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Food Vitality - The Almost Neglected Ingredient for Health

by Wendy Cook(more info)

listed in nutrition, originally published in issue 95 - January 2004

I have amongst my books on nutrition one called Are You Confused? by Paavo Airola, published in 1971.[1] In the intervening 30-odd years so much more information has been published which has increased our confusion about the everyday matter of nourishing ourselves. We in the Western world seem to have largely lost our natural good instincts – the kind of common sense that has enabled humanity to evolve successfully. However, we need to unravel the story if we are to contextualize the barrage of often contradictory information we are surrounded by today.

My life, which has spanned 63 years, began in wartime, rural Britain under food rationing and has given me an overview of the changes that have brought about the de-naturing of our once fertile soils (and, consequently, our daily bread). We as a family in those war years were better off than many people because my mother had a burgeoning organic vegetable garden and some orchard as well. The laying down of this quality of childhood nutrition gave me a basic understanding of what life-giving food tasted, looked and smelt like.

Our family, indeed, engaged in what families have been doing for millennia – enriching the soil with manures, planting, harvesting and cooking, and with it came the satisfaction of exchanging produce with neighbours. It is distressing to see how few people these days have any idea of how to grow a plant, even having little contact with nature except, perhaps, through the car windows. To practise gardening skills gives security, knowledge and wisdom, as do any activities that supply insights into human creative potential. When we are not creators but only consumers, I believe we are easily manipulable and, consequently, insecure in our understanding of how we ourselves function as physical or spiritual entities, or how the natural world functions.

It took the poor health of one of my daughters, suffering from chronic asthma in the 1970s, to remind me of the importance of vital nutrition (having despaired of allopathic medicine which, for her, included adrenalin shots, steroids and oxygen tents; these treatments did not improve her condition). I studied Macrobiotics and then became involved with the Steiner educational movement. It is a system full of wisdom, seeking to engage the whole human being through arts, crafts, music, drama and gardening, alongside the usual academic subjects, and underpinned by healthy nutrition supplied by the local biodynamic farms. We all thrived as a result and I began to study Steiner's ideas, specializing in nutrition and its relationship to agriculture. I met concepts that helped me to put into perspective the challenges of our particular culture.

Nutrition and Consciousness

These days we hear a great deal about health and nutrition, but rarely about their impact upon our consciousness. Steiner spoke about three differing epochs of human nutrition that accompanied different phases of human consciousness. Do we imagine that the human being has always related to the world with the same kind of consciousness?

We only need to look at the history of art to see how the human expression has changed over historical time, beginning with a simple, childlike condition where life went on within a timeless, mythological consciousness. (Early depictions of the face show an almost trance-like expression.) Groups of people were led by priests and shamans, whose wisdom was gathered from communing with the stars. This period is characterized by milk and honey, with their nurturing aspects. The ancient Indians treated the cow as sacred, drinking its milk but never taking its life – a state of being comparable with that of a young child who sleeps a great deal, feeling secure while the parents protect it from influences and difficulties that are part of later life. The wisdom contained in the honey from wild bees made it a complete food for this childhood era of mankind. Nature was perceived to be full of devas and the human being still strongly connected to the world of spirit.

Cain and Abel

The story of Cain and Abel symbolizes a changeover from hunting and gathering to husbandry. Cain is described as an agriculturist who was beginning to understand the laws of nature and gain some control over them. He was able to store grain – a tremendous advantage.

Abel was a nomadic shepherd, moving about with his flocks, gathering food and using his animals' milk. Cain's 'slaying' of Abel signifies the predominance of the settled agrarian way of life. This was accompanied by profound changes in human perception, not only of himself but of his relationship with his world, as he was now custodian of a piece of land. This new way of life, anchored in the soil, provided a surplus that would allow other cultural activities to develop: art, architecture, poetry, dance. This epoch is characterized as the Age of Bread and Wine.

According to Steiner it was important for evolving humanity to become thoroughly awake to the importance of concrete existence, so that they could learn from it all that could be learnt. As long as the human being still experienced himself as a citizen of the spiritual world and considered physical life as only a small part of existence, he would not take the possibilities offered by earthly life seriously enough. Milk had had the effect of tying the human being gently to the earth, building nerve, muscle and kapha; bread really earthed him, and wine – initially used by priests in temple rituals – had the task of separating the human from his spiritual origins, encouraging a kind of forgetfulness. As a sacred ritual drink, wine was initially used with care and reverence, but the rituals became decadent.

Instead of feeling in harmony with the spiritual worlds, now he felt more in harmony with himself, his family and friends. The soul adjusts, shrinking in order to fit more comfortably in the confines of the body. The active principle of alcohol is a counter-force to the upwardly striving nature of the human spirit, temporarily stunting it.

This concept of Steiner's, that wine was needed for its shrinking effect upon the spiritual part of the human being, is a hard one to grasp, but perhaps we know from experience that over-consumption of alcohol makes us forgetful, the next day, of what we did or said the day before. Although wine temporarily enlivens us, the fact remains that seeds will not germinate in it, indicating its 'mineralized' status (tamasic in the Ayurvedic system) and here is the clue to the life forces in wine. So we are led to the Mineral Epoch in which we currently find ourselves.

The Greeks

Salt as a seasoning began in Greek times and here we see the concentration on the power of thought, resulting in philosophical and logical debate. When we look at what the Greeks grew and used for nutrition, we notice a purity and simplicity of diet. Food was seen as a sun-product, of which the cereals wheat and barley were the sacred, life-giving staples. Vegetarianism played an important part in Greek philosophy, which considered the ethical aspects of eating. In addition to cereals the Greeks used figs, grapes, pomegranates, spinach, marrows, celery, nettles, hyacinth bulbs, artichokes, asparagus and honey. The milk of goats and sheep was made into curd cheese and sometimes flavoured with poppy seeds. Green herbs were used for both culinary and medical purposes and occasionally fish was eaten. Meat was not a part of everyday life, usually only appearing at times of religious sacrifice, when a sheep or a goat would be offered.

The Romans

With the Romans the 'mineralizing' tendency continued. We have only to compare a bust of a Roman Emperor with the fluidity of Greek sculpture to see that gravity is taking over – the human being becoming more and more 'earthy'. The consumption of salt increased, its value reflected in the Roman soldier's salary (from sal = salt). The Romans also developed a salty condiment made from rotted, fermented fish, salt and old wine, 'liquamen', which they poured over every conceivable dish. At this time, pepper and spices made their entrance, along with meat-eating, Bacchanalian orgies, gluttony, vomitoriums and the gladiatorial displays of cruelty.

From originally being farmers, the Romans turned to being warriors. War was their raison d'etre, and they became very successful at it. Many laws were drawn up about land and property ownership, citizenship and trading. Society was subject to state-imposed law and order – our own judicial system has its roots in these times, our culture containing many aspects that echo Roman society. During its latter days the glittering displays of Rome masked a moral and spiritual bankruptcy: "Indeed, the whole development of reason now seemed to have undercut its own basis, with the human mind denying itself the capacity for genuine knowledge of the world, while reason and verbal skills were coming to have a less than impeccable reputation."[2]

Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages the search for more sources of the much-desired spices stimulated trade and great expeditions. Columbus brought many products back to Europe from the Americas, including potatoes and tobacco, both members of the poisonous Nightshade family (the solannacae). Sugar (from cane) was at first so precious and rare it is calculated that all the wonders of the Renaissance were achieved on an average of one teaspoon of sugar per person per annum (whereas we now tend towards an average annual consumption of 42 kilos). The new stimulants of coffee, tea and chocolate required sugar to make them palatable (chocolate is bitter and disgusting without sweetening). As drinks, they entered speedily into the bloodstream and thus had an immediate effect.

The wonder and interest with which life with a direct experience of the spirit had been viewed by earlier humanity did continue into the Middle Ages (where the figure of Paracelsus, healer and alchemist, serves as a beacon), but was about to be changed by a group of philosophers and scientists. The ideas of Bacon, Kepler, Galileo, Newton and Descartes gave a new interpretation of the human being's place in the scheme of things. He was now seen as created purposely to have dominion over nature, in a world observed to operate in a mechanical way. This view fuelled an increasingly ruthless pursuit of methods by which to harness nature for purely utilitarian ends, motivated by desire for control, power and wealth.

Chemicalization of Food

As cities grew in the 17th and 18th centuries, food adulteration became rife. Flour was diluted with alum (a whitening agent), cocoa with brickdust, tea with dried used tea leaves; juniper berries were sold as peppercorns and there were wooden 'nutmegs'. The invention of the microscope allowed these adulterations to be found, but it also revealed a teeming microbial world which we have battled with ever since. As a result, we have had war on pests, weeds, diseases and indeed anything that we didn't want. Science was going to relieve us of all our ills.

The mineralization process has been further advanced in this Age of Ore and Oil. The derivative products given to us by chemists and physicists have brought us substances unknown before: plastics, synthetic colours and tastes, chemical fertilizers and drugs – many of which cannot be digested by the earth.

"If we compressed our time on earth into one 24 hour period, the past 50 years would register as a micro-second. We have done more to disrupt the cycle in that micro-second, that blink of an eye, than in our entire history."[3]

There have been thousands of years of patient plant development during the period of human agricultural experience. Good farmers observed the starry skies and their own soils. We have gone from a milk and whole cereal nutrition to the use of potatoes and sugar as our main starch sources, over-indulging in animal products, drinking tea, coffee, alcohol, fizzy drinks and eating chocolate. Soya, originally only known in the far east, is now found in thousands of manufactured food products and salt is over-consumed.

When our bodies and nervous systems are also having to deal with a cocktail of around 500 artificial chemicals, how can we expect to be in touch with the body's deepest intuitive wisdom?

Lady Eve Balfour, one of the founder members of the Soil Association, once remarked that the use of chemicals in agriculture merely amounted to 'the art of making water stand upright'. Cell membranes become thinner and the gluten content has been steadily increased to give us the spongy white 'Mother's Pride' type of loaf that millions of people rely on for nourishment. No wonder that gluten allergies abound. Also, a great deal of money is spent on food supplements, now a huge industry, because people no longer experience their food as truly nourishing and satisfying.

Rudolf Steiner predicted that if the materialistic world concept continued to be applied to nature and agriculture, the resulting agricultural products would become so degenerated that they would no longer be able to adequately nourish human beings, and that mineral blueprints would be created to try to make up for the lost trace minerals naturally abundant in properly grown food. I do feel that, in this phenomenon of increasing consumption of mineral supplements, we are witnessing the tip of an iceberg – it indicates something very important beneath.

So, what is the intrinsic function of minerals? The human organism must constantly transform or dissolve mineral crystalline substances and bring them into the stream of life. Only out of this ordered, dynamic, mineralized cellular fluid can it form its own crystals as found in the skeleton, the teeth and the pineal gland. For this, a very specific degree of warmth is required. Although minerals are 'lifeless' in that they cannot initiate growth or movement themselves, their catalytic role in facilitating processes that take place at vast speeds is only just beginning to be uncovered. We have known for some time about the importance of macro-minerals such as calcium, but knowledge of that of the micro-nutrients is relatively new. The significant realization must be that they need to be in the right proportions. Swamping the system with large doses of micro-nutrients manufactured in a laboratory, rather than accessing them from properly grown food, is a questionable practice.

"The mineral which has expelled warmth and life out of itself is in constant motion (in nature), directing processes between the earth and the cosmos. This is the power of the Phoenix, as it appears in mythology. Minerals thus provide the most extensive stimulation of the highest human activity, that of the ego-organisation*."[4]
* the higher spiritual self.

Deficiency in Food Vitality

On the human food journey I have whisked us past some pivotal substances, many of which were used from necessity. But can we see this as a gravitational process downwards, becoming more and more dense, and submerged in materialism? Do we want to become, like Lot's wife – a pillar of salt, heavy and sclerotic? Research does show there is a deficiency of nutrients in our conventionally grown produce. In a sense, however, it seems that by promoting supplements we are attempting to bypass the importance of good husbandry, of creating vital soils that provide the full range of nutrition needed for plant, animal and human. Shouldn't we be encouraging our farmers to grow more biodynamic and organically grown crops, with more diversity, and support our local farmers and reduce those food miles?

More people are becoming vegetarian and vegetarians need vital food. What is vital food? I will try to answer this presently. We also need to reinstate the family meal. Breaking bread together we become companions (cum panis = with bread). Sitting down with little piles of pills for me cannot compare with a meal lovingly and thoughtfully prepared from the best ingredients. The shared meal is the archetypal building block on which communities have flourished. It is a place where people learn to share, to care for each other and (we used to) learn the art of conversation. I am convinced that the rapid disappearance of this cementing activity is one of the causes for the disintegration of society.

So, on what kind of understanding is our present-day nutritional research based? Much of the research has been done on rats, which differ greatly from human beings. Most nutritional theory is still based on materialistic-mechanistic concepts – the additive and interactive effects of countable properties, such as calories, vitamins, proteins and minerals.

In such a system there is no room for qualitative differences in people, their constitutions or the food products themselves. All is considered uniform. This is beginning to change, but human nutrition and digestion is still very poorly understood and usually the psychological aspect of eating is overlooked. Today, with so much stress in society, eating is not the relaxing, nurturing activity that it used to be.

Rudolf Steiner spoke of an 'anti-physics' and an 'anti-chemistry' at work in the human being. Food is lifted out of a gravitational force-field of normal laboratory chemistry and subjected to an intensely intricate and individual digestive process. When we digest food, we have the task of unpacking the information of the various constituents. The etheric (form-shaping) bodies of plants do not correspond to those of the human being, so it is necessary to destroy their characteristics. In fact, all foods are alien substances; if they were to be injected directly into the bloodstream toxaemia would occur.

Joys of Authentic Food

The peculiarities of shape, texture, colour, aroma and taste can never be fully described by chemistry or physics, and, although the more obvious qualities can be consciously experienced through our senses, the finer and subtler qualities are sensed and drawn out only by our unconscious powers of digestion. A cauliflower, for example, has a definite appearance, structure and taste. These properties are not present in the cauliflower's constituents, such as carbohydrates or water. Each food, properly grown, can be seen to represent an encoding – a message from the cosmos. In the plant or animal, lifeless constituents are rearranged into a structure capable of supporting life and, when we eat, information about this process is carried into our organism. So, if we feed our family with a lemon cake flavoured with citric acid instead of real lemon, we are depriving them of the true experience of the lemon, with its wonderfully pungent oils and juices and its own particular life-forces – we have cheated by mimicking the real lemon.

Paracelsus (born c.1490) represented the fusion of old alchemical wisdom and the new objective science. As a herbalist he was a practitioner of the doctrine of 'similars', working with the principles of the microcosm, as represented in the human being and reflecting the universe – the macrocosm:

"In the human are contained all the powers and all the substances that exist in the world and yet he constitutes a world of his own. Each human in his capacity as a member of the great organization of the world can be truly known only if looked upon in his connection with universal Nature and not as a separate being, isolated from Nature.

The human being is dependent for his existence on Nature and the state of Nature depends on the condition of humankind as a whole… Along with all other living things, the human being is bound to the whole universe by energy correspondences. For every star in the sky there is a flower in the meadow and heaven seems to have inverted itself upon the earth."[5]

Light, Energy and Biodynamics

Many of Paracelsus' writings were devoted to the subject of light. Light not only contains the energy needed to support the whole broad expanse of creation, but the invisible aspect of light supports the secret powers and functions of the human being, particularly intuition. This 'light-life' corresponds to the chi of eastern systems, the inana of the natives of the Polynesian islands and the orenda of the Iroquois Indians.

The Greeks knew of this light – the ocular fire placed in the human eye by Aphrodite as an emanation of love and life, and they saw their intuition as a sun-product, 'spun sunlight', which indeed well-grown plants are. We know when someone looks healthy their eyes shine, as does their skin and hair – all aspects of the light-reflecting 'silica process' (Steiner's term) .

So it is not surprising that, when reductionist scientific methods fail to detect any significant differences between chemically grown (strangely, now referred to as 'conventional', when they have only been created in the past 50 years!) and organic foods, new ways of portraying food quality are being developed.

The German physicist Popp (in a 1989 research paper) believes it is impossible to measure by conventional means the energies necessary for the maintenance of life processes. He has demonstrated that food of the highest quality shows the highest photon transmission, compared with average quality food of identical calorific value. (Photons are stored in the DNA during photosynthesis and transmitted continuously by living cells.) This work might also provide an insight into the essential nature of vitamins and minerals, which is still hardly understood, although the words appear so frequently in our language. Dr Popp's current research has demonstrated a difference of up to 98% in the amount of low-level luminescence in plant foods from biological farming systems over that from conventional systems.

Other methods of illustrating the vitality of food and water have been researched within the biodynamic system. Dr Ursula Balzer-Graf and other biodynamic practitioners are successfully exploring ways to illustrate vitality of food and water through sensitive crystallization techniques pioneered by Ehrenphries Pfeiffer, together with chromatograms.

The pictures from these methods show rhythmic and integrated structures in plants grown organically and biodynamically, whereas conventionally grown plants tend to show a denaturing irregularity, with gaps in their organization causing weak cell structure and weak nuclei. Such plants generally have poor keeping quality compared to biodynamic and organically grown produce. What we are being called to do here is to develop an ability to see what lies behind the visible plant, its formative forces, as shown in its structure.

Vitality in Food

A good cook does not need to know the constituent elements of food. She will have trained herself to recognize vitality through aroma/flavour, an important indication of quality sadly disappearing fast from our food. (That is why there are all those thousands of sauces, chutneys and relishes to stimulate the palate in the absence of true aroma/flavour.) In most salads, fruits and vegetables from supermarkets flavour is virtually absent. Appearance – no blemishes – is something to be suspicious of; nature produces diversity and never dull uniformity. In Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Snow White is tempted to eat the shiny red apple proffered by the witch and she falls asleep for a hundred years until wakened by the prince… or a new kind of consciousness.

We need to wake up to what is life-enhancing through training all of our senses – they are our weapons for retrieving our inherent wisdom. To re-establish a qualitative phenomenological way of perceiving the world around us is now urgent. We can start to be good materialists, understanding matter in its essence; knowing, for example, that the protein from an egg is different from soya protein – it is a reproductive protein capable of producing a new chick. Turning to honey as another example of a very concentrated natural food, quite apart from its amazing constituents that defy laboratory analysis, we learn that one teaspoon represents approximately 2,000 hours of work (or is it play?) by the bee.

Microscopes show us that the starch granules of cereals are rhythmically organized to enhance life-giving properties, those of potato starch being chaotic by comparison. Cereals grow in full sunlight, but the potato grows in the cold, dark soil as a swollen stem, usually striving for the sunlight, where it develops the poisonous substance solanine. Rich in potassium, the potato demands sodium (salt) to accompany it and according to Steiner, "The potato makes great demands on the digestion. Very small, almost homeopathic doses, find their way to the brain but these tiny quantities are very potent: they spur on the forces of abstract intelligence." Over-reliance on potato starch burdens the middle portion of the brain which is meant to support creative, artistic and imaginative thinking, so those forces tend to be impaired in potato-eating cultures.

The current confusion comes largely from the abstract thinking we use to approach the subject of nutrition. Abstract intelligence is based on reductionist thinking which chops everything up to analyze it. What we need are the powers of imaginative, creative intuition, and to connect again with the intuitive wisdom of our bodies. What is good for me should also be good for the planet! Health is not an egotistical matter, but something to enhance the symphony of extraordinary symbiotic exchanges occurring in our creative universe. By looking through the eyes of the ancients, re-connecting with our story and mythologies, and retraining our senses, we may begin to see our food with new eyes.

References

1. Airola P. Are You Confused? Health Plus Publications. 1977.
2. Tarnas R. The Passion of the Western Mind. Ballantine Books. 1991.
3. Humphrys J. The Great Food Gamble. Hodder & Stoughton. 2002.
4. Schmidt G. Essentials of Nutrition. Biodynamic Literature. USA. 1987.
5. Hartman F. The Life of Paracelsus. Wizards Bookshelf. 1997.

Bibliography

Hauschka R. Nutrition. Rudolf Steiner Press. 1983.
Pelikan W. The Secrets of Metals. Anthroposophic Press. New York. 1973.
Pitchford P. Healing with Wholefoods. North Atlantic Books. 1993.
Steiner R. Agriculture Lectures. Biodynamic Agricultural Association. 1994.

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About Wendy Cook

Wendy Cook's fascination with nutrition began during her wartime childhood. In the midst of deprivation and food-rationing, the rich abundance of her mother's organic garden made a profound impression. In her twenties, married to satirist Peter Cook, she discovered the artistic and magical effects that food could have in creating a convivial atmosphere. During this period, she cooked for many well-known names, including John Lennon, Paul McCartnery, Dudley Moore, Peter Ustinov and Alan Bennett. But it was only later, through her daughter's chronic asthmatic condition, that she came to study and understand the deeper aspects of nutrition. Through her studies of macrobiotics and the works of Rudolf Steiner, new insights were gained, including the effects of nutrition on consciousness, as well as on human health and the environment. She is the author of Foodwise: Understanding What We Eat and How it Affects Us (Clairview Press, 2003). She can be contacted via amanda.cuthbert@btinternet.com

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