11:01 AM

Food Will Win the War

By Austine Siomos, MD, pediatric cardiologist at Montana Children's

COVID this, COVID that. It dominates conversations, the news and our daily lives. It has changed a lot of what we do and many things are out of our control. We are all experiencing heightened anxiety. We worry about relatives that live far away and that have medical problems. We worry about our own safety and those who depend on us. When we really want to pack on the anxiety, we think about the economy, food and, for some reason, toilet paper.

One of the most effective ways to combat anxiety and fear is to focus on those aspects of our lives that we can control.

In some ways this pandemic is a war, against an unseen enemy and with all of humanity on the same side. How did people cope with such global threats in the past?

Victory gardens have been popular during times of war for over one hundred years. The first record of these gardens was in 1917 during World War I. Innovators in multiple countries realized that the food supply could be dramatically increased without the use of more land, more men or more vehicles. Victory gardens were encouraged on available private and public lands. In the United States this resulted in over 5 million new gardens. President Woodrow Wilson declared, “Food will win the war.”

During World War II around one third of the vegetables produced by the United States came from victory gardens. By May 1943, at the height of their popularity, there were 18 million victory gardens in the United States.

Victory gardens are gaining popularity once again. They are cropping up in towns and cities, on large plots of land and on windowsills. For a variety of reasons, they may be more important now than ever.

Nutrition to fight COVID-19 – More and more data suggest that COVID-19 affects people in drastically different ways. While we cannot change our age or our genes, we can control what we put into our bodies now. Plants are powerful protectors against chronic disease and inflammation.

Support for the microbiome – The microbiome (bacteria that live in and on our bodies) has gained attention in the past 15 years. Our microbiome plays a role in all body processes, most importantly for this pandemic in our immune system, mental health, and brain health. When it comes to the microbiome, more diversity is better.

Lung health – Most of us think of our intestines when we hear about the microbiome. The respiratory tract, however, has its own remarkable microbiome. The upper respiratory tract (mouth, nose, sinuses, throat and trachea) contains the bulk of the respiratory microbiome. Numerous studies demonstrate a correlation between lung disease and the quality and diversity of the respiratory microbiome. Lung health is one of the most important factors in risk for severity of COVID-19. Getting outside and breathing clean air, especially on a hike or in clean dirt is the best way to promote a diverse lung microbiome.

Local produce – Our soil in Montana is generally healthy and high in nutrients. Thus our local produce is high quality and delivers an excellent array of health promoting vitamins and micronutrients. Look for dark leafy greens as the powerhouses of antioxidants, anti-inflammation, vitamin C and B vitamins. If you are not able to garden look into the local CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), many of which offer shares or just one time pick-ups.

Mental health – Many have said that there are two pandemics co-occuring. One is the COVID-19 pandemic and the other is a pandemic of fear. We can push fear aside with focus. We can focus on growth and health in a tangible way. We can be outside, in the dirt, supporting ourselves, our families and the front lines.

Whether you have a windowsill or 10 acres, it’s a great time to pick up some seeds and starts and win the war with food!