How much do you know about the history of your last meal? Today my lunch was chicken thigh, cooked with garlic and onion accompanied by a huge salad that my wife and I made with the colourful and delicious mix of freshly picked red mizuna, rainbow chard, chocolate mint, English spinach, red basil, strawberries, Italian parsley, coriander, oregano, garlic chives, dill, kale, mustard greens, oakleaf lettuce, spring onion, snow peas and radicchio. We grew it and we picked it and we prepared the meal. We prepared the soil and applied the fertiliser and I know that no herbicides or pesticides have come anywhere near these plants. With a little dressing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar it was delicious.
I'm no gardening guru, and yet, when I recently checked, I discovered that our little piece of suburban dirt we call home is jam packed full of over 50 varieties of lush, colourful and healthy edible plants, producing literally buckets of fruits, vegetables and herbs for our family to enjoy. We eat volumes of these freshly picked goodies every day and I know that our health is just so much better for the nutritional depth and variety to which we are exposed.
Sure, I really should invest a little more time into discovering ways of improving our harvest even further by delving into strategies such as companion planting to control pests, but so far my strategy of telling the kids that any caterpillars they find on the kale and broccoli can be kept as pets seems to be working a treat.
When it comes to understanding the plant kingdom, my forte still tends to be more on the level of knowing which specific health-giving phytochemicals can be found in each plant and what they will do for us from the perspective of healing an ill or extending our health span.
I think of my plants in terms of flavonoids, phytosterols, pigments, phenolics, polyphenols, mineral content and such things. When I see the decorative pigments in my red mizuna, I know they are anthocyanadins and I think of the vascular and cerebral benefits such molecules can bring. When I taste the bitter peppery taste of this variegated leaf it brings to mind the cancer preventing effects of the isothyocyanates that provide this distinctive taste.
I know a lot less about the ideal soil pH and mineral ratios to provide optimal growing conditions of my plants - and yet they still grow so well for me. Sure, I've had my failures in the garden, but when I stop and consider what went wrong at those times it's easy to see that any mediocre crops of the past could have easily been turned into bumper harvests with just a little more care - perhaps more frequent watering, a little more fertiliser or perhaps a better soil to start out with. You live and learn, but really, it's not rocket science.
The average person will consume an astounding 25 tonnes of food throughout the course of their lifetime, with a large quantity of unwanted toxins simply carried into their system with the food they eat. For this reason, I love the fact that by growing a large proportion of our own fruits and vegetables, our family is not just saving money. We're also improving our nutritional intake and, at the same time, lessening our exposure to numerous unwanted chemicals that may be used in the process of growing non-organic commercial herbs, fruit and vegetables.
And for the parent who is tiring with the battle to get the kids to eat their vegies, getting the kids involved, teaching them about where food really comes from and letting them help with the planting, watering, fertilising and harvesting, can help them develop their love of fresh food. And they just may be more likely to eat it too. Mine do.
If you do decide to grow your own, be sure to use clean soils as a foundation for your plants. Many unwanted and dangerous persistent organic chemicals can often linger in soils for many years, in rural or market gardening sectors or around old houses or where houses have been demolished. They reside silently, not announcing a history of past use of persistent organic pollutants like the pesticide DDT, or flakes of old lead-based paints.
As passionate as I am about the joys and health benefits of growing as much of your own food as you can, I don't shy away from eating the off-the-shelf options. I eat conventional options, commercial organic foods and farmer's market produce. These are all terrific for your health and none are to be shunned.
As well as the ingredients mentioned earlier, my salad today also had avocado, red capsicum and cherry tomatoes from the grocery shop around the corner. I do grow these too, but mine aren't ready just yet.
Good health, Jeremy Hill.
Jeremy Hill ( Diploma of Natural Therapy) is a qualified naturopath