In the food an nutrition world, professionals are constantly emphasizing the importance of food sustainability, locally grown produce, and the “farm to table” process.
In recent years, obesity rates have skyrocketed in part due to the fact that packaged and processed foods have become a staple in the American diet. The diets of our indigenous ancestors did not include Ritz Crackers or Doritos! America has come a long way with technological and medical advances, yet has regressed when it comes to health and wellness. The aisles in grocery stores are filled with sealed bags and products containing long lists of ingredients that many consumers choose instead of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, was the original naturalistic gardener. Jefferson obtained new vegetable varieties from foreign consuls, and even passed them on to the Washington market gardeners. Historical documents reveal that Jefferson loved growing “interesting” greens, examining how they interact with the other “new” produce such as the tomatoes, eggplant, broccoli, and cauliflower that he brought over from other countries. He used this garden as his own laboratory and experimented with different meals and combinations of produce that came from Italy. Essentially, he introduced new vegetables to Americans they previously had no access to, but unlike our transformation today, he added fresh whole foods, not processed and packaged foods.
It’s safe to say that Jefferson created the modern day farmers market. Individually, he was able to figure out the seasons of produce and the different families of vegetables that grew together in similar conditions. Records quote him stating, “I believe that plants can transform society, they’d be so simple to tend children can do it!” Not only did this way of gardening spiral into an entire industry and trading network, but also the art of farming and gardening continues to bring people together today, shaping the nutrition world.
Two centuries later years later, the ideals of our founding fathers are still embedded in the main philosophy of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and many other health organizations including The American Cancer Society and The American Heart Association, to name a few. In the words of Jefferson, “I have lived temperately, eating little animal food, and that . . . as a condiment for the vegetables, which constitute my principal diet.” As a matter of fact, this quote is embodied in the messages from the present day “Meatless Monday” campaign which encourages people to cut back on red meats.
The Monticello (Jefferson’s plantation) was blooming with many different pigments such as purple from the eggplant, and reds, greens, oranges, and yellows from the squash. Pigmentations of vegetables still play a key role in nutrition, and dietitians continue to emphasize this today. Many of their current nutrition recommendations are focused on eating a variety of color, often referred to as “eating the rainbow”. Each pigment contains specific vitamins and components that are unique and beneficial to our health.
By taking a look back in history, it is noticeable that eating a highly plant based diet has been a way of life for many centuries. The next time you’re grocery shopping, think the way our founding fathers did, fill your cart with mostly fruits and vegetables, and add some more colorful produce into your everyday diet.
Photo credit: Samantha Gitlin