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Simple Food for the Good Life

(article, Helen Nearing)

h3. From Chapter 5: “Complicate or Simplify: Processed Versus Fresh Foods”

Unless we are incarcerated in a prison or in a hospital, where we are forced to take what we get, we can choose our nourishment. We can eat simple fresh food or we can eat store-bought fabrications. Nearly every food on the market nowadays is adulterated in one way or another with worthless or objectionable matter, or robbed of some of its vital elements. These fake, unnatural foods — conditioned, pasteurized, smoked, salted, sugared, colored, and glossed-up — have little of nature left in them. They are not good-natured foods, but ill-natured.

h1. About the book and author

A generation before hippies popularized the phrase "back to the land," Helen and Scott Nearing were already practicing the gospel of self-sufficiency. From the early 1930s until their deaths near the end of the 20th century, the Nearings built their lives around food they produced themselves.

First published in 1980, Simple Food for the Good Life lays out the Nearings' philosophy of acquiring and preparing food. Cooking is less important than purity; fresh is best, and raw even better. Often strident but never inconsistent, Simple Food is less about food than about simplicity through food.

Excerpt reprinted with permission of Chelsea Green (1990).

There are three kinds of foodstuffs: those raw, vital, and fresh, as found in nature; those cooked, with the vitality largely killed by high temperatures; and those manufactured, processed, deadened, or poisoned. A guide to safer eating in a poisoned world might well be: avoid those foods that are imperishable. “Eat only those foods that spoil, or rot, or decay, but eat them before they do.” Avoid all dead, denatured foods, such as white bread, white crackers, white sugar, polished rice, processed cheeses. “The four horsemen destroying our civilization are refined sugar, refined flour, hydrogenated oil, and gasoline fumes.” (I would add cigarette smoke and alcohol.)

When you are faced with food that has been sterilized, fumigated, hydrogenated, hydrolyzed, homogenized, colored, bleached, puffed, exploded, defatted, degermed, texturized, or if you don’t know what has been done to it, the safest rule is not to eat it.

My friend, Woody Kahler, writes of how pickling and fixing food pays off. “It pays the research laboratories. It pays the drug-hucksters. It pays the doctors. It pays the hospitals. It pays the psychiatrists as long as your money lasts. It pays the funeral parlors.” He has also said: “Store food makes store teeth necessary.”

[%image featurette-image float=right width=250 caption="What kind of bread do you eat?" credit="Photo: iStockphoto/anthonyjhall"]

With advancing civilization, our diet — along with much else in life — has undergone a thoroughgoing change. Big business has not yet monopolized air, sunshine, sleep, rest, or pure running water, but it has gained a monopoly on a large part of the food eaten in the world. This is a supermarket country, with the shelves of the stores filled with commodities packaged and preserved to keep until some customer, in his own good time, takes them off the shelf.

The preparation of food has become a form of mass production where it was once an individual craft. Hundreds of homesteaders we know are raising their food and saying, “Don’t buy it; grow it. Use what you have instead of buying what you don’t need.” But the ads blare out: Buy our easy foods. Here it is: all cleaned and cut up, sanitized, colored, flavored, fortified, dehydrated, treated to last: “breakfast foods, milled, grilled, baked-up, dried-up, puffed-up, roughed-up, packed in cardboard, kept for months, and sold at the pistol point of publicity campaigns.”

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