By George Giltner,  Master Gardener, Beauregard Parish, LA

You’ve seen the phrase “Feed the Soil, not the Plant” in many sustainable Ag articles.  Actually there is an abundance of biology to back-up this statement.  Essentially when you “Feed the Soil” naturally, you add organic matter to the soil which allows the microbes and larger forms of life to flourish. These organisms break down the organic matter into useable minerals and nutrients for our vegetables. What we really want to do is to “Feed the Soil to Feed Ourselves”.

Many beneficial events take place after composted organic matter is added to soil.   The result is healthy, nutrient rich plants. The perfect “slow release fertilizer” is actually produced overtime as soil life consumes and “poops” organic wastes.  Worms, termites, springtails, and other larger forms of life aerate the soil, allowing gases to be exchanged.  The tunnels provide nutrient rich pathways for new roots to form and for water to flow.  The microbes are responsible for the desirable crumb structure and rich earthy smell of black humus topsoil.  Most plants form beneficial relationships with fungi and actinomycetes that extensively expand the plant roots access to bio-nutrients and minerals.

Fresh organic matter must be composted first, or at least thinly laid on top of the soil.  If fresh grass is mixed into the soil, microbe levels will explode and will “tie-up” nutrients that would be otherwise go to plants.  This is done when cover crops are plowed under, but time is allowed for the tied-up cycle to be completed before crop plants are added.

Crops that are planted in a complete black humus soil are nutrient rich.  With large expansive root systems and accompanying symbiotic fungi and bacteria, plants can widely and deeply reach ample supplies of the 18 essential minerals for nutritious plant growth.  Compare this number with a typical commercial fertilizer that supplies only a few elements like nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and some sulfur, plus a few undesirable contaminants.  Acid fertilizers, rainwater leaching, and harvests, lead to numerous mineral depletions, especially in low-capacity mineral holding soils.  Therefore recycled kitchen waste, leaves, deep rooted grass hay, manures, rock minerals, oil seed meals, etc. make excellent compost material for a wide variety of replacement nutrients in compost.

Without healthy soil to nourish plants, they are unable to manufacture optimal levels of vitamins.  One report showed that packs of sliced green beans had only 11% of the vitamin C on the label.  As one of grandmother’s antique cookbooks (A. P .Hill, 1867) wrote “It cannot be questioned that articles originally good and wholesome derive a poisonous character from changes taking place in their composition.”  This was before refrigeration.  However the precipitous drop in nutrition and flavor after picking, and the fact that most grocery store vegetables are grown on poor soil, picked before they are ripe, and then travel the world in cold storage, reducing nutrition and flavor more – helps explain why so many kids and even adults won’t eat vegetables.  Smell is better than sight in choosing freshness.

Fruits and vegetables are bred and engineered for eye appeal in supermarkets without regard for nutrition. It is more difficult to purchase nutritionally rich foods, than at any time in recent history. Our bodies are just not genetically geared to handle the large quantities of sugar and vegetable oils, which compose many grocery-store foods like processed foods, fast food, junk food, and soda.  No wonder the health of our population has declined, and health care costs are sky-rocketing.

Without vitamin and mineral-rich plants for animals to graze on, they can’t add the chemical and nutritional complexity we have evolved to depend on.  Between 1930 and 2002, iron content in meat had dropped an average of 47%, in milk 60%, with lesser declines in calcium, copper, and magnesium. Animals that are raised humanely and pastured with available minerals are best.  These are raised by area farmers and are more available in local meat markets instead of the big chains. Ask for origin.

Another very important aspect of obtaining the most benefit from nutrient concentrated meat is in the cooking.  Think of meat like a chain that is called protein polypeptides.  A gentle, moist heat cuts just enough to break long protein lengths of the meat into peptide segments.  As long as the meat stays moist, the peptide lengths stay aligned and separate.  However if the meat dries or goes above 170 degrees in dry air, the peptide segments curl and bend to create tangles and crosslinks (unbreakable bonds form with amino acids in other chains, with sugar, and with fats).  These overcooked reactions create toxins (aromatic hydrocarbons and cyclic amines) that are classified as carcinogens.  Other molecular types can damage your kidneys or blood vessels.  Over-cooked meat is tough due to its “hair-ball” entanglement of fats, protein, and sugar molecules that destroys savory flavor.  It is reduced nutritionally, stringy and chewy.

A slow cooker is the ideal kitchen device to make meat taste succulent, juicy, and complex.  Just think of a Thanksgiving meal.  The best way to cook any meat is slow with a low temperature. Cooking muscle, tendon, bone, fat, skin, and blood form delicious complex flavors which salivate our genes, and fill the kitchen with eager feast participants.  Moisture, time, heat, and different meat parts allow a cold and flavorless turkey leg to turn into a complex diversity of delicious flavor (by hydrolytic cleavage, water sniping bonds between long chain food molecules).

In terms of flavor and nutrition of the big bird, or other meat cooked with skin, ligament tissues, and bone, slow cooking turns an ordinary meal into an extraordinary meal.  Three famous members of nutritional supplements for joints, glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and hyaluronic acid are released by slow cooking.  Amino acids and sugars are cleaved from peptide chains of meat. The fat is a major building material for cells. It enables fat-soluble nutrients, A, D, E, and K to be absorbed. Mineral salts are released from bone and cartilage as well as the meat itself.  Calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and chloride ions and possibly iron and sulfate are synergistically detected by our taste buds.  Overcooking traps these substances in an indigestible matrix of biopolymers as the meat dries out.  You only taste and your body can only use minerals and molecules that are free and available.

If you are confused about the chemistry on the side label of processed food like spinach dip, stay with natural ingredients of homegrown, nutrient-rich food.  From soil to body, our ancestors have utilized minerals and nutrients in a different chemical format than they are in modern deficient diets.  High levels of sugar and modified oils have caused a lower level of health in our nation.  Healthy soil to tasty and healthy food is only a matter of choice.  Explore gardening and nutrition for a healthy life-style.

3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Nice explanation George

  2. 2

    John Rabb said,

    Very good article. I appreciate the explanation of nutrition associated with the way we grow and cook our food. Thank you

Comment RSS · TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: