Cultivating hope amidst a pandemic

“In the 40 Day island lockdown, we were using virgin coconut oil for cooking, we had our own bathing and laundry soap, we were using the sea water as substitute for salt, we were cooking with firewood and we gathered food from the land and sea for free. It was a good opportunity for people to realise that returning to the land is the best solution to counter the new normal,” says Susana Yalikanacea, organic practitioner and advocate.

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrust the world into a new environment. As countries grapple with unprecedented challenges and uncharted paths, it is not without silver-linings. Among the countless examples of selfless service, generosity toward others, and mutual aid during this crisis, there is a renewed interest in local food production and home gardening. And there is no better way to rediscovering our connection to food than through the organic approach.

For more than 100 years, industrial agriculture has primarily focused on yields and efficiency – and has lost sight of the core principles of health and sustainability. Coupled with the global demand for cheap and convenient processed foods, this new food paradigm has contributed to soil depletion and human and planetary health deterioration.

This pandemic is awakening us to the idea that the way we produce our food and the types of food we choose to eat are more directly tied to human health than previously understood. Industrialised agriculture and processed foods are impacting not only our limited environmental resources but also our quality of life. The prevalent use of antibiotics in animal production and the pervasive application of pesticides and fungicides on crops are leading to a rise in antibiotic and fungicide resistance in humans. Large Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) pollute ground water, land and air and deplete valuable natural resources. They also contribute to the spread of pathogenic bacteria such as E. coli, cryptosporidium, and salmonella, that are increasingly causing sickness and death. 

Plants grown organically fundamentally change the microbiome, which is responsible for 75 percent of the immune system. Eating foods high in phytochemicals like leafy green vegetables reduces inflammation and supports a more robust immune system, specifically system parts that are geared toward fighting infection. A Westernised diet of industrially produced foods that is high in sugar, grains, and processed foods, however, can lead to a deficient microbiome and immune system, in addition to greater likelihood of developing lifestyle diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The combination of less healthy foods and poor diet dramatically increases the risk of experiencing more severe and life-threatening outcomes from infectious diseases such as COVID-19. More than 90 percent of severe COVID-19 cases were people either older than 73 and/or those that had a lifestyle related disease or were obese. The pandemic has made it clear that your overall health can be the difference between life and death. 

Healthier foods and a healthier diet will require an overhaul of our agricultural systems. Shifting to organic foods would ensure that we are producing food in the most sustainable, healthy and holistic way to maximise nutrient density and eliminate exposure to toxins such as herbicides and pesticides. Organic plants contain more nutrients, phytochemicals, and antioxidants, and have a significant impact on improving human health. In contrast, food grown in conventional soils that have been depleted by pesticides and other chemicals is typically deficient in key phytochemicals and antioxidants. 

The pandemic is forcing people to think hard — and to feel deeply — about their connection to food. The most pressing question to ask ourselves is: “What am I eating every single day, and how was it produced?” Exceptional health and a strong immune system are built one bite at a time. 

The most important thing that you can do today is to recognise that you have the power to change your health and the health of our food ecosystem with your next plate of food. When you choose to purchase or grow organic food, you are investing not only in your own health but in the health of the farm family that grew your food, and the soil, water, air and land that we are leaving as an inheritance to future generations. 

This torrent of interest in organic backyard farming and local food production can help renew a traditional culture and landscape that will lead to long-term community and ecological resilience. And it is about time.