A Story & A Permaculture Principle

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The fourth permaculture principle has been on my mind lately. 

It seems pertinent, since this is January, the month of resolutions. I prefer “apply self regulation and accept feedback” to making a list of goals and aspirations. Why not begin by collecting some feedback, addressing issues already present, rather than adding something new?

You can read here about how David Holmgren applies the concept in classical permaculture. One way it can be applied in gastronomic permaculture is being aware of your own self and applying due self regulations.

If you like, you can read more about the permaculture principles and how we apply them to gastronomy


That sounds rather abstract and clinical. So, I’ll tell you a story. It’s my story. (It has a happy ending, I promise.)

Two years ago, in January no less, I started having pain in my chest after ever time I ate. The only way I can describe it is that it felt as if food was getting stuck en route to my stomach. It wasn’t heartburn. It baffled everyone, including myself. Neither the family doctor nor the gastroenterologist could come to any solid conclusion. The suspected perpetrators: stress, acid reflux, gastroparesis, or something wrong with my various internal organs (liver, kidney, etc.). None of the EKGs, blood tests or ultrasounds I had yielded any answers. I even had a test in which I ate eggs cooked with radioactive (but harmless) compounds so that they could be monitored as they moved through my gastrointestinal system. After months of visiting hospitals and doctor’s offices we still had no clue what was wrong with me.

I experimented with my eating habits and found that easily digested foods – white flour muffins, smoothies, soups, banana, yoghurt – didn’t cause pain the way denser foods did (and that’s what happened to be the cornerstone of my diet): i.e. oatmeal, raw vegetables, apples, nuts. That was something. To a degree, I learned to manage my symptoms. Then emotional gobbledegook started cropping up: I knew I wasn’t thinking clearly, I got weepy, I was morose.

The gastroenterologist was bemused. After a slue of testing he could give me no certain answers and there were no more test to schedule. 

But I was doing research and my mother was doing research. Somehow, we both hit upon the idea that I might not be getting enough vitamin b12 in my diet. By that point in time, I was very nearly a vegan, having cut out fish a few months before. I was consuming zero sources of b12, which is necessary for brain, nervous system and blood health. 

Within several weeks starting to take 1000mg of b12 a day all of my symptoms cleared up. I was eating normally, sans pain, by the beginning of the next semester.

I visited my family doctor again a few months ago and mentioned that I was taking a b12 supplement and that my gastro problems had vanished. She asked which doctor had figured that out. No doctor, I said. I figured that out myself. (And I must admit it was rather satisfying to tell her so.) Never at any point had a doctor considered nutrition; despite all the tests I had, my vitamin and mineral levels were never checked. I now take b12 daily and recently added vitamin d (after more research and a blood test). 


I’ve been recalling this incident recently. Because I listened to my body – accepting the (unpleasant) feedback it was giving me – and communicated what I heard to my mother, I figured out how change what I was doing – applying regulation – and solve my problem on my own.

Similarly, when we were talking not long ago, Tim explained how he’s aware of how different liquids affect his perception. I’ve never heard such an in depth analysis of why and why not to drink certain beverages. For him, coffee and some teas increase how much information he can take in and the clarity of that information. Less so with peppermint tea. He said when he’s at school he sometimes consumes less caffeine than when he’s at home because his college is in a busy town – there’s more to take in then when he’s at home in the country. 

And lately, here in the depths of a Pennsylvania winter, I’ve noticed my energy levels have decreased. Or perhaps I’m stressed. Or perhaps I’m not quite getting what I need nutritionally. Or I’m not active enough. Or…hormones? I’m in the process of doing more research and experimentation.

To be clear, I’m not recommending you ignore your family doctor or anyone with a stethoscope around their neck and a collection of letters at the end of their name. 

I am saying that you should know yourself better than anybody else. You body is constantly giving you feedback. Listen up. 

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Tim and I both return to university soon.  

But we have found ways to work our own projects into our academic studies. Check in next week – we’ll be announcing a new, rather large but thoroughly exciting project of ours. Our second manifesto point post will appear on February 1st. Keep your eyes peeled. 

And you can continue to keep tabs on us through facebook, twitter and instagram.

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