Herbal Medicine Ezine --  Wise Woman Wisdom
September 2005
Volume 5 Number 9
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What's Inside Weed Wanderings this Month...


Empower Yourself...
Traditional Diets
Nasty,Brutish, and Short?
by Sally Fallon

Traditional Diets
by Sally Fallon
Author of Nourishing Traditions                          

Part three of a three part article  ( Part1    Part2 )

What researchers often overlook is the fact that seed foods—grains, legumes and nuts—are prepared with great care in traditional societies, by sprouting, roasting, soaking, fermenting and sour leavening.22 These processes neutralize substances in whole grains and other seed foods that block mineral absorption, inhibit protein digestion and irritate the lining of the digestive tract. Such processes also increase nutrient content and render seed foods more digestible.

For example, in India, rice and lentils are fermented for at least two days before they are prepared as idli and dosas; in Africa the natives soak coarsely ground corn overnight before adding it to soups and stews and they ferment corn or millet for several days to produce a sour porridge called ogi; a similar dish made from oats was traditional among the Welsh.

sunflower bud @ smythe house bed & breakfastIn some Oriental and Latin American countries rice receives a long fermentation before it is prepared; Ethiopians make their distinctive injera bread by fermenting a grain called teff for several days; Mexican corn bread cakes, called pozol, are fermented for several days and for as long as two weeks in banana leaves; Cherokee bread was similar, but wrapped in corn husks.

Before the introduction of commercial brewers yeast, Europeans made slow-rise breads from fermented starters; in America the pioneers were famous for their sourdough breads, pancakes and biscuits; and throughout Europe grains were soaked overnight, and for as long as several days, in water or sour milk before they were cooked and served as porridge or gruel. Grains carefully prepared in this manner confer far more nutritional value than modern quick rise breads, granolas, rice bran concoctions, extruded breakfast cereals and, of course, denuded white flour products.

Weston Price's studies convinced him that the best diet was one that combined nutrient-dense whole grains with animal products, particularly fish. The healthiest African tribe he studied was the Dinkas, a Sudanese tribe on the western bank of the Nile. They were not as tall as the cattle-herding Neurs groups but they were physically better proportioned and had greater strength. Their diet consisted mainly of fish and cereal grains. This is one of the most important lessons of Price's research—that a mixed diet of whole foods, one that avoids the extremes of the carnivorous Masai and the largely vegetarian Bantu, ensures optimum physical development.

Purists argue that, as with grains, man should not eat dairy products because the keeping of herds dates back only a few thousand years, a mere drop of time in the evolutionary bucket. But there are many healthy milk-drinking populations including disease-free traditional Europeans, Americans up to the first World War, Greeks and other inhabitants of the Mediterranean, Africans, Tibetans, the long-lived inhabitants of Soviet Georgia and the hearty Mongols of Northern China.

sunflower @ smythe house bed & breakfastEven today, the use of relatively processed milk products is associated with longevity in countries like Austria and Switzerland.23 Modern milk is denatured through pasteurization and homogenization; stripped of its valuable fat content; filled with antibiotics and pesticides; laced with additives and synthetic vitamins; and comes from cows bred to produce huge amounts of milk and fed everything under the sun except what cows are supposed to eat—green grass.24 There is evidence to link such milk with the whole gamut of modern ailments including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, breast cancer, osteoporosis, autism and allergies.

Other practices common to traditional groups throughout the world include the use of animal bones, usually made into broth that is added to soups, stews and sauces; the preservation of vegetables, fruits, grains and even meats through the practice of lacto-fermentation to make condiments, meat products and beverages; and the use of salt. In areas where salt is not available, sodium-rich grasses and other plants are burnt and added to foods.

Familiar lacto-fermented foods include old-fashioned sauer kraut and yoghurt. Almost any food can be preserved by this method, which encourages the proliferation of beneficial bacteria. The lactic acid they produce is an excellent, natural preservative prevents spoilage in plant foods as pickles and chutneys, meats as sausage and haggis, milk as a variety of soured products and grains as chewy breads and thick sour porridges. Lacto-fermented beverages are ubiquitous in traditional cultures—from kaffir beer in Africa to kvass and kombucha in Slavic regions. Lacto-fermented foods are artisinal products—instead of mass produced items preserved with vinegar and sugar—which taste delicious and confer many health benefits. They add valuable enzymes to the diet, and enhance digestibility and assimilation of everything we eat.

Gelatin-rich broth also enhances digestion and provides the gamut of macro-minerals in easily assimilated form. Broth-based soups are snack foods in Asian countries, usually prepared in mom-and-pop shops; and they form the basis of both peasant and gourmet cuisines throughout Europe. But in most western countries, the stock pot has given way to convenience foods whose meat-like favor derives from flavor enhancers—MSG and other neurotoxic additives.

sunflower bud and spider @ smythe house bed & breakfastThe first happy lesson gleaned from a study of traditional diets is that healthy food can and should taste good; that we can put butter on our porridge and cook in lard, that it's OK to consume whole milk, fatty meats, liver and onions, lox and cream cheese, shrimp and lobster, even insects, if you like them; that heavenly sauces made from bone broth and cream confer more benefits than pills and powders and ersatz low-fat concoctions, the stepchildren of technology, pawned off as health foods.

Wisely used, technology can take the drudgery out of cooking, and help us bring properly grown and prepared foods to the marketplace. Wrongly used, technology produces breads that are soft and sweet rather than sour and chewy; coca-cola rather than cottage-industry lacto-fermented soft drinks; bouillon cubes rather than homemade broth; sugar-embalmed ketchup with infinite shelf life rather than enzyme-rich condiments and pickles preserved to last a few months in a way that adds nutrients instead of taking them away.

The second lesson is that healthy eating is good for the ecology. The building blocks of a healthy diet are pesticide-free foods raised on mineral-rich soil, and healthy animals that live free to manure the paddocks of thousands of farms, rather than suffer in factories, confined to misery and disease. The road to health starts with a willingness to pay a good price for such food, thus rewarding the farmer who preserves the land through wise farming practices, rather than the agribusiness that mines the soil for quick profits.

And, finally, a return to traditional foods is a way of taking power away from the multinationals and giving it back to the artisan. The kind of food processing that makes food more nutritious is the same kind of food processing that the farmer or the farming community can do in situ—sour milk and grain products, aged cheeses, pickles, sausages, broth and beverages. All the boxed, bottled and frozen products in modern supermarkets—the cheerios, crackers, cookies, egg-beaters, margarines, diet sodas and TV dinners—have made fortunes for a few and impoverished the rest of us. The way we eat determines not only how healthy we will be, but what kind of economy we have—the kind where a few people make millions and millions of dollars or the kind where millions of people make a decent living.

Technology propels us headlong into the future, but there will be no future unless that technology is tamed to the service of wise ancestral foodways.

end notes click here

© 1999 Sally Fallon. All Rights Reserved.
First published in The Ecologist, Vol 29, No 1, January/February 1999.

Nourishing Traditions
Revised Second Edition,
October 2000
by Sally Fallon with Mary G Enig, PhD
The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats.
This well-researched, thought-provoking guide to traditional foods contains a startling message: Animal fats and cholesterol are not villains but vital factors in the diet, necessary for normal growth, proper funciton of the brain and nervous system, protection from disease and optimum energy levels. Sally Fallon dispels the myths of the current low-fat fad in this practical, entertaining guide to a can-do diet that is both nutritious and delicious.
Order Sally Fallon's book at our bookshop
Or order via mail: Ash Tree Publishing PO Box 64 Woodstock, NY 12498
include a check or money order for $29.95 (Nourishing Traditions retails for $25.00 plus $4.95 shipping

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