Cheer up, we just reversed humanity’s decline

OK, reversing humanity’s decline took 40 or 50 years longer than we thought. But let’s celebrate it anyway, writes Craig Sams

Could this be the Big Lifestyle Turnaround that we’ve been dreaming about and waiting for?

Every year for decades there has been an annual increase in new cases of Type 2 diabetes, which correlates with comparable figures for obesity, which is a factor in cancer and heart disease. That’s the bad news. What’s the good news?

Over the last 6 years (averaged to avoid ‘blips’) research shows there has been a significant DECLINE in incidence of diabetes in the US. Diabetes is still happening, but less and less each year. That means that, going forward, there will likely be less cancer, less obesity and less heart disease. The endless upward graph is going into a downturn.

The researchers, at the US Governments Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), took a shot at what might be behind this encouraging news. Their studied conclusion? People are more health conscious than hitherto and this is reflected in healthy and informed food choices and greater commitment to regular exercise and bodywork, including yoga and pilates. In other words, the message of healthy living is getting through. More people than ever are shopping at natural food stores or Whole Foods Market. Supermarkets are giving more and more space to organic and healthy foods. We’ve always said that this could happen and now the evidence is in that a healthy lifestyle prevents degenerative disease.

So where does that put Coca Cola? Their sales are down in the US, with the international market also weakening.

And MacDonalds? For seven straight quarters up to the middle of last year, their sales have been dropping with no evidence of a turnaround. Big Macs and Coke once seemed invincible – the obesity epidemic and resulting diabetes soared in parallel with their sales. Now their growth has stalled.

So where is the money going? Last year yoga and pilates studios in the US had sales of $9 billion, up 7.5% year on year. There are 30,000 businesses employing 95,000 people, about three per business. It’s a horde of small enterprises that are capturing people’s longing for physical wellbeing, core strength and flexibility. The yoga bunnies and pilates enthusiasts are alive to nutrition, healthy eating, the gut microbiome and anything else that points them towards a longer, healthier and happier life. There’s little opportunity for scale in this market – there are a few big gym chains but most of this healthy stuff is run by sole practitioners or a small local group that might also include nutritional advice, massage and counseling. In the caring, sharing economy of the future there is a lot more peer-to-peer and a lot less corporate-to-consumer relationship.

It’s not going to be easy to get humankind back on track, though.

The junk food decades from the 1950s to the 2000s meant that a lot of kids were born who inherited the epigenetic legacy of their parents’ poor diet and environment. We know that what you eat affects your health – now we also know it affects your genes and is an undesirable legacy to your children. I won’t go into the detail of DNA methylation and transfer RNAs, but suffice to say that if a father or a mother eats too much sugary and industrial food and is exposed to environmental contaminants such as pesticides, food colouring and preservatives their baby’s start in life is clouded and the kid is more likely to suffer impaired insulin tolerance that could lead to diabetes. The good news is that epigenetics cuts both ways. A lot of the crap that used to screw up our genes is now out of the system – things like DDT, lead, hydrogenated fat, toxic dyes and preservatives and high levels of pesticide, fungicide and herbicide residues in our food are all non-existent or much lower. So going forward we could be passing on healthier and more robust genes.

When we launched Yin-Yang Ltd, the macrobiotic food company that would morph into Whole Earth, Vegeburger and Green & Black’s, we thought the healthy eating revolution would be over by the early 1970s. It was so obvious. We naively thought everyone would go for it – after all, who didn’t want to live a long and healthy life? As my brother Gregory said, we were looking at the future through the wrong end of the telescope. We saw the future, we were just out by 40 or 50 years. Boo-hoo about the ruined lives along the way, but hip hip hurrah for the coming reversal of humanity’s decline.


Food and friendship without frontiers

Craig Sams celebrates the role of the natural food industry in helping to nourish refugees in Calais camps

In 1911 Karim Aboud Saba faced a dilemma – stay at home in his Christian hillside village in Syria or go to an uncertain future in America? He had a wife and 2 kids. The Turks were in the throes of the run up to World War 1 and were rounding up men up to the age of 55 to be cannon fodder for their Ottoman Army. The French and the British were already squabbling about who’d get which parts of Syria and Palestine after the coming war. It was most definitely not his fight. So Aboud left his home behind and took his family to America. At Immigration they took one look at his name, written unintelligibly in Arabic, and handed him a piece of paper marked ‘SAM.’ ‘That’s your American name, buddy.’ If you had asked him for an opinion about organic food or the stuff called chocolate his grandson would be marketing he wouldn’t have known what you were talking about. If you would have told him that his great-great grandson Mars Aboud Sams 100 years later would be in a place called Calais in France working 12 hours a day feeding Syrian and Kurdish refugees he would have smiled ruefully – it was the vision of such endless chaos that had driven him to emigrate.

The refugees in Calais and Dunkerque are just a small fraction of the millions that have died or been displaced by the manipulation and exploitation that started in the 1900s with the British, French, Turks, Russians and Germans manoeuvring over who would control the lucrative oil wells of Iraq. Now these lucky survivors are just across the water and living in dreadful conditions in the hope of finding a new life in Britain or joining their relatives here.   Many are starving, having spent all their money to pay smugglers to get them this far.

Mars Aboud Sams, my 18-year old grandson, is on his way back to the Refugee Community Kitchen in Calais after a stint in December. He’s now experienced in field kitchen catering and able to supervise the many volunteers who come over with vans and cars laden with food, willing to work for a few days or weeks cooking, cleaning, serving and washing dishes to keep the canteen going.

“The role of the natural food industry in supporting this field kitchen is admirable”

The role of the natural food industry in supporting this field kitchen is admirable. Wholesalers willingly act as aggregation and distribution hubs for food. Riverford Farms have sent several van loads of fresh organic vegetables to be prepped and cooked by the chefs there. Abel & Cole are offering milk and ongoing support. Infinity Foods have sent over quinoa, Brazil nuts, rice and other dry goods. Suma have supplied a pallet of washing up liquid, rice, oats and catering tins of tomatoes. Gusto have sent over a pallet of Gusto Cola. Organic Lea have come up with a palletload of kale, cabbages, leeks, rocket and other green vegetables. Zaytoun, the distributors of Fairtrade organic food from Palestine, have sent medjool dates. This is just a snapshot of what’s going on.

Most of the volunteers are the kind of people who are committed to eating organic food, to eating less meat and emitting less carbon dioxide. They understand the deep humane connection between the food they choose and the kind of world they’d like to live in. That’s a world where our shared humanity is more important than the opportunistic manouevring that is the most we can expect from politicians. The destruction of stable communities of Christians, Muslims, Jews and other minorities that had lived together in peace for a thousand or more years drove my grandfather to America 100 years ago. It is still going on. The only difference is that America is now part of the problem where, after WW1, people idealistically hoped it would be part of the solution.

We are all people with a shared interest in prosperity, good health and well-being.

The words of Marianne Satrap sum it up perfectly and explain the deep instinct of common humanity, sharing and caring that drives so many people from the organic movement to try to help relieve the suffering of their fellow human beings:

"The world is not divided between East and West. You are American, I am Iranian, we don’t know each other but we talk and understand each other perfectly. The difference between you and your government is much bigger than the difference between you and me. And the difference between me and my government is much bigger than the difference between me and you. And our governments are very much the same."
Marianne Satrap, author of Iranian graphic novel Persepolis, now a film.