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Graham Harvey Book and Novel

Graham Harvey - Author

Graham Harvey is an author and scriptwriter. His books include The Killing of the Countryside and The Forgiveness of Nature - the story of grass.

Below is a Q & A with this author.

Are you saying fresh foods aren’t healthy?
Fresh foods grown on fertile soils should be among the finest foods you can eat. Unfortunately many soils have been damaged by years of intensive, chemical farming. This means the crops they grow don’t always contain the nutrients they used to.

What nutrients in particular?
Essential minerals are often present at lower levels than they ought to be. Minerals – sometimes referred to as trace elements – are required in very small amounts, but they are essential to health. One recent study showed that minerals such as magnesium, iron and calcium are now at much lower levels in vegetables than they were 50 years ago.

Does this matter?
Some experts say it doesn’t. They claim we rely on other foods such as meat and fish for the bulk of our mineral intake. But historic studies of healthy peoples around the world showed that their daily intakes of vitamins and minerals were many times higher than in our modern diets. Therefore it must make sense to maximise our intake of these nutrients from all sources.

If we don’t rely on fresh vegetables for minerals why are these foods said to be good for us?
Plant foods contain a huge range of biologically-active compounds that play a key role in maintaining health. Together they are known as phyto-nutrients. Many minerals are required by plant cells to make these compounds, so if mineral levels are low there’s a good chance that the plant will be depleted in a whole range of other health-protecting substances.

Does this include vitamins?
It may do. The vitamin levels of many everyday foods are depleted because of the way they’re grown. For example, the wheat used in everything from bread to breakfast cereals ought to be rich in vitamin E plus vitamins of the B-complex. But many commercial wheat crops are grown on soils damaged by heavy inputs of chemical fertilizer and are sprayed with a battery of pesticides and growth hormones. This kind of treatment does nothing to enhance the vitamin content of the final product.

How about animal products – milk, for instance?
Milk and dairy products like butter and cheese ought to be high on our list of healthy foods. Properly produced they contain a huge range of health-giving nutrients such as vitamins – particularly the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and E – minerals, and essential fats such as omega-3s the cancer-fighting CLA. But to provide these nutrients in substantial amounts, the dairy cow needs to spend much of her life on pasture, the natural food for cattle. Under the current economic system it has paid farmers to take their cows off pasture and keep them in sheds for much of the year, feeding them on unsuitable foods such as grain and soya meal. This modern style of management has seriously eroded the nutritional value of milk and dairy products.

Is modern beef any better?
Unfortunately it’s a similar story. For healthy beef, cattle need to be fed mainly on fresh grass, or - in winter – on hay or silage made from clover-rich pastures. But many are fed large amounts of grain and soya producing meat that is laden with far less healthy fat.

You make it sound as though modern farming is a disaster?
In Britain the subsidy system has led farmers to produce the wrong kinds of food in the wrong ways. They’ve been paid to produce as much as possible with insufficient regard to food quality. As a nation we’re now paying the price in ill health.

Isn’t it enough to buy organic food?
Not if you want the very best nutrition. Organic farmers use no chemical fertilizers or pesticide sprays, and are more likely to take care of their soils. However, there’s no guarantee that organic produce will be richer in health-giving nutrients than other good farming systems. When you don’t know the origins of farm foods, organic provides a basic safeguard. But for the healthiest foods you need to look further. For example, the healthiest milk comes from cows grazing fertile grassland for most of their productive lives. The rules on organic milk production don’t require that cows are kept mostly on pasture.their crops will be well mineralised – there could be a structure.

Are you saying the poor farming practises are responsible for a lot of the country’s chronic ill health?
No, but they contribute to it. Food processors are responsible for stripping out many essential nutrients in their drive to sell us convenience foods and snacks. Consumers also play their part by failing to make sensible food choices. But even notorious fast food such as burgers and pizzas could be a lot healthier if the quality of raw materials going into them were higher. And that’s got a lot to do with how they’re produced on the farm.

Is there any realistic chance of changing things?
There’s every chance. It would only take a relatively few people to start asking questions in their local supermarkets about how their foods are produced. Things could change very quickly. The supermarkets are very responsive to what they see as emerging consumer trends.

And how would things change on the farm?
We need to see what a retired farmer once described as “a return to quality”. There’s no magic about it. It’s basically a return to traditional farming which seems to be far better at feeding people well than the industrial, “commodity” approach. Farmers need to start producing “nutrient-rich” foods instead of the dumbed-down, mass-produced stuff they supply now.

So there are tough times ahead for farming?
Changing direction is never easy, but producing healthier food will give most family farmers a brighter future than the present system of “commodity” foods. The current struggle to produce everything at rock-bottom prices will drive most farmers out of business, leaving just a few big players. A policy of producing healthy, quality foods will secure the future for family farms and not just a handful of industrial producers.

Featured Books, with extracts, by Graham Harvey

We Want Real Food by Graham Harvey
We Want Real Food
Graham Harvey
I am of an age where I can remember mutton, remember pork tasting special, remember chicken having a flavour, remember when our farm animals were fed from land rich in nutrients and minerals and our fruit and vegetables burst with...
Format: Paperback - Released: 23/02/2006

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