Chapter Four in Blissful Living Response Post Please read chapter 4 in Blissful Living and post a response based off of the following questions:
Chapter Four in Blissful Living Response Post
Critical Thinking Template for Beyond Stress
Please, don’t forget to check for grammar, punctuation and spelling!
1 The most important information/key concepts we need to understand from these chapters are:
2 How can I use the information in the chapters to help me with my daily mindfulness practice?
3 In what ways will the material learned in these chapters help me manage my stress more effectively?
4 What are your thoughts and feedback regarding the information and activities for each chapter?
One journal entry page
MINDFUL AWARENESS REFLECTION JOURNAL
Choose one mindful experience as you begin your reflection.
Describe your experience
Describe what you noticed
Accept Without Judgment
Describe judgment; acceptance
Intention/willingness; new perspective
Mindful Mac Meditation
Describe your meditation experiences. What did you learn?
SUSTAINABLE LIVING AND CONSCIOUS EATING
By Lisa Schmidt
I am nourished by the earth
My food is alive with nutrients
My senses are ignited
My body is satisfied.
“The most effective diet is one eaten in the context of the principles that sustain the Tree of Life itself. This model for conscious living of a spiritual life includes meditation and/or prayer; cultivation of wisdom; good fellowship with other conscious people; right livelihood; respect for the Earth and its inhabitants; love of the family and all humanity; respect for all people and cultures; respect for the forces of Mother Nature; respect and love for our own body and mind; and love for the overall totality of who we are. ”
—Dr. Gabriel Cousens, Conscious Eating1 The Tree of Life.1
The following chapter will offer you an opportunity to reflect on the food you eat, where it comes from, how you eat, and what happens in your body the moment you take a mouthful. Your eating experience will most likely change for life as you mindfully acknowledge what your current patterns of nutrition; pay attention how you choose the food you eat and when you eat; accept your experiences and decisions without judgment and finally take action to make a choice for change. Be gentle with yourself and take time to absorb the information shared with you in “sustainable living for conscious eating” as you will most likely find that change needs to take place in your life, yet we mindfully need to take small steps as we become aware of the changes we need to make, take time to practice and develop new behaviors and attitudes toward our nutrition and finally, begin to integrate healthy and nutritious behaviors that will improve the quality of our lives. Let the journey begin!
Food has energetic properties, and learning how to use its effects to enhance health and well-being is an age-old practice. From the origins of mankind, hunter-gatherers learned about local plants, and knew which were edible and how to use others as medicine. This type of knowledge about plants and their medicinal uses formed the basis of Western herbal traditions and traditional Asian medical systems. However, the seventeenth century brought the Western view of man as machine and the body as subject to mechanical laws. Under this conceptual framework where Newtonian physics and pre-evolutionary biology project a mechanical view into a microscopic realm, the wisdom of food as medicine was lost in the West. Mechanics work in explaining machines, but the body cannot be entirely explained with this metaphor. In other traditions, the use of herbs and plants as medicine remains alive and vital. With a four thousand year tradition of food as medicine for humans, we can find written records of Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine practices with time-proven protocols. Reclaiming this wisdom and melding it with modern nutrition knowledge help us choose foods that encourage healthful metabolic processes. This allows us to use plants in nutritionally healthful ways that form our connection to Nature and all living things.
Moving beyond man as machine and seeing all living beings as a part of Nature that is interconnected changes our view of food and the act of eating. Nourishment becomes much more than just about what you and your family ingest for dinner. It’s also about the ripples that result from your need to eat, the entire world, and all of its inhabitants. We are all links in an enormous, complex food chain, and our lives depend upon our love and gratitude for all the other links. Buying organic spinach from a local farmer not only supports the farmer’s family; it also supports microorganisms in the soil, plankton in water, and less junk in the landfill. Making conscious grocery store decisions support the sustainability of all living beings, and our collective futures.
When we remember that the Earth is the provider of our food, we learn how to eat consciously: awake, aware, and alive. No packaged product, protein powder, or laboratory formula can offer the same vitality and sustenance as Nature’s direct offering. Nourished from within, we are able to give back to each other, our families, and our communities. As we sit down together and break bread in families, the food sharing ritual holds tremendous power. It is the spiritual glue that holds us together as families, friends, and communities.2
What we eat is linked to our awareness. Our food choices show our harmony (or lack of harmony) with ourselves, the world, and all of creation. The way we choose to eat and what we choose to eat makes us feel secure. This feeling of security makes it difficult, if not impossible, to change our diet unless presented with disease or pain associated with our current eating pattern. Many people are unwilling to make needed dietary or lifestyle changes even when their life depends on it.
Food as Energy
When we eat foods that are appropriate to our own individual needs we extract energy from our environment in harmony with the natural world. As we honor and respect our own body rhythms and eat in tune with our needs, we align with Nature and use food resources sustainably. Reducing waste, minimizing our carbon footprint, and maximizing finite resources, our bodies thrive. As we increase our connection to the process of eating and the world around us, we shift into harmony and make conscious lifestyle choices. We eat mindfully, consciously, and with love and affection for the Earth and ourselves.
Every day, we must meet the energy needs of our bodies despite fluctuations in the availability of the many nutrients the body needs. How do the cells of our bodies use fuel molecules, and what is involved in this process? The human body is dynamic and our cells have to switch between producing and using energy that we create from ingesting plants and animals. The body’s ability to adapt in the face of always changing conditions is crucial, and only possible because of its ability to self-regulate. As our bodies move between different physiological conditions like sleeping through the night, we “break the fast” in the morning which requires the body to change into a different metabolic state. At other times, we might be simply resting, or exercising. In all situations, the type and amount of nutrients available as cellular fuel changes abruptly. In order to provide the energy the body needs, we eat a variety of food, which the body in its amazing process converts into the energy we need to live. Through eating, we transform plants and animals into mitochondria, called our “cellular power plants” because they generate most of the cell’s supply of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is used as a source of chemical energy3 by all plants and animals, fueling all life functions. In addition to supplying cellular energy, mitochondria are involved in other tasks such as signaling, cellular differentiation, cell death, as well as the control of the cell cycle and cell growth.3
Let’s look at this transformation through the example of eating a tuna sandwich. How does our body accomplish this magic act of eating the mitochondria of plants and animals and converting them into our own mitochondria? The process of conversion is accomplished through the body’s process of digestion. Before we even begin the mechanical act of chewing, digestion begins in the mouth. Our salivary glands secrete fluid even when we think about eating, or smell food, or pick up the sandwich. This lubrication allows us to soften and break down the food for chewing, which grinds the sandwich into smaller particles (using the teeth), and saliva provides better interaction with taste receptors, making food more pleasurable to our senses. One type of saliva, salivary amylase, is slightly acidic, and it is perfectly adjusted pH helps break down starches from the sandwich (for example, the bread) and turns the complex starch molecules into single units—again, preparing the food for digestion. The mechanical (chewing) and chemical (amylase) process is the beginning of the metabolism of the tuna, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, and bread—otherwise known as protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Let’s take a walk through the food processing experience.
The biochemical pathway of food—eating a Sandwich
The bread—a primarily carbohydrate source of energy—starts to break down into simple sugar units which can be rapidly transported by our mitochondria across the intestinal wall and delivered quickly to body tissues. This classic conversion of plant mitochondria (from the bread) into our own mitochondria is delivered throughout the body in a singular sugar unit called glucose, an important energy source in all living organisms and a component of many carbohydrates. Fat in the form of mayonnaise begins its breakdown into lipids. Lipids are a group of naturally occurring molecules that include fats, waxes, sterols, fat-soluble vitamins (such as vitamins A, D, E, and K), monoglycerides, diglycerides, triglycerides, phospholipids, and others. The main jobs that lipids perform in the body include storing energy, acting as signaling messengers to other cells, and providing structure for cell membranes.4
Not only does fat in the mayonnaise break down into molecules that help facilitate essential functions in our bodies like nerve conduction, hormone synthesis, and neurological transmission, it also provides a delivery vehicle for taste. Calorie dense, fat delivers twice the energy—in the form of calories—as protein or carbohydrates. It is also very effective in delivering flavors to the brain, enhancing the way processed foods taste, and encourage in subtle ways of our desire for more.
Next comes our assimilation of the tuna, the protein product that our body breaks down into amino acids. As the building blocks of protein, amino acids are the building blocks of life itself. Take a mindful moment and imagine eating the tuna sandwich, paying attention to what is happening in your body as it is assimilated. We use amino acids following digestion to help the body break down food, grow, repair body tissue, and perform many other key functions. The body can also use them as a source of energy, but it is a less efficient fuel than using sugars. Every cell in the body contains protein. It is a major part of the skin, muscles, organs, and glands. Protein is also found in almost all body fluids. The tuna in the sandwich provides about ½ your daily protein requirement. It is from an animal source (fish)—but we can also get protein from plants. In fact, this sandwich provides protein in the tomato, lettuce, bread, and even the mayonnaise. You do not need to eat animal products to get all the protein you need in your diet.5 The lettuce and tomato also begin breaking down into other kinds of carbohydrates:glucose and fructose.
What happens next to the broken down food? It moves by peristaltic waves stimulated by the nervous system to the stomach. Acid hydrolysis (hydrochloric acid, HCL) contributes to its degradation. HCL release is stimulated by a hormone called gastrin, which is released by the endocrine glands in the stomach in response to food; gastric releasing peptide (GRP), and the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. HCL uncoils protein strands, and activates the stomach enzyme PEPSIN. Proteins from the tuna part of our sandwich are broken down into smaller molecules called polypeptides by the pepsin and HCL. The HCL changes the protein structure, and activates pepsinogen (another hormone), which activates the pepsin in the stomach. Pepsin cleaves (“cuts”) proteins from large polypeptides into smaller polypeptides and frees amino acids. At the same time, the partially broken down fats are assimilated by the breakdown of their chemical structure into smaller units. Churning action of the stomach mixes the fat with water and the stomach acid, further breaking down the food into smaller and smaller units.
There isn’t digestion happening in the stomach—so far, food is simply being broken down through this complex process into smaller and smaller usable units. In the stomach, only water and certain fat-soluble drugs are absorbed, as is alcohol. The sandwich keeps moving, and becomes acid chyme, moving further into the intestine for digestion. The sandwich is now liquefied, and passes into the duodenum, the first segment of the small intestine. Ten inches long, it performs the important function of neutralizing the liquid to the appropriate pH, protecting the sensitive epithelial tissue in the intestine from damage. More intestinal cells release digestive juices, which help to move nutrients from the liquefied food throughout the small intestine. The balance of pH is really important, and our bodies are designed to keep the pH at just the right levels. With pH calibrated, the pancreas releases amylase, CCK, and secretin (enzymes and hormones). The nervous system is involved too, and helps to control the right amount to complete the digestive process.
More splitting of polypeptides (proteins) continues as enzymes are activated. You could say that the small intestine completely liquefies and absorbs the proteins. A cascade of reactions involving other enzymes happens as the protein continues to degrade. Once the protein breaks down into the individual amino acids they pass through the walls of the intestine. These free amino acids are then distributed by the blood system to all the body’s tissues, especially muscle, where they build back up again into proteins! Any extra amino acids are broken down by the liver, which is converted into glucose or fatty acids (stored in the body), with part of the amino acid excreted from the body as urine.
The full digestion of sugars leads to their absorption into the body and conversion by the liver and other tissues into fatty acids, amino acids, and glycogen. This process is less complicated for the body than digesting proteins. Sugars in the form of glycogen convert readily into energy, and have a big role in providing fuel to the body.
What happens to the fats? Their digestion and absorption relies upon bile and pancreatic secretions. When fat enters the SI, the gallbladder receives a signal to release bile to liquefy the fat. Bile’s emulsifying action converts fat globules into smaller droplets that repel each other. Did you know what an important role your gallbladder plays? The myth that the gall bladder is an unnecessary organ is demystified here as we see its very significant role as the main liquefier of fat! Following the emulsification process, enzymes get easy access to fat droplets. The pancreas secretes other hormones, which release the fatty acid part of the lipid, breaking it down into usable components.
Small particles called micelles are formed. Fitting in between microvilli, the microscopic parts of cells that increase its surface area, the micelles then move products of fat digestion from the SI to the brush border of the intestine where they can be absorbed into the intestinal cells. Following their absorption, they are broken down into glycerol and fatty acids, which recombine into triglycerides. The triglycerides become incorporated into another transport vehicle called chylomicrons, which move into the lymphatic system. The chylomicrons then go to adipose tissue, muscle, and liver where the fats are deposited in the body for longer-term storage.
Anything left over from this amazing story will exit through the large intestine as feces. If all goes well, this final step removes indigestible fiber, some intestinal prokaryotes along for the ride, and bacteria. What a journey!
The Individual’s Relationship to Food
The wonderful thing about food is you get three votes a day. Every one of them has the potential to change the world.
Food and Our Emotions
How have you noticed the central role food plays in your life? From the time we are born we are developing deep associations between food and our emotions. As infants, our cries are answered with mother’s milk and Nature’s design, which combines a complete experience of receiving physical food with emotional connection and safety. Finding ways to nurture healthy emotional connections while feeding our bodies is the ultimate nourishment. We spend our lives linking food to our emotional needs in ways that attempt to recreate that early experience. Culturally, food plays a central role in life’s rituals. We celebrate occasions like weddings, holidays, graduations, and promotions, and food becomes a significant focus and strongly linked to emotions. Expressions like “drowning our sorrows,” “power lunches,” “chicken soup for the soul,” and even “swallow your pride” demonstrate how we use food to express, suppress, and manage love and many other emotions.
In light of these factors, we have many mixed feelings about food. Experiencing extremes with food are not unusual, including dieting, stuffing, fasting, gorging, starving, cravings, and even the bingeing/purging of anorexia and bulimia. We are a nation where one third of the US population is significantly overweight, and more than one quarter-24 percent of adult males, 27 percent of adult females, and 27 percent of children—are obese.6
In one sense, overeating leading to excessive weight is a disease of affluence. However, multiple factors are at play that include changes in genetics, major innovations that cause us to move around less (the automobile, television), an abundant, cheap food supply that is nutrient poor, and changing through technology plants and animals designed to feed us in perfect harmony with Nature. This manipulation of foods into “food like substances” is suspected to have negatively impacted our health in ways that have profoundly affected our ability to remain within normal weight ranges.7
Concerns about physical health, heart disease, and cancer have increased awareness of the nutrients in our food—especially cholesterol, saturated fat, antioxidant vitamins—and the benefits of eating more of some foods and less of others. Our mounting health concerns has helped us realize how we have changed the way we eat. Trends in American eating habits in the past 100 years have dramatically reduced the amount of fresh, whole foods we eat and have increased our consumption of sugar, beef, cheese, and fats.
American Eating Habits: 1900 to 20008
Fresh fruit and vegetable consumption drops from 40% to 5% of the diet.
Sugar consumption rises 50%.
Beef consumption rises 50%.
Fats and oil consumption rises 150%.
Cheese consumption rises 400%.
Margarine consumption rises 800%.
Any discussion of how food affects us is incomplete if we focus only on the nutritional quality of food. Food is more than just “nutrients.” Progressive psychologists and nutrition professionals alike believe it is important to consider how we feel about the food we eat.9 In addition to managing our health and weight through diet, food affects us in many mental, emotional, and spiritual ways. We fail to connect this with the food we eat; this lack of awareness leads to blind spots when we forget the connection that we have with plants and other living things. Have you considered whether your food is supporting you and how food affects your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health? Are you controlled by food, eating out of habit, or are you consciously eating to create the life you want? Let’s explore how food affects you and your health—and how conscious eating can support your healing process and your creation of health and a dynamic, joyful life filled with energy and love.
Food as life—food IS life
Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers who never knew exactly where their next meal might be coming from. In fact, their “meals” were probably eaten on the run as they stalked enough prey to build an actual meal, but it is unlikely that their meals were regular or even eaten daily. Given the conditions under which food was obtained, it was impossible for them to take any of it for granted. Every morsel was hard-won and therefore, extremely precious, savored, and relished.
Over time, humans became more sedentary, transitioning from hunting and gathering to growing their own food. This agricultural advancement made eating more predictable as a result of a more stable lifestyle, and the energy expenditure to produce food resulted in few eating mindlessly. Whether living in a small agricultural village along the Nile River in ancient times or growing food in one’s backyard garden in the twenty-first century, small-scale agriculture is physically demanding, and appreciation for food is made more special by the energy expended in growing it. Until as recently as 100 years ago, the human diet was compatible with the intelligent design of the human digestive system—low in fat, high in protein, complex carbohydrates and fiber, with no refined sugar. This fresh, whole, live, organic food approach to eating served humans beautifully. The mental connection to the process of food production enhanced the eating experience, and people were connected to food in an intimate, mindful, and life enhancing way.
Nature’s kindness governed whether or not our ancestors would eat. Nature had to provide the rain and sunshine necessary for growing food. This is in direct contrast to the modern experience of going to a supermarket or fast food restaurant, buying whatever we feel like eating as long as we have the money. When nature was honored by our ancestors for providing the food in the form of many earth-based spiritual practices, humans experienced a direct connection between the food harvest and the deity of worship. The gods provided people food, and in gratitude they offered food back to the gods and goddesses of Nature.
With the mass movement of people from the land to cities, food lost its special place and was replaced with fascination for artificial, synthetic, and technologically produced forms of food. No longer was it necessary to hunt or grow food because now it was delivered from short or long distances to nearby markets, and the sacredness of food diminished in proportion to the energy required to obtain it.
How Food and Nonfoods Affect Our Bodies
Over the last thirty years, fast food has penetrated all aspects of American life. From its humble beginnings as hot dog and hamburger stands in southern California10 convenience foods have spread to every corner of the United States and beyond. Fast food is now served at restaurants and drive-ins, at sporting events, airports, entertainment activities, high schools, elementary schools, and universities, on cruise ships, trains, and airplanes, at Target, Wal-Mart, gas stations, and even at hospital cafeterias. In 1970, Americans spent about $6 billion on fast food; in 2000, they spent more than $110 billion. Recently, Americans were asked by the Gallup organization about their fast food eating habits. Eight in ten Americans surveyed report eating at fastfood restaurants at least monthly, with almost half saying they eat fast food at least weekly. Only 4 percent say they never eat at fastfood restaurants.10 Americans now spend more money on fast food than on higher education, personal computers, computer software, or new cars. They spend more on fast food than on movies, books, magazines, newspapers, videos, and recorded music—combined.
Buying fast food has become so routine we forget what real food looks like. Erich Schlosser writes in the classic book Fast Food Nation in almost sensual language what the experience of buying convenience products has become for us:
As we pull open the glass door, feel the rush of cool air, walk in, get on line, study the backlit color photographs above the counter, place your order, hand over a few dollars, watch teenagers in uniforms pushing various buttons, and moments later take hold of a plastic tray full of food wrapped in colored paper and cardboard. The whole experience of buying fast food has become so routine, so thoroughly unexceptional and mundane, that it is now taken for granted, like brushing your teeth or stopping for a red light. It has become a social custom as American as a small, rectangular, hand-held, frozen, and reheated apple pie.10
Food scientists know that the quality we seek most of all in a food, its flavor, is usually present in a quantity too small to be measured by any easy to understand terms such as ounces or teaspoons. When food is manufactured, food scientists use fancy equipment like spectrometers, gas chromatographs, and headspace vapor analyzers to provide a detailed analysis of a food’s flavor components, detecting chemical aromas in amounts as low as one part per billion. One of the problems with manufactured food like substances is that it becomes difficult to trick human awareness into believing the food is “real.” Our noses are so sensitive that we can detect aromas present in quantities of a few parts per trillion—an amount equivalent to 0.000000000003 percent. Complex aromas, like those of coffee or roasted meat, are made up of volatile gases from nearly a thousand different chemicals. The smell of a strawberry arises from the magical interaction of at least 350 different chemicals that are present in minute amounts. The chemical that provides the dominant flavor of bell pepper can be tasted in amounts as low as 0.02 parts per billion; one drop is sufficient to add flavor to five average size swimming pools. When food like substances are manufactured flavor additives are used to mimic the taste of real food. The flavor additive is listed last, or second to last, in a processed food’s ingredient label. This means that making a food like substance taste like real food is very economical, and the flavor additives cost less than the packaging. The one exception to this are soft drinks which have a larger amount of flavor additives than most other products. Even then, the flavor in a 12-ounce can of Coke costs about half a cent.
Food like substances have to be colored, too, so they can resemble the real food they are pretending to be. Color additives in processed foods are often found in even smaller amounts than the flavor compounds. Food coloring serves many of the same purposes as lipstick, eye shadow, and mascara—and is often made from the same pigments. Titanium dioxide is one example, and is used in processed candies, frosting, and icing to deliver their bright white color; it is a common ingredient in women’s cosmetics; and it is the pigment used in many white oil paints and house paints. Does it bother you that we eat the same “flavoring” that is found in house paint?
At fast food restaurants like Burger King, Wendy’s, and McDonald’s, coloring agents have been added to many of the soft drinks, salad dressings, cookies, condiments, chicken dishes, and sandwich buns. It happens because food researchers have learned that the color of a food can greatly affect how we perceive its taste. Brightly colored foods frequently seem to taste better than bland-looking foods, even when the flavor compounds are identical. Foods that somehow look off-color often seem to have off tastes. For thousands of years, humans have relied on visual cues to help determine what is edible. The color of fruit suggests whether it is ripe, the color of meat whether it is spoiled. This is why food manufacturers manipulate the food like substances so they can resemble what real food looks like; they add aromas to manipulate the food like substances so they can resemble what real food smells like.
What are the physical and health consequences of eating food additives like colorants and aromatic additives? The Food and Drug Administration, the US government agency which is responsible for the safety of the food we eat and the medications we ingest does not require flavor companies to disclose the ingredients of their additives, so long as all the chemicals are considered by the agency to be GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe). This lack of public disclosure allows the companies to maintain the secrecy of their formulas. It also hides the fact that flavor compounds sometimes contain more ingredients than the foods being given their taste. Here is one example of the chemical wizardry at play in the manufacturing of “artificial strawberry flavor” which makes a highly processed food taste like a real strawberry.
What is the impact on our bodies of eating and drinking food like substances instead of real food? There are three types of food like substances, processed, junk, and fake foods. Processed food is made from real food that has been put through chemical processes and is filled with chemicals and preservatives. Some examples of processed food include beef jerky, canned tea, jam, hot dogs, and low-or-nonfat yogurt with sugar or sucralose.
A Burger King strawberry milk shake, contains the following ingredients: amyl acetate, amyl butyrate, amyl valerate, anethol, anisyl formate, benzyl acetate, benzyl isobutyrate, butyric acid, cinnamyl isobutyrate, cinnamyl valerate, cognac essential oil, diacetyl, dipropyl ketone, ethyl acetate, ethyl amylketone, ethyl butyrate, ethyl cinnamate, ethyl heptanoate, ethyl heptylate, ethyl lactate, ethyl methylphenylglycidate, ethyl nitrate, ethyl propionate, ethyl valerate, heliotropin, hydroxyphenyl-2-butanone (10 percent solution in alcohol), a-ionone, isobutyl anthranilate, isobutyl butyrate, lemon essential oil, maltol, 4-methylacetophenone, methyl anthranilate, methyl benzoate, methyl cinnamate, methyl heptine carbonate, methyl naphthyl ketone, methyl salicylate, mint essential oil, neroli essential oil, nerolin, neryl isobutyrate, orris butter, phenethyl alcohol, rose, rum ether, ?-undecalactone, vanillin, and solvent.10
Junk foods have very little food in them. Instead, they are made of highly processed foods, hydrogenated fats, chemicals and preservatives, and include anything made with “refined white flour.” Some examples are canned breakfast drinks, sugary cold cereals, doughnuts, drive-through fast foods, and soda (like Coke or Pepsi). Fake foods are made primarily of chemicals, and usually contain gums and sugar as fillers. Examples are bacon bits, bottled salad dressing, dehydrated soups, and instant coffee.
Nonfoods and Nutrition
All of these nonfoods have one thing in common; it is harder for our bodies to digest, absorb, and eliminate them than the nutritional value they offer our bodies in return. This poor exchange of calories for nutritional value is like a bad investment offering limited return. This leaves our bodies feeling sluggish and deprived.
Thinking back to our ancestral roots, we know that the ability to preserve food was done naturally using salt, fermentation, and sun drying. These simple practices were sustainable and safe for humans. As food preservation has become more and more complex and secretive, food companies now use nearly 6,000 additives and chemicals. Researchers now believe many of these additives can have a devastating impact on our health.
Additives and preservatives are not always negative. Adding vitamins to bread and milk in the early 1900s helped end diseases of nutritional deficiency like pellagra and rickets. When micronutrients were first added to foods, intentions were good, and lives were saved. Now it seems that ways to cheaply process food and manipulate buyers has replaced the higher goals of better health for Americans. Many additives and preservatives are harmful toxic chemicals. It is not yet understood how harmful these chemicals are. Difficulties exist when studying the impact of additives and preservatives on the human body. Suffice it to say, eating fake food takes us as a species so far away from our historical roots the impact could be far worse than even imagined in the worst-case scenario.
Food and Pleasure: A Balancing Act
Some of our favorite guilty pleasures come in the form of fast and processed food. It is important to remember that it is not necessary to eliminate ALL of the less desirable food choices we make. We all enjoy the occasional cheeseburger, fries, Coke, or potato chips. When we begin to understand the consequences of changing an occasional treat into an everyday event, we can make better choices about how many of these “treats” we are willing to eat.
In order to avoid many of the questionable and possibly deadly additives contained in processed foods, you may wish to make changes in your diet. Here it is helpful to consider an evolutionary (more gradual) approach to change, rather than a revolutionary (cutting everything out at once) way of changing. If you are interested in making small changes to improve your overall diet and possibly your health, try these ten steps to move in the right direction. It may be helpful to consider one of these changes a month.
As a general rule, if there are five or more ingredients on a label, or if you don’t recognize or can’t pronounce the words, don’t buy it or eat it! Instead, choose the real thing.
Avoid products containing
nitrates and nitrites (including sodium nitrite)
sulfites (including metabisulfites)
benzoic acid (aka sodium benzoate)
BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene)
BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole)
MSG (monosodium glutamate)
refined or bleached flour (i. e., whitened using chloride oxide)
Don’t eat partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated trans fats.
Don’t eat products containing sugar substitutes such as aspartame, sucralose, saccharine, or stevia.
Avoid products with a long shelf life—the longer they can last on a shelf, the worse they are for your body.
Minimize your consumption of enriched products. All vitality has been removed from them during processing.
Avoid GMO foods. Nearly all processed food contains GMOs.
Avoid products made with ingredients such as “natural flavoring” or “natural coloring.”
Avoid products with added sugar. New recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) state that added sugars should be limited to 20 grams per day11 (equivalent of 6 teaspoons of sugar). For reference, a 12 ounce can of Coke has 10 teaspoons of added sugar, a Yoplait original yogurt has nearly 7 teaspoons of added sugar—2.7 times more sugar than a Krispy Kreme doughnut!
Choose mostly whole fresh foods—fruits and vegetables, the brighter colors the better and make real food the centerpiece of your diet. Think of a dinner plate—fill half with fresh fruits and vegetables, ¼ with lean protein, and the other ¼ with whole grains like brown rice, sweet potatoes, legumes, or whole grain bread.
Begin to notice how you feel as you eliminate processed food from your diet. Notice your improved digestion, lack of mood swings, staying fuller longer, better energy, and less mental fog. You are on your way to optimizing your health, making an investment in your body’s future, and feeling better.
Food as Sacred—Food IS Sacred
Throughout human history, particularly in native cultures, food was known as sacred. The word sacred is not a religious term but rather one that simply means “set apart” or not of the ordinary.12 It is also related to sacrifice. This may mean that something is sacred because it came from something sacrificed. For example, we speak of military cemeteries and famous battlefields as sacred. In ancient times, some temples, mountains, or forests were sacred because animals were sacrificed to a god in those places. All food is sacred in the sense that the life of a plant or animal has been sacrificed to feed another being.
The opposite of the sacred, of course, is the profane. Something in our ancient memory understands that as we consume mindlessly manufactured and technologically tortured so-called food we lose connection to the specialness of food and its origins. This in turn makes it more likely we will think twice about eating processed, genetically modified, and chemically laden foods that have been produced using massive amounts of resources and ecological compromise.12 We begin to recognize the cost to our physiology and our health that consuming food like substances renders; we begin to recognize the cost to our souls that this practice engenders.
Who do we worship now, or thank for the bounty found in the supermarket? Our experience of acquiring food in our times is stripped of all gratitude and ritual. Instead, we expect food to be there whatever we want, whenever we want it. We eat out of season, and expect strawberries in the winter, even if they come from South America. Instead of carefully choosing from Earth’s bounty, we purchase processed food products that are shallow stand-ins for the plants that provided the basic ingredients. It is this loss of connection to food that leads to mindless eating done out of habit and without awareness. Reconnecting to food and its sacredness mean reconnecting with ourselves.
How can we begin to reconnect to the sanctity of food and in so doing increase our emotional nourishment? The writer Peter Bolland suggests in “The Sacrament of Food,” the most sacred space in our homes is not the yoga room, or the altar with the candle, or the chair by the window where we meditate and pray. “Maybe the most sacred room in your house is the kitchen.”13 Our relationship with food begins far in advance of preparing it in the kitchen. Here are some suggestions for cultivating a more mindful relationship with the food we eat:
Know where your food comes from. Read labels, ask questions, and research sources for whole, organic foods where you live.
Consider becoming a community supported agriculture (CSA) member. This allows you to buy directly from the farmer or grower.
Give thanks when you shop—thank the food you purchase, thank market staff, and give thanks that you can afford to shop.
Commit to purchasing 10 percent or more of food that is grown locally.
Practice mindful meal planning. Plan strategies for eating in places where nourishing food is served or plan to bring healthy snacks with you.
Take a moment or two to stop before eating and give thanks for your food. Remember to thank the people who grew, harvested, transported, and distributed your food. Thank plants and animals for their lives and the sacrifice they made with their lives so that you can be fed.
Regularly enjoy food with family and friends. Cook and eat meals together. Share the blessings of food with each other in potlucks or other gatherings.
Occasionally share extra food or leftovers with neighbors or people who are not in your family or circle of friends. Sharing food with others communicates a subtle message that you are concerned about their well-being in hard times. Reaching out in this way encourages connection to others around food so that when someone has little or no food, others are more motivated to share.
Intelligent Shopping (From the Supermarket to the Dinner Table)
“Researchers have shown that what we eat doesn’t depend solely on signals sent by the brain to maintain a stable weight. Another region of the brain, with different circuitry, is also involved, and often it’s in charge. This is known as the reward system. And in America, in the fight between energy balance and reward, the reward system is winning.”
—Dr. David Kessler, “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite”14
Sustainable living and conscious eating is about limiting waste, especially when it comes to purchasing and using food. Wasting food is expensive, and can especially add up throughout the year. Rather than “cleaning everything off your plate,” think about buying, cooking, and storing foods properly. Now is a great time to start changing “food waste behaviors. ”
The first rule in stopping food waste is to be a smart shopper. Start out by going through your cabinets, fridge, and freezer and make note of what you already have. Then it’s time to be creative and develop a meal plan to use all those ingredients. Make sure you are reading your expiration dates correctly. McKinsey reports that misreading expiration dates accounts for around 20 percent of all food waste,15 so look carefully at expiration dates. A great tool to help your overall meal planning is ReadySetEat. com, where you can enter the ingredients you have and a list of recipes will be displayed. Make sure that you only prepare enough for each meal and any guests—don’t over prepare!
Another tip to remember is that, while most of us buy about 80 percent of the same foods every week, you can use your register receipt as your shopping list. Mark off what you already have, and leave room at the bottom to write any additional items you may need to make this week’s recipes. Now, you’re off to the supermarket!
With over 34,000 supermarkets in the US, there are more than 30,000 food products filling the shelves.16 Supermarkets offer endless aisles of food choices, and wholesale stares encourage us to consume in bulk to save money. The key to intelligent supermarket shopping is developing a clear game plan that encourages you to buy only what food you and your family needs.
The time of day you go shopping makes a difference, too. Brian Wansink, director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, has found the time of day you shop can make a difference as well. If you shop between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. there is a tendency to buy less food and healthier foods than when it is closer to dinnertime, between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.17 so as the saying goes, never go shopping when you are hungry.
We know the basics of supermarket shopping: the outside perimeter of the store layout has healthful foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, animal protein products. Inside the perimeter and organized in ways that encourage you to spend more on less healthy foods are snacks, soda, fruit juices, alcohol, and other processed food products. In addition to spending most of your time in the outside perimeter of the store, here are some other suggestions to help you navigate the grocery isles:
Always shop with a list. Write down your shopping list. It helps you stay focused while strolling the aisles.
Post your shopping list on the refrigerator and add to it as you need to replenish your food and household items. This saves time when you are ready to shop.
Review your list
Before heading out to the store, use the shopping circular to help plan the major meals for the week. After planning your menu, check your pantry and fridge to take inventory of what you need.
Always add a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables for side dishes and snacks.
Include a few treats to avoid feeling deprived.
Do not forget the staples: milk, eggs, juice, cereal, bread, and yogurt. These basic food items are a good place to reduce fat and calories because you can choose low-fat or nonfat versions of most of these items. Some of these items also help increase daily fiber intake.
Get through the supermarket quickly by organizing your list according to the store layout. Most supermarkets are similarly designed, with perishable foods, such as fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, eggs, and breads around the perimeter of the store, and aisles and end-displays containing cleaning and paper products, health and beauty aids, packaged and canned goods, and frozen foods.
Purchase only the items on your shopping list. Resist impulse purchases that tend to be high fat and high calorie. Allow yourself only three impulse items and write them down as you buy them, that way you will feel satisfied and still stay on budget.
Eat before you shop. Never go to the supermarket with an empty stomach. You are likely to end up with more food than you need and more fattening selections.
Back in the kitchen; use a trick from the Food and Brand Lab based on what is called The Delboeuf Illusion, which recommends the use of smaller plates to serve. Research at Cornell has shown that we tend to put more food on larger plates, which often leads to more food being uneaten and wasted.17
Where Does Your Food Come From?— the Industrialization of the American Diet
“Is it just a coincidence that as the portion of our income spent on food has declined, spending on health care has soared? In 1960 Americans spent 17.5 percent of their income on food and 5.2 percent . . . on health care. Since then, those numbers have flipped: Spending on food has fallen to 9.9 percent, while spending on health care has climbed to 16 percent of national income.”
—Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food
We’ve learned in this chapter about the changing American diet, and how our meals are made up more often by processed foods, stripped of their original ingredients, and filled with added nonfood ingredients. More often than not, this ingredient is sugar, specifically fructose. According to Pollan per capita fructose consumption has increased 25 percent in the past thirty years. The mass production of food for a mass society was of course inevitable, but was it also inevitable, as one nutrition expert put it, that its placed us in the middle of a national experiment in the overconsumption of glucose, the form in which fructose is metabolized in the liver and transmitted by insulin to the cells to be used as energy. Scientists now know that glucose metabolism leads to fat deposition in the body18 changing the way the body uses glucose as an adaptation to this industrialized form of sugar. We assimilate the complex nutrients of traditional foods slowly, but the rush of refined sugars supplied by our industrialized diet overwhelms the ability of the protein hormone insulin to process it. The result is a sudden jolt of energy and soon a craving for more, as the unused glucose is stored as triglycerides, that is, fat. “An American born in 2000 has a 1 in 3 chance of developing diabetes in his lifetime,” Pollan writes. “80 percent of diabetics will suffer from heart disease.” Pollan suggest that there is a global pandemic in the making which leads only to a global pandemic of solutions in the form of diabetes and kidney medications. It is almost as if the industrialization of food has led to the industrialization of health care. All in all, whether one examines this on an agricultural or a biological level, it is unsustainable.
This industrialization of the food system is supported through an elaborately designed food production process that manufactures this new “food” that many Americans eat. Factory farms have replaced traditional farms, with one of the largest cash crops being beef. The industrialization of the food supply is, of course, part of the process of industrialization itself, but it dangerously transformed food in the mid-1970s when in response to rapidly rising food prices many unhappy consumers protested and were heard by the highest levels of the American government. Under the Nixon administration, a cheap and ambitious food policy was adopted which was solely designed to produce and sell large quantities of calories as cheaply as possible. This made exporting affordable food overseas possible as well as producing very cheap food domestically. The American government has provided federal funds to subsidize farmers since the 1930s but it was usually designed to encourage farmers to limit production in order to maintain stable prices. Under this new subsidy formula, farmers were encouraged to plant crops like corn, soy, and wheat in giant quantities, driving production up and prices down.
With farmers maximizing production, the big players in industrialized farming got into the business of food production, changing the face of American farming forever. Enter corporations like Monsanto, Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, and General Mills. These corporations bought up small farms, creating gigantic factory farms. The types of foods produced by these farms change and overall American farmers and American farming corporations now produce an average of 600 more calories per person per day, and the price of food has fallen. This has changed the way we eat, and we now eat at least 300 more calories a day than we consumed in 1985.19 Almost 25 percent of these additional calories come from added sugars, particularly fructose, another quarter from added fat (in the form of soybean oil), and the other 50 percent from added grains (mostly refined). These additional calories supply lots of energy (calories) but since they are so highly refined, they supply little else. Instead of the intelligent digestive design we described earlier in this chapter, these industrialized nonfood calories become excess fat.20
With gigantic corporations in the food business, it was easy to find a way to use all of the extra corn, soybeans, and wheat. The new cash crop of beef was born, and giant feedlots (called CAFO’s—consolidated animal feeding operations) were created to produce extralarge cattle. With cattle moved into feedlots, a nontraditional way of raising beef was born, and the diet of cows changed from grazing on grasses to corn. With cows eating nontraditional diets of corn farmers are able to pack in thousands of additional calories making bigger and bigger cows which are also fatter than their grassfed counterparts. However, cows are jammed together in giant feedlots, and the new diet of corn and soybeans creates health problems. Since cows are not adapted to eat and digest corn or soybeans, they develop digestive issues, which are treated through antibiotics and other medications. This entire process of the mass production of our beef is unseen by most Americans, which is fortunate for the food industry. Michael Pollan writes that if we could see where our beef comes from (and chicken and pork), it would transform the way we eat overnight. A consequence of this hidden production of our food supply is the inability to witness the industrialized way the animals used for our food are maintained in shockingly inhumane conditions and brutally sacrificed for our food.
Pollan reminds us in The Omnivore’s Dilemma (27) that no other country raises and slaughters its food animals quite as intensively or as brutally as we do. We have removed ourselves from the animals we eat. If we could see the way we raise and kill our animals, he believes that this transparency would lead to the ending of how we raise, kill, and eat animals the way we do. “Tail docking and sow crates and beak clipping would disappear overnight, and the days of slaughtering four hundred heads of cattle an hour would promptly come to an end—for who could stand the sight?”21 This would of course make meat more expensive, but the benefit would be the probability we’d eat a lot less of it. If this were to happen, it would allow us to eat animals with “consciousness, ceremony, and respect they deserve”22 thus bringing us back into harmony with our food.
What about GMOs?
Another consequence of the industrialization of food is the birth of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). They are organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. The technology is often called “modern biotechnology” or “gene technology,” sometimes also “recombinant DNA technology” or “genetic engineering.” It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between nonrelated species. GMOs most commonly refer to crop or plants created for human or animal consumption.23
GMOs have created a great deal of controversy in the US and abroad, particularly in Europe. Consumers, environmental activists, scientists, and government officials have all raised concerns regarding the nature and safety of GMOs in relation to any benefits they may have. Of particular concern is whether or not adequate research has been conducted to determine whether GMOs are safe for long-term use. Other concerns include whether the laws governing biotechnology are outdated and lack regulatory oversight.24 Adding to the confusion in the United States is sheer number of governing agencies involved in regulation. Currently, there are three different agencies governing biotechnology and genetic engineering. The EPA evaluates GM plants for environmental safety, the USDA evaluates whether the plant is safe to grow, and the FDA evaluates whether the plant is safe to eat.25 Consumers are also concerned over the lack of transparency of GM food products in processed foods. At this time, the FDA does not require labeling of GM products, nor do they require premarket safety testing of GM foods.26
Typical GM Foods in the American Food System
The following is a list of GE foods that have been approved for commercial use27:
Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
The two most common concerns regarding GM foods are the potential for allergenicity, and antibiotic resistance.28 Allergenicity is the transfer of a new gene into a plant and subsequent creation of a novel protein may create a new allergen or cause an allergic reaction in susceptible individuals. For example, an allergenic Brazil-nut gene was transformed into a transgenic soybean variety, resulting in allergic reactions to the GE product.28
Antibiotics resistance markers have been used to verify successful gene transfer in organisms. Bacteria in the gut, thus giving antibiotic resistance to the bacteria, may take up the antibiotic resistance gene. This can potentially lead to disease-causing bacteria becoming untreatable using current antibiotics, leading to increased spread of infections, and diseases in the human population.29 Currently, marker genes that avoid medical or environmental hazards are now replacing antibiotic resistance markers.30
The issue of GMOs is complex. For each application of biotechnology exists differing purposes, methodologies, and outcomes of potential risks and benefits. More research regarding the environmental, economical, and medical impacts are encouraged in order to find recommendations that make sense. Due to this complexity, judgment of whether or not you should consume GM foods should be made on a case-by-case basis. Making a personal assessment of the risks and benefits is recommended. For those wishing to avoid GM foods, a whole-foods diet is the best approach.
Mindful Eating—an Ancient Practice for Modern Problems31
Have you ever finished a cookie and wanted to have just one more bite? Are you surprised when you eat your way through a bag of chips or a box of crackers? Do feelings of “overfull” and “stuffed” hit your awareness after you eat?
If any of this is true for you, you’re not alone. Our fast paced lives discourage mindful eating, which requires tuning in, paying attention, and staying centered. Many of us eat watching TV, while driving, or working. Often, we eat while talking on the telephone or surfing the Internet. In the rush to get things done, fast eating, filling one forkful after another and swallowing food without tasting becomes the norm. Fullness is subtle, and sometimes quickly moving through meals leads to missed signals the body sends to the brain. Overeating becomes unconscious; far past “enough”; it happens again in the next meal. Struggling with weight, we wonder what we’re so hungry for. Experts say that it is not only important what we eat, but, how we eat. By paying attention and making the choice to eat “mindfully,” through practice the experience of how to be fully satisfied by food without overeating becomes realized.
Mindful eating encourages awareness through the entire experience of eating, including selecting and preparing food. When eating mindfully, food is chosen that is both pleasing and nourishing to the body. Using all of the senses to taste, savor, and enjoy food, eating is pleasurable. This process of deliberately paying attention without judgment allows freedom from reactive, habitual patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting which often include harsh and unkind statements towards ourselves.
Mindful eating is about making peace with food, and eating according to body needs. When we eat mindfully, we eat to support the body’s naturally healthy state, inviting balance, choice, wisdom, and acceptance. Being in the moment and paying attention while we eat allows us to slow down, chew well, taste thoroughly, and enjoy eating. Different than a “diet,” mindful eating does not rely on weighing or measuring food, restricting or avoiding certain foods, labeling some foods “good” and others “bad” or counting fat grams or calories. Eating mindfully and encouraging self-acceptance allows us to be free from worrying about body size or “ideal” body weight. Instead, the practice of mindful eating encourages the following principles:
Eat when hungry. Watch for the body’s hunger cues as a signal that it is time to eat. Eat enough to feel satisfied and comfortably full, not stuffed. For most of us, practicing mindful eating means having several small meals throughout the day and one or two planned snacks. Whole foods, mostly plant-based meals including fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and lean protein promotes satiety and mealtime satisfaction.
Eat in a distraction free zone. Pay attention to how food tastes, and what feelings arise while eating. Take five or six slow deep breaths when sitting down to eat. Many people benefit from saying silent grace or what mindful practitioners call a food blessing before beginning meals. No matter which approach is chosen, taking the time to slow down and savor food begins the practice of mindfulness where the possibility of change begins.
Eat what is desired. Overeating out of deprivation often happens when eating what “should” be eaten instead of what is desired. Labeling certain foods “bad” and restricting food may also lead to searching for food whether hungry or not. Eat rich, satisfying foods in smaller amounts, savoring every bite.
Eat until satisfied, not uncomfortable. It takes about twenty minutes for the brain to register fullness while eating. Slow down, pay attention, and stop before feeling stuffed. Practice putting down the fork in between bites, and take a breath or two to keep relaxed and aware while eating. Wait a bit, and if still hungry, have more. Consistently eating until stuffed means not listening to the bodies’ signal of fullness. Occasionally overeating is normal. To change habitual overeating, paying attention allows the possibility of change. Noticing patterns provides the opportunity to choose a different outcome.
Use the Healthy Eating Plate Model as a guide. This tool helps develop trust for cues of satisfaction and fullness. Using the Healthy Plate provides freedom from weighing, measuring, or counting calories. Fill ½ the plate with vegetables, ¼ with lean protein, and ¼ with whole grains like rice, potatoes, pasta, or fresh fruit. This eating approach helps reduce anxiety of how much food is enough or too much. Building mealtime servings with delicious foods in appropriate portions allows healthful eating in exactly the right amounts and the right choices.
Remember that food is pleasure, and should be enjoyed. Using sight, smell, and taste while eating allows all of the senses to participate in the enjoyment of a delicious and nourishing meal. This mindful approach incorporating sensory stimuli encourages eating satisfaction and effortless weight management. Be patient—remember it is called a “practice”—not “perfection”—since it takes time and attention to create a different outcome. The body moves to the weight it is supposed to be, supported through the practice of mindfulness.
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