What Your Food Ate: How to Heal Our Land and Reclaim Our Health
By David R. Montgomery and Anne Biklé
W.W. Norton & Company
Montgomery and Biklé provide a tasteful foray into the history of “Where we got it wrong and how we could have gotten it right” with a review of Lady Eve Balfour’s 1943 book, The Living Soil. Lady Balfour saw a connection between agricultural practices and public health— a view at odds with most of the scientists of her day (this was before “scientific consensus”). She suspected that soil biology was a primary player in the health of the soil, and thus the plants, the animals, and yes, the people.
Amazingly, she turned her farm into the two-decades-long “Haughley Experiment.” Dividing the farm into three sections, she tested two independent variables—soil amendments and incorporation of animals—and compared organic and conventional farming. With attention to detail and twenty years of meticulous records, she contributed greatly to the science of soil health. Her initial suspicions were well-founded, with the pest resistance and superior food value of the organic sections with incorporated livestock providing compelling evidence. Fortunately, her contributions to understanding soil health and human health were recognized in her ninety-year lifetime. However, the persistent worldwide march to the bottom overran the solid evidence she produced.
Even before Lady Balfour, our founding farmers worried about the state of our country’s soil. Thomas Jefferson considered soil health to be an intergenerational trust belonging to all the people because “Civilization itself rests upon the soil.” What Your Food Ate provides abundant evidence to validate the statement that “Tillage directly kills soil life.” Again, this solid evidence goes against prevailing sentiment and has yet to “catch on.”
The authors provide extensive but interesting reviews of literature. In the past, they show, researchers spent most of their efforts studying carbohydrates and proteins, while ignoring phytochemicals and the lifelong health-giving micronutrients.
Despite seeming to leave no stone unturned, the book reads like a gentle James Herriot account of insightful folks willing to swim against the tide to voice their observations and insights. For example, country doctor Lionel James Picton observed profound changes in the dietary habits of the people he served, and at age seventy-two, published his book, Nutrition and the Soil: Thoughts on Feeding. He was particularly concerned about white flour and the nutrient loss resulting from the milling process.
Mycorrhizal fungi were recognized at least as early as 1820 (though not named as such then) as a mysterious partnership of root and fungus. However, the prevailing “experts” shelved the findings about mycorrhizal fungi because. . . “What good could possibly come from germs?”
And what could possibly go wrong with making fertilizer from leftover ammunition? We may not have tossed the baby out with the bathwater, but we certainly “tossed out” vitamins, phytonutrients and vitamin C by subjecting plants to synthetic fertilizers. Plants make phenolic compounds in proportion to the carbon and nitrogen available to them. In other words, plants do more if we give them less! The “experts” are finally starting to realize that synthetic, nutrient-rich environments lead to decreased phytochemical production.
This was an enjoyable read and rich in content. It is also a must-read follow-up to Diana Rodgers’ and Robb Wolf’s book, Sacred Cow: The Case for (Better) Meat; Montgomery and Biklé unravel a plethora of science validating the superiority of grass-fed meat that seems not to have been available to Rodgers and Wolf. Two “thumbs up”.🖨️ Print post