No sustained human community exists that isn’t inspired or led by students of natural history. Prehistoric humans knew that survival depended on paying attention. Natural history is the study and observation of plants and animals in their environment. Anyone who continually notices what improves the well-being of the community and then proceeds to share and document this knowledge within the community via folk-lore, cooking traditions, or actual record-keeping will steadily increase the success rate for their community. Fortunately, everyone has the ability to be a naturalist, simply think about what you have observed.

Screen Shot 2013-09-11 at 1.46.49 PMWho really knows what our far distant ancestors ate? Certainly those who lived in tropical forests ate something quite different from those who lived at the edge of intruding sheets of ice. If the beings we call Homo Sapiens go back a million years and the average generation is roughly 20 years, then we’ve got 50,000 generations of ancestors who came before us. Extensive reading formed my belief that evolution has allowed for great variability in the human diet. Paying attention to what we eat and finding what works best for our families matters. Remember—patterns in nature are all inter-related; what can be observed and learned in one area applies in others, not just the food we eat.

Evolution (some say God) gave us taste buds that have also helped us thrive. Deliciousness helps identify nutrient-dense foods: complex flavors indicated nutrient complexity!

CSA_boxToday, family farmers are our best naturalists. Notice who produce the most delicious foods and support them by buying their food at farmer’s markets, from Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), and from stores that promote local produce. We can avoid buying food that is the product of the suffering of animals.

The novels of my favorite writer, Barbara Kingsolver, broke barriers and many are now high school staples. I particularly enjoyed Prodigal Summer and Flight Behavior. As a graduate student in evolutionary biology (a fancy way of saying “naturalist”), she weaves fascinating science into all her stores.

Five years ago I read her non-fiction account of the year her family grew or locally bought (almost) all the food they ate locally. Barbara, her husband Steve, and Camille (Barbara’s older daughter) collaborated on the book about their adventure: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food. They had left their family home in the Tucson area to relocate in southern Appalachia, not too far from where Barbara had grown up.

Appalachian spans 10 states on the Eastern Seaboard. The complex of mountaintops, ridges, and hollows actually allows for few flat places to raise row crops. Barbara soon realized that living off the land would be quite difficult without eating meat. Chickens, turkeys, goats, and cattle can roam hillsides and grow well on the grasses and the insects in their environment. When domesticated animal breeds are part of the farm equation (in Appalachia or anywhere else), then far fewer fossil fuels are needed, and no prairies are plowed under to provide this high-quality food. Such breeds include an heirloom turkey recently brought back from near extinction, then raised and championed by Barbara’s family.

Holstein_Cow_(PSF)Farm animals, Kingsolver says, are part of a very complicated ecological farm equation, like those in the natural environment. She shared this powerful quote from Kahlil Gibran:

“When you kill a beast say to him in your heart: By the same power that slays you, I too am slain, and I too shall be consumed. For the law that delivered you into my hand shall deliver me into a mightier hand. Your blood and my blood is naught but the sap that feeds the tree of heaven.”

Plant and animal communities thrive together and decline when separated. Global veganism is unsustainable due to its over-reliance on fossil fuels, and cannot even be accomplished without significant detriment to animals. Barbara closes out her personal feelings on page 239 with this reflection:

“As meat farmers ourselves we are learning as we go, raising heritage breeds: the thrifty antiques that know how to stand in the sunshine, gaze upon a meadow, and munch… We are grateful these old breeds weren’t consigned to extinction during the past [wasteful] century, though it nearly did happen. Were it not for these farm animals that can thrive outdoors, and the healthy farms that maintain them, I would have stuck with tofu-burgers indefinitely. That wasn’t a bad life, but we’re also enjoying this one.”

Barbara’s family describes the sorrows and joys in their lives, which are all the more significant when your family is embedded in a community. Readers are riveted about whether the mama turnkey will hatch her babies. And, we learn a whole lot about wonderful food— how to find, grow, prepare, and preserve it; and why food is central to sustainable communities and a sustainable planet.

Most of us have succumbed to a corporate model of “eating for their profit,” This book shows how to eat for health. Portraits are offered of scrumptuous meals predominantly based on fresh vegetables, in all seasons, and using all methods (raw, sautéd, stewed, frozen, and even dried). Different nutrients are more available with certain prep methods. Cooked or raw, there is value in each.

Now let’s turn to The Urantia Book. Like many readers, I thought humans were meant to evolve away from meat consumption. While this may be true, I don’t think we can all safely attempt to avoid all food derived from animals or their labor over the course of just one or two generations. Surely we have all read these three consecutive paragraphs from Paper 66 on The Planetary Price:

66:5.3 Great advances were made in methods of food storage. Food was preserved by cooking, drying, and smoking; it thus became the earliest property. Man was taught to provide for the hazards of famine, which periodically decimated the world.

2. The board of animal domestication and utilization. This council was dedicated to the task of selecting and breeding those animals best adapted to help human beings in bearing burdens and transporting themselves, to supply food, and later on to be of service in the cultivation of the soil. This able corps was directed by Bon.

“Several types of useful animals, now extinct, were tamed, together with some that have continued as domesticated animals to the present day. Man had long lived with the dog, and the blue man had already been successful in taming the elephant. The cow was so improved by careful breeding as to become a valuable source of food; butter and cheese became common articles of human diet. Men were taught to use oxen for burden bearing, but the horse was not domesticated until a later date. The members of this corps first taught men to use the wheel for the facilitation of traction.”

“The Prince’s staff was organized into ten autonomous groups of ten members each, including the Council on Food and Material Welfare (whose tasks include the first paragraph quoted above), and the Board of Animal Domestication and Utilization (whose tasks include those of the other two paragraphs). Complete details are not given, but I’m guessing that the kind of food that was smoked, included fish and other protein sources from animals. There are many dozens of types of domesticated animals and hundreds of breeds: hogs and chickens are examples of types that are not mentioned which have many breeds. If cows were domesticated for milk, presumably the male animals were domesticated for meat. What else would they have done with them? In any case, for his major contribution to the future of family farms on our planet, I thank Bon and his Board.”

Which reminds me of this paragraph about Jesus and his Father’s family, from paper 126:

“At one time Jesus faintly hoped that he might be able to gather up sufficient means, provided they could collect the considerable sum of money due his father for work on Herod’s palace, to warrant undertaking the purchase of a small farm. He had really given serious thought to this plan of moving his family out into the country. But when Herod refused to pay them any of the funds due Joseph, they gave up the ambition of owning a home in the country. As it was, they contrived to enjoy much of the experience of farm life as they now had three cows, four sheep, a flock of chickens, a donkey, and a dog, in addition to the doves. Even the little tots had their regular duties to perform in the well-regulated scheme of management which characterized the home life of this Nazareth family.”

Even growing a few herbs in the kitchen of an apartment connects a person to the soil and raises food consciousness. Similarly does learning the names and attributes of the plants and animals in one’s neighborhood.

Some of us are old enough to recall fantasy stories of the future published in the 50’s and 60’s, which depicted “meals” composed of pills. That futuristic view isn’t much different from how many people actually start the day, with a smoothie and a handful of supplements. Our farming forbearers would never have believed their eyes. Enough people remember the old ways, and some of them are producing some fabulous books that share these old truths. We can regain lost ground. People have long thrived on nutrient dense foods, and they have suffered greatly when they lost their way. Keep reading, I have lots more information to share written by people who are paying attention.