My Journey to Traditional Nutrition

I’ve had several things I’ve wanted to write about in the Traditional Foods section, but I thought they wouldn’t make much sense without some background information. So that’s what this is, just an attempt to let you know where I’m coming from—the long journey to find peace with my choice of diet, and health along the way.

To begin with, I like food. I really like food! Eating is one of those pleasures at the top of my list, and for the most part, it always has been. I can only remember one food I wouldn’t eat as a kid (string beans), and I’ve managed to learn to even like those in the intervening years. But my real passion is gourmet food, especially if it’s also of an ethnic variety—from Indo-Pakistani to Thai to Irish to Brazilian, and everything in-between. I do actively try to stay out of the category of gourmand, but I will certainly go out of my way for the gourmet and the exotic.

I grew up on what could be called a 1-acre subsistence farm, in a small rural community in Southern Idaho, where I was the oldest of 11 children in a 5 bedroom house. We had a family cow for milk, a calf every fall for beef (actually, we always had 2 calves in the fall, the one born the previous spring, and the one born the spring before that, which we butchered), a small chicken yard full of chickens, a large vegetable garden, and half-a-dozen fruit trees or so. A good portion of what we ate was grown by us. In general, I was very healthy, eating lots of home-grown beef and a quart or two of milk per day.

When I was about 9, my genetic predispositions made themselves manifest—I put on weight, even thought my eating and exercise habits didn’t really change much. Truth be told, I just started looking like my mother’s uncles in body type, but it took me 20 years to finally come to that conclusion. In any case, I did one of the worst things I could have done, I started to worry about my weight. I tried to cut back on my portions at mealtime, and I joined my mother in her various dieting attempts. I’d loose a few pounds, then the cravings would kick in, and I’d end up binging on homemade ice cream every night. I never got really heavy, I just never could get slim like everyone else. That made me different, and in the public school system, different is bad (but that’s a rant for a different day).

When I started earning my own spending money and got my driver’s license, I started a love affair with fast food. (Hey, I worked at Burger King and McDonald’s for 2 of my jobs!) I put on a little more weight, and my energy declined a bit, but I was still pretty healthy.

After Rachel and I got married, we decided that we wanted to loose weight and be healthy together. We started a low-fat diet called “Eat and Be Lean” (later it became Lean and Free). There were some good things about it: whole grains, no sugar, fresh fruits and vegetables, protein from beef, chicken, fish, shellfish, eggs, cheese, and milk. We followed all of those recommendations faithfully, but we often didn’t count fat grams very closely. All of this combined with the fact that we walked several blocks to the college campus (and all over the campus itself) led to quite a few shed pounds between us. It was kind of nice, but I had a really hard time staying away from fatty foods, and we gradually let most of it slip.

A few years later, I took it into my head to be a vegetarian, although not a terribly strict one. I still ate milk, eggs, and seafood (which means that all I really quit eating was red meat and poultry). I did learn that you can make a lot of meals without meat, especially with fried foods like garden burger and falafel, but I never lost any weight. In fact, I felt worse while not eating meat. My flirt with vegetarianism lasted all of a year, 9 months of which, I even managed to get Rachel (and the kids by default) to do it with me. I still regret having done that to the kids.

After vegetarianism we managed to keep a fairly healthy diet, simply because we were poor. We had a wheat grinder, so it was cheaper to buy bulk wheat and grind it than it was to buy flour at the store. If we were really out of money, we made our own bread. We soaked and cooked dried beans frequently, and we filled our chest freezer (a wise investment of one year’s tax return) with cheap meats like turkey burger and turkey ham when we got extra money. We also tried to keep extra virgin olive oil around for general use, but it tended to be expensive, so we frequently just used a cheap brand of vegetable oil.

One day, I read an article called “Disillusioned with Veganism” by Diane Hopkins in a homeschool newsletter from Love to Learn, talking about the research of Weston A. Price, as it related to dental health. In it the author detailed the health problems she found in herself and her children as she moved ever closer to the “healthy” vegan diet. Eventually she found and read Dr. Price’s Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, which thoroughly documents that animal products, especially fats, are needed for correct conception, gestation, birth, and development of children. This research was based on Dr. Price’s travels around the world in the 1930’s and 40’s to primitive peoples in perfect health, with straight teeth and virtually no cavities. I immediately found a source for raw milk (one of the foods recommended by Dr. Price), at least to supplement our intake of pasteurized milk products.

A few years later, my wife Rachel told me about a kind of eating plan that her Aunt was following, based on the research of Dr. Price. The concepts were laid out in a book titled Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig. For some strange reason, I found myself very drawn to the concept of a diet based on traditional wisdom (i.e. the foods people have been eating and thriving on for thousands of years). I read everything I could find online, and despite my finances, bought a copy of the book within the week.

I must say I devoured that book. It just absolutely rang true for me. Even though I’ve spent a lot of time reprogramming myself to understand that fatty foods are not the enemy (quite the opposite, actually) but most vegetable oils are, the journey has been worth the effort. My view of diet and health is finally starting to make sense as a whole. I can finally answer the question why people 200 years ago had little trouble with obesity, coronary problems, and cancer, and the answer isn’t as simple as they got a lot more exercise than the average American of today. I’m sure my ancestors did get significantly more exercise than I do, but they also ate “the fat of the land” (Gen. 45:18).

Nourishing Traditions, or NT as it abbreviated by its advocates, has made a transformational difference in my life. It has changed the way I view my relationship with food, and what I need to actually nourish myself and my family. There is a lot more to NT besides eating animal products, but I’m sure I’ll touch on a lot of that in other articles. For now, I suggest everyone read the book and put it to the test. Just see if it feels right, and act on it if it does. If God speaks to your heart, you know what to do.