Organic food awareness has resulted in almost every major food supermarket selling some degree of organic foods, while markets like Whole Foods specialize in organic. Organic is a good thing. It means we are not ingesting chemicals and pesticides, and neither is the soil. Organic does not, however, necessarily imply sustainable. We do not know if the harvester and producer of a wild grown tree nut is faithfully replanting these trees to prevent depletion nor whether all organic farming methods result in true sustainable agriculture. Yet, beyond these sustainable practices or not, there is the consideration whether organic food is sustainable food.

What is sustainable?

The definition of sustainable is: able to be upheld or defended, able to be maintained at a certain level, to keep going as an action or process. Sustain means carry, support, maintain,confirm, help, nurture. The meaning of sustainable can be applied to many aspects of our existence. The world needs:

• A sustainable economy

• Sustainable health care

• Sustainable education

• A sustainable environment

• Sustainable government

• Sustainable relationships

• Sustainable agriculture

• Sustainable industry

• Sustainable food

• Sustainable homes

• Sustainable energy

Humankind is facing all of these sustainable challenges today. Many of our current systems and institutions are failing because man has failed to consider the understanding embedded in the natural laws of sustainability. Our environment cannot sustain an ecological balance with the depletion of natural resources. Education and health care cannot be maintained when the cost is beyond reach for the average person. Green homes cannot be supported if the cost for solar and wind power is unaffordable. Lasting relationships cannot be nurtured when the opportunity to provide for a family involves the consistent stress of increasing expenses. Health and vitality cannot be maintained by eating chemical laden food or food devoid of essential nutrients. Change is upon us if we are going to create sustainable life on this planet. The essence of sustainability needs to be at the heart of every change we make.

What is sustainable food?

Today we can go to the supermarket, and buy beautiful, fresh looking, organic produce. The question we need to ask is just how fresh is this fruit or vegetable. If the sticker on a papaya says “Grown in Mexico”, this papaya was not picked yesterday. It was most likely picked weeks ago, maybe longer, shipped or flown to the states, trucked to the store and stored in the back of the market until it finally made its way to the produce shelf. This is NOT a fresh papaya. It is a known fact that a naturally occurring sugar in many fruits and vegetables, called mannose, drastically dissipates within 48 hours of harvest. Mannose comes from the word “manna”, a food that has been provided as sustenance. Mannose is one of the most important nutritive and therapeutic sugars, plays a major role in boosting the immune system, facilitates cellular interaction and can effectively remove harmful bacteria in the body. It is a crucial ingredient to transport the necessary nutrients throughout the body. Fresh picked food contains high levels of mannose, while modern processing delivers produce to the market devoid of mannose, as well as other vital phytonutrients. Compare eating a fresh picked papaya to one picked 3-4 weeks ago. The fresh picked papaya has intense color with more juice, flavor and life because the mannose is still present. Simply and sadly put: if the produce one ingests was not picked within 48 hours, one is essentially eating dead food. You are getting fiber and some carbs, but the true manna is gone. It has also been found that mannose deficiencies are connected to consumptions of processed foods.

When the oil crisis hit Cuba in 1991 after the Soviet Union collapse, along with subsequent embargo restrictions by the USA, the Cubans were forced to become creative. The people of Havana converted every vacant city lot into a garden. Before long, there was a fresh produce stand every 3 to 4 blocks. Walking and bicycling replaced driving cars. The end result was a healthier nation. Cuba now surpasses America on the United Nations list for the healthiest countries. And all those corner produce stands are still thriving.

Farmers markets have become increasingly popular in the last decade for good reason. We can taste and feel the difference in eating fresh food. This is sustainable food: food that supports, maintains, carries, helps, nurtures and sustains us. Why are we choosing to pay for dead food? Why are we not making it a priority to grow our own food at home, or becoming part of a city or community movement to turn vacant lots into gardens or create community gardens? We are choosing instead a lifestyle that supports ease and convenience while our health and vitality pay the real price.

We can take both organic and conventional supermarket food a step further to consider the costs involved to plant and harvest, the costs to package, the cost to transport as well as the sustainability of the packaging and transporting. We might choose to buy organic food, but do we question if the packaging has been made sustainably, can it be recycled or will it live 50 years in the landfill. If the organic food we purchase is being transported using gas or oil, then our purchase is contributing to the depletion of natural resources. There is also the statistic of the millions of pounds of food going to waste in transport and storage. We can save money, save waste, save our health and save resources by growing all our food locally.

We are a nation dependent upon the depletion of natural resources to sustain our modern lifestyle. We consume these resources for transportation, heating and cooling our homes and delivering dead food to our local supermarkets. The change to renewable energy will take time, but growing gardens can begin today in our backyard or community. This simple step can start Americans towards self-sustainable living. The benefits will bring a healthier country and planet, an increase in our vital connection to nature and true mindfulness of what it means to live a more sustainable life. We are only prolonging the inevitable by not taking this step. If it is true we are what we eat, then we need to start caring for who we are by caring for what we eat. It is truly time to go back to the garden.

 Inspiration from Cuba