Ever heard of Pottenger’s cats? No, not Schrodinger’s cat, Pottenger. (What have these scientists got against cats, anyway?)
Francis M. Pottenger, Jr. conducted studies on cats from 1932 to 1942. In those studies he tested the affect of raw and cooked food diets on the health and longevity of several subsequent generations of cats. His studies are often cited by those in the Raw Food camp as supportive of the Raw Food lifestyle and the dangers of eating “dead” coooked food.
Essentially the results of his studies were that cats fed raw meat (one study) and raw milk and raw meat (another study) thrived while those fed cooked and pastuerized foods exhibtied increasing defects with each generation and many became sterile within three or four.
I do NOT bring this up in support of a Raw Food lifestyle. I’ve witnessed that lifestyle first hand and have seen how detrimental it can be, especially when followed with strict zeal. I bring it up because there are different conclusions to draw.
What interests me is the more global conclusion: poor nutrition affects not just you but subsequent generations. Meaning what you eat affects not just you, but your kids and your kid’s kids. After World War II we saw an explosion in food production. Mega crops like corn and soy started being planted on an unprecedented scale as we learned how to manipulate these foods and create an entire host of derivatives and food products. Prior to World War II your food budget was easily a third to half of your total income. Food production was labor intensive and limited to regional areas as spoilage was a major factor in distribution.
As food got cheaper and more plentiful it also became less nutritious. Chemical fetilizers and large scale farming robbed our soils. Food could be grown at greater and greater distances from its point of consumption, meaning that it had to be picked well before it was ripe. Food allowed to fully ripen on the vine is nutritionally superior to what finishes in a truck on the way up from Guatemala.
There’s an age old adage. You are what you eat. But we have forgotten that. I mean who wants to be made out of Doritos and Pepsi Cola? Given the success of these and other junk food giants — most of us.
Over the years I’ve been steadily repairing my own diet. I know first hand the allure of junk food, but I’ve learned eating well begets better eating. As I continue to choose nutritionally dense foods my body craves them more. I’ve come to recognize the useless nature of junk foods on a visceral level. These days I’d rather go hungry than eat crap. Not because of some sense of wasted calories but simply because junk food makes me feel bad and I’d rather feel good.
In a way this is hard to explain, because it’s so experiential. You have to go through it to know it and I know I’m asking you to take what I have to say on faith.
I also know different bodies require different foods. What works for me might not work for you. For instance, these days I exist on a very low carb diet. I eat meat and fruit and vegetables and keep my starches to an absolute minimum. I feel better when I eat this way. Last night’s dinner was a healthy portion or smoked beef brisket (about a pound) with a homemade BBQ sauce (sweetened with maple syrup) and a large leafy green salad with sliced radishes.
This might not appeal to you. So rather than advise that you eat just like me I offer guidelines. As Dan John points out, there are commonalities between all the different diets. Sticking to those commonalities is a safe bet for health and well being.
- Eat real food. If your food has more than five ingredients and contains words you can’t pronounce it’s probably not “real” food. Real food comes from nature and requires minimal processing.
- Avoid “box” carbs. If it comes in a box or a bag you’re better off leaving it alone. This includes boxed cereals, breads, crackers, pastas, and grains. Remember, farmers have traditionally fed livestock animals grains in order to make them fat. What do you think they are doing for you?
- Avoid Franken-Fats. Franken-Fats are fats that require processing to be made available. Canola, soy, cotton seed and most vegetable oils require a whole lot of work. Heating, intense pressures and other forms of processing are required in order to render them edible. Look for anything labeled “extra virgin.” That means that all that is required to produce this oil is pressing and that the oil in question is the result of a first pressing. Coconut and olive oils are great choices. For most of my cooking I use the bacon grease left over from our Sunday morning breakfasts.
- Local beats organic, but local and organic? That’s pure gold. Local produce is almost always best. It’s fresher, often less than 24 hours from the field. Don’t get caught up in organic certification either. Many local growers grow organic but can’t afford the hoops you have to jump through for certification. That’s actually good for you because it generally means organic food at non-organic prices. Peruse the aisle at your local Whole Foods and you’ll see many organic items grown in Mexico and Central and South America. I have nothing against these places or the farmers that grow there but I know that the travel time from Belize to Birmingham is significant. Tomatoes that ripen in a truck on the way up have nothing on the taste and nutrition of those that were on the vine 4 hours ago.
- Be mindful of food allergies. Food allergies are a real thing. I know, I know, the interwebs have all been abuzz with point and counter point about Gluten-free and Dairy-free and I’m as annoyed by the entire debate as I imagine you are. But the fact remains certain people are sensitive to certain foods. Got symptoms you can’t explain? Insomnia? Acne? Gas? Bloating? Or any kind of gastro-intestinal complaint that’s more regular than you are? It could be a food allergy. I first became aware of food allergies when my children were born. As we cleaned up our eating and made modifications to accomodate the girls it slowly dawned on Samantha and I that we were just as sensitive. A lifetime of eating had just dulled our awareness of our own symptoms. If you’re curious just try eliminating an allergen (wheat, dairy and soy are the big three) for a few weeks and see what happens.
My family gets a lot of its local produce from local farmer, Tonya Drake. Tonya and her family have a small farm down in McCalla. They raise chickens and maintain a prolific garden. Any excess they have they sell. Tonya maintains a weekly newsletter where she posts what’s available for the week. Her prices are reasonable and her produce is top notch. If you are interested you can join her email list my sending her a note (tonya.drake
In general I find diet to be a highly personal issue. We are emotionally connected to our food and being told we must eat one thing or can’t eat another can be very stressful. Rather than dictate what’s an appropriate diet for anyone I encourage them to explore. Spend the time to establish that dialog with yourself. Honestly ascertain what works for you and what doesn’t.
For some of us, establishing a healthy relationship with food can be a lifetime endeavor. It doesn’t help things that an entire indusrty thrives on telling you what’s good for you (their products) and what’s not (someone else’s products). Decide for yourself. Do the research. Experiment. Then go with what makes you feel your best.
To our perfect imperfection,