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Our health and vitality was described by the ancient sages of China as having a single major source -- our 'essence.' This essence is thought to be the rich substance that life springs from. We can think of it as the powerful substances at our core: bone marrow, sperm and reproductive fluids, and the brain and spinal cord. These tissues are absolutely critical in supporting life and consciousness. According to the ancient sages, the essence springs forth from two sources: the prenatal essence (what we get from our parents) and the postnatal essence (what we take in from our experience after birth).
The prenatal essence is inherited not only from your parents, but from every living being that has contributed genetic material and energetic imprints or karma from the entire chain of evolution. Thus we can see that essence is quantitative but also very qualitative, containing the seeds of adaptations and clever evolutionary strategies, as well as the dead ends, the mistakes, the karmic retribution of a thousand million generations. The prenatal essence cannot be calculated as a sum total substance arriving at a single bottom line, but must be seen as a brilliantly faceted diamond that appears vastly different when viewed from different angles and contextual environments.
We can improve our health and our lives by working with our essence.
The process of changing the prenatal essence we are given moves slowly; but we can highlight it, work with it, and nurture it, preventing its loss. With a monumental effort, we may be able to add to it, but this effort begins by nourishing the postnatal essence.
This we can do. We can develop vast stores of energy and vitality through our habits. We can build internal power through our actions, through what we eat, how we manage stress and emotion, through our ability to tap into a state of divine ecstasy. These three topics contain much material for exploration and understanding. Today we'll deal with the historical and ontological basis for one of these three foundational principles: nutrition.
We are absolutely what we eat. This old cliche does not go far enough in elucidating the necessity of proper nutrition. To paint as clear a picture as possible, I'll cop one of Mark Twain's turns of phrase:
"The difference in results of nurturing one's vitality in eating the right foods versus eating almost the right foods is exactly the same as the distinction between a lightning bolt and a lightning bug."
Nutrition will make or break you over your lifetime. It will bring you great joy, happiness, energy, health, and vitality, or it will bring you disease, decay, pain, suffering, and regret -- if you live that long.
How can we know this? It's a simple fact, really. There are hundreds of definitive studies, including the recent renowned China study, but one needs no hard-edged academic study to see the truth. Look at primitive cultures, or what's left of them, or better yet, read historical accounts of early scientific interactions with "primitive" and traditional cultures by explorers specifically seeking information on mortality and morbidity. The touchstone research was compiled in the 1930's by Weston Price, DDS & Francis Pottinger, MD. They were looking for traditional cultures that had the lowest rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and dental disease. They demonstrated that the cultures with the healthiest populations were those who consumed a seasonal, plant-based, and widely varied diet that was rich in enzymes and nutrient density, and had few empty calories in terms of grains & refined products. They also used sea vegetables or minerals, and ate most of their food raw. The Inuit were the exception proving the rule -- they ate mostly raw meats, fats, and organs from the fish and sea mammals that sustained them most of the year. In recent years, Inuit health has declined as they began eating a typical western diet rich in refined industrial foods.
Other clinicians have found these same correlations upon visiting "primitive" cultures. Sidney MacDonald Baker, MD, found virtually no modern degenerative disease when practicing with the Peace Corps in Nepal and Chad in 1958 and 1966-68, respectively. When human beings eat refined, fractionated foods, when the nutrient density declines, when fiber and water are removed from foods, human health declines, vitality recedes, wellness wilts, and the human spirit dulls. The father of the study of anatomy, Herophiles, said, "When health is absent wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot become manifest, strength cannot be exerted, wealth is useless and reason is powerless."
Therefore vibrant health and well-being facilitate the process of personal growth and intellectual, emotional, and spiritual development. Nutrition, as a foundational component, engenders the conditions of personal evolution. Therefore we may co-opt the phrase Evolutionary Nutrition to describe the practices of nutrition that kindle the Vital Fires of consciousness. We should be very grateful to the pioneering work of other physicians who endeavored mightily to light this torch and keep it burning. Many kind thanks to Gabriel Cousens, MD, a shining star in a long line of eminent physicians stretching back into antiquity. There are many others carrying that torch today, too many past and present physicians to mention (but too few for the needs of the world) who bring forth the idea that food facilitates consciousness and vibrant health.
Back to Evolutionary Nutrition. The term has, until now, implied a historical view of nutrition, using discoveries and understanding about the natural world of antiquity to place human nutrition in the context of the pre-industrialized world. This is certainly a valuable perspective. Yet, it doesn't appear to go far enough. Implications can be seen from an evolutionary perspective connecting the decline of the natural environment to the rise of chronic disease, dissatisfaction, unhappiness, sectarianism, violence, and conflict.
We can see in the rear-view mirror that human consciousness and health as well as human societies began to degrade in proportion to the environmental degradation that took place. Food clearly holds the key to understanding these changes in human health over the millennia. Since our goal, in the light of present environmental and geopolitical conditions should be to advance our culture, creating peace, prosperity, and good health for all humans, we must look forward with equal clarity. Therefore any concept of Evolutionary Nutrition must look to the future, viewing evolution as an ongoing process, and help us understand how food plays a dominant role in development of consciousness. Ironically, we can see this clearly in the historical record, making the heretofore limited model of Evolutionary Nutrition all the more relevant.
One rather controversial view holds that the Old Testament is a collection of stories of a vanquished tribe as told by their conquerors. Daniel Quinn brilliantly tells this story in his acclaimed book, Ishmael. Thus the story of Adam & Eve and the Garden of Eden represents actual events, but the twist is that Adam and Eve were actually tribes, not individuals. In this context, the fall from Eden represents mankind's departure from nature. The biting of the apple represents the moment that man began to subjugate nature, rather than living in divine harmony with all of creation, evident everywhere including in their eating.
Historical record suggests that these events actually took place, in the cradle of civilization, the Fertile Crescent: the area between the Rivers Tigris and Euphrates, in what is now Iraq. How ironic, then, that the U.S. today is involved in yet another war in the same physical location, though the environment there couldn't be more different from today. Archeology tells us that at one time, all of the Middle East was a Primeval deciduous forest. Numerous references tell us that at one time, one could walk from the Atlantic coast of North Africa, due east through to Egypt and beyond, through all of the present-day Middle East, and one would never leave the shade of the primeval deciduous forest. At that time, those forests provided all the nutrition that humans needed; the forest yielded innumerable roots, tubers, vegetables, fruits, leaves, shoots, nuts, seeds, game animals, fish from its rivers and streams, and medicines. Agriculture had yet to be invented, and was irrelevant because all was forest, and the forest provided all, in a more grand fashion than any farm yet to be devised.
Ancient peoples of the region deforested the area for fuel and building material. The Bible and the Torah tell us the story of Nebuchadnezzar, a king who lived around 560 BC. He ordered his workmen to cut down the trees, to be burned in brick-making ovens. His ovens churned out millions of bricks, all inscribed with his name and the story of how he ousted the Jews from Jerusalem in 586 BC. He built palaces, castles, cities, and their surrounding triple-walled fortresses, all of these bricks, millions of which still exist today. People in Iraq still build houses out of these bricks. Saddam Hussein was building a dam by bulldozing Nebuchadnezzar's bricks into a gorge.
The fall of the Jews from Jerusalem was as portentous for the state of the world as the fall of the forests, because the fall of the forests continues today in the destruction of rainforests of the world. The process in ancient times is very similar to the process as it is now: the trees are felled to make way for agriculture. Agriculture steps in, growing grains for foodstuffs, supplanting the bounty of the forest with an inferior monoculture of nutrient-deficient crops. Even that ends, because eventually and far too quickly the soils are bereft, and the only thing that will grow is grass.
This is where the livestock steps in, with the intervention of animal husbandry. The shepherds tend their flocks, mostly to excess, denuding the grass, further despoiling the soil. Soon all that is left is... dust and sand. This is the story of how the entire Middle East became a desert. Mankind, in his lust for power and ego-fueling pride, spoiled Eden, and changing our way of eating, from a forest-centered way of life, to one centered around agriculturism and pastoralism. This way of relating to the world, through conquest rather than through harmony, produced the way of eating that we know today as the Standard American Diet. Meat and grains, both of which rot in the gut into toxic compounds with names like putrescine and cadaverine, disconnect the human organism further from nature.
Thus Wendell Berry's revelatory statement "Eating is an agricultural act" alludes to the environmental consequences of eating, but not its spiritual consequences. Take it several steps further: Eating is an Evolutionary Act. Each meal, each bite takes us closer to our original nature, closer to the Garden of Eden, or further away. Most humans alive today are thousands of evolutionary miles away from the Garden of Eden -- they're in the desert, eating synthetic foods from an industrial wasteland.
We may never remake the forests in all their glory, but we will do well to emulate them, by creating farms and reserves that work with nature, nurturing biodiversity while creating food. This is the ethic of biodynamic and organic farming at their core, though organic can mean a lot of things today.
From the evolutionary perspective, we can see that the best way to eat for human beings is also the best way to eat for the sake of the natural world. By eating of the Garden of Eden, we can save it. By eating sustainably harvested Amazonian plants -- or plants sustainably harvested from any natural environment, from organic farms supporting biodiversity, we guarantee the survival of these bio-diversifying food sources, because they are worth more alive, vibrant, and churning out the herbs, rather than dead, desertified, and grazing a few lonely Big-Macs-to-be. Thus eating bears karmic implications -- you can eat foods that support biodiversity in the Garden of Eden, or those that destroy it, and your health will reflect those choices.
On our lifetime journeys, the Garden of Eden can only be a layover on the road to Heaven. We need to return to Eden metaphorically and through nutrition to examine and fully manifest our original nature, our authentic selves, so that we can move past the dualities of this sphere, and experience the non-dual, the unity consciousness with all that is. Of course, it's possible to experience non-duality, to experience the Void, to experience God and the divine ecstasy, all while eating nachos and pork ribs... but it's a whole lot harder. Anything is possible. But why fight a billion years of evolution by trying to reach higher levels of consciousness with inferior biochemistry, when you can ride on the wings of those billions of lifetimes of evolutionary drive, hook into the Primeval order stored in DNA, and flow with the tide of evolution, instead of against it?
From this perspective,
eating in the way of our ancient and wild ancestors to the best of
our ability, that is, a widely varied, plant-based living foods diet,
rich with plant phytonutrients and flavonoids, rich with medicinal
herbs (which are food), full of fiber, water, nutrients, and life
force, this way of eating will build postnatal essence more than any
other way of eating. It also nurtures the natural world. Having a
rich supply of energy via postnatal essence supports development of
consciousness. Is it possible to eat your way to an enlightened state
of being? Doubtful, but you can eat in such a way as to remove biochemical
barriers while creating vibrant health, deep vitality, and lasting
energy to fuel consciousness and growth.
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