The word diet is derived from the Greek diata, literally meaning a manner of living. Today diet includes food as well as the pastimes in which we habitually engage. What is the diet – meaning, food – that we provide at our treatment centers? What is the media diet, the cultural diet, the spiritual diet, the intellectual diet, the exercise diet, and the sustainable diet? Are we aware of the environmental diet – how rooms are arranged or the emotional climate between practitioners – which is noted and ingested by those who come for help?
Michael E. Porter, of Harvard Business School, chairs the Social Progress Imperative, whose yearly Social Progress Index measures the nations of the world in basic human needs, wellbeing, and opportunity (http://www.socialprogressimperative.org/data/spi). The U.S. does not fall within the top ten nations. In fact, the 2014 report shows the United States as 70th in health and wellness, behind most of Europe, and closer to Iran and Kuwait. Even though we spend more on health care, we actualize less. We are 39th in access to basic knowledge, falling behind Cuba, and 31st in terms of personal safety.
Porter stated, “As Americans we don’t necessarily see ourselves the way we really are…. We have this idealized view of ourselves…in this country, we haven\'t delivered.” As practitioners we can recognize this as denial. As Americans we might question if we have a steady diet of denial that permeates our lives. Is our inability to provide health and wellness the fruition of Arendt’s concept of the “banality of evil”? We are a nation whose citizens largely live on a diet prepared by the military, media, pharmaceutical, prison, and food industrial complexes. As practitioners whose mandate is health and wellness, what is our responsibility?
I swear by all the Gods that I will fulfill this oath and covenant: I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick… remaining free of all intentional injustice, when visiting the sick, free of all mischief and in particular of sexual relationships with both female and male persons, be they free or slaves… [excerpt] Hippocratic Oath, 400 BC
People must know before they can act. ~Ida B. Wells
Americans represent 5 percent of the world’s population and ingest 50 percent of all prescription drugs; more than half of us are obese; 79 million of us are pre-diabetic, and the number of adults and children with diabetes has more than tripled in the last few decades. It is legal in the United States to daily feed livestock antibiotics and, until recently, growth hormones. Both of these practices are outlawed in Europe. The U.S. Center for Disease Control reports that 70 percent of antibiotics purchased in the U.S. are fed to animals on factory farms. Eating antibiotics in food means that we become resistant to antibiotics when they are needed. Antibiotic-resistant infections are on the rise, MRSA has been outdone by CRE, an infection identified in 44 states – primarily in hospitals and health care centers. The U.S. does not have truth in labeling laws for food; genetically modified organisms (GMO) are not noted, rather food corporations “green-wash” products by calling them “natural”. The European Union, Mexico, Russia, and most recently China have banned GMO products. Since 2013 China alone has barred 1.45 million tons of corn shipments, costing U.S. traders $427 million in sales.
In fifty years Americans have doubled and tripled the intake of sugar, and animal products inclusive of dairy. Sugar went from a condiment to a staple. This is in direct opposition to The China Study, the largest comprehensive study of human nutrition. The research partnership with Oxford, Cornell, and the Chinese Academy of Preventative Medicine demonstrated that “plants do it better”, advocating a plant-based diet, acknowledging that the fewer animal products and more real food (not processed) improves health. The addicted are at risk for compromised immune systems, diabetes, sexually transmitted disease, HIV, Hepatitis C, and depression. The majority of people of color are lactose-intolerant, which is not typically acknowledged in treatment centers and frequently not realized by individuals.
What can we do?
Three years ago Amity’s Teaching Community in Tucson expanded its intention toward whole-person education, implementing ways to say no to the food industrial complex and yes to improved health. Acknowledging that each person served has the potential to positively affect the health and wellness of their family, friends, and associates, strategies included the following:
· Faculty (in addition to a non-smoking on-campus policy) are mandated not to bring soda, diet soda, or junk food to the campus, inclusive of fast food, chips, and candy bars. These are not served from the campus kitchen either
· All mixed, sugared drinks, processed juices, and sugar packets are removed
· Plant-based meals are developed starting with one plant-based day a week with the intention of increasing to a raw meal a week
· Industrial juicers are installed, replacing processed and sugared drinks with fruit and vegetable juice
· Reductions are being made in the purchase of processed/prepared foods
· A garden was planted, growing seasonal vegetables and spices (without pesticides)
· Eco-friendly, toxic-free cleaning supplies were purchased in bulk so toxins would not leach into the ground
· Pressure is brought to bear on food suppliers to sell non-GMO products – which they have positively responded to
· Sanitas per Escam/Health Through Food bulletin boards are established regarding food, food issues, food politics, truth in labeling issues
· Organic miso is used as a broth/base instead of alternatives since miso is a natural probiotic (Japan is first in terms of health and wellness)
· The China Study outcomes are included in curriculum; every faculty member received a Forks Over Knives cookbook
· Multiple DVDs regarding food are included in the curriculum, inclusive of Forks Over Knives; Eating; Ingredients; Meat the Truth; King Corn; Fat Sick and Nearly Dead; Fresh; Genetic Roulette; Sweet Remedy; Got the Facts on Milk?; Food Inc.; Death on a Factory Farm; Weight of the Nation; and more. (https://www.facebook.com/notes/ra%C3%AFs-dreadspirate-zaidi/30-documentaries-about-food-farming-agriculture-gmos-water-the-tar-sands-etc/10151286908552258)
The resistance to these changes represents the pain of apostasy. We seem to equate freedom with what we can ingest; Mayor Bloomberg’s soda initiative proved it. The idea of renouncing American “corporate comfort food” saturated with salt, sugar, and fat; fast food inclusive of soda, chips, and corn products, for many, is tantamount to an identity crisis.
We identify with advertising and ingest what poisons us, eating what is profitable to corporations rather than what is nutritious. This has not been a project without relapse. Yet the astounding results motivate – thousands of pounds lost; mothers previously on welfare acknowledging that WIC products are not healthy and seeking alternatives; people feeling so much better they made individual decisions to come off psychotropic drugs (which they successfully did with medical supervision); many discovering their lactose intolerance; and the formation of partnerships with other organizations focused on health and sustainability. Importantly, Amity evidenced a drastic reduction in emergency-room visits.
Be thy own palace or the world’s thy jail. ~John Donne
The world is not moved along only by the mighty shoves of its heroes but also by the aggregate of tiny pushes of each honest worker. ~Helen Keller
Americans may be served a diet from the industrial complexes, but we have a history of taking personal responsibility within community to shift paradigms: civil rights; inter-racial and same-sex marriage; the United Farm workers; La Liga Mexicanista; smoking; the labor movement. Recently a grocer in Rhode Island discovered that Kashi cereal was not natural and cleared the shelf, leaving only a note to customers essentially stating the company had lied. This ultimately resulted in Kashi producing a truly organic product line. One alternative high school in Wisconsin, rife with expulsions and drug problems changed the lunch diet, got rid of the vending machines, and saw a 90-percent reduction in acting-out behavior and significant increases in college attendance.
Dr. Lustig, featured in the documentary, Fed Up states that “sugar is the alcohol of children… the food industry is behaving like big tobacco.” In Argentina, Sofia Gatica lost her infant daughter to kidney failure. She lived in a neighborhood surrounded by fields saturated with pesticides. She was instrumental in getting the Argentine president to investigate. Not only did she win the 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize, she changed policy in her nation and increased U.S. awareness regarding our exports.
What we do not call education is more precious than that which we call so. ~Emerson
As practitioners we encourage personal revolutions, revolts against bad habits, the formation of pro-social relationships, taking risks, and promise people they will reap unexpected rewards from engaging in the struggle. Might we follow our own advice promoting not just social service but social justice? To help those who are in despair, have them regain dignity, life, and family, only to die of a preventable disease caused by the standard American diet (S.A.D.) is unethical. We can demand change by what we purchase for our agencies, our associates, and ourselves. We can be participants in the evolution of our field and the health of our nation. The authentic struggle to work from the higher octaves of humanity opens doors for those behind us, broadcasts seeds of hope and builds community on our planet…in the most unexpected ways.
Fifty years ago the regents at the University of Berkeley, California were horrified at the disruption on their campus: students arrested, careers ruined, documents redacted. This same University is investing thousands for its 50-year celebration of what came to be known as the free-speech movement. In his book Pilgrimage, Phil Cousineau recounts a woman approaching him in Budapest and asking if he was an American. She had traveled to California and her favorite spot was the steps of Sproul Hall at U.C. Berkeley: “I am a reporter here in Eastern Europe. When I got a chance to go to America, I said no to your Disneylands and your Studio Universals, and I left my travel group because I had to see the place where people stopped a war.”