The Tree of Life

June 19, 2013

Char

Copyright 2013 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

The “tree of life” is a concept that traces back to the Garden of Eden and is used to symbolize immortality, among other things.  Cultures around the world have a similar concept (immortality) although the symbols involved may be different.  

Immortality is an interesting concept on its own-Ponce de Leon is credited with a mythical search for a fountain of youth, whose restorative powers were to have been highly valued.  As the link above describes, the significance of a search for a fountain of youth and Ponce de Leon’s travels is disputed-it appears he was more interested in the acquisition of gold and indigenous peoples to be enslaved.  Their immortality would not have been a concern. In modern times, a fountain is not needed as medical technology allows for the creation of an illusion of youth, if not immortality, through the use of cosmetic surgery and Botox.   Physical appearances aside, it is useful to note that Led Zeppelin sang “…all that lives is born to die…” and so it is for all biological creatures, with at least one notable exception: turritopsis nutricula, which is an immortal jellyfish.  Diane Rehm had a panel of experts who discussed this-the link is here.  Scroll down to the 11:55:41 mark.  Since Homo sapiens lack this self-regenerating capability, it is important to think about the factors involved in prolonging life and diet is one of the first considerations.

A still life of fresh lettuces, radishes, and garlic.

Copyright 2013 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

I have been a vegetarian for over fifteen years, so it is important to state that in terms of what will follow here-I am certainly biased in my opinions about diet.  I made that decision based on research into the meat, poultry, and increasingly, the fishing industry as they apply to the growth and slaughter of meat, chicken, and fish for human consumption.  I simply did not want to ingest the growth hormones and antibiotics that are used in those industries.  When someone consumes animals that have been treated with growth hormones and antibiotics, those chemicals enter the human body as well.  The term for this is bioaccumulation, and there is ample research regarding the impact on human health from such practices.  Fast Food Nation is a popular read that addresses these points and a bit more about American culture with regard to diet.  However, I did happily continue to munch on a variety of chips and that circular bit of heaven, pizza, during that time period.

I began to change my thinking about my consumption of processed foods after hearing Michael Pollen’s basic recommendation “Eat Food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.”  I was already doing the mostly plants part as that is, after all, what a vegetarian does.  However, having now read Michael Moss’s Salt Sugar Fat:  How the Food Giants Hooked Us, the rest of my diet has also undergone a radical modification.  The notion of engineering food to interact with the nervous system in such a way as to encourage continued consumption meshed well with my years of accumulated knowledge of drug addiction and the brain.  For example, Mr. Moss presents the research indicating that sugar stimulates the same areas of the brain as does cocaine:  the nucleus accumbens, or what is commonly known as the “pleasure center”.  Fat works in a similar fashion.  I already did not particularly like salt, but was still somewhat unaware of just how much salt I was consuming in the amount of processed foods that I ate.  While I do read the labels and knew about “serving size”, I really did not pay too much attention to the total amount of sodium I as eating.  Hint:  Pay close attention to the “serving size”-it does not say the amount for eating the entire bag-you have to do the math for that.  And those numbers scared me. 

Vegetarians do have another concern however, and that is the degree to which foods have been genetically modified or genetically engineered (GE).  Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) proliferate-corn, soy beans, tomatoes, etc. have been altered so as to survive transportation without spoiling or to resist certain infestations, one example is addressed in the book Tomatoland, which describes the interventions made to “improve” the tomato.  Several countries in the European Union have refused to import American crops due to the degree of  modification and concern over the biological impact on humans from eating such foods.  The Food and Drug Administration currently supports, but does not mandate, the labelling of foods as being genetically engineered (GE), as described here.  The “FDA’s Biotechnology Policy” is linked here. The onus is most definitely on the consumer to investigate that which is consumed if genetic engineering is a concern.

And that brings me back to the tree of life concept.  The photograph that opens this post is chard-the stem and veins reminded me of the tree of life and that put me on the path of this post.  Immortality is most definitely not my goal-living healthy for as long as reasonably possible is.  As a result, locally sourced, fresh, non-processed foods are the mainstay in this household.  If I had the patience and discipline, I would grow my own.  Alas, such is not the case.  Therefore I meet and talk directly with the farmers whenever possible and have greatly reduced my reliance on processed foods.   Pretzels, however, are another story…

Take care.

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