"Mens Sana in Corpore Sano"
(A sound mind in a sound body)
John Drew & Jean Drew, C. N. C. Certified Nutritional Counselor
In ages past, the ideal of a sound mind in a sound body was arrived at though the traditional lifestyle organized around the liturgical year of the Catholic Church. As a Catholic historian writes: "the Church year itself was most obviously tied to the seasons; liturgical observances and farming became almost inseparable." These were blessings for all the foods, livestock and other farm goods used in daily life and church life. The same author states that ". . . in truth, our religion is agricultural . . ." Similarly the Sacraments depended upon the results of farming: bread, wine and oil.
Indeed, bodily and mental "soundness" depends upon the farm more than ever before, but for a different, negative reason. Our modern farms, for the most part, are dominated by the agribusiness interests that use industrial, chemical and mechanical methods of farming out of all proportion to the more labor intensive family farms of our heritage and certainly to the magisterial teachings of our Holy Church, ever solicitous in a bygone era, for the healthy organization of all of society under Christ our King. Pope Pius XII, in a message to the Italian Farmers Federation said: "Finance capital hastens to take over the deserted countryside, and the land then becomes not an object of loving care but of cold, calculating exploitation. The land, generous nursing mother of the city no less than the country, no longer produces except for speculation . . ." Agriculture has become agribusiness or agri-industry. The land and its produce are treated as factories and mines; wealth is extracted but very little is returned. Instead of "landlord, laborer and farmer . . . feeling a real affection for [the land] and . . . a deep interest in it, . . . their effective connection with it is now mainly through money." Modern industrial factory farming has sacrificed quality on the altar of quantity—it is not an acceptable sacrifice!
Fr. Fahey in The Church and Farming goes on to say that "No longer was it the chief function of the land to provide nourishment for those who lived and worked on it, it became more and more a food factory for the towns . . . thus widening the gap between producer and consumer, . . . increasing the total cost of food . . . making it less nourishing and even injurious." Sir Albert Howard, quoted by Fr. Fahey, writes that "the growing of crops and the raising of livestock belongs to biology, a domain where everything is alive and which is poles asunder from chemistry and physics. Many of the things that matter on land, such as soil fertility, tilth, soil management, the quality of produce, the bloom and health of animals, the general management of livestock, the working relations between master and man, the esprit de corps of the farm as a whole, cannot be measured or weighed. Nevertheless, their presence is everything; their absence spells failure . . ." And more, Mr. Jorian Jenks, also quoted in The Church and Farming, gets to the heart of the issue for us: "There are many vital qualities—vital in the sense that they make for good living—which are not amenable to mathematics [i. e. quantative assessment]. Two foods may have identical chemical analysis, yet differ markedly in their nutritional value.
It is our opinion, and Catholic Tradition is in agreement, that since all is done for the glory of God, the quality of food (thus how it is produced and prepared) is at the center of natural bodily health or the lack thereof. The land and its produce is the generous nursing mother of city and country. Therefore, the culture of the soil, agriculture, should be considered "the best and most sensitive of vocations, and that therefore it should have the economic preference and enlist the maximum number of workers." So says Fr. Cahill S.J., writing about Catholic economics and agrarian society. Of its nature, farming is a labor intensive activity. Turning it into a corporate enterprise only leaves us with what we have now—food that looks the same as it used to, (for the most part) but that does not provide the same amount of nutrition as it used to. Add to this the fact the many people choose to eat food that is even many levels removed from the "factory-farm" food (I. e. highly processed, packaged, chemicalized, sterilized, ‘fast'-food that is the by-product of agribusiness,) and we have the recipe for the degeneration of the health of modern man that is so obvious today.
What to do? Fortunately for us, even though we live in a world/society far from our traditional Catholic ideal, there are still people dedicated to the age old methods of farming according to nature's dictates, and even when some of these use modern techniques they are benign and secondary. These are our local family farmers, who are gaining in popularity and number as the surging tide of baby-boomers demand more healthy food and even (gasp!) food that is "organic." Organic means food that has been grown or livestock that has been raised without the use of chemical fertilizer or toxic pesticides. The recognition of the ravages of corporate-chemical farming has been gaining momentum so that even larger farming interests must now begin to change to more natural, organic methods or be left behind in the marketplace. The quality of our soil, the purity of our water, the safety of farm workers, even the flavor of our foods (have you had a peach or nectarine that looks perfect, but has no taste, from one of the large supermarket chains?) have become real issues in recent times. Organic farming, and/or local small farming (which cannot afford large amounts of chemical technology) improves the soil, conserves and doesn't contaminate our water, and minimizes the danger to farm workers. Small, local, mostly organic farms also grow quality produce that has vitamin, mineral and phytochemical content consonant with our bodily needs. God intended us to eat this type of natural food—not food that has to be manufactured and processed for the taste buds. Gen. 1:29-30 says, "Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed upon the earth and all trees that have in themselves seed of their own kind to be your meat." The small family farm is the supernaturalization of the use and cycles of nature.
Just seeing children who have been raised eating natural foods, with little or no experience of modern processed poison to tempt their taste buds, eat vegetables, sauerkraut, fruits of all kinds, garlic, onions, kefir (cultured milk) can be a lesson in itself. These children have learned (and we can too) to love the natural taste of good, nutritious food. Their bodies and emotional dispositions show it, not to mention the fact that they are rarely, if ever, sick. Our traditional heritage has intended that we grow up "sound in mind and sound in body," but so few of us have been given this chance! As we indicated in our first article: we must re-educate ourselves concerning the rich rural, agrarian Catholic heritage and its knowledge concerning foods and health.
In contradistinction to our Catholic agrarian roots, journalist Elaine Tipson relates that the chemical dependent farming of today is derived from ". . . products developed during World War II for their potential as weapons [which] proved to possess powerful insect and weed killing properties. Advertized to farmers, gardeners and land managers as safe for humans, these chemicals quickly became a multi-billion dollar business supported by the government and chemical manufacturers.
If this isn't enough, how many people are aware of the next chapter in the continuing saga of agribusiness' attempt to profit from weapons technology? The Hawaii County Council has approved public funding for the construction, promotion and marketing of a food irradiation plant. That's right! They intend to use radioactive nuclear waste to "treat and improve" our food. The huge corporate farming interests want to ship this "new and improved" food to all of us on the mainland at the public expense. It seems that God made a mistake in not providing us with food that would glow in the dark.
Enough, enough! What would our Catholic ancestors have done if they were faced with such insanity (after they got over their shock, of course?) They would begin immediately to produce as much of their own food as they could: a yard or even a planter box or clay pot placed strategically to catch the sun can grow something to eat in it. Kitchen scraps can make compost and fertilizer. By growing just a little of our own food we can begin to become acquainted with the seasonal growing cycles with which our church and its year is so intertwined. Our Catholic mothers would have been preparing most or all of their own food. Our mothers of old know the lively Catholic arts of kitchen and household. Among other things we can eat more cheaply doing this as well as gain control over the quality of our food.
Next, we doubt if anyone in times past, before the media began extolling the virtues of "fast food," would have eaten food that came from very far away from their locality. Food was locally grown; without modern transport, chemical additives, preservatives or refrigeration, towns were dependent on their local farms. For us, in these scary times, acquiring food from our local farmers is the safest way to get good food. Large supermarket chains are constrained to buy food that is picked early, sometimes up to as much as six weeks, so that it can be ripe by the time it reaches the shelf. Distribution for a national chain goes through so many intermediaries, and comes from so many diverse sources, that time must be given for food to arrive ripe and not rotten as would be the case if it were picked ripe. Local farmers can afford to allow produce to ripen in the vine because they take their wares directly to the market. Eighty to ninety percent to the phytochemicals (phyto = plant, chemical = active organic substance in fruits and vegetables that protect them from sun, give taste, odor, color, etc.) do not appear in fruits or vegetables until a week or ten days before ripening. These phytochemicals have been found to be cancer and degenerative disease preventing substances by the National Institute for Cancer Research. Our Catholic forefathers ate food that was ripe anyway—just because it tasted better! Poor souls, they didn't have the benefit of modern scientific research. At the end of this article we will provide addresses and phone number for organizations that can help direct an interested party to local, small farmer's markets. The produce and goods sold at these markets is usually far cheaper than even large supermarket chains because we eliminate "the whole pack of merchants, transporters, processors, packagers and advertisers who thrive at the expense of both farmers and consumers" according to famed poet and "back to our roots" advocate Wendell Berry. It pays for us "to learn, in self-defense, as much as we can about the economy and technology of industrial food production. What is added to food [or what is food deprived of] that is not food and what do we pay for these additions?
According to our beloved Catholic historian quoted earlier, Mr. Charles Coulombe: "September eighth, the feast day of Our Lady's Nativity, was in many places celebrated as a harvest festival. There would be blessing of the harvest and seed grains in many churches and wine growing areas would see the blessing of the grapes. [Even] Christmas itself was regarded as something of a harvest festival in addition to all else, sheaves of grain were used as decorations . . . [as we can see] the church year itself was most obviously tied to the seasons . . ." Mr. Coulombe also suggests elsewhere, and we heartily agree, "it would perhaps be good to visit a local farmer's market, if only to show the kids a little reality."
Here are some ways to get information on the availability of local, possibly organic, farmer's markets in your area:
Organic Trade Association (413) 774-7511
Organic Farming Research Foundation (408) 426-6606
The Land Institute (913) 823-5376
Community Alliance with Family Farmers (916) 756-8518
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