diet

Let bodily fluids and solids (and food) be thy medicine

Craig Sams imagines the health farms of the future where ‘super healthy’ humans are raised.

Until just over a decade ago the missus and I would go to Shrubland Hall Health Clinic up in Suffolk, where we’d enjoy vegetarian food, bracing country walks, massage, pilates and other healthful activities and return refreshed and invigorated. They closed in 2006 and more recently we go to Amchara in Somerset, which offers a vegetable juice fast, yoga, massage and colonics. Amchara are big on probiotics, which you have, with psyllium, with every liquid ‘meal.’ Their therapy is designed to break your bad dietary habits and restore your gut flora. But is this enough? What if your gut flora are too degraded to be restored? What if candida or other ‘bad bugs’ are in control? What if the ‘good bugs’ have been wiped out and can’t re-establish?

The average kid has 17 courses of antibiotics before they reach maturity. Doctors carelessly prescribe them to adults too for minor problems like runny noses or tummyache, problems that could be cured by a day or two of bed rest or fasting. Antibiotics destroy your gut flora. So do steroids, some vaccines, stress, alcohol and low fibre diet. The resulting gut dysbiosis is associated with colitis, IBS, multiple sclerosis,autism,anorexia, depression, OCD, migraines and Parkinson’s disease.

A particular dangerous side effect of taking antibiotics is Clostridium difficile. It’s a disease that was practically unknown until the advent of antibiotics. Now 30,000 Americans a year die from it and about 5000 in the UK. Clostridium takes over your gut flora after the 10,000 different bacteria, fungi and archaea in your gut are wiped out by a dose of antibiotics. Some of the good bugs survive, mainly by hiding in your appendix until the antibiotics are stopped. Then they can try to combat the Clostridium. If they fail the triumphant Clostridium leads to diarrhea, abdominal pain and in about 6% of cases, death. The conventional cure is more and stronger antibiotics. This works in about 25% of the cases but has a 50% relapse rate. There is another cure that has a 90% success rate, though. That’s faecal transplantation, also known as stool transplantation. It works for colitis, IBS, candida and other gut diseases, not just Clostridium. Only one hospital in Britain offers it as it’s a bit complicated. First you have to find a ‘donor.’ This is a person who has a completely healthy gut flora with no traces of infectious diseases such as AIDS or malaria. These aren’t easy to find. What’s more, faecal transplantation is a messier business than popping pills. A typical treatment programme would require 10 days of daily transplantation. But when it is done properly it can prevent a lifetime of misery and pain.

What about other person-to-person transfers from the healthy to the unwell? At the Society for Neuroscience convention in November 2016 researchers reported on trials that show an injection of blood from a young healthy person can reverse Alzheimer’s and senile dementia, improve cognition and strengthen the heart and liver.

“Could the health farms of the future be real farms? Farms where the farmer is raising healthy humans? What a lovely way to make a living if you’re the one being farmed”

Could the health farms of the future be real farms? Farms where the farmer is raising healthy humans? What a lovely way to make a living if you’re the one being farmed. All you have to do is live in a stress-free and happy environment, eat a balanced diet of organic food, avoid antibiotics, alcohol and risky sex and earn your living by providing a ‘donation’ 2 or 3 times a day. Sure beats mining coal or driving a mini cab.

Imagine: “Welcome to Poucura Health Clinic, Mrs. Jones. We have diagnosed your problem and advise that your donor is Marlene, an extremely fit young woman who has a 100% success rate in curing Clostridium difficile in her donatees. You will stay with us for 10 days and have 2 treatments a day. If you are having forgetfulness issues (we note that you are in your mid 60s and missed an earlier appointment) we can also provide you with a memory-enhancing transfusion from Arthur, whose IQ of 155 reflects his mental acuity. Your diet during your stay will include high-fibre foods, probiotics and inulin to help accelerate the repopulation of your gut with immune-boosting flora.”

Exchanging bodily fluids has been a big no-no and the years of AIDS have made everyone even more cautious. But the war against diseases of modern diet is being lost and doctors are running out of weapons. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, said “all disease begins in the gut, ” adding “let food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.” To fast track this we can pay people to be really healthy and then let their bodily fluids and solids be our medicine, along with food. Cures like this only last if they are followed by lifestyle changes. But it’s a lot easier to change your lifestyle when the gut flora that are telling your brain what to eat are the good ones that are always urging healthy choices.

Michio Kushi, last of old school macrobiotic gurus, is no more

Modern Zen macrobiotics was created by the Japanese leader George Ohsawa. His leading apostle was Michio Kushi. Kushi died in December, leaving the macrobiotic movement leaderless for the first time in its history in the West. In any belief system there is always the potential to confuse the messenger with the message. The Ten Commandments ban worshipping graven images and Islam prohibits images of Mohammed. This prevents believers worshipping a fellow human who connected with the universal spirit of love and peace (or ‘health and happiness’ if you prefer) instead of seeking that connection themselves. In macrobiotics the tendency to follow the man rather than the practice has been a marginalising factor that has kept it as a cult instead of the universally popular diet that we once thought it would become. Yet macrobiotic principles are now the guiding principles of the renaissance in nutritional awareness that is gathering pace worldwide. It looks like we’ve won, just not under our flag.

The Zen Macrobiotic diet originated as a reaction to the introduction of American food in Japan. In 1907 The Shoku-Yo-Kai association was formed to educate the public in healthy eating and to encourage a return to the traditional Japanese diet and avoid the meat, dairy products and sugary refined foods introduced from the West. Japanese were beginning to succumb to hitherto unknown diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The President of Shoku-Yo-Kai was George Ohsawa in the 1930s. He was jailed and nearly executed because he opposed Japan’s militaristic and imperialistic adventures that led to World War 2. One of his students was Michio Kushi, who took the message to the US in 1949. He was not the only one. Another was a Hollywood-based Shoku-Yo-Kai practitioner called Dr Nakadadi, who in 1947 cured my father Ken, who suffered debilitating intestinal disease for years after fighting as a Marine in the Pacific war. But it was in the 1960s that Ohsawa’s book Zen Macrobiotics lit the fuse under the macrobiotic rocket. It married the Taoist philosophy of Yin and Yang to diet and lifestyle. Taoism, like Zen, ideally seeks to achieve states where you transcend earthly day-to-day worries and become a mover and shaker while playing and staying in a state of constant bliss.   This is why macrobiotics appealed so much to the Sixties hippie generation, who experienced those states temporarily and sought something that could bring them there without having to rely on psychoactive substances.

Ohsawa died suddenly in 1966, leaving the macrobiotic movement leaderless.

Michio Kushi on the East Coast and Herman Aihara on the West Coast, took up Ohsawa’s mantle. Kushi set up the East West Institute in Boston. It was a mecca for burned-out hippies who would make the hajj to Boston and work in the study centre or the associated restaurant and food wholesaling business Erewhon, while learning the philosophy and how to cook the food. Kushi’s lectures to his followers were published in The East West Journal and the Order of the Universe magazines, reaching more than 100,000 subscribers worldwide. His students became the missionaries of macrobiotics beyond Boston. Many of them came to London, where we welcomed them and gave them jobs in our restaurant, bakery and shop. We rented them a house in Ladbroke Grove where they could promulgate Kushi's message, give shiatsu classes and teach cooking.   They disdained our free and easy approach to macrobiotics and advised us to go to Boston to study with Michio. We thought they were too ‘straight.’ They wore suits, smoked cigarettes and drank Guinness and coffee just like Michio. But the rest of their diet was much stricter than ours, allowing little in the way of sweeteners or dairy products. It was a bit alienating, but we thought 'each to his own' and were grateful to be introduced to shiatsu and to have active missionaries spreading the message.

A few years ago I wrote here about our macrobiotic sea cruise. It included late stage cancer sufferers who had, thanks to Michio Kushi's teachings, been clear for five or ten years. It was moving to hear their stories and their gratitude that macrobiotics had given them life beyond their doctors' expectations.

Will macrobiotics thrive in Kushi’s absence? The philosophy is now everywhere, the basic principles of making healthy diet the foundation of your physical and mental well being; eating whole unrefined cereals; exercising actively; always choose organic; avoid sugary refined foods; prefer sourdough over yeasted breads; avoid artificial preservatives and colourings; no trans fats; eat locally and seasonally… these were once quirky macrobiotic precepts but are all now well-established and the stuff of Sunday newspaper supplements. George Ohsawa once commented that as long as you were in a state of bliss it didn’t matter what you ate, you were macrobiotic. Kushi’s messaging was more prescriptive, but it reached a lot more people. These great men are no longer with us, but thanks to their teachings the quality and variety of food we can easily obtain is better than it has ever been in human history. There is no excuse for eating crap any more. For this we should be eternally grateful.

Seed Magazine 1975

Hippy days are here again

Isn’t it amazing that the ‘hippy diet’ the authorities once warned would corrupt a generation is now officially endorsed by the medical establishment, says Craig Sams

Stop the press! Amazing news from researchers…

The British Journal of Cancer recently published a report funded by Cancer Research UK. The report says that 40 per cent of cancers arise from lifestyle factors including poor diet and obesity. Specifically: not enough fibre, not enough vegetables, too much meat and too much alcohol.

In 1966, full of the joys of discovering good health and vitality through macrobiotic diet, my girlfriend and I visited the macrobiotic bookshop in New York. Irma Paul, the owner, sat behind the counter looking morose, not at all the happy image of macrobiotics (Greek for ‘long life’ or ‘big life’) that I expected. She allowed us to look at the books but said that we could not purchase anything.

Her reason? The American Medical Association had recently urged the FBI to bust the bookshop for selling illegal books. The FBI took the books away and went over them with expert advisors from the American Medical Association. The result? The bookshop closed a few days later and the books were taken away, condemned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and burned. Reader’s Digest later ran a cover story calling macrobiotics ‘The Hippie Diet That’s Killing Our Kids.”

What was the evil message that brought such a fate?  Kiddie porn? Bomb-making instructions? No, much worse as far as the AMA was concerned: these books contained statements that too much meat, not enough fibre, not enough vegetables and too much meat and alcohol could lead to cancer. Exactly what the British Journal of Cancer article now states.

At the time the medical orthodoxy was that cancer was in the genes or just bad luck. Prof Max Parkin, a Cancer Research epidemiologist, commented on the new report: “Many people believe cancer is down to fate or ‘in the genes’…it’s clear that 40 per cent of cancers are caused by things we have the power to change.” I wonder where ‘many people’ got that wacky idea? Perhaps from listening to all the medical experts who told them for decades they couldn’t do anything to prevent cancer.

In the 1950s American magazines ran ads extolling the preference of doctors for Camel brand cigarettes. Oh dear. I wonder how many people took up smoking because of these role models…and died?

In the 50s Wilhelm Reich talked about the ‘Emotional Plague’ – a disease that parents gave to their children by beating them and abusing them, passing on sick behaviour from one generation to the next. He argued for sexual liberation and advocated condom use and economic independence for women. Several tonnes of his books were burned by the FDA and he died in prison in 1956.  Now it’s illegal to beat kids, women are liberated and child abuse condemned.

So, two pioneers of sensible thinking went to their graves bitter and disillusioned and didn’t live to see their ideas become accepted in the mainstream.

What about me? After discovering that the FBI, the AMA and the FDA were hysterically alarmed about macrobiotics, I figured it was at least as powerful as I had thought.

I went to the newly-opened Paradox macrobiotic restaurant that evening and decided then and there that my future would lay in bringing awareness of the joys of healthy eating to as many people as possible. It fulfilled my do-goodism and my revolutionary instincts.

What about the authorities? The same governments that burned books and chucked their authors in jail now support sex education and condom use and urge their citizens to eat more vegetables and wholegrains and to cut down on meat and booze.

Can you imagine any MPs or doctors nowadays plugging cigarettes or urging people to eat junk food and beat their kids?

Is More Research Really Needed?

Stop the presses!  Amazing news from researchers!

The British Journal of Cancer recently published a report funded by Cancer Research UK .  The report says that 40% of cancers arise from lifestyle factors including poor diet and obesity.  Specifically: not enough fibre, not enough vegetables, too much meat and too much alcohol.

In 1966, full of the joys of discovering good health and vitality through macrobiotic diet, my girl friend and I visited the macrobiotic bookshop in New York.  Irma Paul, the owner, sat behind the counter looking morose, not at all the happy image of macrobiotic (Greek for ‘long life’ or ‘big life’) that I expected.  She allowed us to look at the books but said that we could not purchase anything.  Her reason? The American Medical Association had recently urged the FBI to bust the bookshop for selling illegal books.  The FBI took the books away and went over them with expert advisors from the AMA.  The result?  The bookshop closed a few days later and the books were taken away, condemned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and burned.   Reader’s Digest later ran a cover story calling macrobiotics ‘The Hippie Diet That’s Killing Our Kids”

What was the evil message that brought such a fate?  Kiddie porn? Bomb-making instructions?  No, much worse as far as the AMA was concerned: these books contained statements that too much meat, not enough fibre, not enough vegetables and too much meat and alcohol could lead to cancer.   Exactly what the Britich Journal of Cancer article now states.

At the time the medical orthodoxy was that cancer was in the genes or just bad luck.   Prof Max Parkin, a Cancer Research epidemiologist, commented on the new report: “Many people believe cancer is down to fate or ‘in the genes’ …it’s clear that 40% of cancers are caused by things we have the power to change.”     I wonder where ‘many people’ got that wacky idea?  Perhaps from listening to all the medical experts who told them for decades they couldn’t do anything to prevent cancer.

In the 1950s American magazines ran ads extolling the preference of doctors for Camel brand cigarettes.  Oh dear.  I wonder how many people took up smoking because of these role models?  And died?

In the 50s Wilhelm Reich talked about the ‘Emotional Plague’ – a disease that parents gave to their children by beating them and abusing them, passing on sick behaviour from one generation to the next.  He argued for sexual liberation and advocated condom use and economic independence for women.  Several tons of his books were burned by the FDA and he died in prison in 1956.  Now it’s illegal to beat kids, women are liberated and child abuse condemned.

So two pioneers of sensible thinking went to their graves bitter and disillusioned and didn’t live to see their ideas become accepted in the mainstream. What about me?  After discovering that the FBI, the AMA and the FDA were hysterically alarmed about macrobiotics, I figured it was at least as powerful as I had thought.  I went to the newly-opened Paradox macrobiotic restaurant  that evening and decided then and there that my future would lay in bringing awareness of the joys of healthy eating to as many people as possible.   It fulfilled my do-goodism and my revolutionary instincts.

What about the authorities? The same governments that burned books and chucked their authors in jail now support education in sex and condom use and urge their citizens to eat more vegetables and wholegrains and to cut down on meat and booze.

Can you imagine any MPs or doctors nowadays plugging cigarettes or urging people to eat junk food and beat their kids?

Meat Free Mondays

In mid June 2009 I went to the launch of Meat Free Mondays. Frontman Paul McCartney gave a straightforward and inspiring speech stating the obvious – meat eating is responsible for about one quarter of the world’s increase in greenhouse gas levels each year. If we all gave up meat just one day a week, this could make a significant difference to our headlong rush towards extinction on an overheated planet. Not particularly challenging you might think – one day a week without meat isn’t going to have anyone in the developed world turning up at the doctor’s with kwashiorkor or some other protein deficiency disease, is it? In fact, a little less protein might help with the obesity boom – could be win – win: we end up healthier and our grandchildren inherit a planet that is still habitable.

But the press took it badly. Even the Guardian, which I doggedly continue to read despite the increasingly snide and snotty articles against organic food, environment campaigners and alternative medicine they publish nowadays, couldn’t play it straight.The Telegraph’s Liz Hunt said the idea made her want to ‘club a seal’ and vowed to eat bacon for breakfast, chicken for lunch and hamburger for dinner in order to express her revulsion at the concept.Worst of all was the Grocer, quoting 2 anonymous ‘sources’ and one named one. One ‘source’ described the initiative as ‘crass’ and said ‘I think it’s bonkers.’ Then the Chairman of the NFU’s livestock board, Alistair MacKintosh pointed out that farmers were waiting for innovation and science to sort out the cow farts and burps, concluding ‘I’d rather listen to science than some hippified vegetarian.’Errr... the science of global warming is pretty clear on this one:- Cows emit methane, methane is a greenhouse gas 21 times worse than CO2. - Sir David King, the former Government Chief Scientist says: ‘easting less meat will help the environment’ citing beef’s carbon footprint as 20 times higher than that of whole grains. - The Chairman of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change urges a meat-free day to help reduce emissions.These hippies are everywhere!With Hilary Benn, a vegetarian, the new Secretary of State at Defra and Jim Fitzpatrick, another veggie, the Minister for Food, Farming and Environment, let’s hope that the NFU’s legendary control over this important Ministry is balanced by rationality and that science, not subsidy, dictates future policy.Meanwhile it’s all happening on the film front. ‘End of the Line’ documents the corruption of governments by big fish interests and shows how this is leading to the end of abundant fish in the oceans.‘Food Inc’ shows how a handful of multinationals have seized control of our food supply and driven down safety standards for both workers and consumer health.Former Soil Association trustee Tracy Worcester’s film ‘Pig Business’ will be screened on More4 on June 30 2009 at 10 p.m – giving an insight into how the same practices that brought you Swine Flu are now being replicated in Poland.The industrial meat industry is killing us and liquidating any decent future for the planet. If Meat Free Mondays can mark the start of a reversal of this awful situation then it deserves everyone’s support.Recently Greenpeace researched the double whammy source of greenhouse gas in the Amazon forest. Forest is cleared and burned – lots of CO2 into the atmosphere -then it’s stocked with methane-emitting cows that end up being sneaked past the controls that buyers like Tesco, Asda and M&S have established to prevent just this sort of thing. If reputable companies can’t control this what can a person do?Well, cutting out meat one day of the week seems a reasonable start.

Trans Fats are crap fats

Artificial fats are bad for you

People sometimes accuse the health food industry of scaremongering but they are rank amateurs compared to the slick, professional and well-organised tropical fats campaign that created national panic in the US in the 1980s. With full-page newspaper ads screaming “Stop the Poisoning of America”, the orchestrated campaign blamed palm and coconut oil for America’s heart disease epidemic. Within months every major American product had ‘no tropical fats’ on the front of the label and ‘hydrogenated fat’ on the ingredients list where natural fat had been. The American Soybean Association was pleased as punch – soya oil is the raw material for hydrogenated fat. In Britain in the 80s health authorities and hospital dieticians encouraged people to give up butter and switch to high-polyunsaturate margarines. But to have high polyunsaturate levels you need high levels of hydrogenated fat. As a result there are millions of Britons who have heart disease (they’re the lucky ones, the rest are dead) because they followed this well-meaning but misguided advice. So why do manufacturers use hydrogenated fat? If you’ve ever seen it you’d understand. It comes as fine sand-like granules that won’t melt when you hold them in your hand, but do melt at food processing temperatures. They set hard while a food product is still warm, giving structure and texture to foods as diverse as bread, biscuits, margarine and cakes. They provide a plasticky scaffolding that holds together other food ingredients, enabling more air and water to be added to a food. In 1993 Whole Earth Superspread was launched and our ad prompted a complaint from the makers of Flora to the Advertising Standards Authority because we said hydrogenated fat was bad for you. While we argued and appealed the hydrogenated fat content of Flora fell from 21% right down to less than 1%. The Interheart survey, described in 2004 by The Lancet as the most comprehensive and rigorous study ever of research into heart disease, concluded that salt, stress, dietary fat, sugar etc were all minor causes of heart disease. The two major ones, responsible for 80% of all heart disease, were smoking and an imbalance between Low Density Lipid and High Density Lipid cholesterol (the ratio should be 2:1). The issue is not how much cholesterol you have (the argument that has put millions onto anti-cholesterol drugs) but solely what the ratio is. Hydrogenated fat slows down the loss of LDL and accelerates the loss of healthy HDL cholesterol, so the ratio swings out to 3:1 or 4:1, where the LDL starts to clog up the arteries. The HDL cholesterol is slippery and lubricates the circulatory system. There are also links between hydrogenated fat consumption and obesity, diabetes and Alzheimer disease. Transfats (another name for hydrogenated fats) interfere with Omega 3 metabolism, underpinning the market for fish oil to rectify the deficiency. The track record of the health food trade is unedifying. Many vegetarian and vegan products have historically depended on hydrogenated fat. Vegetarian and vegan margarines relied heavily on it. Hydrogenated fat is now rare in a health food shop. It has always been illegal in organic products. Forget about government doing anything about transfats. It subsidises rapeseed and soya – the oils that are usually hydrogenated - to make them cheaper than natural fats. In the US the battle was finally won when a lawyer called Stephen Joseph sued McDonalds in 2003 for reneging on their promise to reduce transfats and was awarded an $8.5 million settlement. In the US transfats now have to be labelled on the nutrition information panels. Manufacturers are scrambling to replace hydrogenated fat with natural fats, aware that consumers now avoid products with the former. In Denmark no food may contain more than 2% trans fats. In Britain, thanks to consumer pressure, Marks & Spencer and Tesco have promised that by mid-2006 all their own-brand products will be free of transfats. For 30 years hydrogenated fat has been promoted by major advertisers and the National Health Service, and subsidised to keep it cheaper than natural solid fats. The cost of cheap food has been higher health costs. The Danish example offers the only way forward – ban the stuff. Now.

Educate, Educate, Educate

How important is an understanding of food and nutrition to society? How do we measure the importance people place on food quality and how do we increase the value they place on it? We know that consumers who care most about food quality, healthy diet and biodiversity are the most likely to be consumers of organic food. So education is about getting down to the roots of people’s understanding and helping them make the connections.

There are considerable shades of difference in people’s priorities concerning food. One way to measure this is by total food expenditure. The average American spends seven per cent of their income on food, the average Briton 10 per cent and the average Frenchman 18 per cent.

Shopping, cooking and eating occupy one in six of our waking hours. So you’d think that understanding the importance of food is one of the key ‘life skills’ we should all have acquired as adults. Most food education of the public is focused on food safety and avoiding food poisoning from bugs that shouldn’t be in food in the first place. It’s clear that what we want to see is an understanding of food that will help ensure that people’s lives are productive, happy, healthy and not prematurely terminated by food-related illnesses. This makes sense for economic, political, social and ethical reasons, which should not need to be elaborated.

With few exceptions, in 12 years of primary and secondary education most children learn nothing about food, nutrition and health apart from tangential and reductionist references in biology, where the human digestive system and metabolism are studied. Home economics, a study previously restricted to female students, has been abandoned altogether as a result of curriculum changes. Yet this acted as a ‘feeder’ course for students who went on to study food technology. Students leave school able to calculate the collision time of two trains travelling at different speeds in opposite directions but unable to boil an egg or bake a loaf of bread.

Ignorance of the fundamentals of food quality and diet occur where a rational person would least expect. In the four years of medical education that a doctor undergoes before qualification, just four hours are spent studying the subject of nutrition and health. In most hospitals the dietician or nutritionist is a lowly staff member, who is not allowed to diagnose and whose main role is to issue pre-programmed nutritional advice.

But children do get information, I hesitate to call it education, about food. It’s worth considering what we are up against – and to some extent what we should emulate. British children are exposed to 10 TV commercials an hour for confectionery and other sugary, fatty foods. Between the age of two and 12 a Canadian child will see 100,000 television commercials for food. By the age of three one in five American toddlers are making specific brand name requests for food. In the US Channel One is a daily 12-minute in-classroom current events broadcast. It features ten minutes of news and two minutes of commercials. Companies pay up to $195,000 for a 30-second ad, knowing that they have a captive audience of 8 million students across the country.

Coca-Cola pays schools and supplies educational material in exchange for exclusive rights to position drinks vending machines in schools. In Colorado Springs Coke cut an $8 million deal with the school district to allow unlimited access to Coke machines and to allow students to drink Coke in the classroom. Elsewhere Pepsi contributed $1.5 million to build a sports stadium. In exchange the science curriculum includes a study of a Carbonated Beverage Company that includes a visit to the local Pepsi bottling plant. That was in Jefferson County, Colorado, home of Columbine High School. School busses are hotly sought after in the States by advertisers such as Wendy’s and Burger King. If you ever have occasion to fly into Dallas, look down at the Dr. Pepper and 7-Up logos on the rooftops of the two high schools near the airport. They’re part of an exclusive vending machine deal.

Pizza Hut run a ‘Book-It!” programme to encourage kids to read, the reward is a personal pan pizza. Hershey’s chocolate provide the entire curriculum for one grade’s maths, science, geography and nutrition under the title of “Chocolate Dream Machine.”

How can children possibly obtain a balanced view of healthy nutrition in the face of such overwhelming corporate influence? Is the answer to restrict such influence? ... or to buy our way into the system? I suggest that it’s a bit of both. The hierarchy of information distribution is flattening with advances in desktop publishing capabilities, in access to broadband, and with new channels of information dissemination. Luckily we’re in Britain, where newspapers exist on the basis of their circulation sales income. Readers respond to stories about healthy eating and organic food, so the press are valuable allies in spreading our message. This is very different to the US press, which serves the interests of the grocery advertisers who keep it going by buying dozens of pages of food ads daily. There has never been a food scare in America – the media are too intimidated. We have a persuasive story to tell and people, including journalists, who grasp it, find it holds together seamlessly.

The challenge is not that mountainous and we have already established a base camp near the summit. We don’t have to swing 100% of the population around to the organic worldview for it to prevail. What we need to do is create an educated bloc of consumers who manufacturers, retailers and foodservice companies ignore at their peril. We are well along the road already towards building this critical mass but we still need to broaden and deepen our reach. We’ve got the affluent elderly and the young, hip parents leaning most heavily in our direction, the young families and their grandparents. The lost generations in between are in our sights.

I’d like to quote the President of General Mills when asked about Genetically engineered ingredients in their breakfast cereals.. “Our research shows that 8-9% of American consumers will not buy a product if they know it contains GM ingredients – that’s too large a chunk of our customer base to ignore unless GM offers some real benefits elsewhere”.

Perhaps I should also mention Vladimir Illyich Lenin in this context, who said: “Give me 5% of Russia’s population as Bolsheviks and the revolution will surely follow.” He actually did it with a much lower percentage, but with unacceptable resort to violence.

It costs a company a great deal to develop brand loyalties. An educated consumer base can and will force changes from the bottom up in the values of well-managed brands that do not want to lose their expensively-acquired loyal customers.

So what other examples can we look to?

The mother of all healthy eating education programmes was The Peckham Experiment in South London in the 1940s which showed that, when a group of families learned the fundamentals of nutrition and healthy eating their children did better at school, crime rates fell, domestic strife was reduced and overall health improved. It was run by two of the eight founders of the Soil Association, which shows how deep our roots run on education. Prisons where healthy food has been introduced or where prisoners develop an understanding of vegetable gardening, farming and food production, show lower rates of violence and recidivism. We know what we are doing is the right thing for society.

So what are we doing – and what more can we do?

The Soil Association Demonstration Farms Network helps educate children in the origins of food with the aim that every child in Britain will have visited an organic farm and been educated in the fundamentals of food production by the age of 12. 100,000 kids visited an organic farm this year, there are 20 farms in the programme and we have funding to increase this number. Children remember 20 per cent of what they are told and 80 per cent of what they do, so farm visits have a real and lasting educational impact. Because organic farms usually have a mixture of crops and livestock the whole picture of food production can be studied. Demonstration farms include a farm trail that allows kids to see animals close-up, help them understand the connection between sustainable farming and care of the countryside, and the chance to buy fresh organic food from the farm shop or taste something at the farm café. The challenge is then to encourage an ongoing interest in wholesome fresh food – perhaps to offer box schemes.

Schools, hospitals, canteens in public and private enterprises are all targets for improving choice and nutrition. Public/private partnerships open the door to some possibilities. Sodexho is one of the world’s largest caterers, with interests in foodservice in schools, hospitals, factories and transportation. They now have an organic division, called Organica. It’s main customer base at this time is upscale events such as Goodwood, Ascot, Henley, Lords, weddings and banquets, but their eye is fixed firmly on a future where parents of children who have been reared organically will demand the same choices for their children at school as vegetarian parents demanded - and obtained - in the 1980s. If Italy can make locally sourced organic food in school meals public policy, then so can we.

Defra now have organic food available in their canteens and for committees and working groups. This began with UKROFS related activities but has now spread throughout the department. If they can do it, every organisation should be able to.

A missed opportunity this year was the Catering Conference For Schools, which took place earlier this summer. Next year there will be a Soil Association speaker at their conference, so attendance by organic suppliers could help open doors into this important marketplace and to increase our industry’s understanding of the mechanics of reaching this sector. A first step to getting organic food into schools is to educate the caterers who supply the schools. As I mentioned earlier, Sodexho are already Soil Association certified and on the inside track.

The Soil Association has made available a schools pack for some ten years that contains valuable and well-structured teaching aids that increase primary school kids’ understanding of agriculture, with an emphasis on organics. It’s a bit long in the tooth now, but got a positive response from schools where it was used as part of the curriculum. It needs updating, perhaps to include a DVD and video element. Perhaps a collaboration with the Guild of Food Writers would help to broaden its appeal and increase public awareness of the availability of this teaching tool. If Coke can spend $190,000 for a 30 second spot on schools TV in the US, let’s hope that there are some organic processors who can see the benefits of sponsoring something of genuine value and at a much lower cost.

There are developments in updating the food technology curriculum that can increase its appeal. Placements and sponsorship for students will help deepen their understanding and commitment to the organic way of thinking. Food technologists who understand the holistic environmental and nutritional picture about food will be well-placed for career advancement and I am sure that a well-constructed curriculum would not suffer any shortage of candidates. Our industry, as working environments go, is one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling, so placements will ensure future interest in our sector.

The Soil Association has a good record for putting on one day seminars that have helped bring real progress to sectors such as eggs, dairy, horticulture and meat production. A seminar that provided a forum for discussion relating to curriculum changes, catering considerations, and careers advice would attract interested parties from schools, colleges, universities and other interested organisations. Perhaps we can explore what shape such a seminar could take in this afternoon’s open forum.

I’m a member of the Caroline Walker Trust, which was established in memory of the eponymous campaigning nutritionist. Its Chairman is Peter Bazalgette, now best known for the Big Brother programmes, but who made his mark with the Food and Drink Programme. (Trust members, along with the Food Commission and the member groups of Sustain, such as Women’s Institute and Townswomen’s Guild, are our natural allies and we should keep the door open for their support of our goals). The Caroline Walker Trust have an award category for ‘student nutritionist of the year’. A similar award for a student who has shown initiative or undertaken a significant project to do with organic food could be introduced at next year’s Organic Business Awards. This would send a signal to students and their teachers that there are short term as well as longer term rewards in developing understanding of organics.

We are much bigger and more powerful than we think. How many of you realise that the global market for organic food, at £16 billion, is 6 times the global market for genetically engineered seed, at £2.7 billion? Yet the 4 companies in the world that sell genetically engineered seed have far more influence in universities, over governments and in the business community because they use their power in a coordinated, controlled, focused and selfish way. Our £16 billion pound global community numbers in the hundreds of thousands, from small producers to multinationals. We need to be organised and focused and clarify exactly what our medium and long term goals are. It would be great if we could create a set of key educational goals, a ‘Declaration of Intent’, so to speak, that we could all sign up to and that we could all support in a coordinated and cooperative way. We know we’re right and anyone who studies the issues of food and farming in any depth ends up agreeing with us. We’ve captured the moral, scientific and intellectual high ground. Now it’s time to get organised and capture the middle ground - the mass market. The Soil Association has proven that it has the capability to act as your vehicle for educating society at all levels – we need to expand and build on our successes so far. Your support and commitment is an essential ingredient. Let’s go for it!