Food and health

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Food and Health

A misleadingly simple view of health is calling it the absence of illness. Better to view health as a matter of degrees on a scale, the same way we measure temperature. Each organism has evolved under certain circumstances, and can operate more or less efficiently only within a compass of environmental conditions. Humans need oxygen, and are not able to live in oceans, as can whales. A cactus won't live long in a rain forest. Thus I say that the largest conception of health is at a species level. When one views health at the individual organism level, the matter becomes greatly complicated.
Every human is born with genetic programming that affects not only appearance, but functional abilities as well. A person can be born with a club foot or with a chemical imbalance. This underscores society's need to educate expecting mothers to do everything possible to ensure healthy babies. Pregnant women can cause their offspring lifelong harm by overconsuming alcohol or other drugs.
How children grow up will profoundly affect their health as adults. It has been proven by social scientists such as anthropologists, that upbringing and environment are more important than genetic differences. This, of course, is a generalization. Translated, it means we could randomly select 50 babies from widely scattered places on Earth, and raise 25 of them as if they were wolves, and 25 with nurturing, love, education, and then it would be patently obvious how much cultural influences overwhelm genetic predilections. We might summarize by saying genes allow a vast range of behavior, but culture is what shapes, selects, and lets blossom certain traits to the exclusion of others. Similarly, if children are raised undernourished, and are kept unexercised, their health will be much worse than if they are given proper or ideal conditions. It must be understood clearly what is inherited, and what is controllable. Baldness, body build, and certain other things are generally passed along through genes. Whether one exercises, eats a balanced diet, and controls stress, is in no sense genetic. There may be some overlap, but it is minor. I'm thinking that if a pregnant woman is a drug addict, so will be her child. Yet this is physiological and not technically a matter of genes.
As individuals we demonstrate varying appetites, strengths, temperaments, and abilities. I think virtually all of us get sick occasionally, and go through a healing process. It is sometimes very hard to cope with some observations which suggest that health is capricious. There are granola-eating exercisers who die young -- and smokers, drinkers, non-exercisers who live to be old (like George Burns). I still believe it vitally important to eat wisely, exercise regularly and think positively. Just because some of us can get away living to ripe old age by doing whatever we want, doesn't mean everyone should take a fatalistic, indulgent approach through life.
In today's dominant Western culture, health is stressed perhaps more than it has ever been before. We have made it a major business. Health food stores, health clubs, and wellness teaching abound. It ties-in very well with our emphasis on youth, sexual appeal, and personal glorification. Of course, health should relate to every aspect of our lives. The whole issue of health care, alone, is now in the news because we cannot continue to spend so much money on it; our high-tech health care, and highly paid doctors, are bleeding the public resources.
Ever ready to go from one extreme to another, numerous of us are putting our faith, our money, and our health, into various alternative health movements such as herbal medicine, acupuncture, hypnosis, and whatnot. I wholeheartedly support exploration into all reasonable options. What difference does it make whether one cures the acne by a modern pill or by applying a leaf? The important thing is restoration of health. I would expect general agreement that whatever methods are simplest and least costly should be preferred. If I want to correct my nearsightedness, I can wear glasses, or undergo surgery, or try the alternative exercises and light therapies.
In the book Diet for a New America, it was stated that the majority of health problems, or at least the majority of fatal ones, were linked directly or indirectly but strongly to our diets. The implication is that what we eat is ultimately more important than any other controllable factor in our health.
As a result of reading that book I became a vegetarian. The first two weeks were almost more than I could bear -- with an almost constant hunger, and serious diarrhea. But gradually I adjusted, and, now, feel just fine. I don't miss meat. Now and then I eat it when I'm a guest at someone's home. My rationale was not so much to try to live longer or to be healthier, but to help our whole world ecologically. The meat-based diet causes, at least, more soil erosion, more use of water, more intense use of land. There are other unpleasantries, too, such as accelerated physical maturity of children who eat much meat. Anyway, I was thoroughly convinced to give a vegetarian diet a try. Initially, my mother was annoyed, but bit by bit she learned to enjoy cooking vegetarian dishes -- it was new challenge and expanded her culinary range.
Serious disease has so far stayed away from me personally. Whether I should be called lucky or not I don't know, but I do feel blessed. Some of my acquaintance, including friends, have had their lives seriously affected -- or ended -- by health problems. People battle allergies even against common things such as wheat and cotton. Some folks have debilitating arthritis. Some suffer severe bouts of depression. The HIV/AIDS effects have killed, as I recall, thousands of King County residents in the last 10 years or so. It is sobering, even depressing, to reflect on all the things that afflict people. Is there any reason for a bright side view?
We have unprecedented global communication and travel opportunities. We also have stupendous resources available for education and improving our lot. If we were to act in concert, logically, and with a view toward doing the greatest good for the greatest number of people -- then we could solve practically all of humanity's so called problems. Which is as much as to say "at least in theory we can handle our concerns." In practice, shortsighted competition and apathy prevail. We go by our traditions, not by our best possible options. In this country, especially, we let the rights of individuals effectively outweigh the good of society as a whole. We'll spend millions of dollars to prolong briefly the life of a broken, dying individual, and not have left over hundreds of dollars for educating poor teenage mothers in the ghetto.
As a society we're putting our money into weight-reduction, hair transplants, penile enlargements, cosmetics, and clothing -- yet most of us don't spend much money or time on children in an effort to help them not repeat our zany behavior. The result is young folks valuing good looks and material plenty more than sound health and learning or service. Then, if their superficial lifestyle doesn't kill them, the stress and emptiness eventually catches up, and they try to rehabilitate themselves. It is swell that humans are so elastic, and for most of us it is never too late to change for the better. I hope we can do so as a culture, as a global community.

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