Add as bookmark

Foodwise - Understanding What We Eat and How it Affects Us

by Wendy E Cook

listed in nutrition

This splendid title is one of the most intelligently presented books about Nutrition I have read in many years. A unique blend of deep spiritual wisdom, intimate knowledge of food and how plants and nutritional elements affect us on every level, Wendy Cook has combined her practical common sense honed from applying nutrition to cure her daughter's eczema and asthma, with an assimilation of insights from geniuses including Rudolf Steiner and the Macrobiotic philosophy in its widest sense of living and eating in balance.

In this book Wendy Cook presents one of the most central elements of our lives - food. Without it we cannot survive for very long. Still, as so often with the most essential things in our lives, it is taken for granted by people in the rich parts of the world. And in poor countries, obtaining adequate food is an endless source of hardship for people who have to struggle to feed themselves and their families. She asks the questions many of us have struggled with:

"How come there is so much malnutrition in the world when there are grain and butter mountains, wine lakes, vegetables ploughed back into the soil, and where food policies are creating a new kind of slavery? Bio-technology professes as its motive the solving of world hunger but in fact seeks to monopolize and exploit seed culture and destroy the wonderful genetic diversity created over millennia by small farmers. Meanwhile, millions of Westerners suffer from diet-related illnesses and there is a serious crisis of meaning in our society, 'soul starvation', manifesting often as depression."

But we are what we eat and it is essential that we all get a balanced diet of optimally superior quality nutrients, minus the toxic chemicals and pesticides awash in most commercially available items in our supermarkets. In the first part of the book Wendy Cook gives a historic outlook on agricultural practices and food, dating back to the beginning – The Garden of Eden; how we went from a very healthy diet based on local food and lots of carbohydrates, to adding on more and more variety from other parts of the world. With increased travel, potatoes, spices and other foods that we now see as local and essential for our cooking spread to all parts of the world. This section adds extra value by linking diet with social evolution. One such example is the introduction of stimulants such as tea, coffee and tobacco that happened simultaneously as the last great shift in Western worldview lead by Descartes, Newton and others.

There is an incredible breadth and intellectual rigour of topics discussed and debated, including the historical, spiritual and religious aspects of the vegetarian diet, evidence of dangers from microwave ovens, biodynamic agriculture, methodology of animal slaughter, the merits and otherwise of honey. Wendy Cook is never dogmatic; rather she puts forward various views and even her own choice, but never in a put-down way so common with the mantra of evangelizing proponents of certain regimens.

A central element to this book is a detailed examination, chapter by chapter, of the qualities in various foods; what effects they have on our body and how to combine them.: Plants – their parts and families; Carbohydrates and Sweeteners; Bread and Bread Making; The Nightshade Family; Legumes; Milk and Dairy Products; Fats and Oils; Salt; Minerals and the Question of Dietary Supplements; Herbs and Spices; Stimulants: Coffee, Tea and Chocolate; and Water.

Along the way, the Author intelligently discusses numerous controversial subjects, including low and high carbohydrate diets, nutritional supplements, blood groups and their influence upon nutrition, tobacco addiction, milk and dairy products, salt (sodium and potassium balance), soil and mineral composition. There is no denying her assertions and lamentations about the dismal decline in soil fertility and the lack of minerals therein. I also don't disagree with her that in an ideal world, with organic, rich, nutrient and humus-rich soil, there would be no huge need for nutritional supplements; however, I strongly endorse the therapeutic use of nutritional supplements, although they may be isolated nutrients and less than optimum, for those of us not living in the idyllic world of growing our own organic food and cooking deliciously nutritious meals three times daily.

Only a generation or two ago this kind of nutritional knowledge and wisdom was passed on from generation to generation. But with the introduction of supermarkets and fast food this has changed drastically and with disastrous effects. Instead of improving our eating habits the whole of the Western world has seen a rapid decline in diet leading to small children with terrible tooth decay, obesity, allergies and other potentially life-threatening problems.

The book has a wonderfully thorough section discussing all aspects of preparing and cooking means, along with suggested weekly diets and eating habits. Another important factor that has deteriorated rapidly with the introduction of fast food (and so-called TV-dinners) is that fewer and fewer families share their meals together. Instead we fall into grazing, eating snacks or eating in front of the TV, no longer sharing our meals but our TV programmes.

Wendy Cook also looks at food production, how farming has changed from small plots to sustain one or a few families, to the huge areas of mechanised farming, and the consequences this has, not just for the farmland, but also for our awareness of how food is produced – and above all – the importance of organic and biodynamic (à la Steiner) farming. That more and more people in the Western world have completely lost contact with how our food is produced does not just make us less interested in good quality food, it tends to makes us more detached from environmental issues.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that two of the world's most industrialized countries, where food production equals stocking shelves in a supermarket come a long way down the list of environmentally conscious countries. And with recent world events in fresh memory, the thought comes to mind if there is a link between the attitude to food and the willingness to spend huge amounts of money on combating potential threats of chemical weapons rather than on real environmental threats. There is no need for spy satellites to determine that there is a real and great risk that many parts of the world will run out of clean water within the next decays. Nor is there a need to find out how to reverse pollution [or impurities in the air and water as one of the world leaders calls it]. The knowledge is there. The technology is there. What is lacking is willingness from politicians to invest the money needed and to take side with people rather than global multinational giants.

To change our attitudes toward food and return to a healthy diet takes a monumentally combined effort. Not just to influence politicians in the right direction, it also entails a combined effort by consumers to demand higher quality organically grown products. As has been seen with the long legacy of food scandals including salmonella, BSE, CJD and GM foods, it is possible as consumers to influence the food industry. It also needs a long term view and a combined effort to educate children to develop a healthy diet. To blame children for their poor diet is both unfair and wrong. It is the job of adults to teach good eating habits.

One key element for improving our diet is knowledge. Wendy Cook's book offers this in abundance as well as many interesting facts about one of the most important aspect daily lives - how to provide and prepare the food that keeps us alive and that makes so much difference to our quality of life.

There are an abundance of fascinating Notes, a wide-ranging Select Bibliography (albeit with no mention to Positive Health), as well as a well-prepared Index. This book is indeed a veritable treasure.

Reviewed by Gunnel Minett and Sandra Goodman, PhD

Gordon Smith
Clairview Books
ISBN 1-902636-39-2

top of the page