At Fresh City, we strive to make difference because the food industry is now, more than ever, in a very precarious predicament. A perfect example is the rise of so-called “plant-based” foods.
Now, let me be clear about my position to avoid any confusion (or picketing). I have always backed a plant based diet, which to me, means a diet mainly composed of actual plants. Moreover, I have professed the same thing for the last fifteen years: Eat the real food that makes you feel good. I believe that, generally, people eat too much meat and instead should eat less meat, but better meat. I believe that, generally, people do not eat enough vegetables. I believe that, generally, people do not have a healthy relationship with food. And I believe that, generally, people do not listen to their bodies. My experience over the last fifteen years of owning and operating The Healthy Butcher is, in many ways, an unofficial long term study as a result of having met, served, and helped well over a million customers. I have customers that are long term vegans that look and feel incredibly healthy; I also have customers that used to follow a vegan diet and walked into the store with a skin tone two shades from death. I have customers that follow the ketogenic diet, have lost weight, feel incredible and exhume energy; I also have customers that attempted to follow the ketogenic diet but had to stop because of intense diarrhea. I have customers that were diagnosed with severe gastrointestinal problems referenced by the dreaded “it’s an auto-immune disease” phrase, and have healed themselves simply by drinking our bone broth. Paleotarian, Pollotarian, Pescatarian, Flexitarian, Carnivore, Vegetarian, Raw, I have seen it all. Without the use of a lab or referring to randomized controlled studies, I can make one conclusion with 100% certainty based on empirical evidence: There is no single “diet” that works for everyone.
I propose the following... three principles to achieve good health:
Principle 1: Understand Food
By understanding food, I mean get to know the ingredients. Meat is a big business, and in many respects, a horrible industry. I have been to countless amazing farms and met amazing farmers that are the essence of a good food system. I have also been to big agro companies, and trust me, I have seen shit over the years that I will never be able to erase from my memory. But the entire debate over meat vs. plant-based has reached levels of absurdity that drive me insane. You cannot group all meat into one word and you cannot group all plant-based into one phrase. The beef that is raised in concentrated feedlots, fed corn, grains and industry by-product is not, in any way, shape or form, the same food that comes from one of our 100% grass-fed, rotational grazing-based farms. It is not the same for the environment, and it is certainly not the same for your body. In the exact same light, the “plant-based” foods that are derived from heavily processed pea protein coupled with innumerable “flavourings” are not the same as steamed broccoli. They are not the same for the environment, and certainly not the same for your body. Are potatoes and potato chips the same? The devil is always in the details. Eat real food - food that comes from nature, that rots, and is minimally processed. Understand the ingredients you are eating, and enjoy them and please don’t get sucked into ignorant debates that are nothing more than marketing gimmicks.
Principle 2: Listen to Your Body
My second principle is where all the magic happens. For the last fifty years or so, we somehow got caught up into looking at the nutrients in food, rather than food as a whole. Many years ago I did a talk at the Evergreen Brickworks (available on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/WxxHm_qVmlU) and explained in some detail the concept of “nutritionism” - the practice of concentrating on consuming the exact requirements of macro- and micronutrients to achieve health rather than looking at food as a whole package. For example, ensuring you eat 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or 18 mg per day of iron. This train of thought leads one to anxiously look at nutrition boxes, and then often leads one to expensive supplements. Frankly, I don’t believe nutrition boxes in their current format should even exist. Instead, we should have food quality boxes with details listing where the ingredients are from, what chemicals have been used to grow those ingredients, what types of processing have been used, and if the nutrients are naturally occurring or artificially added (I discuss this more in the video). Second of all, the vast majority of your food - arguably 100% of it - should not come with a nutrition box at all. All this to say, rather than trying to be smarter than your body, listen to it.
If you eat a bag of cookies in one sitting and you feel horrible afterwards, you know that eating a bag of cookies in one sitting is not healthy. If you drink coffee and your stomach hurts afterward, guess what, don’t drink coffee. Constantly listen and tweak. If you go from eating meat every day to every other day and feel better, than don’t eat meat everyday. If you drink four glasses of wine or beer one evening, and don’t sleep well that night, you know that four glasses is past the limit your body can handle without an immediate impact on your health. I know that if I eat broccoli for breakfast that I’m a mental and physical powerhouse all day, so I eat broccoli 3-4 times a week at breakfast. No joke. I’m certainly not saying that you shouldn’t occasionally splurge. But do so with intention and purpose. If you’re going to eat a piece of cake that you know will make you feel bloated, but you want it anyway, enjoy every last morsel of that cake and accept the consequences without regret. Experiment with everything and learn what makes you tick. Your genome and mine are 99.9% the same. Heck, we share 99% genetics with chimpanzees. But that 0.1% and 1% difference makes us unique to the point where what works for me may not work for you.
If you’re following my first principle and eating real food, then the second principle of listening to your body truly goes hand-in-hand. Toronto author (and Healthy Butcher customer) Mark Schatzker wrote an illuminating book called The Dorito Effect. In his book, Mark explains that “flavour never appears without nutrition” and our bodies learn to draw connections between flavours and the physiological responses they signal. In other words, when you crave a food it’s because your body needs the nutrients in that food. Of course, this principle only applies if you don’t screw up your natural instincts by ingesting artificial flavourings and intensely processed foods.
Principle 3: Understand Health as a Whole
Finally, understand health as a whole. The three biggest factors that will determine your health are food, lifestyle and genetics. We’ve discussed food. Lifestyle refers to stress, adequate sleep, and general happiness and is an encyclopedic topic on its own. And genetics, for better or for worse, will determine a lot about how you live or die, no matter what you eat or unstressed you live, also a topic that is beyond the scope of this article. The key here is to do this: Control the things that you can control, and let go of the things you cannot.
Wishing you a happy new year filled with good health and good eats!