The overly used motto, “from farm to fork” often refers to the idea of thinking more holistically about where our food comes from, how it is processed and how we cook and consume it. Or put more simply, what is produced on farm to what is consumed. Many often refer to this as the “agri-food value chain” or the (now interconnected global) food system.
But what happens AFTER the fork enters your mouth and the chewing and digestion begins? This to me, is the essence of nutrition or what I would call, and excuse the pun, the bottomline of the “value chain” being, poop. Yes I said it. Poop!
There has been so much focus internationally, on if and how we will produce enough food to feed the world through agriculture – from smallholder farmers to large scale american-type farms. And not only quantities of food, but safe, highly nutritious, good quality, and ethically grown/raised food that is accessible to everyone – of mice and men. There has also been a lot of talk of food distribution and transport costs, particularly related to the environment, thanks to the locavore movement. Processing, preservation and cooking is an obsession in the developed world with celebrity chefs, martha stewart and the gourmand movement. But what happens once those delicious morsels of organic, perfectly prepared, sustainable, enriched foodstuffs leave the highly sensitive tongue? Well, most do not care unless the “flush” becomes twenty as a consequence of a bad bout of food poisoning.
I should footnote that comment, as some are obsessed with analyzing the consistency of what stares back at them in the toilet bowl. But I digress. This, my friends, gets at the heart of the study of nutrition. The process of digestion from mouth to toilet is a complicated process but ultimately, one of vital importance.
Nutrition involves all the processes by which the body takes in, digests, absorbs, and uses food and how humans obtain raw materials from the environment and transport them into their cells. The cells metabolize these raw materials and synthesize structural components, enzymes, energy-rich compounds, and other biologically important substances, also known as nutrients. Sounds otherworldly and alien. But poop is kinda weird too. Take a beautiful cupcake and it goes through your body doing this and that, and you end up with some crap. Literally and figuratively.
The digestive system breaks down the food that is eaten into smaller particles that is usable and beneficial to us. Most of the food consists of complex organic molecules (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) which are broken down into simpler forms so they can be absorbed into the body. All of this magic happens inside the digestive tract. The digestive system consists of the alimentary canal, leading from mouth to anus, and several accessory organs whose secretions aid the processes of digestion. This breakdown of complex food constituents and their absorption is accomplished by the digestive system in five stages:
- Ingestion: Taking in of the food, its chewing and swallowing.
- Digestion: Conversion of complex food into a simpler absorbable form.
- Absorption: Absorbing digested food from the gut to reach the body tissues.
- Assimilation: Utilization of digested food nutrients by the body tissues.
- Egestion: Removal of undigested and unabsorbed food from the body.
An adequate diet provides sufficient energy as well as adequate supplies of essential nutrients to support growth, repair, and maintenance of tissues, whereas malnutrition is poor nutrition that results either from a lack of essential nutrients or a failure to utilize them. Malnutrition may result from undernutrition or overnutrition. Primary undernutrition usually involves insufficient carbohydrates, proteins, fats or micronutrients. Secondary undernutrition is poor digestion and dehydration caused by gastrointestinal infections or other disease. People suffering from primary undernutrition are often more susceptible to infectious diseases resulting in further secondary undernutrition.
So when thinking of the entire food chain, or food system, don’t exclude us humans in the process. And god damn it people, when you go number two in a public restroom, can you at least have the decency to flush please?