthy than store-bought food, and it can be your daily medicine. Foraging, hunting, and fishing provide for more food sovereignty and are rewarding for us humans in a deep-seated way too! If done in sustainably, it can help to actively regenerate landscapes. This is what we have been doing for hundreds of thousands of years, and if we start reconnecting with these roots, we can feel it in every fibre of our bodies. To me, it feels like coming home.

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