Whether you’re a proud carnivore or an accomplished vegan, you think about the food you’re putting in your body. From a juicy steak to a bowl of fresh-picked greens, you want the food you’re eating to be the best it can be. It should be fresh, flavorful, nutritious and nourishing. We take great pride in selecting food that checks these boxes. What we’re not often thinking about, however, is the food our food eats.
Sure, you might buy grass-fed beef at the store or eat only organic vegetables. But what does this mean in the context of your food? More than most people realize, actually. The food your food eats is important, because it determines the quality and nutrition of what you’re choosing to nourish yourself with.
Animal diets: what is your food eating?
When it comes to animal diets, you’re thinking about proteins. For most people, that breaks down into the following groups: beef, pork, poultry and fish. There are, of course, others like duck or bison. Whatever protein you gravitate to most often, think about the actual animal it represents: cows, pigs, chicken, salmon, etc. Then, consider what they eat.
This process is an important one to go through mentally, because it kickstarts the habit of thinking beyond what you’re eating. Did the ground beef you’re eating come from a cow that ate lush green grass or processed feed to fatten it up? Did your chicken eat whole grains or was it fed synthetic feed? These are important questions to ask, because whatever your food ate, you’re now eating it too.
Plant-based diets: the soil microbiome
It’s harder for most people to conceptualize what their food eats when they’re a vegetarian or vegan. What does lettuce eat? What do you feed mushrooms or carrots or kohlrabi? It’s harder to go back through the mental steps like you would in an animal diet. Instead, think about the soil and the growing conditions of these plants.
Did your radishes grow in nutrient-rich soil or were they exposed to nitrates, pesticides and engineered fertilizers? Did your pasta come from wheat that was constantly sprayed and dusted with herbicides and insecticides? Most important, was the soil nutritious and fertile or pumped full of nitrates to make it a more hospitable growing environment?
Plants absorb nutrients through their roots, which means the soil and everything in it are what your plant “eats.” A healthy soil microbiome leads to healthy food. Likewise, processed, treated soil will lead to artificial crops that carry chemicals and whatever else they’ve picked up along the way.
The less intervention, the better
If you haven’t figure it out so far, the act of thinking about what your food eats is an exercise in thinking sustainably. You should be eating food that’s had minimal human interaction or alteration. The more traceable and sustainable your food’s food is, the healthier and more nutritious your food will be.
This practice needs to lead to better habits if you want to see better outcomes. It might mean shopping at a farmer’s market for fresh produce rather than buying nationally-sourced mega crops from the grocery store. Or, it could mean visiting a butcher for fresh, farm-raised meat products. When you look for it, you’ll find there are healthy, sustainable options out there—food that’s seen less human interaction all the way back through the supply chain. The goal is as little human intervention as possible, farm-to-table.
Know what kind of food your food eats
The great news for conscious eaters is that it’s getting easier and easier to trace the origins of food. For vegetarians and vegans, you can likely find the farm your food was grown at—or you can even grow it yourself! For people open to animal diets, packaging standards will tell you if the meat is grass fed, antibiotic-free, free-range and more. By paying careful attention and doing just a little bit of investigative work, you can learn more about the food your food is eating.
The most important takeaway from all this is to be mindful of nutritional content. If your food is filled with nitrates, antibiotics, processed foods and synthetic chemicals, those things will eventually make their way into your body. If you’re eating clean to be healthier and stronger, it pays to know what your food is eating, too.