When we were little kids at school we were taught whatever USDA food group system that was being promoted at the time. It might have been the The Basic Seven, or the The Basic Four, or the The Food Guide Pyramid, MyPyramid or now “MyPlate” The USDA’s food recommendations are ever changing. But does our body’s needs change? Not at all! We need the exact same macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients our forebearers lived on. Nothing has changed at all … it’s absurd to think it would!
Interesting chart, huh? Foods are viewed as “body building” or for “energy” or as “protective”. This suggests people should eat plenty of milk, cheese, eggs, fish, and meat along with lots of lard, suet, tallow, butter, bacon and ham and plenty of starchy foods too. Wonder where this chart came from? It was issued by the British Ministry of Food during the Second World War. The chart shown in last weeks post on the first 5 principles of what makes a diet good is a very similar chart produced by the USDA during the wartime years.
Do you feel confused about what to include in a good diet? How about what to leave out? Do nutrition facts labels make your head spin round and round with all the different and contradictory things you’ve read and heard about a healthy diet? Do you feel a little sick with confusion when you read the ingredients labels on foods in the grocery store?
On this website I talk a lot about Granny. I generalize Granny did this or would have done that often. But I don’t know your Granny, or your best-friends Granny or even my husband’s Granny! How the hell do I know what she would or wouldn’t have done? My Grandma was born in the early 1900′s but your Grandma might have been born in the 50′s. My husband’s Grandma was born in Germany but maybe your’s was born in India or Russia … how can we learn anything by generalizing what these totally different women might have done?
I think we can learn a lot, actually. While our Grannys were very different women they do have an awful lot in common. For instance, they were born before the post-modern media dominated environment we live in now. Culture was passed down from generation to generation so the traditional foodways of whatever culture she lived in were what she learned and lived by. Now, not so much. Media and advertising shout so loudly now they drown out traditional cultures the world over. They shout down your Grandma’s foodways in favor of foods that can be branded to seem cool and novel. And these foods are always highly processed with big profit margins for the producers.
Anyway on this site, Granny is more a way of thinking about the world than an actual person.
Granny is a State of Mind
When I talk about Granny what I’m searching for is a way of looking at the world thru your Grandma’s eyes. If we can at least try to see things as we imagine she would it gives us a new perspective on the world. Suddenly things that made sense looking thru our modern eyes seem silly. Things like thinking the foods that have sustained humanity for thousands of years are suddenly very, very bad for us! Things like thinking if we are good and eat as the doctors/specialists tell us and exercise very, very hard we will look and feel young well into old age, maybe right up till the day we die! Or maybe with transhumanism we needn’t die at all. While eating well and exercising moderately are likely to make your old-age a lot more comfortable and maybe even fun it’s unlikely to bring immortality 😉 .
Just as an exercise in broadening your thinking about food, whenever you have a food choice to make pause for a moment and ask yourself “What would Granny do?” or WWGD, for short 😉 . Often the choice is clear like, Granny probably wouldn’t have spent extra money for processed potato flakes when whole potatoes are cheaper and more versatile. If your particular Granny would have jumped for the flakes, and if she was born in the 50′s she probably would :-), adopt an older Granny instead. This little practice makes the choices so much clearer.
Granny Embodies the Wisdom of your Culture
No matter your culture and where you live in the world Granny embodies the wisdom of the foodways of your particular culture. Grab onto that culture and hang on for dear life in the face of the avalanche of false and misleading information about food coming out of the industrial food economy. Your life and your families lives depend on it!
Eating real food doesn’t mean adopting a whole new cultures way of eating. It doesn’t mean you have to give up your favorite comfort foods from childhood in favor of some exotic food served in a culture unknown to you. If you live in India explore the traditional foodways of India rather than feeling pressed to accept the real food recipes produced in a culture like say, Germany. You’ll find the food rather bland most likely, though it would be healthy. Or if you grew up in a dairy culture, it’s unlikely that you’ll love and do well on a diet of legumes and rice. Too often people feel compelled when adopting a new way of eating to exactly emulate someone else’s or some other culture’s diet! Far better to thoughtfully consider the foods you love and depend on and adapt them back into the real food versions your Grandma knew and loved.
Technology and the Bias Toward the New
Modern culture has an inbuilt bias toward the new. Old ways are suspect and the new is embraced. It seems the knee-jerk response of modern folk is to dismiss anything that comes from an old source. In modern culture old ideas are automatically bad ideas, discredited ideas. This attitude is deeply ingrained in modern people, but how wise is it?
Now obviously, I’m no luddite :-). I’m writing this on a Macbook Pro and sending it out into the world via the internet. I’ve worked as a programmer all of my adult life. Technology is a wondrous thing, to be sure. In my lifetime I’m unlikely to ever witness a miracle greater than the internet as far as I’m concerned!
Technology doesn’t have the answers to everything though, especially where biology is concerned. There is so much we still don’t know about the human body. Using historical proof in the form of thriving populations down thru history seems like a far more robust scientific test of a diet than the very limited kinds of testing we do now. Traditional foodways and the lessons about food handed down to your Granny are the distilled wisdom from that very large experiment.
Poor peoples food. Just the phrase has a grating feel to it, doesn’t it? Just like a sneer.
This week Dr Oz wrote an article for Time that implied that those who actively question the quality of supermarket food are simply food snobs who are seeking an elevated status based on the purity and sophistication of their food choices. This article contained a sneer, but this one was for people working hard to get better food for their families and not for poor folks. The article implied that the only reason anyone would buy clean, real, organic food is so they can be seen to be the kind of people who can afford to completely avoid supermarket food. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, is waking up to the fact that ordinary, processed supermarket food is not wholesome or good. And increasingly it is being seen as poor people’s food. And people are getting mad. The issue is that not everyone can eat as much clean wholesome food as some are able to do. This is an issue of economics and ultimately has little to do with snobbery … that’s just a red herring.
But I think we should talk about that red herring. This article is not the first place I’ve seen this kind of argument in the media. There have been many articles with basically the same stuff but from less well-known authors. It’s important to talk about because it is really distracting. Everyone has strong feelings about this it seems. Nobody wants to be looked down on, or become the the kind of person who looks down on others. This is exactly the kind of thing that makes people really upset! Spinning the argument this way gets people off the topic of the availability and affordability of wholesome food which are the real issues here. So let’s see if we can put it to bed and get back to the work of finding ways to make real food more affordable so we can all have more of it in our lives.
A Kernel of Truth
Like most arguments, this one contains a small kernel of truth. Have you ever felt that people look down on you for your food? Felt that you were looked on as lower class because of your choices? I know I have. The bag boy who asked with a smirk if I made Hamburger Helper with all the ground beef I bought. The cashier who seemed to pity me for my cart with dried beans, rice and unbleached white flour. The coworker who implied I was xenophobic and narrow-minded for my dislike of sushi to name a few instances. I think we all have experiences like this from time to time. And the truth is there are snobs out there who do in fact pride themselves on their high-class food. They enjoy these little moments where they can boost their ego just a bit at the expense of someone else.
And then there are little food snobberies brought on by advertising. What, you don’t buy brand name beans? Instead you buy the store brand. Or you never buy processed foods. Believe it or not when I was a child this was a mark of poverty! Middle-class families bought processed store brand foods. People thought you were poor if you had to pinch pennies like that. No one would buy from scratch ingredients with the work it entails unless their budget forced them to. While this attitude has completely flipped now, I still see some remnants of it here in Texas. Like the cashier I mentioned above.
I live in an area where you can find people who will skip meals to afford to eat at a hot local restaurant. Where some folks are embarrassed for people to know what the actually normally eat when no one is looking. They don’t have a lot of money to eat this expensively all the time but they’d like for people to think they do. This to me is the real snobbery, using food as a status symbol and an identity at the expense of health. I doubt this is all that common though really. For whatever reason we do see some of it here. And this kind of snobbery is relatively common in the media. This is the snobbery to which Dr. Oz refers.
Behaving this way isn’t healthy so health is clearly not the top concern. They are missing meals or eating ramen and mac-n-cheese when alone, so they can eat expensively when someone is looking. While they give lip service to healthy eating it just isn’t the main worry, or they would balance out their food budget more. This lip service to health makes it easy for the doctors of spin to mix these folks up with those who just want healthy food for their families.
The Doctors of Spin
Dr. Oz implies in this article that average people will happily accept the compromised food found in the average grocery store. That only the 1% eat well, and the remaining 99% of us can be satisfied with supermarket fare. This is stated as an irrefutable, unchangeable fact. So we the 99% should just accept it. He thinks that the 99% will just ignore or not understand the firehose of negative information coming out about GMO’s, pesticides, herbicides, trans-fats, hydrogenated oils, artificial sweeteners, excitotoxins and other food additives. That we don’t need to concern ourselves with way the animals we eat are raised. That we won’t realize that the poor are dying younger than the well-off, a statistic that is getting worse now for the least educated of the 99%. He implies that to do otherwise is to become a wanna-be snob. In contradiction of the facts he asserts that “the American food supply is abundant, nutritionally sound, affordable and, with a few simple considerations, comparable to the most elite organic diets”. I don’t know about you but I don’t find the “considerations” needed to avoid toxic foods all that simple. I suspect Dr. Oz doesn’t either.
Make no mistake the PR firms working for the the food industry are well aware of the awakening to the state of our food supply. They are seeking to spin this situation to their advantage thru a kind of divide and conquer. But we are smarter than that :-).
All of Us Want Clean Wholesome Food
And I mean everybody! That includes the people who boldly say they don’t care while pounding down cheetos and coke. The difference between those who eat pretty well and those who eat really badly isn’t really about caring. It’s about believing you can make changes that will make a difference. Those who say they don’t care have lost hope of meaningful change. They feel 100% good food is unaffordable so why bother at all. The people who want to be seen buying expensive food also want clean wholesome food all the time. They just aren’t willing to give up higher status to improve their overall diet.
I think part of the reason why people become discouraged in their efforts to eat better is anxiety about being on the outs with everyone! Their friends and family who don’t know a lot about eating better might think that they’ve become food snobs who feel they are superior in some way. And those real food people who do everything so perfectly may look down on me for the compromises I have to make to fit the budget, to keep peace in the family or just to satisfy a little whim here and there.
Nothing could be further from the truth! Come on in the water is warm and inviting. We all make our compromises and we’re all just trying to keep abreast of the food news and keep our families as well fed as we can. And as for your friends and family, they do truly want what is best for you. And who knows, maybe the changes you make will inspire them to make changes of their own. Making those changes didn’t make me a food snob and it won’t make you one either 🙂 .
My Grandma wasn’t a zen master. My memories of her though are of a strong will, a peaceful presence and a cheerful attitude. She was wonderful and totally unique. Like many of her generation she had been thru some hard times and had many sorrows. Yet she remained cheerful and unfailingly considerate and polite. I don’t think she thought much about goals or future plans. She simply enjoyed the day for what it was. Like the popular song, her attitude was que sera sera, whatever will be, will be. She had never heard of the zen proverb of chop wood carry water but that is essentially what she did every day of her life. And she was all the happier for it!
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 :-).
Do you live in an apartment? Do you have an old house with a little, old, dingy kitchen? Is all the kitchen equipment you have handed down from you mother-in-law? Is it too crowded? or is it devoid of tools, even a can opener? Do you dream of a beautiful, well-lit, well-equipped kitchen? If the decorating magazines are any indication, most of us do, myself included.
Still, most of the cooking done in the world happens in little, cramped, dimly-lit kitchens with simple tools. Meals get made, things get done anyway.
When you have a limited food budget deciding where to put your money first can be daunting. Do you make organic vegetables and fruits highest priority? or supplements? How about free-range, grassfed meat? What comes first? If I know that I can’t afford to buy all quality ingredients right now, which items are most important? Of all the foods to buy in the highest quality possible, it’s most important that fats be of the highest quality you can afford. Why? Much of the fat available in our modern food supply are toxic fats. Avoiding these toxic fats and providing wholesome fat is first priority in maintaining health.
There is much talk these days about diet. What to eat, how to prepare it, how much to eat, so on and so forth. In fact there is so much nervous hand wringing talk about food these days that it begins to sound like the whole country is suffering from an eating disorder. No one seems very confident about their choices. Everyone seems defensive and a bit guilty about what they are eating. It’s not to hard to understand how we’ve ended up in such a fix. With a steady stream of conflicting information from the media on the subject it’s no wonder we’re confused. Scientific studies are published that conflict with prior published findings. We are awash in information. So much so that we can’t put it to use.
So what is a reliable guidepost for making decisions about food? I believe the most reliable guide for deciding all things dietary to be the observation of traditional foodways or food cultures. These traditional diets stand the test of time proving their ability to support and sustain many varied happy and healthy cultures. This is real proof in my book. We are disconnected from our traditional food cultures. This is the root of our anxious relationship with food. It is also the root of our worsening health.
Are people healthier on traditional diets?
If you are 40 or older, think back to your youth. Remember the old-timers you knew as a kid. Grandma and Grandpa were generally in pretty good health for their age. Sure, not everyone was but I bet the number of active, happy elderly people from your childhood outnumber the ones battling chronic ailments. They had large gardens and active social lives, usually at church. They went dancing, square dancing in particular was popular here in Texas. In my memory there are many who were more physically active than most young people are now. Let’s think about now. Do you know very many over the age of 55 or so that are so very active as the elderly people from your childhood? Not from tv, but from your daily life. You probably know quite a few people over 55 now and most are on multiple medications for chronic ailments. Not many would consider the labor of gardening, yet this was a common pastime for old folks in years past. Dancing is now something done for a few brief minutes at your daughter’s wedding, not like the large numbers of square dancing clubs that used to be filled with elderly folks that held contests and frequent exhibitions, with all kinds of fancy homemade Roy Rogers and Dale Evans costuming.
Now think about how they grew up, what they ate. Many grew up on farms, or in small towns close to farms. They ate the produce from local farms or their own family gardens. They had raw milk and cream. They ate eggs and bacon on a daily basis. Now think of how we grew up, what we eat. We grew up on pop-tarts and pasteurized milk. On canned vegetables and twinkies. As both generations grew older their diets have come to include even more processed food but the older generation who ate traditionally as children have proved to be more resilient. I don’t know about you but these people at age 65 ran rings around me at age 16. So who ate the healthier diet?
Cancer, heart disease and allergies were rare ailments prior to 1900. Today, one of every two Americans will suffer from some form of heart disease, one of every three Americans will die of cancer, and 90 million people suffer from allergies. This of course is not iron-clad proof that the diets of 100 years ago were better, but I’d say it’s extremely compelling circumstantial evidence, especially when you consider that all these illnesses are considered to be diet related.
What is a traditional diet?
You can think of a traditional diet as what a typical person from a particular culture ate around 100 or so years ago. This oversimplifies a bit, since some processed food was available even then. But I think it helps to visualize what a traditional diet might look like for you personally.
When we think of a cultures food we typically think about flavors. The spicy cuisines of India and Mexico, for instance. But food culture isn’t just about flavor, culture informed people of what was healthy to eat, and in what proportions. It was about preparing food together, eating it together, about eating at a sane pace in rhythm with the rest of life. It was about the way foods were prepared, what is eaten with what and the seasonality of eating. All of this makes up a foodway or traditional diet.
So to help simplify creating a traditional diet for yourself and your family, think of the diet of your grandparents. What would a typical meal look like? What did they eat in Winter or Summer? How were foods combined? Was there any particular foods that they regarded as vital for health? To help the Weston Price Foundation has provided the following points that all traditional diets have in common. You can use it as a yardstick to see if your idea of a traditional diet measures up.
What all traditional diets have in common *
- The diets of healthy primitive and nonindustrialized peoples contain no refined or denatured foods such as refined sugar or corn syrup; white flour; canned foods; pasteurized, homogenized, skim or low-fat milk; refined or hydrogenated vegetable oils; protein powders; artificial vitamins or toxic additives and colorings.
- All traditional cultures consume some sort of animal protein and fat from fish and other seafood; water and land fowl; land animals; eggs; milk and milk products; reptiles; and insects.
- In all traditional cultures, some animal products are eaten raw.
- Primitive and traditional diets have a high food-enzyme content from raw dairy products, raw meat and fish; raw honey; tropical fruits; cold-pressed oils; wine and unpasteurized beer; and naturally preserved, lacto-fermented vegetables, fruits, beverages, meats and condiments. Seeds, grains and nuts are soaked, sprouted, fermented or naturally leavened in order to neutralize naturally occurring anti-nutrients in these foods, such as phytic acid, enzyme inhibitors, tannins and complex carbohydrates.
- Total fat content of traditional diets varies from 30% to 80% but only about 4% of calories come from polyunsaturated oils naturally occurring in grains, pulses, nuts, fish, animal fats and vegetables.
- All primitive diets contain some salt.
- Traditional cultures consume animal bones, usually in the form of gelatin-rich bone broths.
* Excerpted from Nourished Magazine.
Traditional diets are better for all of us
The best and most reliable predictor of the future is the past. This is what historians mean by “history repeats itself”. Looking at diet from a historical point of view provides the most reliable way to predict the outcome of a given diet. History, within the memory of each of us can inform us of the outcome of our grandparent’s generations diet. With this in mind I choose my ancestors diet as best for me.