Two weekends ago I attended my first Weston A. Price Wise Traditions Conference in Dallas. This conference is becoming the premier nutrition conference in the country. It brings together a varied and passionate group of scientists, doctors, researchers, alternative healers, chefs, farmers, activists and concerned parents and citizens. We are all united in supporting the recovery of our damaged food system by returning to real, traditional foods.
I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to be around 1500 like-minded folks who really get it. I didn’t have to debate anyone on why saturated fat and cholesterol are vital for health. I didn’t get strange looks when I discussed the symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (otherwise known as a SCOBY or kombucha mushroom) fermenting in my kitchen. And I didn’t get a bunch of drama queen (and king) reactions at the sheer mention of fermented cod liver oil. It’s like I’ve come home to my people!!
As soon as I got back I raced to a late night coffee joint where I was determined to blog the whole experience out of my over inspired and over stimulated brain. Over 3000 words of caffeinated, disjointed thought blurbs later, I decided to let the experience settle a little.
Two weeks later, I am no less inspired from the experience. However, I am able to process my thoughts more clearly. And what I’ve decided to do is to spread out my thoughts in a series of blogs. Each one will highlight aspects of the conference that I hope will change the way you think about food. In the process, I will give you simple, practical tips to bring more traditional foods into your diet.
But first things first.
Weston A. Price was a prominent dentist in his day. He lived from 1870-1948. He practiced in Cleveland, Ohio and became well known for his research on the relationship between nutrition and dental health.
Like many other dentists of his time, Price became concerned about the increasing rates of dental problems he was seeing in his patients, in particular, children. Today, we take for granted that we need cavities, root canals and braces to straighten our crooked teeth.
But let me ask you an interesting question.
Hold that thought.
Like others of his time, Price believed these changes in dental health stemmed from processed foods, particularly refined grains and sugar which were becoming a part of the standard American diet in the early part of the 20th century.
The genius of Dr. Price was that he saw the world as his laboratory and he set out to prove it through an exhaustive, decade long journey around planet Earth.
In the 1930s, Price traveled the globe seeking out isolated traditional cultures. Some of the groups Prices studied included villagers in the remote mountains of Switzerland, Hebrides Islanders, African tribes, New Zealand Maori, South Sea Islanders, Native American Indians, South American Indians and Australian Aboriginals.
Price conducted his research just before the spread of industrialization would reach almost every corner of our planet. The priceless (no pun intended) nature of Price’s work was that through his writing and photographs he captured these cultures still living their traditional ways.
Specifically, Price’s curiosity affords us a glimpse of their traditional diets.
He summarized his findings in a book called Nutrition and Physical Degeneration which he published in 1939. Despite finding a huge variety in these traditional diets he nonetheless found many unifying principles.
So what are these principles?
First, he found no processed foods, obviously.
He found no evidence of chronic disease either. And while he didn’t have the medical technology to study bone density or arterial plaque formations or cancer growth, he found nothing remotely near the rates of osteoporosis, heart disease or cancer seen in industrialized countries. And minus the sugary staples of most Americans’ diets: soda, sweets or white flour products, Price found no type II diabetes.
But this is where it gets even more interesting. Dr. Price the dentist found incredibly low rates of dental decay. He found little evidence of tooth crowding and thus no need for all the fancy dental procedures we take as routine.
So to answer the question regarding what traditional cultures did before the advent of modern dentistry – they had no need for modern dentistry!
Other unifying principles were a great respect for the soil, a great respect for the animals, the use of bone broths, the use of fermented foods, soaking and sprouting of grains and the use of raw milk if they kept milk-producing animals.
And while he found a great variety in the ratios of fats, proteins and carbohydrates in traditional diets, unlike today he did not find a fear of fat anywhere. There were no fat-phobic cultures. He never found anyone drinking skim milk or eating anything low fat. In fact, these cultures valued fat as a life-giving force be it in the form of milk in many African tribes, butter and cream in Switzerland or the fats from marine mammals and fish in coastal dwelling cultures.
Unfortunately, Dr. Price’s research stayed on the fringes for many decades after his death.
In 1995, Sally Fallon published a cookbook called Nourishing Traditions based on the principles of Dr. Price’s work.
In our collective, oftentimes contentious search for the best diet for humans, Fallon’s book struck a chord. It did so for two reasons. First, it emphasized a return to small scale, sustainably grown foods. Second, it goes in depth into the science of nutrition dispelling many myths that perpetuate today such as low fat, low cholesterol and low sodium diets. Dr. Price found none of these things in the cultures he studied.
Sally co-founded the non-profit Weston Price Foundation in 1999. It has grown into an international movement with about 550 chapters educating their communities and connecting them to sustainably and locally produced foods.
Our chapter here in Northampton is growing and we hold monthly potlucks. Almost all of us are new to traditional foods, including myself.
We’ve all grown up on the Standard American Diet (the SAD diet) full of processed carbohydrates, pasteurized milk, toxic vegetables oils and all manner of “frankenfoods.” And we have all been affected by it to some degree. Some of us have overcome chronic fatigue. Some have overcome severe digestive issues. One of our members has lost over 100 pounds in two years and stabilized his MS by eating a strict Weston Price style diet. He’s done this without exercise. Stories like this are not uncommon amidst Weston Price circles.
And in our quest to regain our health and support our local food economy, we share our recipes and our successes and failures with foods like bone broths and fermented vegetables. We share kombucha SCOBYs. We learn from each other. We also share our favorite farmers and farmers markets and help each other access more local food.
If you’re in western MA you can find us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/125650110778864/
If you’re not, find a chapter in your area: http://www.westonaprice.org/local-chapters/find-local-chapter
So to sum it up, Weston Price was a nutritional prophet, a man ahead of his time who warned of the physical degeneration that would occur if we continued eating what he called “the foods of commerce.” That warning has come to fruition. The rates of chronic disease continue to escalate and continue to plague each generation at younger and younger ages. Mental health issues are off the charts. Autism rates are now at around 1 in 150. Diabetes, cancer and heart disease continue to escalate. Our health care system is a sick care system. It is bankrupting us financially, physically and spiritually.
People are waking up to what’s going on with our food, they’re searching for answers and they’re finding them in the return to traditional, whole foods.
At the forefront of this movement is the Weston A. Price Foundation helping us all find the way back.
And this is why Weston A. Price has a conference.
Stay tuned for conference highlights.
In the meantime, I encourage you to find a chapter in your area, join the foundation and educate yourself. And then, share it with others.
You can find all this info on the foundation’s website:
Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.