Long ago, if you had stood at the edge of this deep, dark forest that special day and listened, you might have heard all the merriment beneath its leaves and limbs. Twin mice were born to their proud parents who lived in the hollow of that huge chestnut tree yonder. You can bet that all their field mice neighbors came to celebrate the great event with dancing and singing and feasting on fresh chestnuts and fermented grapes, till they were quite tipsy and tripping over one another while they danced to old country tunes. I hear tell those baby mice were an identical brown color except each had a splotch of white in a different place—one over the right ear and the other, the left.”
I conjured up this tale for my two grandnephews, who were both about eight years old, as we visited the forest preserve on the edge of the historic James Madison Estate in Virginia. Colorful songbirds flew back and forth between tall, stout trees that rose over a hundred feet tall into dense foliage, like the pillars of a green cathedral. Bushy-tailed squirrels chased and chirped at each other around broad tree trunks.
We sat on a sturdy wooden bench and began to hear some critters rustling under the leaves near our feet. My nephews sat on either side of me as they both leaned closer to hear me tell the rest of my story.
Now it happened that one bright and crisp autumn day, schoolchildren were making a trip to the country to pick autumn leaves. Those twin mice were playing on the edge of this very forest, rustling through brightly colored red and gold leaves. They were about four weeks old, which in human terms made them about eight years old, the same age as you boys. They happened upon the children’s picnic, and never having seen humans before, they crashed the party. . . uninvited, of course.
The little girls screamed on seeing the two small mice scamper about their picnic lunches. Even the teacher was alarmed enough to stand up and hold her dress tightly about her legs. Two cousins, named Gary and Jason, proudly rose to the challenge and, after much chasing around, captured the two mice by using emptied lunch baskets.
A dispute arose among the boys as to who’d get to keep the two mice. The teacher said, however, that the field mice could be infected with a dangerous disease. So the boys had to let them go. “Be extra careful you aren’t bitten,” she warned as they carried the covered baskets with the mice to the edge of the forest. On the way back, Gary and Jason planned to ask their parents if they could have mice from the pet store in town.
Now, Gary lived across the railroad tracks in the poorer section of town, for his father was an apprentice butcher, and his mother worked as a homemaker who took care of her family by cooking, cleaning, washing and the like. His father brought home fresh meat and whole-grain flour as part of his meager salary, so his mother was able to cook roasts and bake wholesome breads. As a result, Gary was growing into a strong, obedient lad with a happy-go-lucky disposition. He always finished his homework, was goodnatured and kept his bedroom neat and clean.
When Gary asked to have a pet mouse, his mother took him to the pet store and his father made a cage for the new mouse. The boy fed him kitchen scraps everyday. Gary loved to play with his mouse because it was so gentle and affectionate. Whatever he ate, he fed his mouse also, which he named Goody for being such a good mouse.
“Gary, you have such a strong appetite. Where do you put it all? You eat everything I put in front of you,” his mother said. “You just keep growing as big and tall as that apple tree we planted out back.”
“That’s why he gets all A’s and wins them softball trophies,” said his dad, smiling ear to ear.
His cousin Jason lived in the wealthy section of town. His father was a prominent banker who was often away on business trips; his mother was a popular professor of food science at the local college and the public school nutritionist. His parents had so much money and so little time for each other that they hired a governess to care for their son. His father had promised to be home for Jason’s eighth birthday, but failed to be there. He later gave him a shiny bike instead, but it wasn’t the same. Jason became confused, angry, and unruly, perhaps to gain their attention.
So, when Jason asked for a pet mouse, his father bought him one to keep him company.
But Jason began to eat too many sweets from his being alone all the time, and he fed his mouse Junky the same. The little mouse grew nervous, just like Jason. He always made a big mess of the newspaper lining in the bottom of his cage until it was in shreds, just as Jason’s bedroom was always littered with clothes and stuff.
“Jason, enough sugar on your frosted flakes, already. Stop, when I tell you,” his mother yelled at him almost every morning before she went to work. “And eat your eggs!”
“But Mom, you know I hate eggs!” he said as he slammed his spoon on the table.
“Now get dressed for school. Hurry! We were late yesterday because of you.”
“Do I have to?” he would whine as he slowly walked to his room. “I’m tired.”
All that sugar he ate made him sleepy, even in the morning after having slept nine hours. Jason was now eating mostly junk foods, like sugary sodas, frosted flakes and candy bars.
His mother studied the food labels on the packaged TV dinners, cereal boxes and canned foods she bought, down to the last gram of protein, fat, and sugar. As a teacher of nutrition, she knew the theoretical food content of every morsel she tried to feed him. Jason, however, would sneak a snack from the kitchen cupboards after skimping on regular meals. He craved sweet things, maybe as a substitute for his parents’ absent affections. Whatever he ate, though, he was sure to feed to Junky.
His live-in nanny felt sorry for him and prepared whatever he wanted, including pastry doughnuts made with white flour, dusted with powdered sugar and filled with yummy strawberry jelly. These he ate until he could eat no more and, as usual, gave whatever remained to his mouse.
Jason’s mother figured from her study of nutrition data tables that Jason was getting all the nutrients his body needed, but she noticed that he was often sick. Jason started to get chunky too, so his mother worried about him, not knowing what might be causing him to gain so much weight. His mouse Junky grew chubby too, for he was fed exactly what Jason ate. Both Jason and Junky became sick, irritable, and grumpy.
One day Jason howled in pain when Junky bit his finger as he fed him. Jason began to fear and hate his little mouse, and began to tease it with a wooden pencil, jabbing it with the eraser end and then finally with the sharpened end. By doing this, he turned his friend into an enemy.
The grandnephew sitting on my left interrupted my storytelling to ask, “Uncle, you mean Jason was poking Junky with the pencil point?” “Yup, Jason was turning real nasty, and so was his mouse.”
Now, given that Gary and Jason were cousins, when Christmas came round that year, exactly three months after they got those two mice, the two families celebrated together. Of course, the party took place at the banker’s mansion. It seems some rich folks can’t get over being uppity proud, which makes it mighty difficult being seen in the poorer section of town. So, because they had lots of money, they hosted a big party for all their family and friends.
The cousins were allowed to show the guests their caged mice in the garage. Goody and Junky were almost fully mature at this point. What was amazing to all the family was the difference in size between Goody and Junky. Though Junky was chubby, he was half the length of Goody from nose to rump. Everyone knew that the two mice should be the same size and shape, since they came from the same litter at the pet shop. The two boys stood by their cages, which made obvious the similarities between them and their mice. Gary was tall, lean and calm, just as Goody was long, sleek and quiet. Jason was short, chunky and nervous, just like Junky. Gary could safely hold Goody in his hands without gloves, but Jason would not dare try because he knew Junky would bite him.”
Now the grandnephew sitting on my right asked a question before I could continue my story. “Uncle, do you mean that every pet mouse fed good food won’t bite?” he asked.
“Good question! A well-fed mouse might bite you anyway, just to protect itself or its young, but especially if it’s not fed well, like Junky, who got nervous and nibbled at things just to find what’s missing in his diet.”
“What happened when they saw one big and the other small?” said the nephew on my left.
Well, Jason’s mother asked her son and her nephew Gary, ‘Were these mice the same size when you got them?’ Together, they nodded yes. She got mighty curious about that. After much thought, she finally concluded something was terribly wrong with Jason’s diet, because her nephew Gary was a full head taller, seemed stronger and looked healthier than Jason. Not only that, she noticed Gary was energetic but calm, just like his mouse Goody, while Jason was sluggish but nervous, just like Junky.”
I felt another tapping on my left arm. “Uncle, is that the reason I’m shorter than my cousin?”
“Oh, not necessarily. I’ll bet your parents feed you good food, alright.”
He nodded, “Yup, and I eat all my vegetables too. So, why is he smarter than me?” he asked, pointing to his cousin. “I work hard at my homework, but he gets better grades in school without even trying. And I get sick a lot, so my parents have to take me to a doctor. But he never gets sick.”
“And what did the good doctor say?”
“I have to take medicine every day.”
“When we get back home, I’ll quiz your parents and maybe we’ll find some answers.”
His healthier cousin urged me to continue with my story. “Uncle, what happened next?”
Well, Jason’s mom had to take him to a doctor, too. The doctor said he was what we adults call “pre-diabetic.” Funny thing is, his busy doctor didn’t ask a word about Jason’s diet, to discover why his blood sugar was so high.
Jason also had difficulty breathing from what we call asthma and the doc prescribed a drug for that, which he had to take every day. Oh, and I forget the name of that stuff to calm him down at school and help him focus his attention.
Good thing Jason’s mother was well off, because all this medicine was expensive. His mother had no choice but to put him on all those drugs. Otherwise, Jason would not have kept up with his schoolmates.
It was not long after that, Jason’s mother and father―with prideful hesitation, mind you― visited the home of Gary in the poorer section of town. Jason’s mother needed to discover the secret of Gary’s diet without showing her ignorance. Maybe her son Jason would do better if he could eat the way her nephew Gary did. After all, as a banker’s wife she was wealthy and could feed her son anything, whatever it cost.
What she learned as they sat at dinner astounded her. She noticed everything was homemade, nothing fancy, but delicious: a simple meal of pease porridge, bone marrow stew, and fresh-baked, whole-grain bread with butter. She became convinced these homemade foods were what made such a big difference in her nephew’s health.
After visiting her sister’s home, Jason’s mother did a lot of thinking. She decided to make big changes in what her family ate. First thing to go was all the junk food. Jason, feeling it was the end of the world, fumed and whined, for habits are difficult to break. She threw out all the cupboard goodies, and made sure that none was hidden elsewhere.
Then she hired a cook with strict orders to shop at farmers markets, to buy only wholesome foods for her family, and make a big batch of yogurt from raw certified milk every day. She instructed their gardener to build redwood planter boxes for lots of fresh vegetables. Every other day Jason’s chore to earn his allowance was to water, weed and remove pests like horned tomato worms.
Before long, they were enjoying fresh greens with ripe juicy tomatoes and raw sweet peppers. It was no surprise either that Jason’s father showed up for meals more often and actually talked with him about school, sports and other stuff. The whole family, including the cook and the gardener, began to look and feel better. Many of their aches and pains began to go away. He saw his parents holding hands while walking together, and you know what, he even saw them hugging and kissing for a change. They started ballroom dancing again, and people were amazed how well they looked.
Every Saturday morning, his father took him to hit some softballs and Jason thought maybe he would practice for the school team. His ailments began to fade away as he lost weight, so the doctor gradually took him off his drugs. In fact, Jason started growing taller. He could focus better and could play team softball for the first time. His teammates were surprised that he could now run all four bases without gasping for breath.
Meanwhile, his grades got better. His teachers were amazed when his mother, the school nutritionist, explained why. They were so impressed that they convened a PTA meeting at his elementary school where all the parents voted to improve the cafeteria menu with beef stews, whole grain breads, yogurt, fresh fruits (without syrup), and both raw and steamed vegetables. They also started a big school garden where Jason proudly showed the other kids what he had learned at home.
Even his mouse Junky grew until he was almost the same size as Goody. He no longer gnawed at plastic cups or nipped Jason’s fingers hoping to find the missing nutrients in his diet. He especially liked hard-boiled eggs and stood on his hind legs to beg He looked cute when Jason played with him. Better nutrition made the mouse’s fur look thick, shiny, and beautiful. It was so playful and fun to watch that all the kids in the neighborhood came round to see Jason and his pet. Soon they had pet mice of their own.
Gary and Jason had decided to free their pet mice, because after a year their mice had grown old. The boys took their pet mice to the edge of the forest where the picnic had been held almost a year ago. The mice showed some hesitation on leaving their cages, but eventually they ventured forth together, sniffed the fresh spring air with upturned noses, flipped their long tails, and finally scampered off together under the forest leaves, never to be seen again. Gary and Jason were sad to see them go, but happy that they would at last be free to live and play wherever they wished.
“Gee, Uncle, do you think we could catch us some field mice, too?” one nephew asked, as he studied the vast leaf blanket on the forest floor for signs of field mice. Only squirrels scurried about.
“What happened to them after they ran into the forest?” asked my other nephew.
“We may never see those very same mice again, but we can be sure in the wild, they ate very well, and were happy. But all this happened a long time ago. Maybe, if you are good boys during the rest of the year, Santa Claus will bring each of you a pet mouse. Would you like that?”
“Yes, yes,” they chorused with delight, as we started back to the James Madison mansion.
A STORY WITH A BASIS OF TRUTH
This children’s story is based in part on actual events. In the 1960s, nutritionist Gina Larson’s ten-year experimental program at Helix High School in San Diego resulted in statewide honors in academic and athletic contests, and its sports insurance premiums greatly reduced. In the 1970s, a similar program was launched at seventy elementary schools in Fulton County, Georgia, by Sarah Sloan, director of nutrition, achieving similar excellent results. When the principal founders of these two programs died, the school systems promptly reverted to machine-vended snacks and refined foods from government surplus.
Devoted individuals can make a big difference by being a role model for their kids, participating in school lunch programs, and letting their school board members know what wholesome nutrition means. For over twenty-three years, Ruth Rosevear, a teacher in the Cincinnati, Ohio school system, showed the living results of her Goody and Junky experiment to her students, using two rats of the same litter, with Goody fed only good food and Junky fed only junk food. Within six weeks, the difference in their size, weight, and disposition was startling. Fortunately, when Junky resumed a wholesome diet after six weeks, the animal fully recovered.
These experiments at Helix High and in the Georgia school system are presented in the video entitled Better Food for Better Students, available from the Price Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, San Diego. Produced in 1986 by R.M. Dell’Orfano with a grant from Ruth Rosevear, it also shows some of Dr. Weston Price’s world research travels, investigating the link between modern diets and dental cavities.
For those interested in scientific evidence, read “Childhood Violence: Is Malnutrition the Cause?” an article by R.M. Dell’Orfano in Wise Traditions, Summer 2002. “Unhealthy mental functioning, accompanied by macabre paranoid perceptions and hallucinations, can result from a sudden drop in blood sugar after limiting breakfast to only a soft drink. Such seemingly unimportant and innocent indulgences, practiced on a daily basis for an extended period of time, could easily trigger a tragic shooting on some school campus.”
Dr. Weston A. Price discovered that proper nutrition can reverse certain genetic defects that pass from generation to generation, backed with pertinent photos and detailed observations in his book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, available from the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2013.