Fasting — Re-Thinking The System That Is Food

Last week I spent a whole week fasting, on a Jiva retreat in France. I should probably call it cleansing because not eating for a week is one means to the whole process of totally rejuvenating my system and re-thinking my framing of food, happiness and wellbeing. The process is very reflective, not only in the first person ie, how I consume food and drink and the patterns that rule my life, but also a good look at the system that provides me with nourishment —industrial farming — and the global commodity that is food. I cannot tell you how powerful the week was, in many ways: it was personally re-energizing and empowering, and globally relevant, challenging the systemic insanity industrial farming and globalization has led to. I am a lucky, hard working, middle class chick who can afford the luxury of a week away fasting, but I would love to see the principles of the retreat, and the fast ideally, experienced by the wider Westernized world. It should be promoted through corporate businesses, schools (perhaps not the fasting part), culture, and health services... I think it would change so much and put us well on the way to a sustainable world. It's a little bit like a near death experience, (no, you do not die when you are doing a supervised fast and yes, another time I have been near death), because it totally changes your view on a system and your behavior in the world. I simply see the system that is food in a very different way now and I clearly see the destruction that much of this system is having on our environment and health/human energy. At a time when our industrialized world is failing the wellbeing of earth and its people, it seems highly relevant. Oh, and the fast makes you feel amazing!

Food is so connected to who we are and how we operate in this world. Think about the different patterns of food that cross cultures and social divides. It also reflects the patterns of the modern world and the downfalls of a globalized world — processed food, hormone induced animals, hymogenization, pesticides, food miles, GM etc.

What did I learn when food was taken away from me and I spent a whole week discussing the provenance of produce, how we should be eating, how we once ate and why the current system of food is failing the world and our bodies? What changed I spent a week really slowing down (which was the hardest bit for me)? There's no rushing around for food and no time passing unconsciously masked by the steady flow of a fine bottle of Chablis or the ceremony of food. There's no social reserve — everyone bonds pretty immediately sown together by the shared experience of fasting, detoxing and headaches, food and drink habits, and enemas, and resulting in that very beautiful thing — a dose of raw humanity. How did I feel during and after the experience? And why was the experience so profoundly 'treehugging' and worthy of sharing with you readers?

What did I learn?

That we should follow the 80% rule: to only eat until we are 80% full because our stomach needs 20% space to move food around and be able to digest. That the etc. 20% (or much more) that most of us in the West force into our stomach has significantly added to the number of planets per capita is we are using in resources. That being fat, in every way, is bad for this planet.

That bread — largely a highly processed food — sends our insulin levels rocketing, adds next to no nutrients and leaves us craving more food within hours, which again adds to the etc 20% we don't need to be eating and the world does not need us wasting.

That we have all but forgotten about seasons and wild foods; that our bodies are attuned to eating foods in season (bingo that will be the ecology that is life) and that foods grown in the wild a highest in antioxidants and vitamins. Yet we tend to completely ignore this, importing mass-produced, un-seasonal foods from far corners of the world or modifying crops to create them slightly nearer by.

That food grown with 'integrity', ie, as close to how they would naturally grow and cooked with integrity, are far higher in nutrition and typically far richer to eat meaning we don't need to eat as much. (We tend to overeat foods that are low in nutrition like breads and pastas and refined carbohydrates).

That many of us know very little about the origins of many of the fruits and vegetables we consume, because frankly we can pick them up anywhere in the world, at any time of the year.

That bagged lettuce is washed in Chlorine. Let me say that again. Bagged lettuce in washed in Chlorine. That we seem more worried a small insect will infest us with germs than we are about inducing Chlorine.

That fresh water fish ("oily fish") is so good for us because nature and our ecology is a brilliant piece of design. These fish survive in very cold waters because the poly-unsaturated oil (a very oily, fluid oil) does not freeze — so they don't freeze. This oil is so good for us because that fluidity flows through our blood and bones. There are so many incredible facts about the design of nature and our food systems that are all but removed from everyday eating. We simply are just not connected to the knowledge of nature and its design as a system, so we ignore it.

That animal produce is grown on corn, hormones and antibiotics. Animals should eat grass, which is 2-3% saturated fat, instead corn-feed is a concentrated 30-50% fat. We end up consuming more fat than nature had intended. Bingo, we mess with the system again and we end up with high blood pressure and heart failure.

That fish in farms in China are fed with the poo from Chickens that craze above the fish on wire mesh; that animals are so tightly packed together to intensively farm that often their limbs become embedded into the cages that hold them together; that cows are fed hormones to induce Mothers' milk around the clock and that these hormones are significantly altering the development of children in our overfed Western world. What kind of system is this? And how is it we don't know about these things or don't see them?

That dairy produce is one of the most significant contributors of CO2 emissions and to climate change — the energy to feed and produce animal stock, the methane the animals emit and then transporting them all over the world. No one really knows how to absorb this or what to do with it. How do we reconcile the most basic human need — food — with destruction of our planet?

That we tend to eat on the go. Or do not leave time to eat slowly. That 40% of the digestive process happens before food even enters the mouth (looking at food and savoring it), so we are not digesting our food properly again leaving us under-nourished and our bodies hungry for more So we overeat and the cycle of over-consumption and waste continues.

That many foods are packaged in highly toxic materials to keep them 'fresh' or to transport them to us. Plastic water bottles spring to mind. We've been told that bottled water is better for you than tap, but no one told us the plastic bottle was toxic.

What changed for me?

The provenance of food and how it arrives in my basket or on my plate is with me at every point of consumption - the story behind food I consume. I may not always be able to act on it or even really know the true story, but I want to know and it is changing what I buy and what I eat.

Understanding hunger is mainly a habit. That we are not as hungry, as often, as we think we are, we've just trained out bodies to think that way. That "I could do food" is not an all right reason to eat. That this kind of thoughtlessness is what fuels industrial food processing, poor diets and ecological and social damage.

Really experiencing everything I put in my body (two juices a day) has stuck with me forever. You can taste every ingredient, and want to know exactly what's in it, why you are having it and where it has come from. And you can literally feel the food nourishing your body as you drink it. That this feeling reminded me everyday to really appreciate the incredible thing that is food and exposed the so many ways we've messed up such a beautifully brilliant piece of ecological design.

Something that the rich world needs reminding of.

Accepting that limitations is a luxury - stepping out of the machine that provides me with any food I want at anytime of the year without a thought, into a consciousness that searches for the sorts of foods I should be eating and to savor the food, where it has come from and how its been produced.

Slowing down. Slowing down in every way is good for my health and the planet. That chewing food slowly totally changes the relationship with what is put in my body. As does preparation and engaging in making foods. And that the single act of slowing down is so inextricably linked to sustainability. Our whole food system, mass industrially produced, is designed to fuel on-the-go, anytime, anywhere lifestyles and its resulting in overeating, undernourishment and waste.

Why is fasting treehugging?

Because the single act of consciousness, this time experienced by taking food away, exposes the insanity of a system that most of us simply do not see and in that act of consciousness much is changed with how one operates in the system. Fasting exposes the downfalls of industrial food production and our modern day behaviors around food consumption. And it makes you re-evaluate.

I am not writing off industrial food production, it nourishes the world, I am just exposing some of the things we simply do not see within this system. Things that are not working within the brilliance of our ecological system, but against it.

[Written by Tamara Giltsoff]

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