Oh how I love summer vacation. We just returned from a week at the “beach”–in Colorado, this means a chilly, snowmelt-fed reservoir at 8000 feet with a rocky shore, but it still qualified to fulfill my dream of a leisurely week of swimsuits and barbeques with my family. On the way home, we decided to take a detour to the land of peach orchards in Paonia, Colorado. It took a bit longer than I expected, when my Google map told me 200 miles, I thought “great, 3 hours” without remembering to take into account high mountain passes with winding descents, torrential rain, hail, and small children who need to do things like pee and have lunch. So, pulling into town at 5pm on Friday seeing farm stands boarded up for the night, I wasn’t hopeful that my peach picking fantasy would come to fruition.
Fortunately, the nice folks at Austin Farm picked up the phone when we called and told us to come by. When we arrived, we got to hop on the back of a golf cart and take a tour of the farm: apples, peaches, plums, nectarines, chickens, blackberries, cows, and bees, with detailed descriptions of natural farming techniques and grafting to develop new fruit varieties. The orchards were beautiful and the kids loved getting to pick their own fruit, feed the calf, and watch the magic trick of breaking an apple exactly in half with your bare hands.
I’m not writing about peaches today because I love peaches. I do love peaches of course, especially right from the tree; a soft, juicy, fragrant peach is really unparalleled in the world of fruit. However, from a health perspective what is so much more important than the peaches is the experience of going to meet them where they grow. What is the difference between a peach you picked yourself and one you picked off the pile at the grocery store? There are the obvious things: a peach at the store had to be picked a bit early so it would ship well, not squish when it’s stacked in a pile, and not mold within a day of the store receiving it. A tree ripened peach won’t do any of those things, but the flavor and texture will be far superior. Also, the peaches sent to the store will all look perfect; the best peach I ate at the farm had a large hole in it because it had grown so large and soft it punctured itself on the branch. Beyond this, however, is the understanding of where the food comes from and the gratitude for the food that comes from this awareness that is also a fundamental factor in eating to be healthy.
In this culture, the things that make us sick are wildly different from any society in the past. While we still have infectious diseases and malnutrition, by and large our illnesses are chronic and based on lifestyle. That is, we don’t nourish ourselves properly and we don’t move enough. I say we don’t nourish ourselves properly because the problem is more than just eating too much. In my practice, I also see many people who eat too little or just eat in a way that does not support health. I see the issue not as as a lack of willpower or gluttony, it’s more just being disconnected from our food. Eating isn’t just something we do out of habit, because our stomachs rumble, for comfort or to be social, it is (or should be) an act of nourishing the body.
Eating to be healthy is so much more than counting calories and analyzing nutrient content. It’s even more than getting the freshest, most responsibly raised seasonal foods. Healthy eating is about recognizing how the earth provides the energy to sustain us and help us grow. To truly appreciate what we eat, we must get closer to our food sources so we can appreciate the miraculous event that occurs when water, sunlight and dirt work together. When we don’t understand where our food comes from and how it is produced, it is easy to lose track of the fact that it is (or was) a living thing; when we eat something we use its energy to fuel our own bodies. When we frame the act of eating in this way, it is so much easier to remember to eat intentionally. Just sitting down to eat and remembering to be thankful for our food helps us digest and utilize food more efficiently and make better choices. This can be done regardless of if you’re eating the world’s most divine peach right from the tree or a snickers bar from the gas station.
Though I would highly recommend the peach.