Why Fruits and Vegetables are Going to Save the World

As an avid reader of the news, I cannot help but worry about the world. I’ve fallen into this weird trap of self-torture. I hate it, and I know I hate it. Yet every day, there I am, reading away about the misery of the world and deeply fearing the future to come.

However, unlike many who fall into this same trap, I do not subscribe to the idea that things used to be better and now they’re getting worse. It’s easy to romanticize about the past. With hindsight, we can artfully shape our understanding of the past and use this to lament things that may have never been. But people, at our core, have not changed throughout time. We have always loved, always hated, always sought revenge, and always mourned loss. Our emotions, or our states of being, have not changed, although the surroundings in which we experience them certainly have. We ignore this, though, and continue to think the world is slowly deteriorating, just waiting for someone to save it (sound familiar?). Well, the world does need saving. But not from terrorists, climate change, and inflation, it needs saving from ourselves.

This builds on a theme discussed here frequently about how changing ourselves is the only real way to change the world. However, for as much as we may accept this, many of us, myself included, likely struggle to download this lofty idea to the real world. We know something must be done, but life is just too complicated, too hard, and too uncertain to venture into the dark cave of self-reflection.

We don’t need to lose ourselves, though, to find ourselves. There are things we can do each and every day that remind us of our pivotal role in the development of the human psyche and its future. One simple thing we can do is to look a little more closely at the way we sustain life: the food we eat.

What are we?

We all know the famous phrase, “you are what you eat.” Nothing could be truer. Scientifically speaking, we really are nothing more than the combination of the molecules we put into our mouths, chew, and digest. For as much as we may try to be so much more, our physical existence can be crudely summed up by a unique combination of protons, neutrons, and electrons.

But no one is that crass, that rational, or that scientific. We accept our biology, but we all feel there is something more. I am speaking collectively, so please correct me if I am wrong, but it does not seem a far reach to assume we as humans yearn for and sense something beyond what we can explain.

So if we are what we eat, but we are more than just a combination of chemicals and elements, then logic holds that our food cannot be simply a concoction of nutrients. Understanding what our food actually is could help us to see more clearly who we actually are. Perhaps a leap, but let’s see where this takes us.

What are we, then? This is the $64,000 question. The short answer, and perhaps the best one I can come up with, is that we have no idea.

There are countless studies done on the role of food in determining culture. We gather around it, discuss it, share it, and dedicate our lives to growing it. We could spend ages discussing its importance, but I am not focusing on this. I want to look at how our food comes from the ground to our mouths—what does how we get our food tell us about what we are?

On the one hand, we are inspiringly efficient. In many parts of the world, one can simply walk down the street and access globally-sourced foods whenever we wish. The immense complexities that go into making this happen and the level of codependence inherent in this system of production, distribution, and consumption is astonishing. We should be proud of ourselves, and we should be excited about a future where this ability expands to benefit all.

On the other hand, we are shamefully cunning. The way we accept—begrudgingly or willingly, unknowingly or knowingly—the satisfaction of our needs and the indulgence of our wants without acting on the consequences strikes fear about what we are.  These products from all around the world do not appear on my supermarket shelf by magic. Having the chance to choose with such freedom among so many options is in many ways a mandate for someone else’s life.  Grow this, don’t grow that, make this sweeter, don’t use so much salt, give me more. My wish is your command, for I, the consumer, am the all powerful ruler of the modern world.  This power can be used for good of for bad, but the choice remains with the individual. Will I choose me? Or will I choose all of us? Sadly, the world around us points us towards choosing me over us, the part over the whole.

But the final decision remains with us, always.

Eat your fruits and veggies!

Likely we have all heard this phrase in one context another. Whether you roll your eyes when you hear it or not, it is, without a doubt, one of the truest pieces of advice you’ll ever receive.

It sounds silly, but it reflects something larger. Our diets, as individuals and as societies as a whole, are ripe with confusion. When thinking about what to eat, there are the things we like and enjoy. Developing a good relationship with food is very important. We need to eat, so we might as well like what’s going into our mouths. But once we venture outside of this frame of mind, things get murky. We all know there are things we should and shouldn’t eat, can’t eat but love to eat, and hate to eat but eat anyway, and this mixture between what is right and what we want is vexing and frustrating. It doesn’t stop there, though. Once you add in the GMOs, preservatives, macro- and micro-nutrients, complex and simple carbohydrates, raw, cooked, and so and so on, it’s easy to feel dizzy and confused. It’s easy to just go back to the beginning. What do I like and what don’t I like? The rest will work itself out.

So it makes sense why there is so much confusion in the world and why it seems like everything is falling to pieces. How can we ever know how we should be if we can’t even figure out what we should eat?

In this sense, “eat your fruits and veggies” is more of a metaphor. It just means paying attention to what we put into our bodies. Understanding how food affects us physically, emotionally, psychologically, or whatever other –ly you can think of is a practical way to bring about change within us. It asks us to be conscious of an action we do almost constantly but rarely think about.

Using food to get into this mindset is something we can all do each and every day, and it would be a HUGE step towards building a world filled with individuals conscious about the impacts their smallest, most insignificant actions have on all with which they share their existence. It’s a step towards an individual awareness that allows us to empathize with our own confusion but see clearly through it, choosing us over me, the whole over the part.

Venturing into the world of diets is tricky, though. It’s so confusing, and if we’re not careful, we can enter a strange world of self-judgment and negativity, damaging self-esteem and hurting the way we feel about ourselves. But we don’t need to go down that path. No one is asking for perfection. That would be madness. Instead, let’s simply expand our view beyond our own, project what might happen, recognize we can never know if we’re right, but try our best to be sure we’re not wrong.

And you can never go wrong with fruits and veggies.

There is mounting evidence that, nutritionally speaking, fruits and vegetables should be the core of our diet, supplemented with proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals, and varying levels of carbohydrates depending on activity levels.

Seems simple, no? Well, a quick look at how food is displayed through entertainment shows a far more confusing picture (I was particularly shocked by the way binge eating and overeating was portrayed in the second season of Aziz Ansari’s show Master of None—I can’t link here, but watch a few episodes on Netflix to see what I mean). And there’s a shocking supply of disastrous processed foods in supermarkets and even more marketing campaigns to sell them.  All of which makes things far less simple.

That’s all “eat your fruits and veggies” is. It’s making things simple. Eat fruits and vegetables, limit (not eliminate) meat consumption to one or two meals a weak, control alcohol intake, and avoid sugary, processed foods. This formula, which is absolutely nothing new (it is how we have fed ourselves for thousands of years—ask your grandparents how many times they ate meat each week?), simply asks us to take control of what we eat. But it’s really just a healthier, tastier, and friendlier way to take control of what we are.

How do you feel about current diets and food systems? How could we get better? Is it an access problem or an attitude problem? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below, and as always, pass this message along to get the discussion going.