Health of the Soil vs. Our Health

Last week, on December 5, it was World Soil Day. Did you miss it? I know I did. Until now, I didn't know there was a day devoted to soil.

But it's fitting that there is such a day. Soil plays probably one of the most significant roles in our lives that anything can play. And yet, most of the time, most of us think very little, if at all, about soil. Instead, we look at it as dirt. That is, soil is something to be cleaned off our shoes before we come in the house. Getting it on our clothes means having to wash them. Sometimes, we even walk on soil, although it seems these days we've paved more and more of the areas where we walk. What's that song: "They paved paradise to put up a parking lot?"

But soil is important. Our bones and muscles need nutrients, most of which come from the minerals in the soil. So, if the soil that we grow our food in is depleted of those minerals, or of other nutrients for that matter, then we are not going to get the minerals and nutrients that we need. Under today's factory farming conditions, I believe that is actually happening. The soil is being depleted through lack of good crop rotation, lack of growing complementary plants at the same time and through heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides.

It's one reason that I've become a big proponent of small farms, of local farms and of organic farms. And even that's secondary. The best solution, I believe is to garden as much of our own fruits and vegetables as we can. By doing so, we can create better soil conditions for our foods. And we know what's put into that soil and how the foods are grown. Second best though is to buy from a small, local organic farm. And that's why farmer's markets are becoming such a big hit around the country.

In writing this, I don't want to discourage anyone from following a whole food, plant-based diet simply because buying organic or buying local is too expensive for them. Eating plants is definitely preferable to eating meat and dairy, in my opinion.  I believe strongly that there are definite health benefits to be achieved from eliminating meat and dairy from our diets. And if you can do just that, then you should be healthier.

But to get optimal health benefits from plants, I believe that small, local, organic produce is really important. And it's all because of the soil. While we think of soil as dirt, it's really a whole ecosystem in itself. It's alive with all kinds of microbes and insects. Those guys contain nutrients that they exchange with the plant for sugar. It's a delicate process. It's an important process. Without it, human life would be impossible on planet earth.

Think about that the next time you shake that dirt off the bottom of your shoes.

I think about it not just in the selection of foods that I grow or buy to make at home, but I've also started to think about it in my selection of restaurants when I travel or otherwise eat out. I've graduated from vegan restaurants to ethnic restaurants, which can offer good vegan options but are still oftentimes high in fat and oil content, to good, local farm to table restaurants. When I find a good farm to table restaurant, I treasure it because I know that the ingredients being used are good, fresh, high quality foods that are grown on local, organic farms where the soil has been treated well.

I know that buying local and organic can be more expensive. I know that a farm to table restaurant can cost a little more. But I believe for me, the tradeoff is in not paying out money for doctor visits and to pharmacies for prescriptions (as I did in years previous to this past one). As a country, how much do we spend on vitamins and supplements? I used to spend a lot. But what if instead of paying all that money to a pill company, we paid a little more for plant-based foods that were grown in good soil that had all the nutrients we need?

So, that's where I'm coming to in my diet right now. Like most, I did not start out this way. I started out simply eliminating animal and dairy products. And I saw remarkable results from doing that. And for many people, that may be as far as they want to go. But I do believe that the better quality the soil is that our plants are grown in, the better our health will be.