A few years ago I started to get much more involved with food. I have always liked to make “proper” food. True, I did enjoy takeaway food from time to time, but I also enjoyed making Sunday roast dinners too. I wasn’t really in to preprepared foods, although I did use them when I was younger.
Then, in June of 2004, I was asked to help look after my brother, who was very ill. When he was first diagnosed, we specifically asked if there was any particular foods that he should eat or avoid. We were told that it was important that he should keep his spirits up, so we should get him whatever he would like to eat. We were also told that the food served in the hospital was basically a filler with little nutritional value, to stop people from being hungry. Chemotherapy had twice failed to deal with his cancer, and he had decided to try an alternative route. We went for an appointment in Northern England with a woman who carried out some Kinesiology testing and gave him a program of dietary changes, detoxing treatments and therapies to follow. I was drafted in to help him, as at the time I was about the only one who had set food in a health food shop, although I have to admit I was probably only one step ahead of the rest of my family. The dietary changes suggested for him were pretty radical for us to comprehend and work with. There were names of things we could hardly pronounce, let alone have any idea of where to get hold of them. It turned out that these things were actually not that mysterious, they were actually available in local supermarkets, they were just in the aisles we never looked down. So I started to learn about sprouting and juicing, about organic food, about supplements, different ways of preparation of foods. It seemed that the dietary advice he had been given had partly been based on the book “Eat Right for Your Type”, so we ordered a copy of that. I also came across a book that I would strongly recommend, Paul Pitchford’s “Healing with Whole Foods.” I learnt so much then, and none of it corresponded with that first advice from the well meaning, but misguided, medical staff. It turned out that those crayfish and rocket sandwiches my brother had been so fond of probably were not the thing he needed to help him recover, even if they were tasty.
We set to work with our new found ingredients, and with the juicer, making new things for my brother to try. I remember vividly the look on his face after drinking his first green juice! We set about a wholesale change of his diet (along with a program of Reiki and yoga) and for the two weeks we watched his energy coming back, we watched him getting better. I don’t know what would have happened if we could have continued solely with that route. About 2 weeks in to his new program he got a phone call, the specialists had come across a potential treatment for him in the shape of an experimental type of chemotherapy. It is very difficult to revitalise a body already weakened by an aggressive disease and chemotherapy, even more so when it is still being poisoned by more chemotherapy. Sadly, he never recovered from his illness.
Meet Dr Weston A Price
Of course this had a huge impact on me, but what is more is that what I had learned could not now be unlearned. Partly through my new understandings, I started to modify the way I was eating. Now, 11 years later I can see how far I have come, although I realise there is so much more to learn and try. Every book or article I read gives me a little something more, another little piece. Some books give far more of their fair share to my understanding. They share a common root, the work of Dr Weston A Price, a dentist who travelled the world in the 1930’s examining the health of remote communities. These included Swiss, Irish, Scottish, Bulgarian, African, Asian and Eskimo communities eating their traditional foods. What he found was that they were generally in excellent health with very few caries. They were strong, attractive and had healthy children. They were eating their traditional diets, which consisted of meats, fats, vegetables and a little carbohydrate. Their foods were minimally processed, fresh and raw. Another common trait was the consumption of lacto-fermented foods, whether it was dairy products, vegetables, meats or grains, each of these populations had their specific ways of preserving and enriching their foods. He compared these remote communities with their peers, living close to ports and eating modern processed foods and found that their “civilised” peers had huge levels of tooth decay, degenerative diseases, crooked teeth, deformed bone structure and infertility. In fact, it seems that much of what he observed with regards to the diets of the “uncivilised” people was in direct opposition to what I understood as healthy eating, particularly when it came to animal fats, but that I will cover in another post.
My first introduction to Dr Weston Price’s work was a book called Nourishing Traditions. Nadia suggested we got hold of a copy as she thought it might interest me. things started to make sense, and while I don’t necessarily agree with everything in the book, it is a fantastic starting point. It has both articles and recipes, and shows how to make many of these ancestral elixirs. Within weeks our kitchen was transformed into my laboratory, where jars of strange looking foods bubbles and changed of their own accord. Some processes took a long time, but the actual work involved was relatively minimal, especially after I got myself a food processor. Making precursors, multistep processes, it ended up like having a whole bunch of new pets, although these pets were microscopic lactobacilli, fungi and yeasts. These tiny creatures were doing most of the work for me, enriching our food, while I kept my part of the bargain and ensured they had a constant supply of nutrients. I was very new to this, it was not anything that was in my family tradition. I had NEVER eaten sauerkraut before I made my own, mostly because I avoided pickles due to my aversion to vinegar. I always thought that special equipment was needed to make yoghurt, having seen a friend’s mum’s yoghurt maker machine in the 70’s. These were all things which were so far out of my life experience, I never imagined the richness I was missing out on.
I continued to work through the book making various strange brews, most were tasty, and only one went directly down the drain! My sauerkraut became rather popular and was even bought by some of my German friends here, something I felt rather proud of. My ginger beer was also well liked. I became more and more interested in the nutrition side of things until I decided to enrol on a diploma course in holistic nutrition, although once again I was disappointed to see some of the same advice given on what is considered to be healthy eating.
The Four Pillars
Additionally, I also was interested in more natural ways of making things around the home. Most of the products in the shops here contain ingredients I don’t want around my home. I often find that standards of products from the USA are much lower than Europe, and of course Central America tends to manage to step below the US. While I was looking for inspiration on soap making, I came across the Wellness Mama site, which is a very inspirational site, packed full of interesting stuff. While I was on there I happened to find a review of another book which has become a big influence on me – Deep Nutrition by Dr Catherine Shanahan. The book goes into detail about our need for traditional foods, and actually gave me the inspiration for the name of my web domain. “Dr Cate” as she is known, cites Four Pillars of successful traditional cuisine. These are: meat on the bone, fermented and sprouted foods, organ meat, and “fresh, unadulterated plant and animal products”.
She goes into detail with regards to how natural foods nourish us at a genetic level, and how the allergies and diseases we are seeing appear now are not just because of the choices of our generation, but those of our grandparents. For me one of the most interesting points that she makes is that our food is information about the state of the soil it is grown in. Several years ago, my dad, who is close to the farming community, told me that the soil in the fields of England was little more than a medium to support the root structure of the plants. It was pretty much devoid of nutrients, and only the artificial fertilisers being put onto those fields was growing the crops. Combine this with many other modern farming practices and of course the food that we make with those crops is coming up short of the mark.
However, all is not lost. The human body is a truly remarkable things and thankfully we can recuperate, we can regenerate, we can rebuild. We can nurture our bodies, we can detoxify the years of abuse and replenish our vitality. I am working towards making things right , but I still have a way to go. I am by no means anywhere near perfect. Yet again, this is a journey for me, and I have taken the first few steps along the path. I am excited about sharing my discoveries in these steps.