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Health Hack #44 - Finding Compatibility Between Ourselves and Our Food Choices

Defining Ourselves

How we live defines who we are. How we treat ourselves, and others in our community and local surroundings.

Since our company’s inception, we’ve sought to improve our collective well being via offering a menu and educational nuggets aimed at making us healthier, happier, and wiser. This blog was established almost one year ago, and has been focused almost exclusively on human wellness. On how to treat ourselves better. How to maximize micronutrient intake. How and when to incorporate exercise around indulgent meals to help mitigate any adverse health effects. How to properly read labels so we’re not misled by gimmicky advertisements or hard to pronounce ingredients.

Our collection of forty-some articles mostly chronicle one’s path towards further health optimization. We’ve had the pleasure of connecting directly with a number of our readers, learning how certain articles resonate more than others, and obtaining thoughtful feedback on various subjects. Our overarching goal has been to improve human well being. Despite its grandiose challenges, it’s precisely what compelled us to open our restaurant back in 2016. We had tapped into a lifestyle that made us better, and it was important for us to share what we had learned.

The concept and teachings of evolution are - and have always been - an integral part of our company’s DNA. More of our articles than not touch on some aspect of how and why evolution influences our biology. Our stores - most noteworthy to those fans who have been down with us since day one - have changed immensely. They’ve evolved. As we’ve listened to our customers, and as we’ve expanded our own horizons. Ever-learning, ever-changing. Our menu is entirely different than it was two years ago, let alone four. Our format has been completely revamped. In some cases, our decor and equipment setup is entirely different. Almost everything has changed. And everything will continue to change.

In the spirit of evolution, our focus as a company has begun to shift gears over these past few months. Surprisingly, it has little to do with the pandemic. Instead, it’s been driven by a few outside challenges. Challengers might be a better way of phrasing it. Who are we, really? And what do we stand for, beyond human optimization? Anything? And how does this ruminating all culminate into a usable health hack?

Defining Ourselves Further

How we live defines who we are. How we treat ourselves, and others in our community and local surroundings. Beyond the human element, how we engage with our environment, both locally and at large.

Somewhat lost on us until recently was the story that lies in the soil. We’ve been aware, but we haven’t been listening. When we’ve spoken of food, it’s almost exclusively been in relation to foods that have already entered our store. Broccoli in a box, stacked atop of sweet potatoes in a box, amidst other foods that just appear in our restaurants each morning as our food deliveries arrive. We’ve spent so much time focused on the trajectory of human health that we’ve overlooked one of it’s most key ingredients: the journey of the very food that nourishes us. Deeper even still, the environment of that food prior to its journey having begun.

A newfound friend/mentor/collaborator contacted us last week after reading our most recent Health Hack (Stay Clean, But Not Too Clean), prodding us to think more deeply about the position we espoused in the article. Our message last week was clear. Stay clean, not too clean. Don’t abuse antibiotics and potentially disrupt our microbiomes. We have plenty of natural defense mechanisms that become more resilient, the more they’re trained. Avoid a completely sterile world. We’re walking, talking mounds of bacteria, evolved to remain immersed in a microbial-dominated world. Yes, we apply this wisdom towards ourselves, for the betterment of our personal health and well being. But what about the broader applications?

By applying the same ethics to our food choices, a very clear picture begins to emerge. Animals that receive the same degree of sunlight access that we advocate for in humans. Freedoms to wander and explore. Socialization and camaraderie. Naturally-derived diets. No superfluous antibiotics. Touching on a potent lesson that I learned the hard way (To Kill A Squawking Bird), animals that have had one bad day. Or better yet, one bad moment.  

Haven’t we advocated for this all along? To a certain extent, yes. But without truly recognizing the parallels at play. For what we do for ourselves should mirror that which was done for what nourishes us and helps us thrive.

But we’re still above ground at this point. As alluded to already, there’s a far more deeper story at play, and a unifying one. That which lies beneath the surface.

The Story in the Soil

How we treat our soil has a very real and impactful effect on how we live. Are we dousing our crops with pesticides for better yield? What becomes of the condition of that soil? How does the runoff impact neighboring earth?

Are we employing regenerative farming practices, championing the coexistence of animals and plants in one controlled habitat? Allowing the animals to graze freely, and in doing so breathe new life into the soil that receives their waste?

Are we mono-cropping our fields? One recurring harvest. Corn, soybeans, we can all picture it. More and more acreage is engulfed by the same crop each year. What becomes of the biodiversity of that underlying soil? We humans require diversity in our diets. A truism that will never fade from relevance is the notion of eating the rainbow. Consume a diet diverse in color. Cover all of the bases. The soil yearns for the same abundance of variety. It requires it.

We’ve long held plants in high regard (Respect Thy Plants), and we’ve long advocated for organic when possible (When It’s Wisest to Shop for Organic Produce) since proudly becoming Dirty Dozen compliant. But we’re coming to the conclusion that this alone is not enough. It goes beyond lip service, yes - but it doesn’t mirror what we advocate for in humans. If we’re to speak didactically on the merits of treating one’s body as a temple, then all that goes in the body should be treated with equivalent reverence.  

As a quick refresher, the Dirty Dozen List tallies produce ranks in terms of most to least pesticide-laden. In our article linked to above, we pinpointed the most egregious offenders, warning against buying and consuming these items conventionally. Some of these foods consist of leafy greens like spinach and kale, and fruits like strawberries and apples; foods without a protective shell and/or a dense, fibrous exterior. But what about all of the foods at the other end of the pesticide residue spectrum? Those which appear on The Clean 15? Are these excusable?

It’s debatable. Six months ago we’d probably say yes. But since then, we’ve learned that there’s far more than meets the eye. If what is sustaining these plants is being compromised or mistreated, then future generations of plants are bound to suffer the consequences. What good is shifting towards electric cars and solar energy if our farming practices continue to worsen? Again - the story is in the soil.  

Let’s consider a few crude analogies. A pregnant mother with a very mild smoking habit. A verbally abusive father. Strange comparisons? Somewhat, yes. But we’re considering habits of ours that only mildly (if at all) alter our health, but place the health and well being of our progeny smack dab in danger’s path. We’re polluting the well that all future generations will drink from.

Where This All Leads

Following these trains of thought has led us to uphold in higher regard the sourcing of all things organic. We’re not yet there. In fact, we’re quite a ways away, and we may find that it’s not entirely attainable. But our GPS has been set to a well defined destination, and we’re gearing up for the ensuing trek.

Given our newfound focus on organics, Traceability has quickly become of utmost importance, and is a key to this next phase of our evolution. Us as in our restaurant group, but also us as a society. More now than ever, people are tuned in to where things come from, and whether or not they’ve been built with care and respect. It’s no wonder, given how important this context is. Traceability implies transparency, and we all need transparency, especially with food.

Proper tracing is a fascinating exploration, since it carries a very logical and inevitable next step. Buying local. If we care about our sourcing, and we care about our community, then seeking out local foods becomes the imperative. We become engaged with our local environment.

Given our geographical slice of earth, buying local also carries an inevitable step beyond itself. Seasonality. We threw in the towel on establishing a robust local supply chain before the fight even began. How could it be possible? How can we get our hands on the locally grown foods we wish to sell in a climate where virtually nothing on our menu grows year around? We can’t. So source everything from everywhere. But that’s a false paradigm. That’s the easy road.

False paradigm? Absolutely. Rather than crafting a menu around what we want, craft it around what we have. We should impose restrictions. We should learn to worship the seasons.

It would take more than one hand to count the number of friends who’ve told me that COVID has inspired them to give up permanently on maintaining a gym membership. Whether they’ve dusted off their old bike, taken to virtual yoga, found themselves a jogging routine, or ordered a set of kettlebells - many have learned to embrace what’s available to them. As we’ve begun shifting focus towards embracing seasonality, the parallels have begun to emerge. At least for me, the gym now seems like a tool for the winter. It feels sacrilegious to work on our fitness indoors on a beautiful August day, like we’re shunning Mother Nature’s gift. So much of our lives are dictated by the seasons. Our holidays, our vacations, our clothing. When considering the cascade of meaningful inevitabilities that come attached to the paradigm shift towards seasonal eating, it’s hard to argue against it.

This is not to suggest a pending overhaul of how we do business. Changes will come, but not drastically, and not without careful consideration. This is not an announcement of any immediate change, either. It’s simply an acknowledgement that we’ve tapped into something new, and we look forward to where it takes us. We also relish in the opportunity to take you along for the ride.

To find compatibility between ourselves and our food choices, we should be visiting our local farmer’s markets as often as we can. We should forge relationships with local farmers who employ ethical practices. By doing so we partake in their mission, now more deeply understanding the depths of that relationship. It goes so far beyond that bag of food that we load into our trunks. It connects us to the very fabric of our wondrous planet.