“Survival of the fittest.” The phrase was first coined by philosopher Herbert Spencer in 1864 as he drew parallels to Charles Darwin’s explanation of ‘Natural Selection,’ which remains one of the cornerstones of modern biology. Unfortunately, today it is often used in contexts that are not accurate to either of the meanings that the original proponents intended, nor is the basic meaning of the term entirely accurate when describing the way evolution in nature actually occurs. Why mention it then? Perhaps a different definition can be applied, one in which the meaning is both true and accurate.

When breaking down the phrase, let us assume the meaning of the base word fit is a synonym for health (ex. if one is in good fitness, they are implicitly in good health). Therefore, the phrase can also be interpreted as “survival of the healthiest.” Of course, one can still raise objections to that statement, such as the possibility that individuals in good health may not survive because of numerous other causes (homicide or natural disaster being examples). Rather than diving into a philosophical wormhole, we will assume the basic implication of the phrase, suggesting that those in good health are more likely to survive. To the surprise of some, being healthy may actually increase your odds of survival (Revisit Part 4 of our Eating Local series for more information on the potential benefits of good health). In all seriousness, everyone prefers to be healthy and well, that’s a given (increased longevity and quality of life are only added benefits).

Well then, what must one do in order to survive and be healthy? For starters it’s common knowledge that one must eat in order to survive. In fact, it has been documented nearly 2500 years ago, when Socrates counseled “Thou shouldst eat to live, not live to eat.” That wisdom seems to be in conflict with the modern day self-proclaimed gourmands, as well as the omnipresent force of marketing in the food industry, which encourages different motives for the consumption of food than what Socrates advises. Believe it or not, marketing is actually used as a tool to create more business for the company which uses it. How else would you care to explain the unparalleled success of today’s restaurants, such as that of the lauded golden arches, which happens to be the most widely recognizable restaurant logo in the world? Hint: It’s not because their food products are a key to vitality, and promote health and well-being. The success of the golden “M” is another example of how the power of marketing once again triumphs over science (Please see the Surgeon General’s 1964 Report on Smoking and Health for a similar example).

It definitely creates a problem when the modern food industry is saturated with foods that are not designed or manufactured with the intent to promote good health. Actually, look a few words back, and you have the source of the problem right there. Too much of the “food” in today’s world is heavily processed, unnaturally manufactured, genetically modified, or in other words, not real food. That shouldn’t be news, as it has become quite the hot topic in recent years to talk about eating foods that are natural and good for you. Unfortunately, the beloved use of marketing has taken many of our favorite buzz words (organic, all-natural, whole-grain, etc.) and polarized them to the point where some even view them as a bad thing (or are at least skeptical).

So how can you find food that is actually good for you? We plan to discuss that more in depth in upcoming entries. But for starters, if it did not exist before 1946, you would be playing it safe (to say the least) if you avoided it. It was after that year when chemical fertilizers, genetically modified seeds, pesticides, and agribusiness really began. Always remember that history can be a great lesson, especially when it comes to something as commonplace as food. After all, being healthy and surviving is nothing new; plenty of people have done it before.