• Insider

    Take Control: If You Don’t, Who Will?

    Our best steps for escaping the Sick Care industry matrix
    by charleshughsmith

    Friday, April 29, 2016, 11:31 PM

Executive Summary

  • We know how to farm regeneratively, not extractively, today. We just need to choose to do so.
  • Learning from the recent summit with Joel Salatin, Toby Hemenway & Singing Frogs Farm
  • The 3 most important components underlying our future health
  • What you can do to take control of your health in ways that will enhance your quality of life

If you have not yet read Why We’re So Unhealthy, available free to all readers, please click here to read it first.

In Part 1, we examined the structure of our self-organizing centralized food/illness/healthcare system. In Part 2, we look at what we can do to foster a better, healthier and ultimately much more affordable alternative system.

Permaculture and Regenerative Agriculture/Horticulture

I have to start by thanking Peak Prosperity’s Adam Taggart for organizing the permaculture conference we attended, Better Soil, Better Food…A Better World. As a long-time gardener, I learned some things that I can apply to my own postage-stamp urban garden (for example, never leave soil bare—plant seedlings immediately after harvesting the current crop of veggies).

I also learned about the perniciously destructive nature of our system of growing, processing, distributing and consuming food.  As noted in Part 1, the only possible result of our unhealthy food/illness/health system is ill-health.

The best way to become healthy is to opt out of the entire system. Removing oneself from one subsystem is a good start but insufficient, due to the interconnected nature of the system. Eliminating fast food, for example, is a good start, but the vast majority of packaged and convenience foods are made with the same ingredients as fast food.

This is difficult to do by design. As Joel Salatin explains in Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front , alternatives are regulated out of existence or made so burdensome that few have the fortitude to push against centralized government policies that are sold as “public safety” while actually protecting the monopolies that profit from our sick system.

Finding healthcare professionals who will support your lifestyle changes can be tough when the entire sickcare system defaults to a litigation-averse “standard of care” that relies on costly and often deleterious medications as the answer to lifestyle-related chronic illnesses.

So how can we opt out of the illness-generating status quo? One strategy is to design a lifestyle that channels our cash, time and political support to alternatives rather than feeding the destructive monster.

The Three Most Important Things Are Soil, Soil and Soil

To borrow the truism of real estate investing (the three most important things are location, location and location), the three most important foundations of a healthy food chain are soil, soil and soil.

Many of us don’t have direct access to improving soil (though gardeners certainly do—that is Job #1 for all gardeners). If we can’t improve our own soil (because we don’t own any, for example), we can give our food dollars to local farms that practice regenerative agriculture/horticulture. (For more on the difference, please see Toby Hemenway’s work, such as Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, 2nd Edition.)

One key takeaway from the conference’s three speakers was the connection between healthy soil and nutritious food. Soil is the highly complex ecosystem that provides nutrients to plants, and soil that has been disrupted by tilling and starved of the goodies bacteria in the soil need to thrive is poor soil.

Grow It Yourself

I am not sure anyone who hasn’t experienced the joys, frustrations and miracles of gardening can truly understand healthy food. Yes, we can buy organic veggies and buy grass-fed /free range meat in the grocery store, but there is no visceral connection to what goes into raising healthy food unless one is actively engaged in the process.

Many well-educated Americans have no idea what the plants that produce their food even look like, much less how to nurture them.  We live (for much of the year) within spitting distance of one of the nation’s premier public universities (U.C. Berkeley), and we are continually astonished by how little the nation’s best and brightest students know about the most basic foundations of life: how food is grown, what vegetables look like before they’re neatly packaged (euuwe, is that dirt clinging to the vegetable??) and how to prepare real, raw food into a healthy, tasty meal in less than an hour.

(The American students are often very lax recyclers as well. Many can’t be bothered to toss their pizza boxes in the recycling bin, even when it’s right next to the trash bin.)

The pleasure of picking up a fresh egg from the chicken coop or plucking green beans right off the vine cannot be duplicated in a grocery store.

For those with no yard, community gardens are one possibility. Another possibility is to ask to share a neighborhood gardener’s patch of earth.  Our garden has a number of veggies planted and tended by neighbors. Some are in pots (for easy transport), others (such as the ancient Mediterranean vegetable lovage) are perennials that have a permanent place in the garden. Other neighbors have planted herbs and then moved away, leaving the mint etc. for us to enjoy.

Gardening in pots is another way to grow a few vegetables on decks, patios, etc.

Prepare It Yourself

One would be forgiven for thinking that since Americans watch a vast array of cooking programs on TV that cooking skills would be widely distributed and practiced.  Alas, I have concluded that there is an inverse relationship between the number of hours spent watching celebrity chefs whip up fancy dishes (all the laborious prep is done off-camera by underlings, of course—yet prep is 90% of cooking) and actual hands-on in-the-kitchen cooking skills.

I would refine this further to cooking skills that are most useful in daily life, i.e. being able to prepare a good meal with fresh raw ingredients in 30 to 40 minutes of prep. (A one-pot dish might simmer for an hour, but the prep needs to fit into a busy person’s schedule, hence my 30-minute ideal.)

Culinary skills should be wide enough to prepare seasonal harvests that don’t become tiresomely repetitive. (By the time our scarlet runner vines are really producing in mid-summer, we’re desperate to find people who actually cook and can share the bounty.)

Who knows how many Americans buy raw food with good intentions and then toss the majority of it in the trash a week later because the effort of preparing it was overwhelming?  City dump archeology suggests that staggering quantities of fresh food are dumped daily in the U.S.  It’s estimated 40% of all food in America ends up in the trash or recycling bin.

The solution for lazy people like me is to have a few quick go-to one-course meals that are flexible enough to use whatever’s in the vegetable bin or grocery bag.  Omelets and frittatas are good (for those who eat eggs), stir-fries are good for almost every vegetable, as are Italian or French style combinations (zucchini, onions, garlic, red pepper and mushrooms, for example, with some savory herbs).

Many of us prepare a big stew or casserole (or equivalent) on the weekend to feed the household for a few days.  A quick stir-fried veggie and savory leftovers—a great meal!

Having a garden helps, as you can go grab some grub without getting in your car or jumping on your bike. Here is some lettuce and chard I picked for lunch today.

Vegetable prep doesn’t have to be overly onerous.  The other day I sat outside and prepped some kale from our garden and some yao choy from a local Asian market, aided by a cold Lagunitas beer.

Once you make up your mind to avoid not just fast food and convenience food but most takeout/restaurant food as well (too costly, too salty, too greasy, etc.), it gets easier to default to cooking at home. (Guilty pleasures such as a pan of brownies are better baked at home, too.)

I am sure many here at Peak Prosperity grow more homegrown veggies and have much higher culinary skills than I do.  Good on ya!

Buying Local at Local Retail Groceries

One basic way to stop feeding corporate cartels and instead support healthier decentralized alternatives is to shop at local farmer’s markets, sign up for a consumer-supported agriculture (CSA) program and shop at small ethnic groceries such as Asian, Indian or Hispanic markets or halals.

These markets typically cater to picky consumers. We regularly shop in Chinatown (in Honolulu, HI or Oakland, CA), and it’s easy to see what’s fresh and competitively priced on any particular day: elderly Asian women are gathered round the bin.  You can see often where the fruits and vegetables come from because the farm boxes are lined up outside.

We shop at Hispanic markets for Mexican cheeses, tomatillos, etc., Indian markets for dals (lentils) and at halals for middle-eastern ingredients.

We also frequent locally owned stores that offer organic produce.

In this model, fast food corporations, processed food corporations, restaurant chains and supermarkets get zero dollars; all the household food budget goes to local or regional suppliers and outlets.

What’s Our Motivation?

All these ways to starve the beast by supporting alternatives are well-known.  But it takes a powerful, sustained motivation to resist the forces of convenience and marketing and pursue a healthy life centered around good food and home-cooked meals.

For many people, cancer or another life-threatening disease provides a frightening and unwelcome motivation to make profound changes to their diet and lifestyle. Hopefully, most of us will find a less threatening motivation.

For me, as for many of you, my preference for knowing where my food comes from, how it was prepared, and the better quality that comes from home-prepared meals is motivation enough. (That, and being extremely frugal. Four bucks for a cup of coffee? Ten dollars for a burrito? Get out of here! No way!)

Growing food (even small quantities) and preparing it at home are pleasurable activities.  That is also a motivation, for the daily joy of cooking with ingredients you nurtured is unsurpassed.

~ Charles Hugh Smith

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  • Sat, Apr 30, 2016 - 10:20am



    Status: Silver Member

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    Posts: 725



    "Good on ya!"

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  • Sat, Apr 30, 2016 - 10:58am

    Dave Meyer

    Dave Meyer

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    Joined: Nov 01 2015

    Posts: 4


    So True and So Important

    We are what we eat, and the soil it comes from. My wife and I are halfway there - we never eat out, always shop around the outside of the grocery store, and mostly eat fresh fruits & vegetables, dairy, and occasionally chicken, fish or lean beef. We don't feel like we're missing a thing, and when we share with our family & friends they're always surprised how good everything is. Lots of big fresh salads with oil & vinegar, yum! We still need to start buying from the local farmer's markets and start our own garden or greenhouse, I look forward to the joy of actually eating something I've grown myself! Our tastes have changed for the better and we can hardly tolerate packaged processed 'food' anymore, or even read the ingredients without wondering what that crap is doing to so many people. Our grocery bills aren't bad at all and I'm not convinced fresh foods are more expensive, but rather processed food diets are a choice due to perceived convenience or addiction or habit or lack of education or experience with good food. It's a pity something so fundamental is so utterly screwed up, including the widespread inhumane treatment of animals, but at least each of us is empowered to make our own good choices for ourselves and our precious planet. Great article, thank you once again Charles! 

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  • Sun, May 01, 2016 - 6:23am



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    moving up the pyramid

    So even if you aren't able to buy fantastic food at a farmer's market, you can still take steps up the pyramid.

    A friend of mine once observed that the layout of the grocery store is a clue.  All the processed foods are in the center isles, and the fresh stuff is on the outside rim - left, rear, and right.  So if you consciously spend more time around the rim and less time in the center, that alone will be an improvement.

    My guess about the stat of 40% wasted food comes from the grocery stores and/or restaurants that have to toss out some significant percentage of fruit and veg that don't get sold before they go bad.  (enter CHS and his tasteless roma road-tomatos)

    Where I live, the local vendors are a bit more clever.  Rather than tossing out a mango that has a bunch of unattractive brown spots on it, the owner of the shop peels the mango and puts it in a plastic tray covered with clear plastic wrap and slaps an attractive price on it.  Lazy people like me walk by, see the mango - and we know very well where it comes from and that we need to eat it same-day, but it is practically irresistible.  A few hours in the fridge and there's dessert for the evening!  Nothing like cold, ripe mango...

    That's a virtue of having such a collection of open-air shops that are walking distance from my home.  No need to go into a massive building - just walk by, see mango, hand over the cash, and you're done.  Its almost like living inside the grocery store...

    Some places just provide a better shopping experience.

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  • Mon, May 02, 2016 - 12:49am



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    love the sidewalk vendors

    Dave, excellent point how sidewalk vendors actually process food in ways that reduce waste. (Plus in SE Asia and other hot climes, hot food bought from stalls/sidewalk vendors is consumed immediately (or given to a monk as an offering) --very little waste there. Ethnic markets will do something similar--as fruit/veggies reach their not-so-good state, they lower the price and move some of it to people who will use it in stews, or don't mind taking the time to trim off the bad bits....

    Street food offers a wide variety of prepared food made fresh--that's better than 99% of the packaged rubbish Americans buy at the supermarket. 

    I should mention that Dave prepared a tasty Thai meal for us when he visited our very humble abode...it returned us briefly to Thailand, where we ate street food every day (and never got sick).

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  • Mon, May 02, 2016 - 1:14am


    Adam Taggart

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    Joined: May 25 2009

    Posts: 7545


    Amazing Day

    I'm very pleased and honored that Charles found so much value in the Tara Firma Farms event, as well as the inspiration to write this important piece.

    There's a deep & rich story coming on my foray into local investing through Tara Firma. But that's for another time -- expect a series of articles to follow on that topic in the near future.

    I will say though, it has been a joy to become directly involved with an important component of "the solution" to the large and real health problems Charles details in Part 1.

    For me, the event we produced last week was valuable on a number of levels, but especially in the gathering of productive brainpower. Having personal heroes like Joel, Toby, Paul, Robb and Charles all in the same place at the same time was a selfish pleasure, and watching them riff off of each others' ideas was a life highlight.

    (Paul Kaiser, Toby Hemenway and Joel Salatin fielding Q&A)

    Together they make it obvious that there are so many existing options and practical models for farming/ranching regeneratively and for improving our personal health & wellness -- we just have to have the open minds and courage to pursue them. We can truly start doing things much better today -- the power is in our hands.

    Somewhere around 200 folks joined us for the day, which included presentations, a pasture walk and several farm-to-table meals. Here's a shot of Joel giving his talk:

    The day could not have been more beautiful. The long winter rains have made the pastures lush and the animals very happy.

    We've been writing much on PeakProsperity.com of late of the Eight Forms of Capital. For me, this event was a celebration of Living Capital and Social Capital -- as well as how to deploy Financial Capital in a way that does not feed the Wall Street casino, makes communities more resilient, and leaves a productive legacy.

    As Joel et all are teaching us: there are promising models out there. We just need to embrace them.

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  • Mon, May 02, 2016 - 5:05pm



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    inspirational on a down-home basis

    The speakers certainly inspired me to get more out of our little urban garden. I just filled the remaining bare-earth holes with some seedlings yesterday.

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  • Thu, May 05, 2016 - 7:31pm



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    the two towers

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  • Sat, May 07, 2016 - 3:43pm



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    Sorry to have missed the Tera Firma Farms Event and Comradere

    Charles you have given us all inspiration to focus more on the soil quality of our home garden.  I am relatively new to gardening and have been surprised at how much there is to learn and how fulfilling and rewarding it is to get reconnected to the land and our food.  Incidentally, Chris talked about this during his recent podcast interview with Strong Towns which gave a good overall review of PP forms of capital and gardening/living capital.  Here's hoping that a future Rowe type event could be held in Calif and could be combined with many of the things learned at The Terra Firma event to be an interactive 3 day hands-on learning experience...that would be excellent.  

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