Rabiah Lewis, Health Editor
In November, I had the privilege of attending the Wise Traditions conference put on by the Weston A. Price Foundation and the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. Scientists, researchers, holistic doctors, sustainable farmers, and radical homemakers all convened pulling together leading edge research and experiential data on the status of our food supply and the resulting condition of our bodies. It was an awe-inspiring amalgamation of experts, eager parents, homemakers, health professionals, and health vendors.
The conference kicked off with an all-day workshop by high priest sustainable farmer, Joel Salatin. Workshops throughout the conference spanned the gamut of traditional cuisine, cooking, farming & gardening, chronic disease, and toxins in our environment. Over one thousand attendees came from all over the country and internationally to soak up information from the best minds in nutrition and health, to fellowship with like-minded peers, visit the hundreds of exhibitors, and to reunite with old acquaintances. Thanks to donated food from family farms, every meal was tailored to include only the richest and most nutrient dense foods and ingredients. I heard many attendees exclaim that these were some of the best meals they’d had in a while, and I definitely shared in their sentiments. The meals left us feeling, well, nourished.
So what is it all about? Who is Weston A. Price and what has started a global movement in farming, cooking, and eating? Weston A. Price was a Cleveland dentist in the 1930s who saw an overwhelming about of disease, poor dental health, and facial degeneration in his practice. The diseases were so rampant that he was moved to put his practice on hold in order to find out why this was occurring. He wanted to know if there were truly healthy people living in the world somewhere, and if so, what their diets looked like. For 10 years, each summer he and his wife traveled to a different part of the globe to find cultures, villages, and tribes who still ate the diets of their ancestors—in other words, untouched by western civilization. He had no idea the implications of what he was to later discover.
Before I reveal what he did discover, let’s review what we here in the US are taught. In the 1980s, the USDA formulated the model American diet. They created the Food Pyramid with grains, bread, cereal, rice, and pasta at the bottom to be eaten in large quantities, and fats, oils, and sweets at the top to be eaten sparingly. They said it would make us healthier. For over 50 years we have stuck to this diet, eating less saturated fat and eating a high proportion of grains. In the meantime, we are #1 in the world in medical spending. According to the National Health Statistics Group, 16 cents of every American dollar is spent on health care. The US spends an astronomical 4 trillion dollars on healthcare and this number is expected to double in 3 years.
Since 1900, fat consumption from animal sources has substantially decreased while vegetable and trans fat consumption has increased in the US almost exponentially. And many of these fats have entered our diets for the first time in human evolution (i.e. trans fats, partially hydrogenated fats found in commercial baked goods and soybean oil). Low fat diets are now promoted by all US government agencies, but heart disease is still on the rise and obesity affects 58% of Americans. According to the World Health Organization, diabetes affects 3 out of 5 people, and cancer is now the leading cause of death in the US (exceeding heart disease).
When Dr. Price made his voyages, he discovered a common theme. He studied groups in Switzerland, the Hebrides, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, North and South America, and in the Melanesian and Polynesian sea islands. The common theme throughout all these groups was that the people there who stuck to their native diets enjoyed excellent health with little or no dental decay, beautiful straight teeth, good physiques, resistance to disease, and—this really caught my attention—women who gave birth to beautiful, bouncing babies with great ease.
The elderly were spry and free from degenerative diseases and dementia. The societies eating their native diets all enjoyed a high level of mental health and stability. He sent samples of their food back to his lab in Cleveland to have them analyzed and found foods extremely rich in fat soluble and water soluble vitamins. The diets were also very high in Calcium and other minerals. But the biggest difference in their food from the standard American diet of the time, was in their consumption of fat-soluble vitamins from animal foods such as butter, fish liver oils, organ meats, eggs, shellfish, and other animal fats –in other words, saturated fat was a big part of their diet!
Price also took pictures of those eating traditionally and put them side-by-side with pictures of those eating western civilization diets within the same culture, and the differences were both striking and disturbing. Often, you could see the degeneration and disease appearing within just one generation of a family switching from their native diets. The pictures speak for themselves. You don’t even have to read his book to be completely blown away by the evidence right before your eyes.
So what can we do to get our hands on some truly nourishing foods? Despite the skepticism, it is entirely possible to obtain quality, humanely-raised, natural-dieting-eating meat, eggs, and fish. Farms, farmer’s markets, food buying clubs, community grocery markets, the internet, and one’s own garden are great sources for these foods. The Weston A. Price Foundation, founded to disseminate and further the research of Dr. Price, is dedicated to restoring nutrient dense foods to the American diet through research, education, and activism. A local Weston A. Price chapter can put you in touch with much needed resources, recipes, cooking classes, and even a support system for eating well. There is even an app, (if you’re in to apps) as a shopping guide for the highest quality foods available. Just do a search for wapf.
There is so much at stake, and so much to be gained from returning to a traditional food paradigm. Our ecology, our health, our environment, and our local economies are all hanging in the balance. The more I find out about what is truly healing and nourishing for our bodies, the more I discover that these same foods heal and nourish our planet. Joel Salatin says that land healing is not just on the backs of farmers, but on the backs of urban consumers as well to act knowledgeably with farmers and to work with seasons and cycles. He believes we need to make the domestic and culinary arts prestigious again—to start respecting our food. These shifts together create what he calls a “tribe of thinking” which will gain momentum and pass back down to future generations. Salatin also made an excellent argument for the reverse urbanization trend. He believes that growing and raising our food locally stimulates local economies, and he talked about a shift from the Information economy to the Regenerative economy.
We not only have a responsibility to heal our bodies for ourselves, we a have a responsibility to restore our bodies so that future generations can survive and thrive—and that includes the future generations of all the species of this planet. Eating responsibly goes hand and hand with buying our food responsibly, and that is going to take effort. We can no longer afford to leave our food choices and our food supply solely in the hands of private corporations who have accountability to no one but shareholders. Our bodies and our environment are showing us that we cannot sustain that level of negligence and misappropriation of power. We must become actively informed, engaged, participatory, and disciplined about what is going on with our food and how it got on our plate. That is going to take becoming knowledgeable about where our food came from, how far it came, who was affected by the production of the food, and what condition did the growers and raisers leave the soil in which they got the food. Links between soil content and rates of cancer are becoming more and more ubiquitous.
Global warming is believed to be one of the number one global crises in our immediate future. It is not so simple as whether you drove your car to work today. When the bread crumb trail to commercial food production is followed, you are left with one of the grimmest tales of ecological destruction and the subsequent increase in greenhouse gases that you could have ever conceived of.
More of the same standard American diet is not going to save us, improve us, or cure us of anything. There are so many authors and books now that can document what is being done in our country and globally. So many professionals are screaming from the mountaintops with their warnings and their pleadings. If you haven’t heard of any of them, that’s your tax dollars at work spreading nutritional propaganda of corporate lobbyists and corporate interests. It is an impressive joint government and private business effort of miseducation, misdirection, and downright concealment. Author and nutritionist Nora Gedgaudas says that until this century, no human society in history has consumed a diet even remotely resembling what the USDA pyramid suggests is optimal. So it is up to individuals to get the truth—to return to biology 101—and start applying significant nutritional and lifestyle changes. It requires having an open mind to things like seasonal eating and unorthodox food choices like organ meats and fermented cabbage. It requires a willingness to admit we’ve been led astray, and the courage to commit to a new eating paradigm.
Several books have been integral along my path to wellness: Weston A. Price’s Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Ron Schmid’s The Untold Story of Milk, Peter Tompkins & Christopher Bird’s Secrets of the Soil, Lierre Keith’s The Vegetarian Myth, Joel Salatin’s Folks This Ain’t Normal, Mary Enig’s Know Your Fats, and Catherine & Luke Shanahan’s Deep Nutrition. When you read even one of these authors, you can follow a trail to more information about the inter-connectedness between our physical and mental health, the future health of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and the health of the planet. Or better still, attend your own Wise Traditions conference and see for yourself.
I believe in freedom. I believe in the ability to choose. And I, too, advocate for a more just world for us all. But I see so clearly now, that I have a crucial role to play in exercising freedom. Even in our global economy, justice is locally determined. What does that mean? It means we must orient ourselves to prop up the places where we live—to be accountable to our homes and communities, and, yes, that includes our own bodies. And as funny as it may sound, one of the most radical changes in the direction of freedom you can make can be as simple as what’s on your plate for dinner.
Gedgaudas, Nora T. Primal Body, Primal Mind. 2009. Healing Arts Press. Rochester, Vermont.
The Weston A. Price Foundation (leaflet) for Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts. “Principles of Healthy Diets”. 1999. (www.westonaprice.org)