Dr Joon Yun, a physician at Stanford Department of Radiology and Palo Alto think-tank founder, suggests in his book Low-Stress Food that the way food is processed, cultivated, shipped and stored is a source of chronic stress for those who eat it.
You are what you eat
According to Yun, the unnatural stress imparted on animals and plants through industrialised food infrastructure has come full circle. And at the end of the day "you really are what you eat".
Insight into the role of chronic stress embedded in the food represents the first step in recognising how food can improve our mental and physical wellness. The association between food and health has generated recent interest in organic foods, local foods, "slow foods", vegetarianism, raw foods, natural foods and free-range meats.
Low-Stress Food represents a broader philosophy that good relationships with nature and each other is the foundation to building a better world.
Stressed out steak
"That well-manicured slab of meat may conceal a tortured upbringing, such as an early castration without the use of local anaesthetic, or being fattened up with an unhealthy growth hormone before getting slaughtered. It has to influence the animal," argues Yun.
This stress is then embedded in humans who eat the product.
Low-stress food also touches on issues of sustainability, animal rights and our treatment of the environment. The emphasis falls on outlawing GMO (genetically modified organism) in production methods and industrial farming, with the focus on biodiversity and seasonal produce. It also supports localism – cutting down on food miles and supporting the local argricultural infrastructure. Low-stress foods also rely heavily on creating stress-free environments for animals and appeal to the animal friendly practices of free-range and free-cage environments.
So how do you know, if the salmon on your plate had a happy life?
"If you look at wild salmon versus farmed salmon, the former is high in Omega3's and low in Omega6's and visa versa for the latter. A diet high in Omega6's increases heart attacks and all kinds of other afflictions," said Yun in an interview with Forbes magazine.
He concludes that fish (chickens, cattle etc) that live in crowded pens will be more stressed than wild fish, grass-fed beef and free range eggs.
Yun's theories are a bit harder to swallow on the fruit front. He argues that fruit starts stressing after its been picked about losing its nutrients. When picked it emits ethylene that promotes maturation and abscission.
Yun says that ethylene is the 'stress hormone of fruit' and the younger the fruit is picked the more ethylene it will emit. What it boils down to is that picking, mature fruit is happier, healthier and less stressed.
Food for thought at least!