Unit Overview - The learners will be encouraged to understand the concept of cosmic and earthly nutrition in plant, animal and human beings. They will be introduced to quality assessment of food and nutrition and the relationship of food quality with contemporary agricultural methods, food preparation and processing methods. They will research patterns of food consumption in relation to health and well-being and reflect on their own food consumption.
1.1 Describe the concept of cosmic and earthly nutrition
The ideas that Steiner put forward in regard to 'Cosmic Workings in Earth and Man (on nutrition) were set out on the 23rd September 1923. These ideas were focused around the 'general question of nutrition and its relation to the spiritual world'
It is also important to point out the very strong bond between the practices involved in Biodynamic growing and ultimately nutrition. In Biodynamic growing of vegetables the purpose is to work to enhance the life forces of the plant so that in time these life forces can provide cosmic nutrition to the human being
"The plant, as we saw, has a physical body and an ether body, while up above it is hovered around, more or less, by a kind of astral cloud. The plant itself does not reach up to the astral, but the astral so to speak hovers around it. Wherever it enters into definite connection with the astral &as happens in the fruit formation, something available as foodstuff is produced, that is to say, something which will support the astral in the animal and human body 'Lecture 8 Steiner 1928'
The plant works as it were upside down within the human being. 'The root has most in common with our head, the stem and the leaft with our middle area and the fruit and flower with our digestive system and our arms and legs'
On this basis nourishing the head involves eating the root eg the carrot. For the lungs and blood circulation eat lettuce and for the energy to move around eat grains.
1.2 Describe the course of the digestion from food into nutrition
What happens when you eat something?
Food enters the mouth where it is chewed and swallowed. The food comes into the stomach, from there into the intestine and then into the bowel and out of the body. The key to the change of a foodstuff into human nutrition happens in the intestines. On average there are 30 metres of intestine. The food - now substantially broken down - passes through the wall of the intestine and comes out on the other side as human substance.
There are two parts to every vegetable, there are physical parts but there are also the life forces of the vegetable. The point is that the carrot is born from a seed, grows and then dies - so it has a life and when the carrot is eaten it is the role of the life forces within the human being to 'digest' the life forces of the carrot. So we take in high quality food to make our life forces strong.
1.3 Describe the role of the main constituents of food stuffs from a spiritual scientific perspective
Protein: abdominal organs
Fats: heart and blood vessels
Carbohydrates: lungs, throat, palate
Salts (Minerals) head
2.1 Describe a method for quality assessment of food stuffs
In this section I will look specifically at the produce that we have grown at Eyam Edge Farm over the last two seasons. This food is produced for the kitchens at Brantwood School and the food service for students now at Eyam Edge where attending numbers have grown significantly this academic year.
I will include photographs of the vegetables.
The following shows a range of harvested products grown at the site. All of the crops shown would pass visual tests and do not show disease or have signs of damage from pests. The parsley crop was particularly healthy and stayed looking good for a long period through the winter.
Below cabbages with the nets temporarily removed. Cabbages can be adversely affected by cabbage white caterpillars eating the leaves. The netting has prevented this and the heads have developed very nicely since this photograph was taken.
The cabbages have been a particularly good crop at Eyam this year
Attention to quality is paramount. Who wants to eat substandard products? If the visual appeal and taste of the product is not the number one concern then we are devaluing the method of production. Great care and attention must be lavished on the product and this takes time, energy, skill, expertise and passion. Inspired by the work of the team at High Riggs and powered by their ability to raise high quality plants from seed and propagation I have have been a beneficiary of their plants and the results have been tremendous. Undoubtedly this has benefited the nutritional value of the food that our students enjoy.
2.2 Assess the attention to quality in the principles and practice of a local food enterprise.
Standards need to be extremely high in the production of vegetables for sale. It hardly needs to be stated that poor quality produce would lead to a loss of orders and sales and a loss of customers. Furthermore, reputational damage is virtually impossible to repair. In a veg box scheme, customers would probably tolerate a couple of substandard veg boxes, but would cancel after that and never restart. Word of mouth in this regard would negatively impact on future customers.
There is goodwill in abundance for a social enterprise with high quality produce, acting in concert with therapeutic principles with students with special educational needs. However, the product is king, and if it is substandard then poor results will follow.
So reliable produce, reliable deliver times, and positive interactions between customer and client are absolutely critical.
2.3 Describe the possible effect that biodynamic agricultural methods have on the nutritional quality of food stuffs
Biodynamic practices are believed to work to enhance the life forces of the plant which in their turn provide cosmic nutrition to the human being who eats the food. The whole phiolosophy of the planting calendar is to link the planetary movements in the cosmos to the development of the plant. Similarly, the use of the biodynamic preparations, either as field sprays or as compost enhancing preparations are skillfully used to influence the connection between the plant and the cosmos.
It is clear that a variety of methods and techniques are used to produce food. However, not all methods produce the same quality and it is certainly the case that some methods are inferior to others. Furthermore, some growing methods make use of pesticides and artificial fertiliser in order to increase profits. But is the quality of food produced in this way as high? I would suggest not.
I am highly engaged by the idea of crops grown without the use of pesticides and artificial fertiliser. Who knows what effects these chemicals have on the crop, the surrounding environment and the delicate balance of the eco system? Indeed there are very well documented cases of such chemicals being banned, because years after they were introduced their long term effects have had harmful consequences on the environment.
A visual inspection is the first aspect in the assessment of quality. 'The first bite is with the eye...'
The 'taste test' is a perfectly valid second indicator of the quality of the crop. It has been in use for many centuries and it gives us a fine indication of the quality of the product. It is a natural human response to use all the human senses to assess a vegetable or fruit. From an evolutionary perspective this is how we have survived.
Shelf life is another key test. Does the lettuce immediately wilt upon picking? Or does it stand firm in the fridge for a number of days? How long is it since the crop was harvested? This is a known factor in a market garden or home grown situation - but certainly not clear with supermarket sold produce.
There are other scientific methods that can be used to assess the nutritional value of food. These might include nutritional analysis through laboratory testing, the breaking down of foodstuffs into constituent parts. Through such methods the vitamin content can be discerned as well as how various other nutritional values, mineral content and such can be assessed. Furthermore, experiements in capillary chromatography can be carried out.
There are many possible effects that different agricultural methods have on the nutritional quality of food stuffs. Let us consider some of the following techniques:
There are numerous companies using hydroponic solutions to the growing of salds, tomatoes and other crops. By this technique, the soil is ignored, and plants are grown being fed by chemically enhanced water based feeds. Using such methods, growers are able to influence factors such as sweetness in the tomato, bitterness in the salad leaf, and numerous other factors to 'tweak' the flavour of the crop. Is this necessary? Or is it a byproduct of producing crops for profit rather than quality? Advantages of these methods may include the reduction of pests in sterile growing environments and sterile growing mediums, but is this worth the trouble?
Artificial chemicals and fertilisers have been used since the second world war to boost yields and reduces losses, but the soil dies and the micro organisms so essential for healthy crop production are stripped away by the chemicals which lay waste to the micro organisms in the soil.
Even growing underground has been trialled, winning BBC food awards for innovation but at what cost? LED lighting mimics the correct light wavelengths of the sun and abandoned London Underground tunnels have been utilised. Quirky but unpleasant notions based around 'local' production winning hearts and minds iin the metropolis.
Growing under artificial light is more and more popular, photosynthesis by LED light.
For me, organic or biodynamic are the preferred systems, using as they do real compost to enhance the energy and nutrients in the soil. It feels right and it produces excellent results.
Onion crop drying at Eyam.
Supermarkets, the vast conglomerates that have come to dominate the food shopping scene are a very pernicious force that has had a huge impact on the production and sale of food. Aquaponics, monoculture, an obsession with standardised products and a ruthless pursuit of 'quality' has led to the throwing away of vast toms of 'wonky' vegetables that do not meet technical specifications. Growers try to operate on larger and larger scales to make a bit of money, but the true value of well grown vegetables has been forgotten, and the resultant effects on human nutrition and health from these practices are as yet unknown and unquantifiable.
3.1 Evaluate your own practice of food consumption
My goal is to eat only the food that I can discern the origin of. In a perfect world, food that I have seen planted, grown and harvested. With meat, I want to know what the animal has been fed, what drugs have been used in its lifetime, what environment the animal has lived in and what the welfare standards are like.
In reality its not that easy. Cost must be considered. Chicken nuggets come from Vietnam... What are the food standards? Growth hormones are commonly used to accelerate the growth of beef cattle to improve yields... What effects do these have on human health?
Any type of takeaway food will be made with battery farmed chicken. Any type of meal out will usually be formed from the cheapest ingredients. Even certification schemes like RSPCA Red Tractor label have been shown to be inaccurate and poor indicators of quality.
So we return to the facts. Unless you have seen the origin of the food, and you trust the supplier... Do not buy and do not eat! If you can produce the meat or vegetables yourself then all the better. Millions of people are unable to do this, and the cost of high quality organic or biodynamic food is prohibitive to most.
3.2 Evaluate patterns of food consumption within a given group
There is a huge issue with children and the food that they live off. In particular the children at Brantwood School have a range of dietary habits that are not doing them good. Processed foods are generally accepted to be worse for you nutritionally than meals made from scratch with good quality ingredients. Many students eat cheap processed foods. Many children fail to eat food stuffs that are high in the vitamins needed for healthy development. Many children have an over dependence on sugar or carbohydrates. The balance between vegetables and proteins may be wrong. Even chemical sweeteners which we currently applaud because they replace sugar, may have health implications that we are yet to discover.
3.3 Suggest simple measures to improve your consumption of healthy food
As mentioned above this is very simple. Only eat the food that you understand the provenance of. Try to buy locally. Try to grown your own. Try to avoid cheap cuts served in cheap outlets.
Meal planning is a useful way to improve the consumption of healthy foods. Meal planning can reduce waste.
Using fresh seasonal food is always going to provide the best quality and nutrients in comparison to produce flown in from abroad or food that was harvested long ago. It is an unfortunate fact that many of the vegetables that are grown commercially for supermarkets have been bred with shelf life in mind. The longer the product can last, the more profitable it is for the supermarkets.
Facts state that as much as one third of food we buy is thrown away. This is often connected to supermarket selling practices such as 'buy one get one free' which seek to persuade people to perhaps purchase food that they do not need.
Avoiding fast food and takeaways is always going to be a good thing. This is because such foodstuffs often contain the cheapest quality ingredients - such as poor quality or imported chicken - as well as chemical flavour enhancers such as MSG.
4.1 Engage the RMT student in quality aspects of food processing
Throughout the time I have been at Eyam, developing the horticulture area the harvesting of our produce alongside the student has been one of the most rewarding experiences. It is something that I like to build into the structure of the day for every student. Whilst we do not pack and process in quite the same way as at somewhere like High Riggs the attention to quality is always important and when the food is sent back to the kitchens at school it needs to be presented well and look good enough to eat!
© Brantwood Specialist School
Created by Jim Hildyard