When Superfoods Become Super Bad
The year is 2018. The month, September. My daughter has just turned six months old and we’ve entered a stage called ‘weaning’ where I try to convince my milk-loving infant that solid food is the best thing since sliced… As I navigate these stormy waters, an idyllic promised land quickly emerges. It is green. Available in all the shops. And goes by the moniker, Avocado. Avocados become my daughter’s new best friend. No matter how much broccoli is thrown, carrots rejected, chicken regurgitated, I live safe in the knowledge that, mushed up with an overly ripe banana, she’ll scoff a whole one. Every. Single. Day. And avocados are one of the most super of all the superfoods. The internet tells me that you could, should you need to, survive solely eating avocados, on account of all their good fats, their vitamins and their minerals. They’ll also give you great skin, silky hair and a hyper-functioning brain. avoCANdos, really can do it all. And she loves them. My special princess actually loves them.
And then I discovered that the farming of them has created a veritable war zone in parts of South America. The avocado industry is so lucrative that in places such as Mexico, drug cartels are targeting the farmers of this $1.5bn business. Kidnappings and killings were commonplace, as was the torching of avocado packaging facilities, crops and farmers’ homes. And when I casually write, ‘kidnapping and killings were commonplace’, take a moment, please, because that’s innocent farming families, sometimes entire families, being subjected to violence and terror.
“Avo’mania led to the illegal destruction of precious forestland to create more farmland.”
The situation has stabilised somewhat since 2017. There is now such a thing as the Avocado Police protecting farmers and local communities. But the negative impact wasn’t just on the local communities. Avocado orchards require twice as much water as a dense pine forest, meaning local water resources were severely compromised. Avo’mania led to the illegal destruction of precious forestland to create more farmland. The ethicacy of my daughter gobbling up food at such a human and environmental cost has left me reeling. How can I find an avo from an environmentally conscious home where the farmers are safe and well?
The second super blow was my old friend quinoa. The food of Gods. The miracle grain filled with all those lovely aminos. As soon as I learnt how to pronounce it back in the early noughties, it became a kitchen staple. But keen-wa became so valuable in South America that farmers in Peru and Bolivia could no longer afford to eat it themselves. Imported junk food actually became cheaper. In Lima, quinoa became more expensive than chicken. Outside cities, land that once produced a diverse range of crops, started farming solely quinoa. Then I discovered that nut milk, my staple go-to non-dairy alternative, was one of most water-intensive products to manufacture in the world.
The final straw was spirulina, the blue-green powder that makes my morning smoothie look like liquidated compost. I’d been consuming this ‘complete protein’ for many years because, FYI, its filled with an ‘array’ of essential vitamins and minerals. Only now I find that almost all commercially available versions contain a neurotoxin (BMAA) that has been scientifically proven to create neurological diseases similar to Parkinson’s.
“The second super blow was my old friend quinoa. The food of Gods. The miracle grain filled with all those lovely aminos.”
What the bloody hell was going on? Superfoods were now super bad, either for the communities farming them, or for the environments destroyed producing them, or by conscienceless businessmen creating products that are actually bad for our health. So how can we be sure of the foods we consume? How can we be ethical consumers? How can we be safe? Naturopath Melanie Atkinson recommends buying from a local organic store. They should have their own systems in place for ensuring their goods are ethical and quality.
You could also grow your own. A greenhouse or allotment can provide an array of foods for you all year round. Gardening is also akin to mediating, such are the health benefits of getting your hands covered in soil. But with my six-month-old now a fast-toddling one-year-old, quinoa farming and nurturing avocado forests seemed out of my league.
Our alternative was to buy local. With local farmers you know the source of your food. You will be sure of the safety of your food. There will be no excessive packaging involved AND you will be supporting your local community. Plus farmers markets these days are filled with handsome hipsters selling organically grown cucumbers and brewing home ground coffee while grooming their avant-garde moustaches. So it’s win-win for all involved.
An added bonus of going local
I am no scientist when I tell you this. There is no Dr. Garbs in this house. But consider this. Perhaps your body is designed to thrive on foods that grow native to you and where you were born? I recently met a 60-year-old man, a type 1 diabetic, who reversed his four injections a day down to type 2 (tablets) and then, to no medical intervention at all. How? Well his dietary changes were extreme, to begin with. But now, he just eats food that has been grown locally, eating in line with the different seasons. He eats vegetables and fruits native to his Somerset home, so apples, greens and root veg, occasionally berries in the summer, free range eggs and meats. The high fructose bananas, mangoes and pineapples never make it onto his table because… well… have you ever seen a mango tree growing naturally in Somerset? If it can’t be grown locally, naturally and historically, and if it can’t be grown at all – yes we are talking about you crisps / biscuits / bloody Nutella – then he doesn’t eat it. Ever. Full Stop. So maybe we should all just trust in nature and evolution and eat the foods our homelands can naturally provide. Because there is no native homeland for a Cadbury’s Cream Egg. And that, sadly, is a real scientific fact.