Thursday, August 16, 2012

WHAT ARE YOU BURNING TODAY?

Early fall in New Hampshire means pickups on the road delivering cords of wood. They bring back fond memories of the years I heated an old house with a wood burning stove.  I loved the completeness of it -- doing everything from contacting the guy who cut the wood, to handling each piece as I stacked it, to filling my arms with logs when I came in the house, to rekindling the fire in the mornings so the kitchen would be warm when the kids got up. It was a lot of work, but I felt such a strong connection backward in time and to cultures all around the globe that it was worth it. It’s a feeling I also get by cooking local foods from scratch, and lately it’s occured to me that feeding a body is very similar to feeding a wood stove. 

If you own a wood stove in NH you’re on the lookout for vendors of maple, beech, or oak. Those are trees that grow slowly so their cells are small and tight making them burn long and slow as opposed to pine which grows fast, burns fast, and gums up your chimney with sap. Burning good wood is very similar to eating nutrient-dense whole foods. I think of this when I eat the organic vegetables I buy at the farmers’ market. It’s easy to imagine while eating carrots and eggplant how minerals and nutrients pulled from the soil are being transferred to my body. They’re like good wood in my stove, giving me energy and producing a clean burn.

There’s also homemade coffee cake at the farmers’ market. Cake is made from refined flour. Refined flour is to wheat as paper is to trees. Paper is made from trees, but it burns way too fast to be good fuel. Refined foods (cereals, breads, pastas) are the same. Because our bodies need to do very little to break them down, their nutrient value -- what little there is -- is quickly absorbed and then they are just waste for our bodies to get rid of -- like ash in our stoves. Too much ash is always a bad thing -- any wood stove owner will get mad if you start burning a bunch of paper in her stove!  

Sugar is also a very refined food and in liquid form (soft drink or juice)  it’s like lighter fluid -- a little goes a long way. Drinking a 20 oz. Coke is like standing in front of a fire and squirting a long stream of lighter fluid at it -- sure it’s fun, but it serves no useful purpose -- and don’t try it in anyone’s wood stove or you’ll be hauled off to the wood SHED.  

Then there’s packaged junk food and artificial sweeteners. They too have an analogy in the fire building metaphor. They would be called trash. When you put trash in a fire all kinds of things happen -- the flame changes color and jumps erratically; there’s nasty smoke; and it stinks. The waste it leaves behind is a molten glop.  Similar things happen to us when we eat non-food things (read some labels and you’ll see lots of ingredients you can’t call food). We get heartburn, agitation, allergies, insomnia, lethargy, or even more undesirable conditions such as chronic or life-threatening illnesses.

Just as you would replace pine and paper with maple, beech and oak for a clean and healthy-burning fire, if you suffer from any health problems, big or small, try replacing the sugar, refined foods, and artificial ingredients in your diet with whole foods from good sources. I assure you, you’ll notice a glowing improvement!

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