Author: Amy Sapola, Pharm.D., FAIHM, IFMCP
When does the apple stop being the apple and start being you?
We are so intimately connected with the soil in every bite…
Conventional vs. Regenerative Farming
Our current conventional agriculture system in the United States focuses on yields per acre. This means how much can be extracted from the land using intensive management practices that include plowing, tilling, synthetic pesticide, herbicide, and fungicide applications. Conventional agriculture practices contribute to widespread soil erosion and decreasing soil fertility, which then requires more fertilizer application, which then runs off into streams and waterways, leading to algal blooms and water pollution. Sadly, small family farms are disappearing, resulting in the loss of local food availability, rural livelihoods, and disconnection with locally harvested seasonal foods.
Regenerative agriculture is a management philosophy that seeks to improve soil health, utilizing
farming practices that have been used for hundreds of years. However, the term “regenerative” was more recently coined in the 1980s by Rodale Institute.
“At its core, regenerative agriculture is the process of restoring degraded soils using practices (such as adaptive grazing, no-till planting, no or limited use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizer, etc.) based on ecological principles. Regenerative agriculture strives to work with nature rather than against it. Regenerative agriculture is more than just being sustainable. It is about reversing degradation and building up the soil to make it healthier than its current state.” - Nobel Research Institute.
When soil is alive, it is full of microorganisms that work symbiotically with plants to nourish each other and, therefore, to nourish us. Without these organisms, nutrients can be present in the soil but not in a form that plants can utilize. Why is this relevant? We are all intimately connected to the soil - 98% of the food we consume comes from the soil. Another way to say this…our nutrition comes from the soil!
When practicing mindful eating, we are invited to pay attention to how food is prepared and the eating experience, but what if we zoom out further to consider how our food is grown and by whom? Regenerative agriculture principles focus on farming in harmony with nature and understanding the biodiversity essential for soil health, ecology, and community well-being. There are many ways to farm and live regeneratively, but at the center is a deep connection between the health of the soil, plants, people, and the planet.
Regenerative agriculture is not just a set of farming practices but rather a way of being in reciprocity with the land. In this sense, mindful eating is a way of being in reciprocity –for the mutual benefit– of ourselves and the world around us. We are interconnected. Regenerative farming is a holistic approach to agriculture that focuses on building soil health, improving water quality, and increasing biodiversity.
A mindful eating practice may start by pausing to connect with ourselves, our body’s needs, and the food we are about to enjoy. As part of that pause, what if you considered how the food was grown and by whom? How does your meal affect your well-being, your community, and the planet? Taking time to reflect on these questions provides insight and begins to help support a feeling of greater connection beyond the self. The intention of this practice is to cultivate awareness of our individual choices and honor the connection between us, the soil, our food, our community, the elements (sunshine, rain, CO2, etc.), and the people that provided it for us.
"Cooking is a holistic process of planning, preparing, dining, and sharing food. I place food at the center of our humanity, as it nourishes our physical bodies and our emotional and spiritual lives. Food is truly a cultural phenomenon that informs our traditions and our relationship with the earth. I genuinely believe that food connects us all." - Eric Ripert.
How to practice mindful eating with regeneration in mind:
Engage the senses…
Plants are full of phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are the compounds that give plants their color, taste, and smell. When preparing meals, consider incorporating more color when possible, tapping into creativity, and nourishing your sight hunger.
The deeper and darker the pigments of the fruit or vegetable, the more phytonutrients they contain. No fancy instruments are required. By tuning into your senses, you can detect phytonutrients with the sense of sight.
If you have access to an herb plant growing in a garden or even a pot in the kitchen, consider smelling, then tasting the herb mindfully each week. Notice how the fragrance and flavors of the herb change over the growing season, tapping into the sense of taste and smell.
During the preparation and enjoyment of a meal, pause periodically to re-engage the senses.
Tips to Begin Cultivating a Deeper Connection with Your Food
First, let me begin by fully acknowledging that not everyone has access to the resources needed to follow many of the tips below, and my intention is only to provide a list of ideas. It is not the intention that everyone should be able to do them all at all times. Consider choosing one idea below and adapting it to fit your needs, community, resources, and comfort level.
Shop at farmers' markets and community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs. These programs connect you directly with local farmers and allow you to learn more about how your food is grown.
Consider participating in a community garden if you have one in your area. This is an opportunity to garden often in a larger space while connecting with other gardeners (sharing produce and tips!).
Get involved in your local food system. There are many ways to get involved, such as volunteering at a local farm, school garden, joining a food justice organization, or starting a community garden.
Forty percent of food in the United States is wasted. There are a lot of resources that go into the growing, harvesting, and distribution of food. To reduce food waste while being able to listen to your body's signals and stop eating without feelings of guilt or shame, consider serving yourself while considering what would be kind to meet your body's cues. Experiment with serving enough to feel content (not anxious), allowing yourself to go for further servings.
Having a general plan of how to use the produce you purchase or grow (while keeping it flexible) helps reduce food waste. Other options, such as freezing, making a stew, or a quick pickle, are all great ways to utilize produce that might otherwise go to waste.
What you are unable to use, consider giving to a neighbor, friend, or food shelf. Many food shelves will accept donations of fresh produce grown in home gardens.
You may consider making your own nutrient-rich compost by returning food scraps (not meat or dairy) back to earth if you have the space available or services in your area.
Consider a practice such as loving-kindness or a meditation about looking deeply into your food. As part of these practices, consider all beings and natural elements (like sunshine, rain, and soil) that contributed to making it possible for you to eat the food on your plate. Send them loving kindness or gratitude.
Buy local whenever possible. This will help to support your local farmers. Freshly harvested fruits and vegetables taste better and are more nutrient-dense, and buying locally reduces the environmental impact of food transportation. Many areas have special programs for EBT participants, which double the dollars they have available to spend on fresh fruits and vegetables.
Labels aren't everything. Certification can be cost-prohibitive for small farmers, so it is often beneficial to get to know your farmer and ask about their farming practices to ensure they are farming in a way that aligns with supporting healthy soil, healthy plants, and healthy communities.
Regeneration is about relationships, connectivity, and biodiversity; consider having a potluck with family, friends, or neighbors and sharing gratitude for each person's contribution to the nourishment of others.
Regenerative farming is more than just about growing healthy food. It's also about creating a more stable and equitable food system that stops environmental damage and degradation and instead focuses on regenerating the land. In addition to caring for the land, regenerative farming also cares about the health, well-being, and livelihood of farmers and farm workers. By connecting around food and farming and building relationships with not only the farmer and farm workers but with the soil and the plants themselves, it is possible to practice mindfulness in a way that takes into account the larger impacts of our food systems and helps to reduce harm to ourselves, our communities, and the planet.