The Permaculture Diet (Part 1): How it started. An Ethical Diet. Health Benefits. Community.

This started as a bit of a tongue-in-cheek response to being called “Dr. Permaculture” for the hundredth time. Every celebrity doctor has a diet plan, I thought, so why not embrace my new moniker and create a diet program to go along with it! I posted it on Facebook about a month ago (see image above). Well, what started as a joke has been marinating in my mind over the last few weeks. I realized that when you apply the Ethics of Permaculture to anything, even in jest, the result is going to be something true and maybe even profound.

As an experiment, I decided I would try following my own diet plan for one week. I am on day number 4, and I have had numerous thoughts and revelations about the Permaculture Diet so far. But first, let me start with some general observations…

Ethical Diet
The Permaculture Diet is an Ethical Diet. It does not specify what foods to eat, but rather guides our decisions on selecting the source of our food. By applying the Ethics of Permaculture (Earth Care, People Care, and Return of the Surplus) to our decisions on food, we can lay the groundwork for an ethical diet plan.

For more information on the Ethics of Permaculture, please read my articles here:
Permaculture EthicsThe Third Ethic… it’s time to identify the mutationIdentify the Permaculture Mutation (Part 2)

There are a number of ethical diets in the world today, but from what I can ascertain, they all deal with religion. There are a number of semi-ethical diets that people embrace. Eating “organic” or vegetarian or vegan and even fruitarian are a few examples. I call these semi-ethical, because they are often attempting to counter what is wrong with our modern diet or with modern agriculture. In my opinion, a true ethical diet is one that starts off with neutrality to eating, develops ethical guidelines, then identifies how our eating is influenced by these ethics. With that strict definition, I think only religious diet regulations would fall into this category.

Eating “certified organic” food also may do little to promote sustainability. There are USDA Certified Organic farms that are thousands of acres. While these megafarms are not using chemicals that harm the environment, they are far from sustainable. It is healthier for the land and produces better food, but we should be clear that organic farming is not necessarily ethical just by sheer virtue of being “organic”.

Eating vegetarian also may do little to promote sustainability. One can eat completely vegetarian or vegan and only consume food produced in a very environmentally poor, chemically sprayed, non-sustainable manner. This may be ethical to the animals, if that is your moral world-view, but it is not ethical to the Earth.

So in reality, a style of eating is not alway ethical. There must be something deeper that guides it. What we have with the Permaculture Diet is a set of ethics that are neutral to eating. These ethics were not created by me, but I firmly endorse them. The ethics are a way toward true sustainability.

Health Benefits
By its nature, an ethical diet does not guarantee health. It is not a prescription for eating or not eating any one particular food. This is important to keep this in mind, and this is true with almost any diet program. Vegetarians can eat sugar and white potatoes all day long and be very unhealthy while never breaking the vegetarian rules. While I have never seen it this extreme, I have seen a number of very unhealthy vegetarians (and to be honest, a lot more unhealthy non-vegetarians). They are very devout in their beliefs, but their health is failing. It takes more than just ethics to be healthy.

Well then, can an ethical diet have health benefits? Let’s examine this. Step One of the Permaculture Diet is: Produce all your own food in a way that cares for the Earth and for People. The first part, “Produce your own food” has many health benefits. When we produce our own food, we have a vested interest in the quality of that food. We care more about it. We are more mindful, more careful, and more intentional. We are more likely to harvest food at its peak and consume it before it loses nutritional quality sitting in a boat, plane, or truck, or on a grocers shelf. We are going to pay more attention to soil quality, which will provide more nutrient dense food. We require less food when it is nutrient dense (as opposed to still feeling hungry when we consume many calories of nutrient-poor food) which means less total calorie consumption. When we are producing our own food, we are outside, we are exercising, we are in nature. All of these things are also correlated with good health.

The second part, “in a way that cares for the Earth and for People” also has health benefits. Again, if we are being mindful of people, we are going to be significantly less inclined to douse the food in chemicals before we eat it. If we are being mindful of the Earth, we are not going to be destroying ecosystems to build fields of monocropped species. We will build the soil. We will build ecosystems. We will build systems that moderate water instead of promote flood and drought cycles. When we care for the Earth in a truly sustainable manner, we will be caring for People at the same time. These two concepts are synergistic, not oppositional, to each other. When we are producing food in this manner, it is healthier for us.  When we live in a healthy environment, we are healthier as well.

Step Two of the Permaculture Diet is: If you cannot complete Step One, then get to know the people who produce all your food, and make sure they are caring for the Earth and for People. By supporting these producers, we are promoting all the benefits as outlined above for ourselves as well as the producer and others who purchase from them. We are helping to build healthier communities. Healthier communities will promote and maintain healthier individuals.

Step Three of the Permaculture Diet is: If you cannot complete Steps One and Two, then don’t eat. This step serves two functions. The first is fasting. Fasting has traditionally been a religious exercise, and while not all that enjoyable at first, fasting has numerous health benefits. We do know that fasting is not a healthy way to lose weight, but there are a number of studies that suggest fasting can increase lifespan, aid in detoxifying the body (protects/repair the liver and assists with filtration), improve chronic diseases, and may reduce inappropriate inflammatory and immune responses in our body. There are also a number of other claims made about fasting which have not yet been validated by modern science. Obviously, if a person is pregnant, malnourished, or very sick, they should not fast. The second function of this step is motivation. If we are dedicated to following this plan, then skipping a few meals is a pretty good motivation to keep gardening and/or to find a person producing ethical food.

Again, Step Two of the Permaculture Diet is: If you cannot complete Step One, then get to know the people who produce all your food, and make sure they are caring for the Earth and for People. By supporting ethical producers, we are enabling that producer to keep producing. This is an important thing to understand. While many of us would like to be completely self-sufficient, it is almost impossible to do so. We need others in many ways, but especially for our food. Every time we eat, we are make a choice of who to support. I see so much inconsistency in people who are against genetically modified foods or monoculture agriculture systems or “big ag”, but they continue to eat breads and cereals which support these systems. If we chose to support only those people who are producing food in an ethical manner, then we are returning our surplus back into the sustainable systems (the Third Ethic of Permaculture), and this will keep the cycle going. It will make it easier for other motivated food producers to make a living producing food in this ethical manner. When we choose to give our money to those who are not-sustainable, we are delaying that change, we are promoting the status-quo.

Permaculture’s originally meaning was for Permanent Agriculture, but it quickly grew to include Permanent Culture. By supporting those who are producing ethical food, we are building community, we are building permanent culture. We are building sustainability.


(check back soon for The Permaculture Diet, Part 2: The diet in practice)

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