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67 Merchants Row
Rutland, VT, 05701
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Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL) promotes local food knowledge, production and market opportunities for farmers and community members throughout our region.

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The Price of Nutrition

Phil Gurley

By Lindsay Courcelle

Photo by Lindsay Courcelle

Photo by Lindsay Courcelle

Yesterday, we took over 2000 baby plants to our farm field in West Rutland, ready to be planted into our unheated field greenhouse. The soil inside was nice and warm, but outside posed more of a problem. There was still a heavy snow cover that prevented us from driving to our field, meaning a quarter-mile snowshoe hike dragging our plants in a sled.

Fueled with a morning breakfast of bacon, eggs, sauerkraut, and sourdough toast, I welcomed the first trip, energized to start the season with my hands in the soil. However, by my third trip back to the truck I realized I needed more inspiration. While Scott prepared the beds inside the greenhouse, I channeled the strength of an Eskimo hunter, dragging his prey.

I’ve been reading Weston A. Price’s “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration,” a book that mentions the strength of the Eskimos. Price was a dentist from the Midwest who had a keen interest in nutrition and health. He traveled the world in the 1930s to research native tribes eating traditional diets, in search of their “recipe” for healthy and disease-free lives. He wrote about the jolly nature of Pacific Islanders, whose smiling faces showed true health, as well as the Eskimos, whose average man could carry 300 pounds—100 pounds in each hand and 100 pounds in his jaw.

Despite various climates and cultures, he discovered that people who ate the foods of their ancestors were free from dental disease and cavities, and that their dental arches were perfectly formed to fit all of their teeth without problems. Along with these traits, they also exhibited noteworthy strength and vitality. Aborigines could see movement at a distance of one mile and confirmed with modern scientists that they could see the moons of Jupiter with their bare eyes. Children of the Swiss Alps happily went barefoot in the snow, and elderly women carried huge stacks of rye on their backs.

Price made a point to visit a range of people and places. The diets varied greatly, from seafood and oats of Gaelic Irish folk, to blood and milk of the Masaii in Africa, to salmon and grizzly bear of Candian Indians. All of the cultures emphasized special nutrition for pregnant women, incorporating plenty of fat, organ meats, and other nutrient-dense foods. And in every culture with traditional foods, the tribes were truly nourished and the epitome of health.

He studied people who were totally isolated from modern culture, as well as those who had integrated and were striving to keep up with the Joneses. What he noticed was that people who started to eat a modern diet of processed white flour, canned fruits and vegetables, and bakery goods immediately suffered from tooth decay.

He was able to find families with older siblings still eating traditional foods, whose teeth were perfectly healthy, while younger siblings eating modern foods had lost many of their teeth to cavities. Furthermore, as soon as parents adopted the modern diets, their children were born with deformed dental arches, meaning that the faces narrowed and the teeth were overcrowded. To put it simply, he discovered that diet had everything to do with dental problems, as well as other modern ailments and disease like tuberculosis.

The modern foods often appeared in communities before the necessary infrastructure—including dentistry. Without dentists around, the tooth decay often led to toothless mouths and painful abscessed teeth, the only reason for suicide in some of the groups. As modernity crept into the cultures, so too did machine-made clothing and “other novelties that would soon be translated to necessities.”

During his travels, Weston Price wrote, “The greatest heritage of the white man today is the accumulated wisdom of the human race.” Unfortunately, Americans now spend less of our incomes on food than any other country in the world, and only a tiny fraction of time to prepare that food. Yet many of the diseases we suffer are diet-related. And this is progress?

While none of us are likely to live off a diet of strictly fish, seaweed, and deer, like native Alaskans, we can incorporate more nutritious foods in our diets and remember that each bite we take is either feeding disease or fighting it. I know when I eat candy that it is providing no nourishment for my body. But when I drink a glass of straight-from-the-cow (raw) whole milk, I can channel the vitality of the isolated Swiss mountain children and their ancestors, and perhaps wander barefoot in the April snow.

Lindsay and her husband Scott own Alchemy Gardens, a farm business growing vegetables, herbs, and starter plants. Learn more at http://www.AlchemyGardensVT.com.

Originally published in the Rutland Herald.