Fruits & Vegetables, the colours of beauty

Schopenhauer used to say that “nine tenths of happiness are based on health.
Through it, everything is source of pleasure”.
What did he mean for “health”? And what did we mean today for this word, which has articulated its meaning over the centuries in proportion to the complexity of society? If health was synthetically meant to be absence of disease, today this concept is way more sophisticated. It is preferred to talk of wellness to mean not just the health of the body, but also the psychological well being of heart and mind. 

The well being starts at the table and this assumption, typical of the Western mentality, has resisted since Hippocrates, when the doctor was, incidentally, first and foremost a food expert. If it is true that we are what we eat, it is also true that our body, made of muscles, skin, bones, fibers, blood, cells, molecules and atoms, is the result of a possibly healthy eating style. The same is metaphorically and poetically true for our heart, as the synthesis of mood, emotional and social states. And it is even more true for our brain, which is not only a chemical and electrical device, but also a thinking engine which translates energy in reasoning, emotions, wishes, memories and dreams.

Therefore, The organic concept of health, focused on quantity and substance of inputs we ingest and digest, is today integrated by a more spiritual and holistic concept, based on quality, hidden virtues and intrinsic properties of these inputs. The Western idea of health is then interconnected with the Eastern one, which emphasizes the harmony between body and environment, Mankind and Nature, embraced in a continuous exchange where nothing is lost, but everything is renewed and transformed, with a contemporaneous modification of both the human being and his environment.
Still, one of the simplest and most satisfactory experiences of existence (with love and sex!) that is eating, is a source of ever growing worries, concerns, doubts and frustrations, rather than pure pleasure. It is maybe because of an often imprecise information, which creates confusion and anxiety instead than clarity and good mood through its contradictions and exploitations.

As a good vegetarian, I personally feel good with myself, in excellent psycho-physical shape and in harmony with Nature. With this, I do not mean to propose vegetarianism as the absolute philosophy of healthy feeding, because I am convinced that thre are no perfect nutritional recipes, that everybody can accept. Moreover science, including food science, is in continuous evolution, like a flame which constantly burn. When a spark ignites a new hypothesis, another spark is created somewhere else at the same time, ready to unleash an even more powerful fire. No authority can completely convince an individual or society that a nutritional thesis is completely right, because the final judgment on what is good and healthy comes from the psyche and sensorial perceptions of each of us. Still, we need parameters and references to point at the way without risking losing the direction. 

I have never been able to distinguish a cute veal who pastures quietly in the grass and a smoking rare cooked steak in a plate. I have always felt instinctively attracted to the fruit and vegetables from my garden, since this has been my food imprinting. My taste come from this. Obviously, when I go for my grocery and look for fruits and vegetables, I am spontaneously suspicious of the labels and indications of so-called natural products, which create me more embarrassment rather than confidence.

The language sometimes complicates things and emphasizes distances between an object and the awareness of it. I think that the vocabulary which is used to define the “goodness” of food is symptomatic of this new holistic conception of health. Today a food is considered healthy if fresh, pure, virgin, light, anti-oxidant, vitamin rich, de-intoxicating, depurating, energizing. All these attributes are intangible and invisible, but are related to concrete benefits, which can be understood more through confidence than reason. 
Fruits and vegetables should be symbols of a clean and transparent eating style, which makes us feel good by definition. However, a different terminology comes into play to complicate the issue: biologic and transgenic, for instance. These words are like mirages or ghosts on the shelves of supermarkets or in the colored baskets in markets or even on our tables, and they deceive or trouble us, rather than orient us in our choices.

I am not enough of an expert to give recommendations and sure information, because of my often contradictory and debating reads. However, I try to keep myself informed, and I believe we all have the duty to gain deep information on these themes, without getting too enamored of a philosophy, or ideological flag, but keeping constantly receptive and open to dialogue, without indulging in malignant and sterile debates. Scientific discoveries, also in the field of food science, are often appreciated after very long times, which cannot be foreseen in the present or immediate future. 

Goethe once said: “We know when we know little, indeed. The doubt grows with knowledge”. It is so true! A sure and wonderful thing is that Nature at work is amazing, both at microscopic and macroscopic level, both in the good and evil because Nature potentially comprehends everything, with no need for artificial solutions and corrections. Did you ever ask yourself (back to my love for vegetables) why fruit and vegetables have such captivating colors? No matter if you believe in God, in evolution, or simply in randomness, the beauty of vegetables is an incredible example of the Nature wisdom and the relationship between color and health is scientifically proven.

The color of vegetables comes from a variety of chemical substances, the anti-oxidants. Plants express their beauty with their colors: they capture the energy of the sun and convert it in life through photo-synthesis, which modifies energy in sugars and carbohydrates. the process is put in action by the exchange of electrons between molecules, which makes photo-synthesis similar to a nuclear reaction. 

Anti-oxidants are colored because the chemical properties allow to absorb electrons and to create visible colors. So, the carotenoids appear yellow thanks to beta-carotene (as in the pumpkin) red because of the lycopen (tomatoes), orange because of cryptoxanthin (oranges) and so on. Some anti-oxidants are colorless, such as ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, and vitamin E, because they act in more hidden parts of plants, where protection from electrons is necessary.

The action of anti-oxidants fights free radicals, which cause the ageing of organisms. Human beings are not able to produce natural shields against free radicals. We are not plants, and thus we are not able to produce anti-oxidants through photo-synthesis. We acquire them from vegetables, since they act in harmony with our organism and release their good content of irreplaceable substances. Hence, I like to think that vegetables look so beautiful colored, attractive and sensual to stimulate our senses and be useful for us, other than tempting.

In conclusion, being informed is fundamental to gain orientation, through a critical spirit, able to discover precious concepts among books, magazines and websites which fast update us on food, in order to avoid being hypnotized and deceived. Cautiousness is necessary in communication and listening, but being curious and hungry for knowledge is always essential. We live in wellness, but being not well informed can put us at risk. 

Maybe a correct and honest information could add that missing component of happiness that is mentioned by Schopenauer in the aphorism which was the beginning of all these considerations.
For sure, the wise philosopher would have agreed with a great actor such as the late Massimo Troisi, who exchanged these ideas with his companion of adventure in the movie “Ricomincio da tre”:
She: “Why do you mind about the others? When there is love, there is everything…”
Troisi: “No, that’s health!”