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Journal, Summer 2007, TB: The Disease that Loves Iron PDF Print E-mail

Wise Traditions, Volume 8, Number 2

Features

  • Farm & Ranch: TB Alert, Mark Purdey's novel theory on the origins of tuberculosis
  • In His Footsteps: The Diet of Mongolia, Katherine Czapp follows in Dr. Price's footsteps by describing Mongolian foodways
  • ABC's of Nutrition: Cruciferous Vegetables, Chris Masterjohn details the dangers and possible benefits of these popular vegetables

Departments


    President's Message: An Open Letter to Michael Pollan

    Dear Mr. Pollan,

    Let me start with congratulations. Your best-seller, The Omnivore's Dilemma, is a brilliant exposé of modern farming and food production practices; your description of the industrialization of organic agriculture will motivate all of us, myself included, to order more of our produce from CSAs and make more trips to farmers' markets; your account of the week spent on Joel Salatin's pasture-based farm will inspire many other farmers to adopt his elegant alternative; and your analysis of the arguments for vegetarianism provides much ammunition against this unsustainable, unnatural lifestyle. All this is presented to us in your masterful writing style, making The Omnivore's Dilemma a delight to read.

    And yet... after this feast of words, the reader is left strangely hungry. That's because you promised us more, more than just a description of what many of us already know, of a food system gone wrong and making us very sick. You promised to throw light on that burning question: what should we have for dinner, what should we eat to have a healthy life? You note that "whatever native wisdom we may once have possessed about eating has been replaced by confusion and anxiety" and hint that returning to the "quaint and unscientific criteria [of] pleasure and tradition" may leave us healthier and happier than the dictates of conventional nutritionists.

    Perhaps the lack of cohesive answers in your book provided the motivation for your subsequent article, "Unhappy Meals," published January 28, 2007 in the New York Times. After your best-seller extolling the virtues of a system wherein animals are raised outdoors and allowed to express their biological distinctiveness—their chickenness, pigness or cowness—a system that provides our best solution to the problem of CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations), soil depletion and global warming, here's the crumb you give us: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. "A little meat won't kill you," you tell us, thereby dismissing the whole system that Joel Salatin has so valiantly pioneered. If a lot of meat is going to kill us, as you imply, why bother with meat at all? If the solution to the health crisis is to eat more plants, we'd better get to work monocropping more broccoli.

    What's so disappointing about your conclusions is the fact that after revealing the dark side of the industrial food system, and blasting the vegetarian argument out of the water, you end up dishing up the food industry's tired old anti-saturated fat, plant-based-diet propaganda. What you've done is present your health-conscious yuppie readers with the prudent diet dressed up in designer clothes and introduced your foodie readers to food Puritanism in a silk gown. She looks lovely and slim, she's popular with all the right people, but the shocking secret that emerges on the honeymoon is her frigidity; the girl in green turns out to be barren, unable to provide us with the thing we most desire—a healthy productive life.

    In retrospect, your inadequate prescription is not surprising because you actually show your hand right at the beginning of The Omnivore's Dilemma, where you tell us that foie gras and triple crème cheese are "demonstrably toxic substances" and that bread and pasta are "two of the most wholesome and uncontroversial foods known to man." You describe yourself as an investigative journalist, so we are justified in asking: have you found any science proving that foie gras and triple crème cheese are "demonstrably toxic?" These delicious traditional foods are not demonstrably toxic to the French, so why would they be toxic for us? And have you interviewed even one person among the millions suffering from carb addiction or celiac disease, or stood in the bread aisle and read the labels on what passes today for bread, the stuff made from plants that we are supposed to eat six to eleven servings of every day?

    Because you are such a persuasive writer, people believe you when you say that saturated fat is bad, that lean meat is healthier than fatty meat, and that vegetarians are healthier than meat eaters. You repeat these ideologies, these "shared but unexamined assumptions" as you call them, without examining them at all, passing on to your readers many of the malicious dietary falsehoods put together by the industry you claim to dissect. Your endorsement of the McGovern Committee recommendations—at least of its original recommendations to cut back on meat and dairy products—is truly perplexing given that a quick search of the internet reveals the former senator's marriage to corporate agriculture, a system that would much rather we consumed plants, especially processed plants, than animal foods.

    It's interesting that you make corn your focus in the chapter on industrial agriculture, and not soy; and that you follow the carbohydrate branch of the corn processing tree, not the one that leads to the production of oil. For it is impossible to understand fully what has happened to our food supply without following the river of vegetable oil—first corn oil and then soybean oil. Just a little digging will reveal that it was the edible oil industry, the industry that gave us polyunsaturated cooking oils, margarine and "pure vegetable shortening," that spawned the anti-saturated fat propaganda, the fiction that butter is bad and cream is toxic. Instead you have fallen for this industry lie hook, line and sinker. There's not a bit of butter to bless yourself with in your four meals, not even on Joel Salatin's delicious heritage corn. It's obvious that your answer to the question you raise in the very first pages of The Omnivore's Dilemma, "The trans fats or the butter or the ‘not butter'?" is the "not butter." In "Unhappy Meals" you remind us that margarine was "one of the first industrial foods to claim that it was more healthful than the traditional food it replaced," as though you can't even bring yourself to mention the B word. You've figured out that margarine is a fraud but are still doing the industry's work of belittling her competition.

    Your book gets off to such a hopeful start as you refer to "native wisdom" and "deeply rooted traditions surrounding food and eating." But you don't tell us much about native wisdom, for example the native wisdom that always sought out the fattest animals and never ate meat without the fat; the native wisdom that ate the organ meats first, the foie , the gras of the intestines and the triple crème marrow; the native wisdom that, with few exceptions, honored plants as food for animals and animals as food for humans. Health, you tell us, depends on reading biological signals such as smell and taste—except, apparently, the biological signals that make fat so appealing. These must be suppressed, say the gurus, and you've bought into the dogma.

    It's true that we've lost this native wisdom, this instinct for what we should and shouldn't eat. In this phase of our evolution, we can only turn to science to guide us. But you are not very happy with the science either, referring sarcastically to the study of nutrients in our food as nutritionism. What's fascinating is the fact that good science—not food Puritanism masquerading as science—validates traditional wisdom. Good science has discovered vital nutrients in the fats and organs of animals, especially of grass-fed animals, nutrients like vitamins A, D and K, which are critical for normal growth and reproduction; and good science also validates the need for cholesterol and saturated fat, which likewise support normal growth and play key roles in the function of the brain, lungs, kidney, immune system and reproductive systems.

    Native cultures did not know the names of vitamins, but they understood the concept of nutrient-dense foods and taught these concepts to the younger generation. In fact, every food choice and preparation technique in traditional cultures aimed to maximize the nutrients in the foods they consumed—not to provide them with puny Recommended Daily Allowances but nutrients in superabundance. Thus the choice of organ meats over muscle meats—liver is at least ten times richer in most nutrients than steak and a thousand times richer in nutrients than fruits and vegetables; the liberal consumption of animal fats; the daily use of bones to supply calcium, usually as bone broth; the fermentation of fruits and sap and infusions to make condiments and beverages bubbling with nourishment; and the careful preparation of grains and legumes to neutralize substances that block the uptake of nutrients and to increase nutrient content—like the liver-steak ratio, the level of nutrients in fermented grains and legumes can be increased an order of magnitude. Thus the Native Americans processed cooked cornmeal by wrapping it in corn husks and letting it ferment for two weeks. When we compare industrial foods with native foods, we need to realize that the comparison is not of foods impoverished by processing with the parent food, but of foods impoverished by processing with the parent foods greatly enriched by processing—a difference that is more likely to be one hundredfold rather than a mere tenfold.

    More than anything, traditional cultures valued the fats and organ meats of animals on green grass—and it is the recognition of the benefits of these foods, more than a desire to eat local or opt out of industrial agriculture, that will drive consumers to farms like Joel's. The nutrients lost when we move animals from grass to CAFOs are the very nutrients that protect the arteries from calcification, prevent arthritis, cure cancer and confer that greatest of gifts—children who are healthy, strong and happy.

    So the prescription for good health is not to eat more plants, but more butter—butter from cows eating lots of green plants—and to imbibe that quintessence of green grass, the gift of the sacred cow, whole, unprocessed milk; and to eat egg yolks and gras and foie from grass-fed animals, and to feed these sacred nutrient-dense foods to babies, to start them off and truly nourish them during their period of growth with the richest, most nutrient-dense foods that science can reveal to us.

    You wonder whether farms like Joel Salatin's have any future on a planet on which the industrial food system seems to have a vise-like grip; not only do these farms have a future, they are our future, our only future, because only those with the wisdom to support these kinds of farms and eat the nutrient-dense foods and fats of grass-fed animals will produce healthy offspring in future generations.

    These offspring will not suffer "stresses and anxieties" over their food because they will be well nourished. Stress and anxiety are signs of fat deficiency; the unhappy meal is a wrong-fat meal or a lowfat meal.

    Allow me to offer some suggestions to turn your angst-producing meal to one that leaves you satisfied and content. We'll focus on your hunter-foraging meal, which is the one that comes closest to the precepts of nutritional wisdom. Dispense with the fava beans and double the pâté, pâté accompanied with traditionally fermented pickles, which help the body digest rich foods. Sauté your morels in butter, lots of butter, and serve them with a cream sauce—forget the fettuccine, it's just empty calories. Use plenty of reduced bone broth on your meat—and not just for this meal but all your meals. Spread your wild East Bay yeast levain with butter, butter so thick it leaves teethmarks when you bite it. Place a dollop of raw whipped cream on your Bing cherry galette and wash down your meal with a traditional lacto-fermented beverage like root beer or cream soda. These suggestions, followed in principle at all your meals, provide a surefire remedy for anxiety and a recipe for good health.

    One more thing: why not devote your next book, or at least an article, to the Weston A. Price Foundation? You mention us in The Omnivore's Dilemma, but don't accurately describe our message. Come to our next conference where you will learn about traditional dietary wisdom, soak up our enthusiasm and taste real sodas. Visit some of our chapter leaders and find out how they are reconnecting thousands of consumers to grass-based farms that produce not only meat but raw milk. Find out why our members have jars of strange bubbling concoctions on their kitchen counters. Help us celebrate our rejection of industrial misinformation couched as science and our embrace of traditional fats, starting with the deep yellow butter of grass-fed cows. Apply your fine journalistic skills to describing this nascent movement, a movement that will return food happiness and good health to the industrial age. And then tuck your toes under one of our nutrient-dense traditional meals, loaded with good fats, velvety stocks and satisfying condiments. Watch that angst dissipate, replaced by a sense of oneness with the natural world.

    The omnivore's dilemma is not in fact a dilemma at all, but a construct of false nutritional doctrine. We need investigative journalists like you to help us clear away the misinformation. Please accept our invitation to a meal.

    Sally Fallon Morell
    President
    The Weston A. Price Foundation

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    Last Updated on Friday, 02 September 2011 17:33