Eating food has become such an automatic response that we’ve forgotten why it’s there in the first place – to nourish us, to give us energy, to keep us healthy. But with chemical-coated ‘food’ continuing to dominate fridges and pantries, Cyndi O’Meara has ramped up her quest to educate the masses.
Cyndi O’Meara snacks on nasturtium flowers plucked straight from the vine, as she shows me around her happy place in the Hinterland.
The self-seeding garden is abundant with beautiful herbs and vegetables, complementing the fruit trees planted across the undulating 60-acre property and a larger garden boasting heartier vegetable varieties, all of which feed Cyndi and her family.
Cyndi’s eldest son, Brogan, also works on the farm and shares her ethos for fresh, organic produce, a serendipitous full circle movement, given Cyndi’s thirst for knowledge began when she was pregnant with Brogan 30 years ago.
“This all started because I had babies and I wanted to do the best for my babies,” she says.
“When I look back on what I knew 30 years ago and what I know now; and I was pretty ferocious 30 years ago; I think of the mistakes I made, but it’s because I didn’t have the knowledge, nobody had the knowledge and what I know now, it’s for my grandchildren.”
Cyndi’s home is humble, an old dairy with polished concrete floors, clay coated walls and second hand furniture. It’s real, it’s organic, and it couldn’t be more home for Cyndi, who dreamed of owning acreage since she was 19.
“It’s food security for my family, that’s why I planted the trees immediately, there will be enough food here for my whole family and future generations to live on and some left over for the local community, that was my aim; it’s for my family,” she says.
Originally from Bendigo in Victoria, Cyndi, who was also a fanatical skier, attended the University of Colorado in Boulder. Knowing she wanted to work in the field of health, Cyndi studied pre-med to tick off her science subjects.
“I took a class in anthropology, it was all about food and what we ate in order to get to where we are now, and how we evolved from hunter and gatherer, to agriculture and herding societies, from people who lived a vegetarian lifestyle to those who lived on meat and/or dairy,” she says.
“I found the whole thing really interesting, so I thought, ‘I’m going to be a dietician’.”
It wasn’t until Cyndi was at the end of her Bachelor of Science majoring in nutrition, that she stopped firmly in her tracks.
“I thought, ‘This is bull****,’ none of this makes any sense to me. I had a guy, whose stomach was bigger than a medicine ball, and he’d be talking about nutrition and recipes and cooking and I thought, ‘This isn’t what I signed up to do’, so I decided not to become a dietician, went back to university and did two years of human anatomy. At the end of that I knew what the body needed, it needed exactly what I learned in anthropology – real food, food we’ve always eaten, traditional food.”
Cyndi, who was a vegetarian at the time, started following a macrobiotic diet (40 to 60 per cent wholegrains, 20 to 30 per cent fruit and vegetables, and 10 to 25 per cent bean and bean products). She then fell pregnant and craved meat.
“I started eating meat again and from there I started looking at what was real food versus what’s not real food and that’s how I started,” she says.
In 1998, Cyndi wrote her first book Changing Habits Changing Lives, which explored the problems with common grocery items such as breakfast cereals, margarine and low fat milk, and exploring the healthier alternative.
“It wasn’t about moo-less milks, it’s about let’s get back to the basics of milk. Let’s make old fashioned yoghurts instead of yoghurts with flavours, fillers, thickeners and colours. And what’s behind the word flavour – 48 chemicals that people don’t even know. That’s what I taught and I just taught real food,” she says.
Citing examples of paediatricians changing children’s diets to be wholly organic, ridding their little bodies of genetically modified foods and chemicals, and noticing an unbelievable improvement in their health; Cyndi’s argument for eating organic couldn’t be more logical.
“Everyone says it’s expensive, but the likelihood of you getting cancer or alzheimer's is far greater; you can either choose to spend a bit more time and money now for your health and ward off diseases, or face problems in years to come,” she says.
Walking around Cyndi’s property, sampling the bounties of her hard work, she explains that it all starts with the soil, an ecology likened to our own gut health.
“We grow microbes in our ‘soil’ and if that’s healthy, the healthy microbes live and the parasitic ones are pushed to the side, so we’re healthy,” she says.
“It’s the same with the soil, if the soil has microbes, worms, protozoa and fungi, it has this communication system which allows the plant to pull up minerals, it also gives strength to the plant so it resists disease. At the moment, what’s happening is we’re desertifying our lands, we have a drought happening, but they’re not talking about the farmers who do what I do, they’re only talking about the farmers who do conventional modern farming, using chemicals, have their land bare with very little organic matter, therefore very little carbon sequestering.”
So why aren’t more people doing this?
“Because they don’t know any better they haven’t educated themselves in order to make changes. Once you know, you can’t not know. When you learn about what they’re putting on or around our food; for example, glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup (which is a patented antibiotic) that kills our microbiome, (the human ecology), and also kills the ecology of the soil,” she says.
“How can you buy food that has been sprayed with it? How can you buy a strawberry that has been sprayed with 10 chemicals and feed it to your child?”
Originally published in Profile Magazine
Photo: Bliss Photography by Leah