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One of the most interesting books I read recently was Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson. Her chief premise suggests that we can improve our access to better nutrition by:
o Buying/growing vegetables and fruits that are higher in phytonutrients
o Preserving and storing them properly and for shorter periods
o Cooking them properly to retain the highest amount of nutrients
Given the rising costs of food, it makes sense that we should be spending our money on fruits and vegetables that offer the highest nutritive quality of our food. Right?
How do you know the nutritional values of the food you buy and grow? The reality is most of us don’t.
The decision of what we eat is made long before we find ourselves standing in the produce aisle of our nearest grocery store. Sadly, none of the decision-making around the industrial production of our food involves its nutritional contribution to our bodies. Once the wild foods of our landscape, today’s fruits and vegetables have been through countless genetic manipulations over thousands of years of agriculture. The focuses of those genetic experiments have been to support a desired taste and an ease of handling: we wanted sweeter, prettier and longer lasting fruits and vegetables. The cost of our desires is a loss of phytonutrients.
What is a phytonutrient? Phyto comes from the Greek word phyton which means plant. Over millions of years, plants developed “an arsenal of chemical compounds that protect from them from insects, disease, damaging ultraviolet light, inclement weather and browsing animals.” (p.5) But our choices to alter the plants we eat came at the expense of increasing loss of nutritional density. We traded the naturally produced benefits of our wild foods for year round access to vegetables and fruits that may travel thousands of miles.
Using the latest research on bio-nutrition, the author tackles much of the conventional wisdom about fruits and vegetables, challenging what we know and believe about food selection and preparation. Organized by chapters on individual vegetables and fruits commonly eaten in Western culture, Robinson includes tips on buying from the limited varieties found in grocery stores, more nutritious varieties that you are likely to find at farmers’ markets and lastly, the most nutritious ones that food gardeners can grow.
For food gardeners, January and February are the months for planning this year’s vegetable garden, drooling over seed catalogs and ordering and organizing seeds. For the first time in my twenty plus years of gardening, my vegetable and fruit selection is based on nutritional research. Take a weekend to read this well written and easy-to-understand book on getting the most bang for your produce buck. She also maintains an informative website, EatWild.com that offers a listing of media coverage and reviews about the book and includes a link to her article in the NY Times.