Healthy Eating
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ANH article on Food provenance: Do you know where your food comes from & how it's produced?

ANH article on Food provenance: Do you know where your food comes from & how it's produced?

Do you know (or think about) where your food comes from? Do you know what country or region it originates from? Do you know if all the ingredients in it come from one place – or many? If it’s been subject to processing, where did that happen? Should you care?

Although food manufacturers might have us believe otherwise, food doesn’t just magically appear on supermarket shelves, in groceries, butchers or fishmongers. It comes from somewhere (and that’s rarely the place you’ve bought it). More often than not, especially for supermarket produce, there’s a complex supply chain involving multiple locations that is far from transparent. For some types of specialty foods, food provenance is clearly indicated in their marketing to help elevate a food’s status compared to those lacking such transparency.

In reality, most people think all that’s needed is to know the country of origin or place of a food’s manufacture. This is after all the only mandatory requirement relating to provenance for most foods, as evidenced by EU law in Articles 9(1)(i) and 26 of the Food Information for Consumers Regulation.

But what can be just as, or even more, important, is where and how our plant foods are grown, where and how our animal (including fish) foods are raised, and of course, where the ingredients in the ever-increasing amounts of multi-ingredient processed foods come from and where and how they’re processed. For many, this is the part of the supply chain that resembles a black, or at least deeply opaque, box.

In most cases, especially for foods not certified as organic, the food supply chain is far from transparent. Poor quality, nutritionally degraded ingredients often of unknown origin, contaminants, artificial ingredients and over-processing now make a significant contribution to morbidity in modern societies. As the food supply is increasingly globalised and commoditised, with healthcare systems buckling under the burden of largely preventable diseases, there’s never been a more important time to make the food supply chain transparent.

As major corporations shamelessly exploit society’s desire for low cost food, increasing globalisation and industrialisation of our food production systems have caused many to lose touch with traditional foods and farming methods. These hold the key to sustainable agro-ecosystems and resilient, sustainable healthcare. The best chance we have to avoid losing these systems to extinction is to maintain consumer demand for them. Box schemes, community supported agriculture schemes, farmers’ markets, food cooperatives and the farm gate still represent among the best ways of us getting our food, these channels generally emphasising local, regional, sustainable and often organic.

Our food is only as good as the food it eats!

Nature designed plants to grow in soil and cows to eat grass. It’s part of a trophic system involving plants, animals, soil, water, microorganisms and sunshine for millennia. The facts of the matter are, the majority of salad veg most people buy from supermarkets today has never seen a grain of soil – most being grown hydroponically. Most beef cattle and farmed fish are fed GMO maize, other grains and soya that are alien to their evolutionary history. The animals are raised under such intense conditions with inadequate nutrition that the animals’ immune systems are no longer able to do their thing – with antibiotics being routinely used in an effort to avoid the rampant spread of disease.

If a fruit or vegetable is grown in damaged or degraded soil low in organic matter and microorganisms, or in a less-than-ideal hydroponic system, it is likely to contain lower levels of phytochemicals than those grown in soils rich in nutrients and mycorrhizal fungi. The same principle applies to intensively reared animals that become stressed and unhappy in systems designed to produce the maximum yield at the lowest possible cost. Stress hormones flood the meat, which already contains a less than ideal essential fatty acid ratio impacting negatively on our bodies when we consume it.

The true cost of our food

We are becoming more and more disconnected from the sources of our food as producers or suppliers are often trying to find the quickest, cheapest way to produce what we eat and gain the maximum return. For most people, the food is produced or processed a great distance away from the point of consumption. That’s part of globalisation and it is catalysed by high demand for cheap food and an ever growing world population needing to be fed.

Rather than seeking fresh raw ingredients, we have become reliant on multiple ingredients from unknown sources being highly processed before they even reach us. A quick trip to the supermarket (or takeaway) provides neat little packets, tins and packages of what now passes for food. Many of which are laden with carcinogenic heterocyclic amines, pro-inflammatory advanced glycation end (AGE) products and multiple additives designed to prolong shelf-life and replicate the taste of the original raw foods.

It’s true many people appear unconcerned over how their food is produced, where it comes from or its nutrient value.Massive marketing budgets are expended on trying to convince us that major food producers are supplying us with food that’s ‘healthy’ and isn’t damaging the environment. This clever marketing is intended to wrap us in a warm glow of ignorance and insulate us against the reality of our industrialised food production systems.

But, you only have to look at the crisis many healthcare systems around the world are now facing alongside the significant increase in chronic disease, to see the impact of this. And it’s not just our health that’s being affected:

Overuse of water in areas of scarcity are leading to water poverty

Overfishing is pushing fish stocks to the point of collapse and impacting on local fishing communities

Globalisation of our food supply is seriously and negatively impacting the environment, increasing poverty among food producers and increasing dependence on the big agrifood conglomerates

Loss of natural habit and biodiversity from land clearance for farming/agriculture along with high use of pesticides and herbicides

High use of antibiotics driving the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria in animals, which can pass to humans

Increased food miles as food is grown and shipped globally

Environmental damage, pollution and nutrient depletion from chemical fertiliser and pesticide use

Plants and insects increasingly developing resistance to the chemicals designed to control/kill them

In order to sustain a healthy human population in the future we need to nurture and maintain sustainable, local/regional agroecological farming systems. Put simply – food is life, and living food, or food that was recently living, helps to sustain life. Another simple principle that is sometimes obscured by the non-transparent nature of the supermarket supply chain is that if the plants and animals we consume are themselves healthy we, the consumers, are also more likely to be healthy!

Take control of your food supply

Order a weekly vegetable, fruit and/or meat box containing soil-grown plant foods that are locally or regionally sourced

Help to protect your family from pesticides. Find out which foods are best to buy organic because they avoid potentially harmful residue levels

As far as possible source your foods from local producers to cut the distance your food has to travel and help you to eat seasonally

Follow our Food4Health guidelines to help you consume a diverse, nutrient rich diet

Select restaurants, where possible, that are clear about the provenance of their foods

Avoid supermarket foods that are non-transparent over the provenance of foods

Avoid multi-ingredient products where it is unclear where the ingredients originate from

Download a copy of the ANH-Intl ‘Top 10 tips to help you Eat Your Way to Better Health’

10 Replies

Hi Mel,

This is very interesting, it's also true as we take so many things for granted. We have real problems with magnesium deficiency and I read that over 50% of the population of some countries are magnesium deficient and thats because intensive farming techniques has depleted the soil.

Around 100 years ago Jethro Kloss was saying that in years to come our hospitals would be full of people because of what we eat, he wrote the Back to Eden books including a cook book.

Jerry 😊


I think it's more like 80% deficient in Magnesium Jerry. This is why I supplement Magnesium, as it's almost impossible to get from food nowadays, even organic, unless the farmer/grower has added Magnesium to the soil.


Thanks for pointing that out, its crazy that we have to supplement a basic micronutrient even when eating healthily. 😊

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Always best to get organic/soil grown food, Jerry .

By eating organic, the soil MUST be well maintained so the fruit & veg is commercially viable. It also generally tastes better, so the micronutrients must have an important part in that, too. :)

I couldn't find any information on that soy site re its toxicity to hypos, when unfermented. Looks like a good resource for people who can eat it, though I'd advocate only organic as so much soy is now GM & agri-chemical heavy & sneaked into foods as a protein filler & emulsifier such as lecithin.


ps A medjool date has 10% RDA of magnesium. They're low GI despite the high sugar content, so a good sustained energy food. :)

A few more Mg foods:

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Hi Dottie

Plants won’t grow properly without magnesium, growth would be stunted, leaves would have brown spots. Farmers test soil to find out what may be needed.

Unfortunately the drive to improve yields seems to have given us plants that may have less nutrients than in the past.


Great post BadHare! ;)

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Hi Mel,

I will hope to read this on the weekend - nearly midnight as I'm writing this now, and will look forward to catching up with your posts then - I can see there's a lot of info there. :-)

Zest :-)

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Hi Zest,

It's nothing new, with regard to previous posts, but good to have new sources!



Thanks for another interesting post Bad Hare. I’m assuming this is an American article?

Living in a farming community in the UK, I am in the unusual position of knowing where (most of) my food comes from. We try to eat seasonal, locally produced food. When it comes to magnesium, plants won’t grow healthily without it and we certainly wouldn’t eat them (stunted growth, leaves have brown spots etc).


You're welcome Penel!

As the title suggests, it's an international organisation, but based in Surrey.

My nearest greengrocers is two miles away, & isn't especially good. I'm envious of the wonderful food markets I've seen in rural towns in the South, though I can get veg box deliveries which are good, & sometimes unusual.

Interesting to know about magnesium & plants. I know some thrive on a sprinkle of epsom salts. :)


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