Straight Talk

Grandma was a Real Foodie

So, maybe she didn’t know it, but she was. Was Grandma well off? Well, no, no more well off than most. And in many cases she was poorer than most, especially as she got older. Still she kept on making home cooked meals with the freshest meat and produce she could lay her hands on. And she did it frugally even if she wasn’t on a tight budget, just as a matter of principle. Yet our culture tends to think of foodies as an elite group of people with the time and money to dedicate to culinary extravagance. Does this sound like Grandma? If your Grandma was anything like mine she would be shocked at the suggestion! Then she would laugh until she cried at the mere thought :-).

Let’s take a look together at what her diet looked like, from a modern perspective considering all the things that Grandma could take for granted that we no longer can.

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What was right about Grandma’s diet?

The freshest meat and produce Grandma could get was pretty darn fresh and pretty darn clean. Prior to World War II the food supply was free of GMO’s,pesticides, hormones and antibiotics. There was indeed processed food but it had yet to totally saturate the market, so little or no artificial additives, preservatives, flavors and coloring. Many people had large gardens and if they didn’t much of the produce available to buy was grown only a short distance from home. Butcher’s were generally local business’s. All beef was grassfed as feedlots weren’t used. Fresh raw milk was delivered twice a week to her home along with fresh butter, eggs and cheese. Or maybe she had a cow, like my Mother Warren did and made these things herself. Many families still kept yard hens even in the city. She could readily obtain lard and beef tallow from the butcher shop. So Grandma had grassfed beef, pastured poultry, healthy fats, fresh local produce, raw milk and cheeses None of this required special effort or education, she could simply buy what everyone bought.

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What was wrong with Grandma’s diet?

Mostly we as a culture seem to remember what was wrong about Grandma’s diet. Were there problems? You bet! This is what Dr. Price talked about in his writings. During the same period of time Grandma was a young woman with a young family he traveled the world seeking populations of people unaffected by modern foods. So yes, Grandma’s generation was definitely affected by the introduction of non-traditional foods and preparation.

What were some of the foods introduced? Well, sugar had been around for awhile, though it was being bought by more people as the price fell around 1900 making it more affordable. White flour started in the late 19th century and by this point was used by all. And Crisco was enjoying considerable sales. Factory canned food is another. Karo (corn) syrup was yet another as a cheap replacement for sugar. This era was the turning point away from wholesome food and toward the processed food we have now.

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Why focus on Grandma’s era?

In light of these problems a reader was wondering why the focus on this time period? Why not go even further back to a very clean, traditional diet? A very good question, I think, and I’m glad to have an opportunity to answer it.

I’ve chosen to focus on Grandma’s time because it is easy for most people to imagine changing their diets to be more like their grandparents. We can viscerally imagine that diet. Smell and taste it in our imagination. It is home to us … we know deep in the bones what this diet is. And by modern standards it is a HUGE improvement! Yes, by going back 400 years we find a nutritious supportive diet. But none of us has any real experience with this diet. It remains kinda hypothetical what this might be in reality. Grandma’s diet in contrast is pretty real.

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And it’s not like we’re stuck with her generations mistakes either. Starting from the solid foundation of wholesome food mentioned in the section on “What was right about Grandma’s diet” we can then modify and remove the bad elements taking Grandma’s diet back a generation or two from her. That’s why I modify the recipe’s in Mrs Dull’s “Southern Cooking” to make them more wholesome and nutritious.

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For those of us over 40 or so

Think back to the people you knew as a kid. The old folks, the middle-aged, the young adults, teenagers and kids. Didn’t each generation seem much healthier overall than people do now? The old folks worked in large gardens. My own Grandmother and Great-Grandmother lived together in Phoenix and maintained a very large garden in the midst of the desert at ages 70 and 90! Middle aged people seemed full of energy and power. Young adults seemed more energetic than teenagers do now. Teenagers were overflowing with vitality and kids, well in general were very healthy. Most of kids I remember got sick annually at most :-). I remember many many kids who hadn’t missed a day of school for years. And this was the 70’s. Statistics bear out that peoples health had already taken a dive, so just think how much more true is was in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. Robert Bernardini in his book “The Truth About Children’s Health” asks us over 40 to remember:

I’d like you to think back to your childhood. How many kids did you know who had leukemia, asthma, diabetes, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), arthritis, multiple sclerosis, cancer, autism or were obese? Chances are, you may have known a few. Perhaps the kid down the street had asthma. Maybe there was a distant relative who had juvenile diabetes. Or you heard on the news about some rare child with leukemia. Now? It seems like everywhere you turn, you read or hear about a child with a serious health problem. How many kids do you know of who are on Ritalin or were diagnosed with a learning disability? There are whole hospitals devoted to children’s cancer. Asthma and diabetes are now considered epidemics.

I was one of those kids with allergies and asthma. It was so uncommon that many if not most adults seemed to think it was some exotic form of malingering and not an actual ailment ;-).

So, yes I think taking our diets back a couple of generations is of great benefit. And it’s relatively easy to imagine and then to do. And I think it meets with the least amount of resistance from family members. You are simply creating meals like their Grandma did. And who could object to that :-)?

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17 thoughts on “Grandma was a Real Foodie

  1. Hmm…interesting! I thought back and I didn’t know any kids with diabetes, only my aunt. One kid from my town had cancer. And I knew one child in my class who had asthma. I didn’t know any kids with ADHD.




  2. Great article! My grandparents had a large garden that was a focal point of a lot of summertime activities. Playing games like “Shuck all these ears of corn for Grandma!” was a common way to calm down after the public pool and before dinner.


  3. I knew one girl with juvenile diabetes, and I think maybe two kids with asthma. That’s it! I can’t remember anyone with allergies. And no one had ADHD, though there was always the “hyper” kid or two. I always find it so interesting to see the difference just one generation can make in terms of what is eaten and the results.


  4. My mom (born in Chicago in 1925) remembers getting ice cream only once or twice a year. It was a treat and not an everyday dessert. She also ate a lot of chicken feet, gizzards & hearts. But not everything was ideal. They had oleo starting in WWII, instead of butter, and the milk was pasteurized.

    I was born in 1959 and I remember when brains and other funky things were *always* available in the store. Even skinned goat’s heads at the Greek market. Whatever happened to the chicken necks & backs that were so cheap and were so ideal for making soup? I can’t even find blood sausage in the store anymore. Wah! Thank God I can still get gizzards & hearts.


  5. I am over 40 and my mom was on the cutting edge of…the processed food revolution. I was blessed with grandmother’s who shook their heads at our diet and taught me how to prepare real food from scratch and shared their foil-saving frugal lifestyle with me. 🙂


  6. All the ladies would congregate by the butcher at the grocery store and gossip while waiting for their orders. I rememer all the varied packages on the butcher section of the grocery store too! My Mom who was also on the cutting edge of the processed food revolution, bless her heart, explained when I asked what people bought them for that only the poorest of people bought that meat!


  7. This is a great approach! I think we can get bogged down trying to think like cavemen, or Adam and Eve. My mom is always telling me to call my grandma when I have a question about gardening, canning, or cooking from my garden!


  8. It’s true that Grandma did cook with more locally sourced ingredients and fewer additives and sugar than we see now, and it’s true that returning to that standard is not only desireable but sensible. I have to say, though, that you ‘re probably incorrect in thinking that there weren’t just as many kids with leukemia, asthma, diabetes, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), arthritis, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and autism then as there are now. The difference in the number of children counted with the listed illnesses then and the number of children who are counted to have them now may well be one of advanced diagnostic techniques. This is particularly true of ADHD, autism, and some cancers. I’m not denying that children who eat fewer additives and play outside more often are more likely to be healthy, just suggesting that a number of illnesses were simply labeled as “bad behaviour,” lack of intelligence, or not diagnosed at all.


    1. I think that may very well be true for autism and adhd but I don’t think its true for life threatening illnesses. I believe they were quite likely to be correctly diagnosed in the 30’s. And that there are statistics they bear out the considerable increase in all forms of cancer not only in kids but in the entire population. Ill see if I can find some references to share with everyone.

      On asthma my brother who also has asthma was diagnosed as hyperactive in the 50’s. This was the common term prior to adhd. So even then a few kids did receive this diagnosis.

      I feel like the point of the exercise is for us to search our own experience … rely on our own experience a little more rather than statistics and expert opinions.


  9. We all thought my grams was crazy for cooking the way she did. All that work . . . I now wish she was alive to teach me a few things. She was waaaay crazy on the white refined flour, but everything else was done fresh and clean! But even with the flour, I am convinced that it was a different type of wheat than we have today because of all the hybridization.

    I disagree with the commenter above. I was a teacher for many years. And steadily each year there were more and more cases of ADHD diagnosed. I love the kids, but the stress of having to deal with the multitude of social/behavioral issues in one classroom rather than actually teaching became too much. I’m sorry but it is more prevalent today than it was many years ago. The behaviors are not just hyperactive but they are also destructive and abusive and need to be classified in categories other than ADHD. There is an epidemic of this in our schools and teachers are not able to teach well under these conditions. Ask ANY teacher today who has taught for longer than 10 years and they will tell you the same thing.


  10. I wish we had gone forth with medical advancements that are responsible for much of the longevity today while still eating the foods eaten and responsible for longevity in that era.


  11. Just as a side note, the picture you posted is wonderful and reminds me of my old apartment. It was the top floor of a building built in 1916. The kitchen had no cupboards, the sink hung on the wall and my floor, though a different pattern and color, looked the same. That is not a rug you see, it is a linoleum rug. A piece of old fashioned linoleum cut to room size and printed with a carpet pattern. There was one in nearly all of the 8 rooms of that apartment. I hated to leave them when I moved but I think I miss my big sink the most.


    1. I think the picture was from an ad for the linoleum rug … such a cool idea! I’ve never seen one in person myself. I’m renovating an old home and it had 50’s linoleum under the old carpet in most rooms but it was wall to wall. I love that sink too 🙂


  12. “leukemia, asthma, diabetes, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), arthritis, multiple sclerosis, cancer, autism or were obese”

    I was brought up in the 60s (born 1957) and of the diseases listed, I knew two or three who had asthma (one of whom died at the age of 15), one who had juvenile arthritis (since she was three), and one who was obese. The rest of us ran around outside all day in the holidays and weekends and rarely missed a day of school. We had fewer colds and no flu (and had frost patterns on the insides of our windows in the winter). There was NO ADHD – and not because it wasnt diagnosed, but because there just wasnt any. Of course people behaved badly now and again, but no-one needed ‘therapy’ to get over it – they got a telling off (or occasionally the cane) and they didnt do it again; it was called ‘learning self control’!

    My grandmother was disabled – she had polio when she was 18 months old and it caused a deformity of her legs, so she was unable to walk unaided, or walk at all as she got older. We all caught measles, chicken pox and other common childhood diseases (there were no innoculations against most of them – except polio) and suffered no ill-effects. I can ony conclude we were doing something right while today there is something sadly wrong!


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