Good nutrition begins in the soil
by Patrick Holden, Sustainable Food Trust on 1 September, 2016
"Quite rightly, more and more doctors and members of the public are asking “what should I eat to stay healthy?” As someone who has been farming sustainably in West Wales for the last 40 years, I would add the question “how should we farm so that the food produced truly promotes the health of the public?” These two questions are linked, because what we have done to the chronic diseases of our bodies has very much been mirrored in the soil.
At our recent conference in San Francisco called The True Cost of American Food, Tyler Norris from Kaiser Permanente (perhaps the leading health insurance and managed health care company on the West Coast) said they are facing an unaffordable health treatment crisis. He attributed much of this to the industrialisation of agriculture, particularly in California’s Central Valley which is America’s ‘food basket’.
Not that Norris knew, but he was echoing an observation made many years ago by Lady Eve Balfour who founded the Soil Association. She called for a thorough investigation of the causes of health (which she believed are rooted in the food we eat and the way we farm) because she saw the NHS becoming a “national disease treatment service” rather than a “national health service”.
Lady Balfour had been inspired by Sir Albert Howard, a man who had been sent out to India at the height of the Empire, a century ago by the British Government, to encourage the people of India to adopt western diets. Fortunately, Howard had the intelligence and humility to realise early on in his mission that he had nothing much to teach India about sound nutrition. He recognised too that the relative healthiness of North West India was due not simply to what people ate, but to the way their food was grown in soils which produced highly nourishing crops because the farmers, perhaps intuitively and without the science which has only recently confirmed its importance, always looked after the soil microbiome.
-- How We Grow Our Food, by Patrick Holden, Chair of Sustainable Food Trust, speech at Food: The Forgotten Medicine conference highlighting the importance of how we farm and its impact on human health; with an emphasis on the connection between healthy soil, healthy food and healthy people.