I listened, then I changed my behaviour

Before I wrote my first book I was a mess. A physical manifestation of my life choices. I ate all the wrong things, I rarely exercised, and I drank way too much. 

There were however, voices heard through the clutter of modern media, voices that resonated, ultimately influencing me to begin my journey. In the late 90's an English mate introduced me to Jamie Oliver. I remember attending a classic 90's dinner party that hosted where some of the dish's came straight out from the Jamie Oliver cook book. I'm pretty sure the main dish involved zucchini, cream, parmesan, pine nuts and farfalle pasta. This sounds ridiculous to share now, but I'd never eaten anything like it. It was simple to prepare, relatively healthy and addictively delicious. I cheekily asked for more servings, and went out and purchased the book in the following days.

Prior to this experience I wasn't much of a cook. For years after however, I'd enjoy cooking 'fancy' meals for dinner parties and special occasions, but never really embraced cooking as part of my everyday. Then Jamie did a TV special where he travelled around Italy cooking food with the locals. I discovered that other cultures don't just eat food for fuel, instead I was introduced to the concept that food can be much more than that. It can be identity, tradition, celebration, love and beautiful version of a human existence. I subsequently saved like mad, sold my car and bought a ticket to Italy, where I inevitably fell in love with food, but also the lifestyle where food is regarding as an integral part of our life story. I returned to Australia and began cooking everyday. 

One lazy weekend I remember stumbling across a re-run of a BBC TV show called 'Escape to River Cottage'. This Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall character was mind blowingly inspirational. I became obsessed. As a child I'd been raised on a farm, we had a large veg patch, chooks, cows, fruit trees etc, but as an adult working in an office I'd lost touch with all those things. Fresh from Italy, inspired by Jamie and Hugh I began digging up my rented backyard and growing vegetables, raising animals, hunting and foraging. This was ten years ago now. I had no idea that the process would lead me down a path of becoming much healthier and more aware of where my food comes from, and what it does to me. Sure I've since written a few of my own cook books with a focus on the whole grow, gather, hunt, cook approach, the end game is really just about a return to eating real food, food that keeps us healthy, food our bodies have evolved to optimally function with. 

The point I'm waywardly making is that it's those voices nudged me along the way. Those voices in the form of books and inspiring TV series are what motivated me to embrace a new way of living. Both of these blokes continue working tirelessly at keeping those voices heard. Unfortunately there are many hardline, extreme value based people that literally spew hate towards people like Jamie because after he partnered up with a major brand supermarket. Of course everyone is entitled to their opinion. Playing devils advocate I'll suggest we examine the bigger picture.

Most Australian's (86% according to The Colmar Brunton Omnibus Survey) prefer to shop at one of many of the thousands of supermarkets dotted around Australia, the other 14% visit farmers markets. I'd guess that somewhere between 1-5% of us grow our own food (a.k.a. The Freaks). 

So most Aussie shoppers visit supermarkets. Most Aussie adults are also overweight or obese 63.4% (ABS Health Survey 2014). So to influence any change with our nations diet influenced health crisis, one might assume the most effective approach would be to work with the companies that are selling the most amount of food, to the majority of the population. Sure, this doesn't take into account how the farmers are treated, primary producers welfare (417 visa worker abuse), whether the food is organic, free range, local, sustainable, an so many other issues. But maybe focusing on one issue at a time achieves more significant gains.

I once attended an event called the Do Lectures. Over the course of the weekend event I heard this sentence repeated many times: "Do one thing, and do it well". In regards to addressing a social issues, this approach resonates with me. We have a serious issue with diet influenced obesity. It's caused by two main factors, the type of food we eat, and why we choose to eat it (our relationship with food). Obesity is a serious problem leading to many secondary health issues such as Type 2 diabetes, increased risk of heart disease, stroke and many cancers. Every OECD country now has a national health issue with diet influenced obesity. This is a a health issue of global proportions, it's time we began to take it more seriously! 

Some people focus on the welfare of farmed pigs, some people focus on our over fished oceans. Some people focus on personal health for the sake of looking amazing, some people focus on promoting food a healthy functioning body (that's me).

For many of us (not all, but many) with some focus and dedication we can address many aspects of our modern food issues by embracing mindful consumerism. As a food activist, however, I now accept that a focus on one major issue at a time will bring about better traction, momentum and public awareness. 

So here's to the voices out there that are championing all the many and varied causes with a focus on food. What ever way they approach the issue, I commend you. For those that have influenced me personally, I thank you. I listened, and I changed my behaviour. The results are awesome. 

A Changed Man

Don't believe the hype

Most of us love the interaction of social media, the ability to communicate with people from all around the world, sharing common interests or simply being humans talking to other humans. It really has revolutionised our existence. Alas, nothing in this world is free, even a ‘free’ app is not really free. Advertising makes the app world viable.

 Our social media feeds are filled with user appropriate advertising. Algorithms take snippets of online activity using it to determine the advertising we’re exposed to. The websites we visit, the words we type, the hashtags and the images we like are all used to personalise our advertising ‘experience’. It’s effective and extremely clever.  

For the last few years I’ve been on a health journey of sorts, so at some point I’ve typed words like ‘wellness’ ‘fitness’ or ‘health’ on my online platforms. I’ve also taken the piss out of ‘green smoothies’ ‘coconut’ and ‘fermented’ ‘miracle cures’. The algorithms pick up on all of this activity resulting in ‘wellness’ and ‘fitness’ products being slotted into my personalised advertising experience.  

Recently an advert for a ‘health food’ processed/packaged nut product appeared in my feed. The advert convincingly stated that their nut product was a necessity for my health food pantry. It boldly implied that if I was really into living 'healthy' that I ought to purchase their 'healthy' product. I commented in disagreement, stating that all you need for a healthy food intake was unmolested whole foods, consumed in balance, with a focus on cooking with more plants than animals. Something most people with the basics of nutritional knowledge would agree with. Surprisingly, the nut product company also agreed.

The world of fitness, health, wellbeing is a super industry. It’s not just companies selling us products we can survive without, products that don’t effectively improve our health, wellbeing or fitness, but it’s a world full of humans promoting certain approaches to life, not all of them are necessarily healthy, achievable or warranted.

 I recently saw a photo online of a super buffed male, probably in his 60’s. The muscle bulk on this specimen was impressive, he’s obviously spent a lot of time working hard at a gym. There was a caption at the bottom of the photo that said “What’s your excuse?” This implies that we should all be working out at gyms to achieve this look. If a bloke in his 60’s can do it, then you should do it too. It implied that to be fit and healthy one must aspire to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. This is incorrect.  

Public perception of this kind of ripped body is that it’s the epitome of health and fitness, but it’s not necessarily the case. Sure the guy works out, and this is a good thing. There are plenty of studies that show exercise greatly improves a feeling of wellbeing while also reducing the risk of most preventable terminal illness such as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, cancers etc. Exercise is good, and it’s needed to achieve and maintain a level of fitness but, just because a person has ripped abs, minimal body fat and looks amazing in a mankini does not mean the body is healthy. If you have any anthropological interest, you may peruse the insta feeds of the health and wellness gods. The female form is usually scantily clad in beach wear, or appears in selfies at the gym or white sandy beaches wearing a bikini, tight yoga pants or active wear. They always appear to be very happy to, lucky for them nothing bad ever happens. The male form also appears in many gym selfies, tight tops with cut off arms to expose the massive bi-ceps, a.k.a. the guns, pew pew. In many of these feeds you'll see the fitness god kindly sharing what products they use to achieve these bodies of greatness. Supplements, powdered protein shakes, high protein diets of turkey or chicken meat, egg whites and lots of smoothies. You’ll also see packages of frozen processed ‘health’ meals designed for the health conscious, time poor fitness gods. I often wonder if these gods of fitness and wellness ever consider where all that chicken and turkey meat comes from, or how it's produced, or even how far that lean fish has travelled to their wellness dinner plates. Not to think of all those yolks that seem to disappear into wasteland after all the caged chooks have been through to produce it. But what’s important here is the aesthetics of the ripped body, what’s your excuse?

All my life I’ve been slightly miffed by the concept of extreme gym fitness and equally fascinated by the mentality of the process. What drives a person? Is it an improved Tinder profile? Is it just an obsession with reflective surfaces and the images they send back to us? It’s not really because of health, because you’d be kidding yourself if for a second you believed that any powdered supplement or meal replacement was a healthy option. You’d be kidding yourself if you believed that a high protein diet is a viable long term approach to healthy eating. You’d be mad to think taking vitamins and supplements is necessary for a healthy existence. Not to mention the drugs.  

Whats required for health is relatively simple. It’s not a choice of ours, evolution has determined what is good for us and what isn’t. It’s also determined what is required for a healthy life, we don’t need any of these ‘vital’ health food products in order to be healthy, we need to be eating what nature provides, unadulterated as much as possible. But none of this makes much money for the companies toting these 'healthy' products. Unfortunately for the rookies it’s easy to fall into the trap believing in the power of the product.   

Here's a few tips of advice for those interested. Eat mostly vegetables. Cook them, eat them raw, just make sure they start off as a whole food, not processed. If you want to take it to another level eat organic and local. Next eat some fruit, a few pieces every day, but avoid a smoothy containing more fruit than you'd naturally consume if it wasn't blitzed into a drinkable form. If inclined, eat some meat, a little each week, rely less on red meat. If you’re near the ocean, eat fish, it’s very healthy. Nuts and grains are good also, but don’t overdo it. Keep an eye on the complex carbs, the flour products, pasta, bread etc. Best to eat them at breakfast and lunch time, so you can use up the energy they provide during the day when you’re active, we don’t need to go to bed with full stomachs, not much energy is required for sleeping. But don’t not eat them, they’ve been shown to improve mental health and our bodies do make use of the energy if we’re active enough. Don’t drink too much booze, moderation is key. And finally do some exercise, whatever suites your lifestyle. It might be an hour walk daily, a run, some gym time, swimming, biking whatever. Be active, it’s really good for your long term health and for the present.  

Avoid processed foods. Find out what is a healthy processed food and what is not. Cheese is a processed food, and in moderation it’s fine. But not all cheese products are a healthy choice. You’ll need to do your research regarding processed foods, best to avoid foods in packets that tell you they’re natural or healthy, or have something reduced like fat or sugar. When you eat whole foots, you automatically reduce your intake of sugar, salts and the bad fats. Learn to cook. Drink lots of water. Avoid processed sugars and trans fats. Moderation. Eat a burger, but not every day or week. 

And if you decide to go vegan for ethical reasons (animal welfare or environmental) that doesn’t mean you need to embrace every vegan processed food product made with soy or corn or anything considered vegan. Nothing wrong with whole foods, unmolested. But if you become unwell and are recommended supplements to boost your nutrient levels, maybe reconsider a second opinion. Evolution determines what our bodies require to function well, not our opinions. But well done on the dedication for your beliefs, just don't tell me I'm doing it wrong because I don't share the same beliefs. Thats not cool.  

Simply put. Avoid the bullshit. Ignore the hype. Learn to cook and eat real food.   

Eat well. Live well.  

I’m done.

All of us, walking contradictions

I recently spotted Norman Reedus on the cover of Men’s Health magazine. Norman plays one of the most beloved characters on a zombie show I indulge in from time to time. On the surface his character ‘Daryl Dixon’ is a zombie killing, angry hillbilly, but over the years has developed into something more complex, someone more deep and sensitive. I feel we have a lot in common.

As much as I enjoy discussing apocalyptic zombie television, I want to share some recent thoughts on contradiction, and this is where the magazine cover comes into play. You see, Men’s Health magazine is about Men’s Health, but in many ways it’s not. It promotes the ideology that to be ‘healthy’ a man must have a certain body type, one attained from rigorous physical training. It’s also full of advertisements for body building supplements, and high protein diets, none of which are recognised as vital or key to attaining real health. And although I’m a fan of Norman, his character Daryl, and his side project motorbike TV show, I have to say that him being on the cover of a Health Magazine is a bit of a contradiction. I’m a mild fan, but fan enough to follow him on Instagram, along with 4.4 million other fans. On his social media account he makes no effort to hide that he smokes, and of course it’s his right to live anyway he chooses. I say that as an ex-smoker, and although I don’t consider myself to be a smoker anymore, once or twice a year, if I’ve had enough beer, I may indulge, take a puff, get disgusted in myself and wait another year. Yes, I’m a contradiction, but if you’ve ever been a full time smoker, you may relate. But I’m getting off track. My point is this, sure Norman has a fit looking body, with toned biceps, no visible middle age spread or excess weight on the face, basically he looks hot, a fine specimen, but the truth is, he smokes, and let’s face it, there's nothing healthy about that. Contradiction number one.

I went for a morning walk in the bush today, my back has been playing up and I haven’t been able to jog all week, bushwalking in the hood is the next best option. I do some of my best thinking alone in the bush, and today I considered my own contradictions. Here I am a bloke that makes some level of effort to grow his own food, hunt and cook with real ingredients, all with the aim of being healthier and more environmentally friendly. And although I achieve a great deal, much more than I used to, I acknowledge that my approach is not without its flaws when considering its aims. With this in mind I can identify thousands of contradictions. I’ll start with my undies.

They’re made in China, there isn’t many local options for undies or any clothes for that matter made here in Australia. Even if they are manufactured here, the textiles likely originated from Bangladesh or India, so clothes being manufactured here only benefit in local jobs and domestic economic gain, not a reduction in our ‘clothes miles’. I also drive a car, I buy milk, ammunition, toilet paper, wine, toothpaste, flour, I burn wood for heat and I breath. Everything we do has an impact of some description, and not one of us is without our impacts, not even the most ethical and environmentally friendly. With this in mind, I started thinking about how I’m becoming more comfortable with contradiction, instead leaning towards realism.

For the last two years I’ve been doing a lot of work on a project, to create a foundation out of nothing, that will do a great deal of something. The Nursery Project has evolved into a not-for-profit business driven by a mission to positively impact our community health. The idea is to teach skills of sensible nutritional health, how food is produced, to re-connect people with the realities of food production and the impacts our food has on the environment. We’re very unhealthy in Australia with 63.4% of adults over 18 years either overweight or obese (ABS 2014), I’d also like to add that more men (70.8%) are overweight than women (56.3%) just because people often get that one incorrect. With this basic statistic in mind, I’m trying to make a difference in the community with this project. It is my life vocation; this foundation is my way of changing what I know to be a problem.

When I began the project a few years ago I was idealistic and naïve. I thought the idea was sound and that people in my social media network would agree, thus want to support it. I ran a crowd funding project which failed miserably (but thank you to everyone that did support it though, love you all). My naivety was shattered; it took me a while to recover. My tiny support network has helped me gain some momentum, and thankfully the project has a new energy (sounding more like a hippy everyday). The experience of setting up the project has taught me a great deal, especially regarding the realities of business. Yes, we are a business, it’s the preferred model set out by ACNC, even if you are NFP.   

The reality of such a massive project is that it needs money to be set up. The money side of things is something that always makes me uncomfortable. But I have to put my personal issues aside because the reality is, this project simply will not happen without it. If the project doesn’t happen then we wouldn’t get thousands of school kids (and adults) through the farm, all of which would miss out on some important health education that’s lacking in most school curriculum programs (and general adult life). I don’t have the kind of money required, the public doesn’t seem to have that kind of money, so we need to look elsewhere. Originally I was all pure and ethical (idealistic) and declared that we would never ask certain companies for support. This has changed.

Then one day, whilst feeling very millennial and disruptiveI I came up with a fairly unconventional approach to funding. If certain companies are contributing to the problem, then don’t they have a social obligation to help fix it? In all likelihood not one of these corporations would ever agree to funding assistance, but it won’t stop me from asking. It’s not like this project will be the demise of processed food retailing, or take away, but it will do a great deal of social good, and that’s a good outcome I’m sure most people will agree with (not everyone though, I can already hear someone whispering “sell-out”).

So here is the situation of contradiction. We need to build a large building, we need to buy land, source farm vehicles, farm equipment, fruit trees, vegetable seeds, office equipment, pay insurance, permits, fees, electricity, gas, pay staff, superannuation, install sewerage, buy toilet paper, you name it, it all costs money, and this is all before we even run our very first class. The set up costs are phenomenal. So with that in mind, I now begin the uncomfortable journey of asking for large sums of money and equipment from companies that are probably not perfect, but will be contributing to a project of positive social change. That kind of makes me comfortable with contradiction.

The Nursery Project has the potential to become a beautiful community asset. And when I say community I mean everyone, not just our local area, we’re aiming high. We just want to make positive change.

All funds, land, equipment, toilet paper, everything is owned by The Nursery Project Limited, adhering to the strict regulations of law set out by the ACNC.  

A STRANGE AND MYSTERIOUS JOURNEY

Once the clock struck finishing time, I'd grab my gear, exit the office and hurriedly walk the few blocks directly to my home. As I entered the front door I'd announce my arrival with a loud  "hullo!" then collapse on the couch. "How was work?" was always a question that annoyed me to no end, even though it was delivered with kind and loving intent. It was the same routine everyday, and if I was truthful about it I would have said "I hate my job, I hate the people I work with, I feel my life has become pointless and nothing has any meaning anymore", instead I'd politely say "it was ok". Within the hour I'd get fidgety for a smoke and a wine. Glass after glass would wash away my feelings of pointless existence. This would be every night of the week, I had a serious drinking problem. 

Most of my adult life was like this. It was hard on our relationship, and eventually it became a way for me to 'deal' with relationship problems, some of which where caused by my drinking in the first place. It was also a way to 'deal' with the stress of bills, responsibility and a joyless and unfulfilling career. It actually didn't deal with anything, it devilishly created more problems. One of my old friends knew me well enough to take notice, she'd seen me at my worse and tried to help the way she had healed, with AA. I went to a meeting once, it was fucking horrible. The stories shared at that one meeting were heartbreaking. It put everything into context. It gave me the realisation of how far down the rabbit hole I'd come. I was a mess, and if I didn't pick up my game I was set to lose everything. I changed my ways for a while but eventually found myself in the same trap, back drinking, heavily smoking and making poor food choices which morphed me into a physical sack of shit. I was so unhealthy in mind and body that something had to give. I eventually lost my marriage, I lost a lot of friends, I lost respect, I lost the 'forever house' I'd renovated, and worst of all, I lost the right to live with my children full time, eventually we settled on 6/8 care. 

Out of something devastating and negative comes a positive. I eventually found a new way of living, a new love, a new hope, a new home, a new start. But I had to change. I had to dramatically changed my very core being. I changed to be the person I wanted to be, not the person I had to be, and that in turn helped the way I thought, the way I felt. I'm much healthier now, it's been years of living like this, and I've been gradually making adjustments along the way. I have to mention that my amazing, supportive partner has a lot to do with it. She has been a real angel, and every time I think about her I almost (actually often do) cry like a sobbing mess. Actually struggling to see the screen right now. But change was possible for me. But I had a lot to do with it. I worked hard to make it happen. Most of the time it wasn't nice, it was a real shitty struggle. To change my habits, to re-think what I was fuelling my body and brain, with both drink and food took some serious discipline and dedication. I'm glad I persevered, because where I am right now is the best place I've ever been as an adult. I eat well, I don't drink crazy style, I don't smoke a pack of cigarettes a day and I train to improve and maintain some level of fitness. I recently turned 40, you could say I'm a slow developer, and I'm sure we'd all agree that everyone, gets to that somewhere, in their own good time. 

I've just got home from a 2,500km outback road trip with my kids. I spent hours behind the wheel cruising the lost highway blessed with expansive vistas that reach deep into your soul to alter your existential perspective. While the girls read their books and drew pictures of the Emus and Kangaroos we passed, I had time to think, an endless boogie of thought. That brain of mine is frustratingly relentless, it's full of questions, sharp memories, anxiety and lament. An inner voice posing fragile scenarios and mysteries that free dance and play tricks, forging holes in my fundamental life truths. I thought about my past and how I've changed. I thought about my futile search for a happiness that I'd never attain, but the sense of contentment that was finally achievable. I thought of the old me, the one I stand on public stages and talk about all the time. I thought about change, and how it's possible and why I care about making it. 

IMG_5173.JPG

Recently someone online admitted to me they used to think I was a dickhead. Good on them, they where right in their evaluation. I was a dickhead, and to many people I probably still am a dickhead, that's the paradox of life online. Change is one thing I'm not a dickhead at. For whatever reason, be it my relatively conservative Christian upbringing or Catholic School boy education, I entered adulthood homophobic, socioeconomically judgemental and slightly racist. Thankfully I've changed in all these social facets, all because of the experiences I've had in adult life. A family member once came out to me, too scared to tell their parents about being gay, I felt it an honour to be told. I remember saying to myself, "what was all this fuss about gay people? I've known this person all my life and I love them, what difference does it make who they love?" There after I was no longer homophobic, there was no need to. Once again I had embraced change, a change in the way I thought. I realised humans are humans and it's our differences that unite us and make us who we are as a community.

I've travelled overseas and met humans that couldn't speak my language but shared common values in life, family, love, food, shelter, safety, all fair conditions really, and the basis of decent human existence. I had stepped out of my insular, fortified, walled, singular world, I then started to see everyone as equal, on every level, rich, poor, smart, dumb, muslim, jewish, black, white, drunk, sober, all humans, just humans all dealing with the same things, different things, but all the same. I learned to forgive, to accept. I become more open minded, in turn much less angry. Things that used to be important became less of an issue and I began to focus on bigger picture things. I stopped losing sleep over fickle matters, instead focusing on the things that do matter, of which the only thing that comes to mind after extensive life examination is love. It's the one thing I'll be thinking of when I'm facing my death. Who I loved, who loved me and how much we loved. Everything else will mean nothing.

One of my kids asked one of those tough questions the other day, if you're a parent you might have an idea of what I'm referring to. I struggled to answer it. The world has always been messed up, it's us humans you see, we can't help ourselves but cause chaos. We get lost in hatred and violence, we get caught in traps of bigotry and fear. I tried to explain the answer but with my self moderation, in an effort to hold back on sharing too much of the ugly nature of human interaction that we're seeing happen so commonly of late, I think the point was lost. I then spotted some Emus out the car window which worked out to be a perfect distraction. 

I'm not the best father in the world, I'm not the best human, but I'm better than I used to be, I guess no parent ever get's it right the first time round. But I can lead by example. I can share my values, the things I've learned. I can share my own life as a story for how change can turn things around, to head down positive paths. I can teach purpose, love and a willingness for openness and forgiveness. None of this is very rock and roll, or 'Outlaw' it's more space cadet, hippy barefoot dancing in a sandy desert, but I've never been cool enough to care. 

That's where my mind has been this week, this is what road trips do to me. I wish to thank all the people I love, my true love Kate Berry, my beautiful family and friends. To anyone reading this, and thinking WTF.....I hope we all make it to where ever we're travelling to on this strange and mysterious journey.

Peace xo Ro.          

Forest, trees, big picture etc.

Can't see the forest for the trees
 

Rabbit holes, rabbit holes! The further I research this next book, the deeper I burrow into the convoluted mess that is human nutritional health. It's a stir-fry combination of brain numbingly boring data, hair pulling, non-sensical frustration and sometimes in agreement, air-punch worthy moments. As much as I'd like you to read the book, I'll give away the main plot right now, and, for free! The general picture of current public health is fairly grim (rather fucked) though I'm sure you are aware of the situation. If you aren't aware of the situation, you won't be able to escape it, as it will be a much larger issue in years to come (comedy gold right there). 

If you manage to wade your way through all the 'noise' around all the reasons for obesity you might just be able to get to the truth. The real cause of obesity is not a nice truth when you've believed in it for so long. But it's one we must acknowledge if we are to see any improvement. 

You see, it's 2016 and we have to be super polite and consider everyones feelings. There is always a 'reason' why people choose to eat one type of food over another, and we cannot say anything that will offend anyone. What ever you do, dare not say anything that resembles anything too real, anything too honest, and avoid saying anything too close to the truth. And I'm not talking about fat shaming here, I'm not talking about handing an obese person a fat shaming card on a metro train, abusing them for being unhealthy, because that is not a cool thing to do (discussing a massive social issue and developing ways to deal with is totally fine). I'm talking about the act of simply discussing the topic amongst friends, over dinner or on social media. People react the same predictable way, almost in defence of, and acceptance of obesity, creating excuses and 'reasons' other than the actual cause. 

Lots of money is spent trying to figure out the psychology behind peoples food choices, but it's not just our choices that are the problem, that's second level stuff. The problem is on special this week, and every other week. It sits on the shelves in the refrigerated aisles of supermarkets, you will see it on TV commercials for chain take away stores. You will hear it's hiss as a can is cracked open, the ruffle of packets of processed snacks. Processed food is so embedded in our culture that it seems impossible to imagine our society without it. In some countries it's so prevalent, there exists places referred to as 'food deserts', where it's not possible to access affordable fresh produce, only processed food is available. How can we expect good health and nutrition when this is the only reality?

The ridiculously obvious cause of the rise of obesity is food. Our food has changed. It's make up has changed, the amount we consume has changed and our physical behaviour has changed, all factors responsible for the change we've seen in public health. We now consume larger amounts of high energy rich foods and we're less physically active than we used to be, so instead of burning off the energy, our bodies are storing it. This (rise in obesity) is happening across large populations of humans, and has been increasing for decades, a trail of bread crumbs if you will, shadowing our increasing reliance on convenient, energy rich processed foods. This is the ugly truth. This is what I, and many other middle aged people have seen happen in our life time (yes it's been brewing for longer).

You can spend loads of energy researching, arguing and discussing the reasons why people chose to eat 'junk food' instead of 'healthy' food, but it's a distraction from the root cause of the problem, that 'junk' food is even in existence. It's food that has not always been part of our culture, but now dominates our food market and subsequently impacts broader public health. And when I refer to junk food, I'm not just talking about a cheeseburgers and chocolate, I'm referring to sugar filled yogurt, sugar rich sauces, high fat frozen food, snacks and ready made dinners, the list is endless. 

  "The hardest thing to explain is the glaringly evident which everybody has decided not to see." Ayn Rand

 

The severe obesity problem is generally isolated to industrialised (mostly western) countries, those of which that do not have a definitive, centuries established food culture (a food style cooked in home kitchens) and now rely on a majority processed food industry, consisting of products heavy in sugar and fat. Developing countries (with established food cultures) that rise in economic wealth to embrace the lure of the western culture, read from the same text, and the pattern of western culture and health is emulated, as high energy processed food becomes the norm, so does the rise in rates of obesity. See....it's the bloody food, let's stop kidding ourselves!

Nothing serious will change unless we address what is being produced by the food industry. The current approach of food companies placing the onus back on the consumer to moderate how much we consume is not working so well, is it? The statistics show that us silly greedy consumers have been 'failing' for a long time. 

I know, I failed myself for a long time. To personalise the situation, I admit that for years I knew the processed food I was eating was making me fatter and unhealthier. I knew I should have exercised. But I was completely lazy and unwilling to make the significant changes necessary to change my health situation. I used many excuses for my weight, along the lines of having an 'addictive personality' or explaining that my weight was 'a genetic problem' and for actually failing to get off my arse, and not changing my food and exercise habits, I'd lie and say 'I've tried everything', but clearly I had not. 

At some point I had to take responsibility for myself, to take responsibly for my actions and to stop making excuses. It was not always an enjoyable process, and getting healthier has involved a great challenge to my character, but the difference is profound on many levels notably physically and mentally. Even just hearing my daughter say "Dad's not as angry anymore" makes me feel accomplishment, and happy that I'm not only improving my life, but my families wellbeing. The reality for me is that I will never have the body of a super male model, and I'm ok with that. I'm still curvy and that's cool. I'm healthy, and that's what this is all about. Losing weight is not just about feeling good, or looking amazing in a little black number, but it's important to be healthy internally. 

And let's not forget that the shit processed food doesn't just make the population fat. Some people have amazing high metabolism (genetic luck of the draw) but that diet of processed foods (high in salt, sugar and fat) can still increase chances of heart disease, kidney problems and impacts gut health, depression and anxiety. Wouldn't you just want to eat mostly real food and be healthy? If only I could speak to the young version of me before I did all that damage. Youth fades kids, so will your health.  

And yes there is a section of the community that has health problems that make weight gain/loss a real challenge, but let's not kid ourselves, the obesity problem is widespread and the culprit is the food we're putting into our bodies. In an ideal world, I'd remove that food and replace it with real food and learn to cook and then do some exercise. Hang on a second! That's EXACTLY what I did and some how managed to lose my weight and manage all my obesity related health issues. Go figure.

All cynical jokes aside, there are millions of people out there that have literally had a gut full of obesity, they've got off their fat arses (direct quote) changed the food they ate, began exercising and some time later they've ended up no longer obese or overweight, they're fitter and they're happier and stronger mentally speaking. The common thread with all the weight loss stories is a change in food and exercise. But avoid the supplements and protein powders please. You can get EVERYTHING you need from real food (although I predict someone will argue a differing point).  

Don't consider these words as a judgement, accusation or direct personal insult to you and your story. Contextualise it within the broader population of the countries currently dealing with increases in obesity and subsequent impacts on our health care systems. We have some very big issues to deal with in the future. 

BIG.....BOOM! (mic drop)! 

 

 

 

A seriously 'Fat' issue.

If you’re not aware, there is a ‘fat acceptance’ movement, advocating for more social acceptance of being ’fat’. 

A concise description of the movement is provided on the Cherchez La Femme website, “Fat activists campaign for the right to reclaim the word “fat”, demand better “fatshion” and advocate for social acceptance of good health at any size”.

Cherchez La Femme is a Melbourne based, monthly talkshow of popular culture, news and current affairs from an unapologetically feminist angle who recently had an advert temporarily removed by Facebook administration. The advert in question featured a photograph of the plus sized model Tess Holliday. The ad was promoting an upcoming discussion focusing on fat acceptance, notably from the female perspective. 

Facebook's logic behind removing the advert, was ”the image depicts a body or body parts in an undesirable manner" and ”Ads like these are not allowed since they make viewers feel bad about themselves”.

Facebook later backtracked and allowed the advert to be posted. But the damage was done. Social media went into discussion mode. 

This photo of plus sized model Tess Holliday was used to promote the event.

The organiser of the event, Jessamy Gleeson was stunned by Facebook administration, later suggesting that Facebook "seemingly has no idea that plus-sized, self-describing fat women can feel great about themselves".

She urged followers on the platform to "rage hard at anyone who tries to tell us that some bodies are more 'desirable' than others".

I have previously written about the body positivity movement, ‘fat acceptance’ and ‘fat shaming’ revolving around complex issues exclusively restricted to privileged western cultures. Issues not solely, but overwhelmingly dominated by a female voice, this is not an opinion, this is just how it is, don't judge me, I just hold the mirror. Although I must mention from personal experience, that fat shaming is not restricted to a female social context, and although I’ve been obese for many years and subsequently fat shamed, I also understand and acknowledge that there is more pressure on females to fit within a ‘socially approved’ body form, although we must also recognise that there is significant pressure from various social platforms for males to look a certain way. 

As important as the fat shaming issue may be, it’s not what I want to focus on at this point.

In our reasonably affluent western cultures, we have two social groups with two very different agendas. 

One is the above mentioned, the fat acceptance, social activists fighting to feel better in a society that is used to seeing ‘slimmer’ bodies dominate various media, fashion and advertising platforms. These activists fight to not feel judged, to not be harassed, to feel happy in their body whilst also being fat. This is not a formalised social group, more so the agenda is driven by social media interactions and discussion events such as the one featured by Cherchez La Femme.

The second social group is highly organised and backed by scientific peer reviewed research, it’s the health care system. Every single wealthy western culture has one, and every single western country has a health care system currently under pressure dealing with high demand treating preventable lifestyle diseases, most notably those caused by dietary choices. 

‘Fat’ can mean many different things to many different people. Describing oneself or another person as 'fat' can be both subjective and objective. You can look in the mirror and think yourself as ‘fat’, then you can visit your GP, have your vital statistics measured and be described as ‘healthy’.

From an emotional and psychological view, feeling horrible about being ‘fat’ (overweight, obese) is seriously draining on many levels. Being overweight is also seriously draining physically, with each day a struggle to get out of bed, tie your shoe laces, walk up stairs, its even difficult to hop into a car. Everything is physically harder when you’re fat. I know this, I’ve been overweight or obese for more adult years than not.

In the Australian context (which is similar to many other wealthy western countries) we have a serious problem with weight which subsequently impacts the health care system. According to 2014-15 Bureau of Statistics figures, 63.4% of Australian adults were overweight or obese. More alarmingly, the next generation is following the lead with one in four children being overweight or obese, (these figures have recently been reconsidered and the problem has been found to be much more dire). 

We have a seriously unhealthy society, one that is statistically recorded to be placing immense pressure on an already burdened health care system. 

Regardless of how we ‘look’ ‘feel’ or what ‘fatshion’ is available to us, from a strictly medical perspective, obesity is costing us billions, an estimated $14.6 billion on diabetes alone (not all types of diabetes are lifestyle influenced, but “many cases of type 2 diabetes can be prevented, or the onset delayed, through positive lifestyle changes. It is estimated that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes can be reduced by up to 58% by maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active and following a healthy eating plan" Diabetes Australia).

“The problem goes far beyond aesthetics. As described by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, excess weight, especially obesity is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, some musculoskeletal conditions and some cancers. As the level of excess weight increases, so does the risk of developing these conditions. In addition, being overweight can hamper the ability to control or manage chronic disorders.” (Huffington Post)

It’s important to feel good about oneself, to not hate oneself. It’s also fair enough to expect one can walk down the street and not be judged based on anything, size, colour, sexuality or religion. 

These are all psychological, emotional, cultural, societal based perspectives, but we shouldn’t discount or undervalue the importance of physiological health. Some would consider it a priority. There is a generally accepted thinking that physiological health directly influences mental wellbeing, and vice versa.   
 
Personally I have journeyed from a healthy child to an obese young adult, to skinny but not healthy (ate processed food, drank and smoked excessively), back to obese (definitely not healthy), returning to skinny (same old habits) back to obese (super unhealthy and actually presenting with many chronic issues) now finally adopting a sensible lifestyle, eating mostly home grown food, mostly vegetables, little bit of fruit, less meat, exercising regularly, drinking less and as a result I’ve reduced a significant amount weight over 3 years, dealt with my chronic illness and removed myself from high risk category for many preventable lifestyle diseases. 

Notice I mentioned that I was skinny but not healthy. The point I’m making is that I used to ’diet’ focusing solely on weight loss. I lost weight but ate poorly (nutritionally speaking) whilst maintained some naughty vices. Observing from the outside I appeared ‘skinny’. I had the appearance of ‘healthy’ but that wasn’t necessarily the case. 

I wouldn’t call myself super slim now, but my changes in lifestyle have allowed me to shed a significant amount of weight, I have more energy, feel better about myself and most importantly I have addressed my hyper-tension, depression, anxiety, chronic pain and illness issues not to mention removing myself from many high risk categories for cancer, diabetes etc.

During the time of being obese I have been publicly fat shamed on social media, rather abusive I might add ("you fat cunt" was one of my favourites). I have been ridiculed by ‘friends’ to my face and behind my back (pre social media days). I know what it feels like to be obese, both from a ‘feelings’ perspective and from a physiological viewpoint. I also now know what healthy living is, how I achieved it and how to maintain it for life. (In a nutshell, the secret formula is as simple as eating more vegetables, and going for a walk!)

I know that the health and wellbeing and ’dieting’ industries are just that, INDUSTRIES. Business’s and individuals that capitalise on desperate people in need of help. People desperate to fit into the visual categories that are perpetuated by society. I’m aware of the powerful ’fitness’ industry, both companies and celebrity individuals also capitalising and perpetuating the visual concept of what a ’healthy’ body ‘should’ look like. It’s all very disappointing and what I’d describe as a “load of bullshit” (I’m literally quoting myself there).

There is NOTHING HEALTHY about obesity. Yes you can ‘feel’ good about yourself when obese (or you can certainly tell yourself that, as I did for many years, but was really self hating inside). You can tell yourself that everything is ok, as I did for years. But you're sealing your fate, your future, your wellbeing. Getting healthy is not an easy task, it takes mindfulness, dedication, discipline and an open mind. I can totally understand why an individual would prefer just to 'feel' good about the situation. But unfortunately 'feeling' doesn't address the cause, nor the impacts of obesity. Only hard work and action does. A complete lifestyle shift is daunting but will provide a completely different life. 

There is also nothing healthy about perpetuating the idea that healthy comes in the form of a perfect shaped skinny person. We all have different frames, curves, bums, legs, boobs and faces. Deal with it. I drew the short straw, I have to accept what I look like. I'm no piece of art, that's a sure thing. 

The reality of obesity is that, at some stage it will impact on an individuals health, potentially being a serious medical condition leading to premature death, chronic illness or lifelong pain, not to mention the mental health impacts (which also relies on the health care system to treat, mind you they tend to focus on treating symptoms not dealing with causation).      

We must also remember the reality of living in large populations that function on individually contributed taxes, which governments collate and distribute for a health care systems that we all rely on. 

Society is made up of many individuals.
 
Individuals make choices (Food and exercise).

Those choices impact on society (Impacts Health Care system).

Our personal choices not only effect us, they also impact the many. Regardless of how we ‘feel’ the reality is our actions as individuals impact on a greater society (i.e. other peoples lives) and most definitely impact the economic functionality of a health care system. 

 

If you're offended by this article you need to take a long hard look at yourself and your personal agenda. But be careful, you may get offended by yourself in the process.  

 

 


  

   
  

       

      


  

Fat feels.

Tried to get this article published with the Guardian and The Age. Both declined.

 

It's an article in response to some public banter a few weeks ago between Michelle Bridges, Chrissie Swan and Meshel Lawrie.

 

Before you read any further I need to make a declaration. I used to be a fatty, a real big unhealthy fatty. I’m no longer a big fatty after reaching some horrible point of obese despair (and receiving a stern talking to from my GP) I placed myself on a trajectory for healthier living. I didn’t get healthy by joining a commercial weight loss program, signing up for a 10 week detox booty camp, nor did I take supplements, purchase powdered protein shakes or join a gym. I lost weight (and in doing so became much healthier) by taking the most basic of advice of which consisted of, eating mostly plant based food, a little meat and dairy, drinking less booze and embracing moderate exercise. It’s a health and wellbeing message the government has toting for decades, way before our ‘wellbeing era’ of the bikini clad, yoga, green smoothy, coconut age of wellness enlightenment.

 

 

It’s taken me a few years, but have eventually wound up 23.5kg lighter, my high blood pressure is reduced to non medicated levels, my depression and anxiety has subsided, I no longer have reactions to certain processed foods and most importantly I’m no longer in the high risk category for many preventable lifestyle diseases such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and stroke. This positive health story does’t make me invincible, I will still die eventually, we all will, but while I’m here my quality of life has been greatly improved and my risk of preventable illness has been dramatically reduced.

 

Now that we have that messy business out of the way, let’s look at a recent obesity related controversy that’s been playing out in popular media of late. The trio of opinions from Michelle Bridges, Chrissie Swan and Meshel Laurie. The backstory is that Michelle Bridges (described as Australia’s most influential health and fitness expert) made some comments on a recent episode of ABC’s Australian Story “I can tell you, I'm yet to meet someone who is morbidly obese and happy”. Which garnered a reaction from Chrissie Swan, who was all like “Hi, Michelle, if you are listening, remember me? I've known you for years. We have met many, many times. You can take it back now. I'm happy.” And then Meshel Laurie was all like “I'm such a lucky person. I've got two arms that work, two legs that work. A brain that's sharp” “It is actually possible to be fat and happy, I promise you.” Do yo get the picture?

 

How has the issue of obesity shifted away from the serious impacts to become an issue of how we ‘feel’? It’s apparent we live in an age where the importance of ‘me’ has more sway then ‘us’ or ‘community’. The focus of this recent debate has been on how we feel when we’re obese, and if you listen to Meshel and Chrissie you’d almost think it feels completely ok when you’re obese (as a person that’s lived most his adult life obese, I’d strongly disagree with this sentiment, and my years of substance abuse in an effort to ease feelings of self hatred are testament to it, happy days!)

 

The real issue is much greater than the simplicity of how we ‘feel’ about ourselves, instead shouldn’t we be focusing the spotlight on the severe impacts of obesity, be they social, physiological and economical, for both the individual and the wider community? (Wider community! Come on, I’m on fire!).

 

Australia is one of the unhealthiest western countries and it’s costing us billions, 132.7 billion in the year (to September 2015) according to the Fairfax Lateral Economics Index. State Governments around the country constantly plead with the Federal government for further funding for a heavily burdened health care system doing its best to keep up with demand. It appears we have a treadmill situation in play. For all the years I was obese (15+) I visited my GP often, presenting with obesity related issues, depression, anxiety, hyper tension, skin rashes (don’t ask) dietary fibre issues (also don’t ask) and endless chiropractic sessions, all of which not only cost me money, they also cost the state. I was one of now millions of obese ‘clients’ requiring medical services from our public health care system.

 

The causes of obesity are complex, and there is no quick fix single brush stroke solution. However if you strip away the social and economical context and you’re left with a very simple formula. The scales of energy inputs and energy outputs are currently out of balance. Rudimentarily speaking, we’re consuming energy rich food but not burning it up with energy expending exercise, blame modern living, it’s 2016 after all and life is just way too easy.

 

The high energy food that’s responsible for our obesity crisis sits proudly on the shelves of supermarkets, is served at the drive through of fast food chains and is cleverly marketed to us toting it’s ‘healthy’ and ‘nutritious’ credentials. I used to believe in that hype, as a result it made me very sick. Once I removed that type of food from my life, my weight issue reduced and more importantly my health returned.

 

Health can be subjective, a person can smoke all their lives, drink booze everyday and happily live to 100, but that’s an anomaly. There’s a reason why the Heart Foundation uses BMI measurements as a guide for healthy living, because it’s based on peer reviewed statistical analysis, incorporating both the anomaly, outliers and the norm.

 

We know climate change is a real thing and what’s caused it, we also know we have an obesity problem and what is causing it, so it makes you wonder why the very food that’s responsible for the problem is still available to buy? Ironically, just as the focus on ‘feelings’ currently dominates the obesity debate, economics is what’s driving the continuation of poor health. Until we see change in what’s presented to the public as ‘food’ we won’t see much of a change at all, no matter how we ‘feel’ about ourselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trapped in a riddle we perpetuate

The cause of our obesity epidemic is complex. 

The cost of our obesity epidemic is mind-blowing. 

Obesity costs us billions of dollars each year, health care, absence from work etc. 

Our population is heading for a reduction of life expectancy a result of the food we’re eating, a by-product of our affluent culture, now that’s irony. 

Rates of obesity are higher in low income socio economic groups. 

Rates of obesity are higher in regional areas than in cities.

Rates of obesity are higher in immigrant populations.

BUT, Australia is one of the wealthier countries in the world, comprising of mostly middle class, and almost 2/3s of us are overweight or obese. So it’s a middle class problem more than the just a lower socio economic, regional or immigrant problem. That's not something people like to hear. 

Some people say that the reasons for obesity is that folks don’t have time to choose good food, can’t afford good food, have more important things to deal with, are lazy, are ignorant, are from poor communities with other more pressing social issues, don’t know what real food is, or simply don’t care. 

We could spend a lot of energy arguing over the reasons, or we could strip away these reasons and focus on the root cause of obesity? FOOD.  

Something significant has changed in our environment over the last 5-6 decades.

Something is out of balance. 

We’re consuming energy rich food but not burning it up. 

The food on offer has definitely changed.
 
It’s richer in sugars, fats and complex carbohydrates. 

It’s addictive.

We have become slaves to what fuels us. 

This food, the very food that's responsible for our populations obesity is still available at the supermarkets and take away venues, and as long as that food exists, the obesity crisis will exist and will continue to get worse. More pressure will be placed on our already burdened health care system. People will live more uncomfortable obese lives and will live shorter lives. 

So what options do we have?

Imagine if our government made it illegal for the food that’s causing the problem to be sold. That should fix the problem, right? 

Maybe the government doesn’t get involved, maybe collectively we just stop buying the processed food that's making us sick. What impacts would this have?

Most likely it would make a significant difference to the obesity problem, but think of all the jobs that would be lost, and how the economy would be effected. 

Jobs lost would be the farmer growing the mono crop primary produce that was supplying the food processing plants. The workers at the food processing plants, the marketing companies that persuade the population to buy the processed food, the logistics transport systems moving the processed food around. Think of the reduced demand on pharmaceutical companies that had been supplying the obese community to treat the lifestyle related diseases. It would impact many jobs in that sector not to mention the health care system, which would require less specialists to deal with obesity related treatments. The supermarkets and take away franchises would lose significant profit with the reduction in sales of cheap processed foods. 

So we ‘need’ the processed and take away food to keep the economy healthy. 

We ‘need’ the obesity problem to prop up the pharmaceutical industry and keep employing more medical staff to look after the obese clients.     

Feeling powerless yet? Trapped?

Is there a possible solution? If the population purchased less processed food, would the companies that produce it, make less of it and slowly transition to make better food? Am I being too idealist? Most definitely yes. This is an unlikely scenario.  

A major hitch……how do you convince the people that are addicted to the food that’s making them sick, how do you convince them to stop consuming it? A very difficult challenge, especially when you’d be battling wealthy companies that are behind the processed food, constantly telling us that we should try this new food product because it will improve our lives.

We live in a very interesting age. Most people are completely asleep or just happily ignorant to what’s going on. I guess humans have been ignorant through out the ages, so this is nothing new. 

How will our generations be remembered? Obese, wealthy, resource hungry, but unhappy and definitely not enlightened.  

Is there anything we can do? Of course we can do something as individuals, we can chose to eat better food and exercise, that’s great, but it doesn’t fix the broader issue. 

I’ve been told that my idea of setting up a food/nutrition/grow your own/demonstration farm is futile and will make very little impact in the wider community. And to some extent I’d agree. But it will make some impact. Maybe that impact may catch on, it may spread, it may make a difference to enough peoples lives. It’s better than sitting on my arse, feeling powerless and trapped by the situation. 

Why even care about the issue Rohan? Well I’ve been overweight and obese most of my adult life. It’s only been the last five years that I’ve started to make changes in my life. It’s only the last two years that I’ve actually started to lose enough weight for my health to return. It’s only been in the last five years that I've learnt what makes real health, what real food is, and how it can positively impact on ones life. 

It’s been a painful journey that has required a great deal of hard work and discipline. It’s been fucking annoying to say the least. I had to lose a significant amount of weight to return to a healthy weight range, and the older you get, the harder that task is. My entire world has changed. The food I used to love eating I no longer eat. I have found a love of real food, but the transition was like coming off a drug.  

I can’t change my past, but if only I knew back then what I know now, then I wouldn’t have become obese. I wouldn’t have had to go through this painful process. If I can make that difference in peoples lives, that’s enough. That’s my vocation, as futile as it might seem. 

We could waste time and energy looking for something to blame. Instead we need to look at the causes, address those causes, and focus on making positive change. 

Oh and I’m aware obesity isn’t the only problem processed food causes. Even thin people can be unhealthy due to diet and poor nutrition choices. Obesity is an obvious issue, it's at alarmingly high rates, as too are diet related cancers, heart disease, diabetes and hyper tension, obesity often goes hand in hand with these medical issues. 

The reason why I wrote these words is because I had this very conversation with my girlfriend in bed this morning. We both felt trapped and powerless. I thought I’d share it.

 

I dedicate this post to Karen, for her unending emotional support. 

Armageddon outta here!

A few weeks ago I read an interview with David Suzuki in a magazine called Dumbo Feather, and I've been thinking about it ever since. Some time back in the 1980's I remember first encountering this man, probably via a VHS played to us at primary school on one of those televisions that took a few minutes to warm up. I vaguely remember watching one or two of his documentaries at home, on weekends when we where allowed to watch TV. In any case, his message about the importance of the natural world seemed to have snuck into my subconscious, helping form me into the human I am today. 

The general vibe of this article in Dumbo Feather was about reflection. Mr Suzuki is now 80, has fought his entire career for environmental change and is now nearing his winter season. My heart hurts with the very thought of it, he's been such an inspiring human. He still has energy, still fights for change and continues to influence. I saw him speak a few years ago, he visited our town to talk about his life work for the release of his memoir. Somehow I ended up with two copies of this book, but I can't bring myself to read either one. 

I walked away from the magazine article thinking a lot about the broader futility of human behaviour. Here we have an intelligent man of science, one that's spent a life time begging our leaders for change, pleading to the wider community of humans to make change, and he failed. Scrap that, he didn't fail, his message did, and so did the people he communicated it too (well most of them anyway). 

I'm not sure exactly what it is within us as a species that refuses to heed the warnings we should be paying so much attention to, maybe we're just too distracted by other trivial things to notice. The older I get, the more I have to simply accept it as part of who we are. For so many of our human issues, change has taken many years, not just decades, but hundreds of years. You'd like to think that human issues of slavery, racism, human trafficking, homophobia don't exist anymore, but they do, as do many others, some worse than in all of human history. Media is full of humans doing stupid things, cruel and mean things to other humans, so much so that it's painful to keep up with. And before anyone says "this is why I don't watch the news anymore" let me explain that until we're active in making change as individuals, our world will remain troubled. So popping the head in the sand won't help the situation. 

The Suzuki article has troubled me ever since I read it. Since my life altering change from being an 'asleep at the wheel unhealthy mindless consumer' to 'slightly more aware than some, but probably not as awesome as David Suzuki' I've been writing, talking, teaching, workshopping and what not, all for a cause. This cause is built on the principle, that, as individuals we have the power to make significant change regarding issues, notably our personally health and how our consumer choices impact the natural world.

The article got me questioning my own actions. Maybe I'm wasting a good deal of my life away, maybe I'm putting my energy into something that won't really make that much of a difference. I'm not being completely nihilistic but one can't help think that change isn't going to happen, not on a grand scale anyway. Simple observation of encouraged population growth, installation of more fast food chain outlets, the continuing dominance of supermarkets, the endless building of road infrastructure, the blind faith in a market driven economy (not one driven by carrying capacity of natural resources), rising obesity, apathetic populations happily living within the illusion dream they're sold etc. You can observe all these goings on free of charge via the internet, or simply mingling amongst other humans and the built environment.   

As challenged as I am, I'll continue to work on my projects, to share the message about food, humans and the natural world, with the understanding that some people will get reached, some will poke fun at me, many will ignore and most will not even hear me.

Regardless of what happens in my personal world, the outlook for us all is pretty bleak. I'd love to read over these paragraphs in 20-30 years (if I'm still around). I'm no futurist but I'm fairly confident most of my predictions will come true (at least over the next few hundred years) based on current trends and forecasts. 

We will continue to get fatter, much fatter, and more of us. This will place a heavy burden on our already struggling health care system. Preventable lifestyle diseases will overtake natural and age related disease. This isn't just the fault of people choosing to eat 'bad' food, the fundamental problem is that this 'bad' food is approved and legal to sell, this is the root cause. Our alternative? Take the shit off the shelves, replace it with real food, teach people how to cook and watch health return. But this will never happen. 

Climate change is only starting to rear it's ugly head. In decades to come we will see countries and entire geographical regions struggle with drought, flooding, extreme heat and severe storms. Crops will fail, water supplies will be compromised, people will die for lack of food, people will also fight to take other countries resources. Richer countries will try to help poorer countries, but eventually richer countries will themselves face turmoil. Mega migrations of populations will take place, people driven from one area to another due to increased tensions, wars and persecution. Good quality natural resources will replace valuable commodities like gold and oil, and people will kill for them. Our alternative? Embrace cleaner energy regardless of the current cost. Undertake massive by-back schemes for marginal farming land, reforest and improve biodiversity. Consume less material items (not all, just less), embrace 'local' where possible, support the emergence of local manufacturing industries, opt for anything with reduced road miles, improve public transport for large cities, tax single driver city cars, subsidise efficient small scale regenerative farming business, subsidise the re-introduction of multi species small scale agg on the outskirts of major cities that supply fresh real food to city dwellers and replace the single species crops currently supplying processed food production, penalise waste for companies and individuals, address food waste and invest in new technologies to search for cleaner energy. 

The population of the western world will continue to get dumber, lazier and more apathetic. Will ask less questions, and will trust more in what they're told. They will continue to be fed all information and entertainment by different forms of media, sold the dream of the perfect house, full of natural resource hungry material items and sold food that will make them unhealthy (but happy for the short term, .....as it gets eaten). Some groups will try to fight against this but will fail, beaten down by the much louder voices of large companies and the governments that are in their pockets. It's been happening for a long time, and continues to happen. Even in the past few weeks the lobbyist's for industrialised poultry farms had the term 'free range' to brand farms where 10,000 birds occupy 1 hectare, by state governments at a recent meeting in Canberra. How much news coverage did this get, very little. The idea is to feed as many people, as economically cheaply as possible, regardless of the welfare or environmental implications. 

Yes these are all generalisations, and I'm sure someone will tear me apart for writing it (the joys of social media and being an idiot magnet) but the future is bleak. I don't want this future, I'm sure no one does, but maybe I'm wrong. 

I hate to use this term, but I think we may need to look at many of these issues with a 'holistic' approach. For example, we won't save the world by all of us simply going vegan, especially if we're eating fresh produce out of season that's travelled thousands of kilometres to reach us, we'd just be adding to more green house emissions, and wildlife causalities. Or if we eat processed vegan food that's doing nasty things to our insides, simply because we believe it to be a better option than eating animals. If we want to make change happen we need to think outside our comfort zone. In this case, instead of eating imported summer vegetables and fruit that's travelled great distances, lets look at local, in season produce, and maybe produce that's not required huge energy inputs to create it. Let's look for food thats not packaged, which means less landfill, less finite resources required to produce said packaging. Everything needs to be broken down and analysed. And we can't get it right all of the time. This shift will come about by actively making changes we can realistically make. Starting with our food will bring about massive results. Most of the food we're currently eating requires huge energy inputs to create, it's not a sensible long term approach. We need to embrace regenerative, because sustainable isn't actually possible. I can't tell you what to do, you have to discover shit for yourself, otherwise real change doesn't happen (long term). Whats needed is some serious habitual transformation as consumers, in every aspect. 

But none of this change will happen on a scale that is required. It's an unfortunate reality we must face. Someone once commented that we just need to learn to live with this bleak future, to adapt to the shit that's heading towards us. It's not really a very positive world to be raising children in, but we have to make do with the situation. I wonder how David Suzuki feels about the future that he spent a lifetime trying to change. I wonder if he feels hope. Once you're engaged with these issues and the subsequent realities of future, it's difficult to feel that same sense of hope you felt as a child, watching those magical Suzuki films.   

 

 

 

Open letter to Cole Supermarkets and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

Hello Coles and Mal,

I'm sure you're both aware that Australia's health is a little bit shit at the moment. It's obvious that we're a tad chubbier than we used to be, but that's not the half of it. Obesity is obvious, but we also have lots of hidden health problems attributed to our diet and lifestyle choices. High salt is giving us unprecedented hyper tension problems, sugar seems to be adding to the diabetic epidemic, and auto immune diseases are off the gluten IBS charts.  

I know you both care, and I'm sure you want to see something done about it, so I'm showing a bit of innovation and initiative (just like you asked PM Mal ;-)) and writing you this pleading letter asking for some help.

Our health care system is overrun with 'clients' presenting with illness's that are diet and lifestyle related, and I have this sneaking suspicion that if we addressed what people were eating in the first place, then we might be able to reduce the amount of preventable illness's that are like, so hot right now. I have a project that I've been trying to get off the ground for a few years now. I call it 'The Nursery Project'. It's a foundation, foundation owned, Not-for-Profit, Tax recipient and it's aim is simple.

To teach people how to eat better and be healthy.

The Nursery Project is a physical place, it's a school kitchen that will teach people how to cook with real food, we will run classes teaching sensible and practical nutrition with the idea to improve peoples understanding of the importance of food and how it influences our personal health. 

You see, there's is a lot of misleading information out there, and we the people are so confused. The food producing companies are placing the onus on us to make better food choices, but we keep making making poor choices because we haven't been educated properly. We pick up a packet of food at a supermarket that tells us it's healthy, but when we look at the ingredients it's loaded with sugar, salt and preservatives. Being so confused and bewildered, we've kind of given up as a population and now we eat all sorts of funny 'food' like products, which between you and me are making us a bit sick. I'm sure you're aware of the statistics.

Showing a bit of initiative, we thought we'd try and help turn things around and set up a place to teach people what's not really being taught. We'd like to teach that old approach to healthy living, lots of veg, fruit with a little meat, some grains and dairy, but very little processed food. We aim to educate via fun experiences what food really is, like carrots, zucchini and eggplant, and what their amazing uses are other than just funny emojis. 

But we're just little people, we can't do it on our own. And we figured we should embrace the disrupt approach by asking one of the two large supermarkets that, well let's be honest, sells a lot of the food that's making us sick. Which I can confirm from personal experience, your food made me morbidly obese, the salt hidden in your processed food gave me hyper tension, the sulphites gave me respiratory problems and the sugar played funny games with my brain. It's not a nice reality to hear, but the products I habitually purchased from your store for years is what made me sick, but here in this letter you are being offered an opportunity to turn that around. Oh and by the way Coles, I no longer eat your processed foods, so I've lost 22kg, I have no problems with high blood pressure, allergies and my mental state is vastly improved. I no longer need to buy pharmaceutical products to treat my medical symptoms, which I find very interesting, don't you? Imagine if that happened on a broad scale Prime Minister. Imagine how much money the government would save having less patients in a poor state of health just like the old version of me. Just a thought anyway (btw, hope you're having fun in China Mr PM, that's where apples come from now, but that's an environmental issue we shouldn't touch on right now, might be a little bit delicate while you're there).

So what do we need? We need good old money. We need money to buy land, to build infrastructure and to hire people to teach our students.  

Hey Coles, it's tax deductible so don't stress, because that means more money for you. (I used to work in your head office, so I know how much you love making money for the shareholders. ;-) wink wink, cha ching! No point hiding it, you're a massive profit driven company, you're not the Salvation Army. 

Coles, at the very least have a pretty good fresh produce section. We think that's a great start for better nutrition even if it's not produced with the highest of environmental standards, it's a damn fine start (in regards to better nutritional health). Unfortunately we can't help promote your processed foods, high sugar sauces, frozen nuggets or celebrity chef endorsed ready meals, but we can tell people to go buy your lettuce, beetroots and grapes and other fresh whole food produce (if they're Australian grown that is. Ha ha so many issues). 

I hope you're the slightest bit interested. I know it's a bit weird me writing to you, but, as I hope you can understand, I'm a little frustrated with the lack of inaction in regards to the health and wellbeing of Australia. Such a pretty country, so many sick people though, can't be a good look for tourism. Anyways, if you want to drop me a line to discuss further, there is a contact form above. Say hello, maybe together we could make some real fine change happen for this country.

 

Ro

 

 

 

 

Trying to make some sense of things

There are times that I just don't understand what's going on. I mean I know why, it's money and the world needs money to operate, theres no new information there.

Today I walked past a very long row of potato chips, corn chips and flavoured rice crisps at a supermarket. The variety was staggering. Obviously there is a decent amount of money to be made from such a 'food' product. In fact if you walk the other isles of a supermarket you'll see loads of 'food' product on offer that also sells like hot cakes, from canned food, marinades, snacks, confectionary, ready made meals and frozen items. There's no shortage of this kind of 'food' product, the majority of the edible produce at supermarkets is of this elk. The problem is that it's not really food. This accusation will likely enrage some people, but there are many that get what I'm talking about. 

I used to think it was food, and I loved eating it. The result was a very unhealthy adult. It's the same old story of the processed food with hidden amounts of sugar, salt, preservatives etc, and after years of relying on it, I got rather plump and sick with annoying aliments like hyper-tension, anxiety, depression and allergies. I'm not writing this to be a tin hat wearing scar monger, I'm simply sharing what I've observed from a personal experience. I'm thankful that I had some sort of turn around and began a (rather frustrating) journey of real food discovery. I say frustrating because if you can imagine your whole world turned upside down, everything you believed in turned out to be a load of bollocks. In the early years of my transition I'd pick up a item of 'food' at the supermarket, maybe some food item that I'd been buying for years, then I'd read the ingredients and pop it back on the shelf in frustration. No purchase would be made. 

Anything that wasn't full of understandable ingredients, or had high salt, sugar or preservatives went back on the shelf. Anything that had ingredients that I knew went in the trolly, eventually this meant that most of my purchases ended up being whole-foods. That was my early days, eventually I went a little further and embraced some even harsher rules, of which I won't elaborate on for now.

I know there is someone reading this that will try to point out that processed food isn't bad, and I'm just not buying it because I don't recognise the names of the ingredients, of which most are safe, or they wouldn't be approved. Well that's cool, everyone is entitled to their opinion. and if you want to eat that food, be my guest. I'm not in the business of telling anyone what to do.

I'm interested in what's good for me, and I embraced real food, I opt for a fresh carrot instead of a frozen packaged carrot or tinned carrot or carrots in a pre-made frozen mixed vegetable stir fry, of a processed carrot soup, or a processed carrot flavoured cake mix, or carrot crisps, I'm sure you get the picture. 

A long time ago I realised that I'd lost my connection with nature, I had no idea what was natural, I had no idea how important nature was to me. With hindsight this is an understandable situation, my life was flooded with media and advertising trying to sell me new products, or tote their healthy and worthy credentials. I was a bit confused, maybe even a little consumer brain washed. It was a bit of a struggle to wade out past the break of bullshit, and I think I may still be paddling and wading to this day, but probably not so hard. So I embraced real food and after many years of eating this simple kind of food, I have developed a different set of consumer eyes. When I look at a lot of supermarket 'food' I no longer see it as food. I still get pangs of wanting to make a purchase, but the knowledge I have now reminds me not to fall for the trap. 

I may have learnt a valuable lesson, but it's come a little too late. My body is scarred. Today a newspaper came to photograph me for an article, and the photographer worked hard to get a nice portrait of a bloke that's not super in to having his photo taken. I asked to look at the photo he had taken and sure enough, rolls of fat in the middle area. I've lost a heap of weight (22kg since I was at my worse) but I still have the scars of a middle aged man that has a past. I'm the fittest and healthiest I've been in my adult life, but I still look like a sack of shit, and that is extremely frustrating, something I wish for nobody, not even people I don't like (and I can be pretty vindictive). 

What's even more frustrating is how futile the situation is, allow me to elaborate. I'm sharing a little bit of my life experience in the hope that some younger person will read it, take something from the story that will keep them healthy and not take them down the path of ill health and obesity that I've walked. It's a horrible path which comes with complementary depression and anxiety not to mention the other health issues that obesity harbingers. The battle lines may have been drawn, but realistically we have no hope of winning the fight against crap food. It's a shame because it really is making a mess of our communities health. In fact I believe less people seem to listening, and the population is getting sicker. I understand why, what I'm sharing is not a very exciting message, it's not like a fun entertaining competition cooking show on TV, it's a bit of a crappy message but a message that needs to be heard (if we want to see change that is).  

There are times when I ask myself what I'm doing with my life, why I've taken on the challenge of trying to alter our food culture in some way, no matter how small that change might be. My experience of a GROW, GATHER, HUNT, FORAGE guy put me back in touch with nature, it's given me some great skills and experiences. It's part of my daily routine now, it forms my annual calendar and it's based on what's happening in nature and it's wonderful. That was what 'Whole Larder Love' was all about, documenting my journey back to nature. I'm still learning lots of tricks but I no longer need to focus my energy on communicating that I'm JUST a grower of food, a forager of food, a hunter of food, as these are all just parts of my life, a life that revolves around eating better, being aware of what is good for me and avoiding what isn't good for me. 

I was asked to provide a bio to someone the other day, and realised my bio is now outdated. I've changed, and that's a good thing. Sure I still do all those things with food, but I'm more interested in communicating the reasons behind why I do what I do, instead of just what I'm eating. I'm interested in the bigger picture. I'm interested in communicating that we need change, for our health, and the health of the natural world. I'm sure there are people out there willing to listen. I see first hand how unhealthy we are, surely we can all see it. How we make change I'm not entirely sure, but something needs to be done. 

My other option is to disappear in these highlands, ignore the issues facing us, get a labouring job on a farm and never write another word. And that would kill me with frustration, let alone leave me with some level of guilt for not doing anything about what I know to be wrong. I'm not going to stop people in the supermarketers and tell them they're buying unhealthy food, instead I'll lead by example, I'll continue to share information and generate discussion which I hope, may lead to a change in thinking. Anything is better than doing nothing. I want to break rules, I want to rock boats, I want to make waves in what is currently very calm waters. 

 

 

body is the Earth

"No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn"

These clever words are sung by Jim Morrison from The Doors in the song 'The Wasp'. They often play through my earbuds as I run. Yes I'm one of those annoying people that exercises. 

As I sweat profusely, my shirt grossly sticking to my torso, I think about the line, how true the words are and how they apply to many facets of life.  

If you've ever read through these pages you'd be familiar with the story about how I was once a super fatty that ate crap food, eventually becoming unhealthy as a result, then had some kind of life epiphany, starting growing veggies in my backyard, sourcing my food from places other than just the stupidmarket, as a result I got much healthier.

I have a fairly basic approach to better living, and that is, generally speaking, to embrace a life of eating mostly food that begins as real food ingredients, you know the stuff the government tells you you should eats lots of, things like vegetables, fruit and a little meat. Although I publicly advocate for a better understanding of health, I'm not telling anyone that to be healthy you need to embrace a range of new wellness fads. In fact I think a lot of them are a load of shit, I think they confuse the situation and polarise what is needed for good health compared to what contributes to poor health. 

Health is relative, and some people are convinced that if a packet of 'food' states its healthy credentials then it must be healthy. It's absolute trickery, and we're better off with food that has no printed credentials, nothing printed on it at all is preferable. Health can be achieved by making simple changes, it's as simple as cooking with more vegetables or eating vegetables at all. You'd be surprised with what many people are eating, our populations health is a mirror that no one can deny. I digress. 

Back to the excellent line from Mr Morrison. 

"No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn"

The more I hear the words the more they set off sparks. I relate them to my own personal story, I imagine the sliding doors (The Doors....get it?) to other versions of me that could have existed. I could have stayed the path, continued to get fatter and sicker, no doubt ending up in the box, six foot under a lot earlier. Alternatively, I could have turned extreme and morphed into a green smoothie, coconut loving vegan yogi, kefir fermented, ancient grain, activated almond and choo choo berry wellness kind of person. I'm not suggesting that any of these activities will make you unhealthy, it's just that they're not the only way to get healthy, and definitely not what kept people relatively healthy for eons (not discounting the threat of black plaque, small pox and silly wars etc). Instead I went middle of the road, sensible, common sense, practical, logical and achievable (and by the way, foraging wild mushrooms and eating wild shot rabbit isn't what made me healthy, eating real food is what made me healthy, carrots, cabbage, tomato etc). The end result is that my medical vitals are in better shape, I feel better,  and most important of all is that my buns look much better in a tight pair of jeans. 

Lets re-cap the big picture story.

1. Because of my actions, my health declined, and at some point I realised I needed to make changes in order to improve my health (whilst understanding and accepting that my health would never return to that perfect optimal state, but could be significantly repaired).

2. I then made deliberate effort required, implemented the necessary changes, and I repaired (over many years and I continue to repair).

Does the story sound familiar?  Let's examine another similar example. 

We have acknowledged that our planet is in a poor state of health, a result of our collective actions. We also know that we could make changes which would result in an improvement of earth's health. We're currently at that point, that sliding door moment where we're required to make a choice, do we do something or do nothing. Only time will tell which door we've chosen. 

What is profound (if only to me) is the relationship between giving a shit about my personal health and giving a shit about environmental health. For me, the two seem to go hand in hand. They shift back and forwards, they linger in the distance, pulling and pushing, influencing in my life choices. Allow me to elaborate. Years ago I wanted to reduce my impacts on the natural world by growing my own food, as a result I suddenly found I had a bucket load of fresh produce, which I then ate, which improved my health. Seeing the mash up here? The more I understand about real food, the importance of core ingredients of cooking, the more I want to support the places where that produce is grown with regenerative agricultural practices at play, simply because the fresher and more naturally produced the food is, the healthier it is for me. See the pulling and the pushing? It's like a porno stuck in a loop.  

I wonder how amazing the world would be if we turned off the TV's, if the advertising had little effect on us, if we returned to some of the sensible old ways, ate better food, the stuff that starts as a carrot, an onion, an eggplant and thus improved our health. I wonder if doing this, in learning to realign our value system we'd fall head over heals with supporting good agriculture and in turn reduce at least some of our environmental impacts. 

I don't have all the answers, but I'm fairly comfortable with the choices I've made, and I have a fair idea what to do going forward. But these choices only impact directly on me, my family and to some extent my local community. Hang on, think about that. Positive changes that impact on you the individual, your family and your local community. Wow I wonder what impact that might have. If we all did that, wouldn't it change everything?

Today I read an article about survivalist preppers, making ready for the Apocalypse. Maybe in 20 years time this article will be redundant, the world will have spiraled into chaos, Trump will be the overlord and computers won't even exist. Sliding doors people, sliding doors.  

Here is a recent photo of me, pre-apocolypse, but post-veg box delivery. As you can see I have some 'scars' from the old version of me, but also note the something unusual on my face, a smile. That's because I'm happier than I once was. I have less, I also have more. 

 

 

 

 

Perspective via experience

Every hour or so a gentle breeze would meander up the hill, working it’s way between the manicured rows of grape vines, momentarily bringing relief. 

The day was hot, akin to hours cooking over a flaming fry stove. Like a bitter ex-lover the sun had quite the sting, and I regretted choosing solid black in tee-shirt selection earlier that morning, but was thankful remembering my white straw hat. The picking crew comprised mostly of vietnamese labourers, one german police officer on a working holiday, a Japanese student, and an English back-packer, all utilising working visas. I was one of only three locals helping out on the grape pick. 

We were picking grapes that make the Chardonnay for a local winery each year. The plump bunches of grapes were beautifully sweet, good enough as a table grape. They were warm from the sun and exploded with initial sweetness, followed by tart and bitterness once chewed into the seeds and skin. I imagined these grapes on a platter with room temperature brie, roasted figs and jamon. Alas, this was a mere daydream occupying my a wandering mind during the monotony of snipping and tossing bunch after bunch of grapes into sticky white buckets. I’d fill a bucket in what felt like a handful of minutes, then I’d move onto a fresh empty one, where the bunches of grapes made hollow thud sound when they hit the bottom of the empty bucket. This rhythmic task had a cadence, at times it seemed endless. 

The Vietnamese workers were efficient in every way, they are professional pickers, and I enjoyed working amongst them, frantically trying to keep to their pace, and although I had no idea what they where saying, I quietly laughed with their banter. You would find it difficult not to, the laughter was infectious. I wished for someone apt like Luke Nguyen, with his skill of translating that super fast language in the hope I could make sense of what was at the core of all the jokes. I wished it didn’t involve my over sized cowboy hat, although one of their crew was wearing a large novelty sombrero, obviously from a costume shop, reminiscent of the famous urban sombrero. So large that no sun touched his head, nor his shoulders for that matter, and he smiled at me a lot, maybe he thought we could be extras in a B grade Vietnamese western. 

We continued to pick all day, excluding those moments when the crew simply dropped tools and broke for lunch or tea without so much as a mutter. They just walked off, ate some food, smoked a cigarette, and without fanfare returned to work just as they had left. No fuss, simply efficient, quite admirable. 

The winery owner drove up and down the rows in a dusty red ATV towing a trailer fitted with a large tub. We’d pour the buckets of freshly picked grapes into the tub, the ATV would then disappear into a storage shed to be unloaded, return towing behind a new empty tub. Tubs and tubs were filled with Chardonnay grapes, all destined to be transported to a nearby town where the wine maker would press them within 24 hours, and the wine making process would commence. 

We ended up picking around five tonne that day, which the wine maker seemed impressed by. In the afternoon, with the work completed, the bus loaded up with the vietnamese workers where I gave an awkward wave to a bunch of people I’d worked all day with, had not really spoken to, but was part of a team with. The back-packers shuffled off to their on farm accomodation and I opened the door of my van, greeted by the savage heat of a car interior that had been baking in the sun all day. With the windows quickly downed, I drove over the hills, headed home with a great big smile on my face having just agreed to do it all again the following week. 

Yet another experience to add to the list. 

Understanding the grapes I picked aren’t really food, instead they’ll make a stunning wine, it was the laborious experience which is adding to my collection of memories, forming a view of the food world. It’s our collective memories and experiences that influence our opinions and views, they define the prescription for glasses of our world view, and I’m fortunate to have had many experiences. 

I grew up in the country, on a farm with cows, chickens, home grown food, fishing for trout, eel and crayfish, picking mushrooms, berries and preserving food on hot summer days for winter provisions. This life was relatively free and simple, full of those cliché rural experiences. 

In my teen years I was sent to a city boys collage, where I quickly learnt that peer pressure was a thing. I learnt that if you didn’t have the right brand of shoes, the most up to date Sony Walkman, or an expensive skateboard that you where a nothing. Here I leant the perceived value of materialism.  

In my twenties I worked corporate, I moved to the outer suburbs and lived amongst the community where many people strived to build wealth, to have an appearance of success, even if it was the suburban version. The new electronic house gadgets, expensive golf equipment, flat screen TVs, new cars, theatre rooms and renovated kitchens. I strived, and I failed, in the process teaching myself a great lesson in how I did NOT want to live. 

In my late twenties I left the city, returning to a rural life where I felt more at home. I returned to University studying the field of Natural Resources and for a few years worked on a crew planting thousands of trees, shrubs, grasses and sedges in rehabilitation programs, ran community engagement and education programs on the importance of native vegetation whilst also spraying pesticides to control invasive woody weed species on crown land parcels. 

I then secured an office as a pubic servant in state Government. This is where I learnt that it’s not wise to rock the boat when working in public service, in fact just pretend you’re not even in a boat, the boat doesn’t exist, nor does the ocean, but definitely complain about the apparent disappearance of life vests. I also learnt the importance of writing formal reports about the missing boat, the lack of ocean and applying for the funding for oars, but definitely not to be rock any boats or approved floatation devices.

I worked a bunch of other jobs from indie magazine publisher to wedding photographer and a few in between. I worked so much that I stopped looking after myself, got lazy in lifestyle, ate lots of crap food, didn’t exercises, drank excessively to self medicate unhappiness and I smoked like a chimney. 

Then I started the hobby of growing food in my backyard, wrote about the journey online, was offered to write a book about it, then another. Toured internationally presenting talks on the experience, returned home having had a more great experiences, meeting a lot of people involved in food, having great discussion, developed a passion for food, its problems, its solutions. Dove into the deep end of research to explore as much as I could about food, how it’s produced and how it impacts on the natural world and human health. 

I moved to an old farm house surrounded by industrialised conventional farming and got a first hand look into the realities of how food is produced on a large scale. You couldn’t ask for a more honest insight than living in a paddock surrounded by huge boom spraying tractors and helicopters flying overhead dusting crops with fungicides, pesticides and fertilisers. Learning how the potatoes are grown to make the french fries for Le’ Golden Arches has been a real eye opener, the sheer natural resources required, the water, the oil, it is an appropriate time to use the word phenomenal. 

From a more existential experience, I’ve changed destructive yet quite common habitual lifestyle choices, lost weight, reduced medical ailments, and helped out the old mental health department. This has been the most profound of all the experiences, because I can see what CAN BE DONE. I can see past the bullshit of detox diets, dieting companies, green smoothies, processed ‘health food’ rectal pre-biotic trends and much, much more. I spend most of my days talking to people about food, reading about food, asking questions about food, discovering amazing things that most people just won’t see. This doesn’t make me smarter, more intelligent, an expert, nor does it mean my opinion is right or better than anyone else’s. Just like the day picking grapes with international labourers, it’s simply an experience that assists in developing a thought process. It’s about sharing the things I’ve learned, the things I’ve seen, heard and discussed.  

It’s been eye opening, and it’s why I’m writing a novel about it. 

  

   

The Epoch of Facepalmocene

Geologists have declared a new age to describe the extensive human impact on the globe, they call it Anthropocene. Officially it hasn’t been accepted by all the lab coat wearing community, but at the very least it’s up for discussion at the water fountain just outside the lecture theatre. Technically we’re still in the Holocene epoch, but our modern consumerist way of living is creating such impact with all that pesky carbon, plastic and other stuff we’re leaving around, that gosh darn it, let’s create a new epoch to celebrate. 

Even though I have a pair of science based tertiary courses under my belt, I’m not really a member of the scientific fraternity, I never did finish that doctorate. Useless personal information aside, I’d like to propose a new epoch, the FacePalmocene. 

Never before have we had such a well documented, scientifically accepted observation of our impacts on the natural world, but we’re just not quite getting the message. I’m not going to point the finger at politicians, the poor bastards can’t see past a four year term at the best of times. It’s us that’s to blame. Consumers.

As individuals, we’re paying more attention to ‘me’ and ‘now’ than we are to things like ‘us’ and ‘future’. Generally speaking our priorities continue to revolve around consumer values. Yes there is a sector of the community that is mindful and consumes less, eats well (of which you probably fall into), but it’s not representative of the greater majority. There are many complex reasons for this, none of which can be solved or described entirely in a few well written sentences. Suffice to say there is a machine at work, turn on a television and it’s acutely obvious.

So much has changed in my short lifetime, alternatively many things have remained the same. Human behaviour for instance, so diverse, so complex remains unchanged in many respects. We aren't too keen on a bit of enlightenment, opting instead for self destructiveness, ultimately because the problem is so complex, it's just too difficult to change. There probably isn’t a government in the western world that hasn’t yet commissioned a report into the public health crisis of obesity, diabetes, depression, anxiety, heart and lifestyle induced diseases. Authorities are aware, the media is aware, much of the population is aware, if you wake up in the morning and you can’t see your dick because your gut is so large, surely you must be aware. Two thirds of the population is either overweight or obese now, so when ever you’re in a crowded public place, you can’t ignore the reality, just don’t stare it’s rude, especially don’t eyeball the man looking for his dick. 

We know we have a problem with food, but we just can’t manage to unpopularise the ‘food’ that’s making the majority of us sick. Why is that? It’s obvious that the ‘food’ that’s available to us is driven by a market economy, not practical, sensible or balanced diets. Promoting the concept of eating real food, not being a celebrity chef, not labelling it with a buzz’s words or having a hip image is not cool, and it doesn’t sell lots of cook books (I know this, ouch). The concept of eating seasonally, mostly plant matter with a little meat is not a new idea, it’s been around for thousands of years. For the last 60 odd years though, we’ve messed things right up, to the point of absolute confusion and bewilderment. So confused are we humans that we’re constantly coming up with new diets, fads and hero ingredients that will return us to a tantric state of health, but the underlying food and health issue remains because we are yet to alter our culture. Healthy eating is actually really simple, it’s just not as hip when compared to what most people are obviously eating, and it's not getting the media attention needed to alter our culture, please pass the chicken salt. 

As a general population, we still can’t seem to give much of a poo about how what we produce impacts on the natural world. This week the news highlighted the Aussie cotton growers having a hard time with a poor yield this season. Is anyone even asking the question whether we should be growing cotton in Australia in the first place? Are there alternatives? Hemp perhaps? More alarmingly though I was surprised by the lack of discussion about one of the main reasons for the low yield this cotton growing season; it was from accidental drift of a sprayed herbicide, Phenoxy 2-4D. If you’re unaware of what ‘drift’ refers to, it’s when an agricultural pesticide/fertiliser gets carried ‘off target’ by wind and air to a place it’s not supposed to be, in this case it reportedly traveled 10km, yes 10km.  2-4D, the juice the World Health Organisation suggests might be kinda like, almost, possibly, carcinogenic did travel around in the air for a while before landing on the cotton crop, whoopsy! Before any chemists start sending me scientifically correct hate mail, we can at least agree that the jury is still out on the toxicity of this juice. Some say it’s ok, some say there isn’t enough evidence, and some say it’s potentially dangerous. That argument aside, it’s still being used, like Kenny Rogers it’s a gamblers game, we may not understand its impacts for decades. It drifted 10km down wind, might be carcinogenic, probably not good for food crops, that’s a concern right? Oh wait, the Bachelors on, I can’t miss this episode. 

My Face Palm action is so frequent, I’ve considered surgery to get the whole damn thing permanently attached. You may feel the same, you may feel helpless in the epoch of FacePalmocene. What can we, as insignificant multi celled organisms with consciousness possibly do? Maybe we could share articles like this on social media in between the cat memes, drunk festival photos and inspirational quotes. Perhaps we could have open discussions with friends and family, good old communication. What about a whole of country intervention? We could hug, tightly embrace each other and employ some laughter therapy, it was all the rage a few years ago, seemed to do the trick. Or maybe we take to a boring practical and uncool approach and use things for longer, buy better, well made quality that will last, hold back from ‘upgrading’, reuse, recycle, source better food if possible, get our learning on and become aware about how we can reduce. 

Reduce has so much potential for positive change in this modern world. Not to stop consuming completely, simply to reduce our consuming, to reduce the impacts of our consuming. This would make a massive difference and result in far less face palming.   

      

 

   

     

 

   

Eat shit and die

A few days ago I spotted an advertising billboard promoting a new kids 'healthy' snack. Even though it was a processed food (no doubt with the usual suspects of preservatives, some form of sugar etc) the advert advised that you could find this product in the HEALTH FOOD SECTION of your local supermarket. Head scratching ensued.  

The madness of modern food has now reached the point of being humorous. Let's think about it, a 'health food section' of a supermarket? Shouldn't ALL the food be healthy? And to add a little irony, a lot of the food in this magical section isn't actually as healthy as it suggests. Just because a packet of chips is 'organic' doesn't mean it isn't still just a packet of chips, just because something has coconut oil in it, doesn't mean you won't get stupified. Sure you can have a 'treat' every now and then, and like all dodgy things, it's best in moderation. When a processed food is marketed as healthy it's misleading to the GP (general public) many of which invest little effort into learning about what they're eating, hence the current state of poor health across most western countries. The healthy food product also adds to food anxieties. This magic health food 'may' cure that, this food prevents that ailment, and this probiotic will 'repair' you. It's phycological marketing preying on the fear of the individual becoming unhealthy, and no one actually wants to be unhealthy do they? We all know that every time we shove food in our mouths we're determining our health, and this is exactly what the marketing players rely on. 

'Healthy' food information on packaging and advertising is overwhelming to the consumer. In many cases the health food in question is processed, it's packaged, it's high in sugar or salt, may even contain sulphites, and often it's travelled some distance (e.g. Bolivian Quinoa or any coconut product, FROM THE TROPICS!) Often the supposed health benefits aren't really worth the extra coin the consumer forks out, nor is it necessarily any good in regards to environmental impact, soya products for example. But it makes a shit load of money for the retailers and the manufactures, and really that's what's important isn't it? The growth of our economy. 

 

Toting manufactured food as a 'healthy' option, or highlighting the health benefits of any food product (e.g. the controversial permeate free, A1, A2 milk), continues to polarise the issue of personal health. A consumer either chooses to eat regular food (not so healthy apparently) or alternatively values their health, and purchase's a 'healthy' option. The health food industry is huge for this very reason, with some of the big sellers being speciality oils, coconut wonder products, powdered supplements, vitamin supplements and milk alternatives, the later of which has most definitely gone out of control.

There is an element of our population that are now so health addicted that there's actually a name for it, orthorexia, which involves a maniacal obsession with eating only healthy food. To a large extent, it seems like many of us are dipping into a bit of orthorexia pie. The spread of the health food obsession is evident with the success of certain fad diets, 10 week healthy eating apps, wellbeing cookbooks and magazines full of adverts for, yep you guessed it, processed 'health' foods. There's nothing wrong with being interested in ones personal health, but many of the poplar diets and health products of the modern era are extreme in their content, based on short term goals, and mostly focused around weight loss. Weight loss can be a good thing, a very good thing, but unless you whole heartedly embrace sensible eating in it's entirety for the remainder of your life, you're simply just going to lose some weight, eventually returning to bad habits, and pop the weight back on. 

A book full of smoothie recipes was one of the best selling cook books of the year, a reflection of our societies desire to want a quick fix for health, and before I receive any green smoothy hate mail, allow me to point out that just because one consumes a green smoothy, it doesn't automatically make one super healthy, it's only one link in a chain. Also consider what is being 'smoothied'. Was it grown hydroponically? Was it raised with synthetic agricultural fertilisers, pesticides? We tend to popularise these fad approaches to healthy eating without seeing the full picture, in the process we push aside what's really needed. Green smoothies are a modern approach, in some cases they might be good for you but the healthy food was there all along. Fruit, veg, grains and a little diary and meat, all raised via natural systems can provide us a healthy life. It's been supporting the human population for thousands of years. 

These fads, in many cases are not long term approaches to personal health. Blitzing the crap out of fruit and vegetables and drinking nothing but liquid mush for breakfast, lunch and dinner is not going to solve your poor problems long term. I know so many friends that have juiced their way to health.......for a week. Now they're stuck with an expensive juicing machine that gets shoved in the back cupboard, the individual inevitably returns old habits, and weight/poor health eventually set in until the next fad diet is discovered, marketed and embraced by the consumer. I believe the term is 'YoYo'. I'm old enough to know this, I myself have been there.  

I'm going to use a word here that I hate to use, but use consistently; SENSIBLE. You can't have good health without a SENSIBLE balanced diet and some form of consistent exercise. It's what our biological vessels have evolved to operate on. A sensible balance of mostly plant material (that hasn't been too fucked with), a little bit of dairy and protein (meat) and some exercise.  This also includes bread, which is actually just a grain seed, crushed, then fermented with water, then baked, a far cry from supermarket bread.  And for the angry vegans out there, yes some traditional cultures survived on plant matter alone, but on the flip side some traditional cultures also survive on mostly hunted meat, whale blubber or fish. Let's focus on evolutionary biology, not privileged western food opinions. 

As soon as you mess with this basic formula things begin to get shaky. As soon as you embrace this formula, a healthy balance returns. I've experienced this first hand, progressing from a diet of mostly processed foods to a diet of mostly home grown produce, the physiological and mental health benefits have been mind blowing. I can't sell you that formula, there is no app, no 10 week diet program, instead I can give you this information for free. There is little money to be made from promoting the concept of sensible eating, even less when you start toting the idea of only eating food produced naturally, in soil, without inorganic fertilisers and pesticides. In fact the more years I spend advocating for better eating and environmental consideration the more I struggle to make ends meet, turning to labouring as a reliable form of income. If you need a landscape gardener, veg grower or wood chopper call me. And just because I've written books featuring real food, doesn't make me a millionaire published author. I should have written a hunter forager smoothie cook book. Wild mushroom and raw venison smoothies! Hot Damn! 

There is however, much money to be made cashing in on peoples food anxieties and food insecurities. Hence the health food shops, health food  isles at supermarkets, the processed foods toting health benefits, the smoothy shops, all of which are not the be all and end all of a healthy existence. The smoothy shops always crack me up, they use tonnes of fruit and veg that's out of season, not organic and has massive road miles, but the consumer is convinced that what they're consuming is a 'good' healthy option. 

I recently met someone in our hippy home town for a date at a 'health food' shop/cafe (why isn't it just a food shop? Is food that bad that we have to differentiate?) Lovely place, healthy food etc, I don't want to upset the locals. I asked if they sold a locally made Italian style soft drink called Chinotto, a favourite of mine. They didn't sell it on the premise that it wasn't organic. I looked in the fridge, which was stocked with organic soft drinks, but they where still soft drinks containing sugar. Just because something says organic on the packet, doesn't mean it's good for you. The same can be said about 'farm fresh' 'free range' or 'healthy choice'. Often an amount of effluent is associated with these claims. 

Broccoli grown in my back yard is 'organic' and my body likes it, but a packet of organic corn chips are still just processed chips, fried in oil and loaded with fats which if I consume too much of, my body will store fat for leaner times, because of that evolution thing that happens. Get the picture? No? Let me give you another example. 

A family member once bought me a 'good bacteria' product because it was a healthy product. They had good intentions, but I refused to drink it, rightly so, it was loaded with sugar and it didn't fit in with my understanding of healthy living that doesn't include on the surface quick fix's. The product had a massive television marketing campaign and the family member in question had bought into the message and successfully made the transaction to a healthy lifestyle. I'm using sarcasm here. FYI. 

The notion that a certain category of food is healthier than any other food is what polarises the issue. You either have the income to be able to afford the 'healthy' lifestyle or you eat poorly. But the reality is not so obvious. Some of the poorest people eat the healthiest foods. Many cultures outside of the western world that have established food traditions eat a balance of plant matter and meat and enjoy a healthy existence. And for those that are unaware of the existence of other cultures in the world, may I suggest that many do not have such a wide spread intolerance