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Towards A Permaculture Diet

permaculture-diet
Fresh from the garden. Photo by Robyn Rosenfeldt

A permaculture-designed diet is healthy, local and sustainable, with much of the food grown in our own gardens, farms and communities. When we choose to eat what’s in season, and to eat locally grown foods, we reduce or remove the harmful and wasteful aspects of processing, packaging, transport, storage and additives, and we begin to take control of what we eat.

Most people want to know what a good diet is, and many want to heal their bodies through eating natural foods. For some it’s because they appreciate good food and diversity of tastes. But for many it’s because our wealthy Western diet is making them sick. Millions of Australians suffer from a range of serious digestive diseases including diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, coeliac disease and food allergies.

Nutrition and diet are part of the solution to this epidemic of food-related illnesses. Until the middle of the 20th century, doctors still prescribed specific foods and herbs to be used as medicine. In the 1930s Dr Weston Price, a dentist, demonstrated the relationship between nutrition, dental health and physical health. He published Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: a Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects in 1939 (see Benediction Classics 2010), detailing his global travels studying the diets and nutrition of various cultures. It was clear then that a move to a modern Western diet (particularly white flour, sugar and processed vegetable fats) resulted in nutritional deficiencies, major dental issues and a host of other health problems. See the box for the Weston A. Price Foundation® dietary guidelines.

PRINCIPLES FOR A PERMACULTURE DIET

Most mainstream doctors now leave it to alternative medicine practitioners – such as naturopaths, homeopaths and oriental herbalists – to make healthy eating recommendations. We think permaculture has a role alongside such practitioners: permaculture ethics and principles can be combined with modern and ancient knowledge about healthy eating.

Permaculture food is good quality with minimum energy used to produce, distribute, process, package and transport it. Food from a supermarket uses around ten times more energy than is available from eating the food; and most of that is from fossil fuels. Food from your garden or local community is healthier, and has a better ratio of energy in to energy out. And money spent with local businesses circulates locally.

By reducing our intake of processed and packaged foods, and replacing them with fresh and healthy foods, we are filling our bodies with the nutrients that they need, and reducing the negative impacts of artificial additives and processes.

AN APPROACH THAT HEALS

We propose a permaculture diet that follows the acronym HEALS.

Healthy. Food in which both the production process and the effect of eating the food are beneficial to health. Food produced with care, from animals and plants that are well looked after, is best; for example organic produce.

Ethical. Food that you have produced yourself, or comes from local sources or ethical businesses that take into account the permaculture ethics of people care, earth care and fair share; for example ‘fair trade’.

Alive. Food that is fresh and ‘alive’, not over-processed or over-preserved to make it last longer, killing any goodness in the process; for example fruit and vegetables that look, feel and smell fresh, not limp and lacking in colour and flavour.

Local. Food that has travelled less, so it is fresher, has used less fossil fuel and supports your local community. Increased interest in local food is one of the positive changes of recent times.

Seasonal. Food that is in season is fresh and full of nutrients. Cold-stored food has often been picked unripe, and has limited flavour and nutrients. If you want to buy apples or garlic all year round, there are times when it will have been in cold store for months, or has travelled over vast distances. Get to know what’s in season and eat it.

Reducing waste is also an important aspect of the permaculture diet. Using the whole animal, preserving and fermenting when foods are in season and using minimal packaging means that there is less waste; we get more from the food that we do have.

THE SUSTAINABLE OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA

Tree changers and small farmers often end up with cheaper land that is not the best, for example land that is hilly, marshy or with poor soil. Permaculture seeks the optimal use for any area of land for year-round production; and that will often include animals. Obscene methods of factory farming, and documentaries such as Food. Inc, have put a lot of people off meat, but animals do have a place in sustainable food supply. As Victorian farmer, Tammi Jonas, has said: ’Our society over-consumes meat to the detriment of the planet and animals grown in massive intensive systems. But that doesn’t mean the same as “all meat eating is bad”.’1

Using the fat, bones and organs of homekilled animals for bone broths and stews means all the goodness of the animal is being used and, in turn, we benefit from that. Also, the red part of red meat can be more of a health threat than the fatty parts. A paper published in Nature in 2013 suggested that metabolism of L-carnitine, a nutrient in the red part of red meat, increases atherosclerosis – the narrowing of the arteries.

On-farm killing and processing of animals means that ‘waste’ products can be composted or buried instead of being a burden on sewage systems or being dumped.

AVOIDING SUGAR

For prehistoric humans, honey was a rare treat, but sugar is now available to us in thousands of foods. Sugar is a major contributor to ill health. That Sugar Book (Macmillan 2015) and That Sugar Film by Damon Gameau show how sugar affects everything from our moods, to our weight and our brain: it can cause weight gain, ageing skin, fatty liver disease and cardio-vascular disease; and it compromises our body’s defence systems. And most people find it addictive.

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permaculture-diet

Clockwise from left: Organic locally grown asparagus; Home grown kale is full of goodness; Carrots as fresh as they get; Fermented Sauerkraut; Homegrown mushrooms with parsley and garlic. Photos by Robyn Rosenfeldt

permaculture-diet

GRAINS AND PERMACULTURE

Permaculture is sometimes criticised for not providing enough – or any – grains through its perennial food systems. Small-scale grain crops are not common, and largescale grain production is often a monocrop disaster, needing huge amounts of chemicals and fuel for a relatively low yield. A low grain, or no grain diet sidesteps these issues, and is good for us and the planet.

Many people react badly to cereals such as wheat, rye and barley, but don’t realise it; these contain gluten, and people can be allergic to gluten without being diagnosed as coeliacs. Further, gluten contains gliadin which stimulates appetite; increased hunger can lead to over-eating and weight gain. Modern wheat varieties are genetically different from traditional grains that humans have become accustomed to over many generations, and they are harder to digest.

Regardless of the reason, many people describe feeling ‘not quite right’ after eating bread or pasta, and find that they lose weight and feel more dynamic if they reduce or remove wheat, rye and barley from their diet.

ALL THE GREAT THINGS YOU CAN EAT!

There are so many great foods to eat. They don’t have to be expensive, often they cost less – but make sure they meet the ‘HEALS’ criteria.

Bone broths are the essential healing food for an unhealthy gut. They can be made from whatever bones are locally available (see recipe). They must be boiled for many hours over a low heat. Using all the edible parts of whole animals avoids the inefficient focus on muscle meat. The high gelatin content of broth helps to heal problems in the gut – just like grandma’s chicken broth.

‘Good’ fats include butter/ghee, lard and any natural fats from poultry and other animals. These are used for baking, frying and cooking.

‘Good’ oils include olive, coconut, sesame, sunflower, almond and other seeds and nuts. They should be cold pressed and not genetically modified. These are added to salads and condiments, and sprinkled on meals.

Fermented foods help digestion and are a great way to use up surplus fruit and vegetables from the garden. Fermenting dairy products makes them easier to digest by introducing beneficial yeasts and probiotics. Some people who are lactose intolerant can handle fermented dairy better, as it is partly pre-digested: fermenting consumes the lactose and casein in the milk. Fermented drinks include: kvass – from beetroot, lettuce, or carrot, always with garlic and ginger; kombucha – a cold tea made from green or black tea with honey not sugar; and kefir (fermented milk).

Local fruit, nuts, seeds, eggs and vegetables. Grow what you can and purchase the rest from local growers or organic growers.

By applying permaculture design to our diet, we can: have sustainable food that is healthy, ethical, alive, local and seasonal; care for ourselves and our ongoing health, and the planet and the people on it. So enjoy staying away from the supermarkets, and be liberated from sugary foods with poor nutrient content! Enjoy the taste of simple fresh food – grown locally and made at home!

1 see www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-08/open-drum-how-to-deal-withvegan-abolitionists/6455044 

WESTON A. PRICE FOUNDATION® DIETARY GUIDELINES

  • Eat whole, natural foods
  • Eat only foods that will spoil, but eat them before they do
  • Eat naturally raised meat including fish, seafood, poultry, beef, lamb, game, organ meats and eggs
  • Eat whole, naturally produced milk products from pasture-fed cows, preferably raw and/or fermented, such as whole yogurt, cultured butter, whole cheeses and fresh and sour cream
  • Use only traditional fats and oils including butter and other animal fats, extra virgin olive oil, expeller expressed sesame and flax oil
  • Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, preferably organic, in salads and soups, or lightly steamed
  • Use whole grains and nuts that have been prepared by soaking, sprouting or sour leavening to neutralise phytic acid
  • Include enzyme-enhanced lacto-fermented vegetables, fruits, beverages and condiments in your diet on a regular basis
  • Prepare homemade meat stocks from the bones of chicken, beef, lamb or fish and use liberally in soups and sauces
  • Use unrefined Celtic sea salt and a variety of herbs and spices for food interest and appetite stimulation
  • Use natural sweeteners in moderation, such as raw honey, maple syrup, dehydrated cane sugar juice and stevia powder
  • Use only unpasteurised wine or beer in strict moderation with meals
  • Get plenty of sleep, exercise and natural light
  • Think positive thoughts and minimise stress
  • Practise forgiveness

HOW TO MAKE BONE BROTH

permaculture-diet
Bone broth. Photo by Robyn Rosenfeldt

Ingredients

  • 2 chicken frames, or 2 handfuls of marrowbones (beef, pork, goat, lamb or other meat e.g. kangaroo); marrow needs to be exposed
  • at least 5 litres of good water, preferably rain or springwater
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 peppercorns or other favourite spice
  • 2 pinches of good salt (without an anti-caking agent)
  • vegie scraps or peelings (optional)

Method

Place the meat/bones and other ingredients into a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and then simmer on very low heat for 2–3 hours (chicken) or 4–5 hours (for other meat). Longer simmering releases more minerals.

Pour the ingredients of the pan carefully through a sieve, reserve the liquid broth and compost the rest.

Season the broth with more salt, a pinch of finely chopped parsley or other greens.

Enjoy it in a mug, or refrigerate it and add it to your soups and stews throughout the week. The broth will keep for at least five days, in the fridge. Freeze any excess.

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