Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Chapter 15: Characteristics of Primitive & Modernized Dietaries

Continuing my review of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price...

As I farm in a permaculture context I look to nature for the prime example of the way plants and animals grow. What this means is that I forget whatever the experts have said and look at what exists in as natural a form as I can find. This is my way of farming - observation. It was also Weston A. Price's way of doing science. Nowadays science has been largely relegated to observations that can be made in a lab, but the vast majority of what exists cannot be studied in a lab. So as Price travelled, he looked at peoples with good health and recorded a bit about what made them healthy. Here he notes a general concept that I have held for a long time:
As a further approach to our problem, it is important to keep in mind that, in general, the wild animal life has largely escaped many of the degenerative processes which affect modern white peoples. We ascribe this to animals instinct in the matter of food selection. It is possible that man has lost through disuse some of the normal faculty for consciously recognizing body requirements. In others words, the only hunger of which we now are conscious is a hunger for energy to keep us warm and to supply power. In general, we stop eating when an adequate amount of energy has been provided, whether or not the body building and repairing materials have been included in the food. p.230
There are many things which differentiate us from the lower animals, but it could be that we have tried to distance ourselves from their world, too much. We all have cravings at one time or another, but rarely do people pay attention to these cravings. A few years ago, Susan was craving salt... not just a little, now, but she was eating handfuls of salt. Unfortunately, we didn't think anything of it at the time and until it was almost too late. Uncontrollable salt cravings may indicate a diagnosis of Addison's disease. And so every craving has an underlying reason. That reason may be innocuous, serious, or even life-threatening, as in Susan's case.

The point here is that moderns are not very good at listening to what their body's tell them. And in some cases they ignore their bodies. I confess that I have often recognized that my body has been telling me that it is tired, but it translates into "hungry"... and I eat something sweet to keep me going on into the night. I should have just stopped what I was doing and gone to sleep. Most of those occasions happened at university while I was studying. The pressures and volume of study required is not good for the human body... so I am glad I gave up that life.

Here in Chapter 15 price gives a summary of all foods from the groups studied. There are things here that are not in the preceding chapters, so it is worth wading through the repetitive text. This is the goldmine of information that one could use to build their own diet. In fact, I'd say that a person could reasonable skip the whole of the previous chapters and pick up the book at chapter 15 and do pretty well. 

I was quite surprised to read that Price is complaining about vegetable oil being a big problem, since he published in 1939. I was under the impression that it came into widespread use in the 50s. So I did a little digging and found that cottonseed oil was common at the turn of the century and that Crisco vegetable shortening started selling in 1911. So it's a lot earlier than I had thought. I've been having to dismantle my timeline for processed foods lately and create a new one. I'm actually working on a processed foods timeline that I hope to share at some point. For now, I'll direct the reader here to a massive database of the history of food.
So what was the reason that vegetable oils, among others, were so commonplace by his time? It has to do with that phrase again: MODERN FOODS OF COMMERCE. And here the key ingredient in transportation. Price lists the foods that are good for transportation: 
              • white flour
              • sugar
              • polished rice
              • vegetable fats
              • canned goods
Today, our transportation system is vastly quicker than it was in Price's time and we can get fresh salad greens all over the continent from southern California in a matter of days. If I wanted to, I could sell the organs from my pigs to someone who lived in Maine. And yet it seems we are left with the legacy of the development of our food system and even more boxed, bagged and canned food than ever.

He mentions it merely in passing, but it is clear to Price that vegetarian or vegan diets are not an option for those interested in optimal health:
As yet I have not found a single group of primitive racial stock which was building and maintaining excellent bodies by living entirely on plant foods. I have found in many parts of the world most devout representatives of modern ethical systems advocating the restriction of foods to the vegetable products. In every instance where the groups involved had been long under this teaching, I found evidence of degeneration in the form of dental caries, and in the new generation in the form of abnormal dental arches to an extent very much higher than in the primitive groups who were not under this influence. p.250
The last sentence of the chapter was inspiring at first:
The space of the entire book might be used for discussing the nutritional wisdom of the various primitive races. It is a pity that so much of their wisdom has been lost through lack of appreciation by the whites who early made contact with them. p.252
But then a sort of aggravation came over me. I got to thinking, "Why didn't you write that book, then?" Or why didn't somebody... And is it even possible to every get this knowledge back?

One of the most common complaints I hear about this kind of diet from people with whom I share these ideas is "It'll be so much work to even find these foods. If you can even find them." And I haven't had a ready answer for them, until now. Price writes that "The primitives have obtained, often with great difficulty, foods that are scarce but rich in certain elements." (p.231) So it is not unreasonable that we too should work hard to find foods to nourish our bodies? Humans cannot live in unmitigated convenience. So back to the farm work it is then...

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