In many respects, all who embrace the WAPF principles are walking in Dr. Price’s footsteps. We believe that natural, unprocessed foods are nourishing and life-giving. We believe that the wisdom from traditional diets and ancient cultures should inform our food and lifestyle choices today. We have been persuaded by Dr. Price’s research and then have had the information validated by our own experience.
What I never expected is that I would literally get to walk in Dr. Price’s footsteps by travelling to Kenya last August. Dickson Gisa, a Maasai warrior, got the ball rolling when he contacted WAPF and said, “Please send someone over. We are all getting sick.”
He continued, “I have diabetes. My wife has asthma.” The Maasai, of course, are traditionally a strong, virile, tall, healthy people. When Dickson came upon WAPF materials, they resonated with him. He’d witnessed, first hand, how sickness and chronic illnesses had come to his community as their diet westernized. Dickson’s call set our trip into motion. The Foundation advertised the trip in an issue of the Wise Traditions journal and many members responded. I was the first to raise my hand; Mary Gercke, from Illinois, was the second. And off we went!
Well, it wasn’t quite that easy. We spent months in preparation—putting together presentations, pursuing connections in Kenya, and arranging speaking engagements wherever we had an entryway. We planned on spending time in Nairobi, and, of course, in Dickson’s village of Matapato (south of Nairobi, near the border with Tanzania). Once we arrived, we were able to speak to teachers at Rosemary Christian Academy, staff at the Summer Institute of Linguistics, a crowd at the Permaculture Research Institute, and more. We spoke with leaders in a Kenyan Rotary Group and we even ended up being interviewed on a local radio station! Our time in Dickson’s village, however, was where we really got to know people the best. In addition to making presentations to the women in the village and the youth group, we also got to speak with villagers one-on-one. One evening, we had a long conversation with Dickson himself about his tribe’s traditional diet and the changes he’s observed over time. Below are excerpts from our conversation.
Mary Gercke, Hilda Gore and Dickson Gisa
THE TRADITIONAL KENYAN DIET
Dickson told us what he would eat as a child. “When I was young, as a child, maybe around five years up to ten years, we didn’t have a lot to eat. We were just fed with cow milk and cow blood. On Monday when we went to school, we’d just wake up early in the morning, get the milk from the cow, drink one cup, then go for the whole day. You don’t need lunch. You don’t need anything. Unless if you go for a break, maybe you can get some wild fruits.
“Because when we were in school, on weekend, you can just get some wild fruits, you put them in the shuka [cloth bag], you take them to school and you do trading. Some come with milk, some come with the honey, and some of them can bring also meat. So if I have fruit, I can trade, I can have a bite of meat. When you come back home, you just take the same meal, that is, milk. But on Saturdays, milk is mixed with blood from the cow. But you don’t have to kill the cow. You can just get it from the artery. The cow just continues with its life. Get the blood mixed with milk. That is the meal for Saturday and Sunday. But on Monday, it’s milk.
“The children were very healthy. Not only the children; even the old men, because they were also feeding on the milk. We didn’t have any other meal. Just milk, meat, and the meat is not every day.”
He told us how colostrum was used for healing digestive problems. “I remember also, when the cow gives birth to a calf, you know, the first milk is very strong. So that one is used for ‘washing the stomach.’ So if the children had the worms, they used that cow’s milk to get the worms [out] from their stomach. But right now, if you try, when the cow is having a new baby, you try to tell the children to take the milk, they say, ‘No, this is for dogs and cats.’ So, it’s really changing.”
He explained how his family would preserve meat. “And I remember when my father slaughtered a goat. We could keep the meat for maybe one week. And they don’t cook the meat, they just cut them into small pieces, they put in the sand. They dry them. That meat can last even one month and we mixed it with fat. So when you come, you are given a mixture of fat and meat. It’s like a mixture of ugali [corn meal dish] and meat, but it is fat. It is fat and meat. And it can last for a long time. Not refrigerated, just out to dry. I actually have a container that sometimes when my children come, I like making for them. I make it for holidays. They really like that. They like that fat. You put the fat and you put the meat and it can be a meal for a whole month or even two months.”
Dickson touched on how they would preserve their health and which foods they would give to pregnant women. “There was no typhoid, no asthma, no allergy. You use herbs, sometimes you mix them. When someone is coughing you mix honey with another herb. Then you get well. The nursing mothers, they didn’t have to go to the clinic to get their delivery. They don’t have to go to the clinic every month to get their vaccination. No, they just get their babies at home. Their babies are healthy. And the first thing that the woman is given after delivery is fat. When she has labor pains, she is given fat. They believe if she takes the fat it will ease the child to come softly. All these things were cow fat and sheep fat.
“When the woman is pregnant, she did not go buy shoes for the child, (or) just buy the towels for the child. The first thing to have in the house is fat because when she’s having any complications, the first thing she has to take is fat, melted into a sort of a liquid, then she can take. Even sometimes if you get heartburn, even myself if I get heartburn, have two spoons of fat, to remove the heartburn. I don’t chew the antacid. No, the fat is direct from the sheep, from the cow.”
A Maasai warrior drinks a bowl of fresh cow’s blood.
He talked about children today and their disinterest in raw milk. “Now when there is plenty of milk, children don’t want to feed on milk alone. If you give them, they just say, ‘Oh, maybe I can just take a cup of milk with ugali.’They don’t want to. But I myself right now, I cannot sleep without taking a cup of milk. My wife, she knows that. Every day, I have to take a cup of milk. I cannot feel that I have eaten anything without having a cup of milk. But our children, Camila (his youngest daughter, age 7), if you tell her just to drink milk and go to school, she will not. She’ll just say she is sick and she doesn’t want to go to school because she’s angry.”
He spoke of natural remedies and aids versus unnatural. “When God did the creation in the beginning, everything He created, He said it is good and is for our use. So now, we are trying to make other things which God did not create. We are creating our own things: we are processing food, we are processing fat. We are processing…so many things we are making, but those things they are harmful to us. That is why there are so many diseases.
“Those diseases were not there before. I remember when we had, during the rainy season, lots of scabies for the children. But do you know what we use to treat scabies? Just only the urine of the cow. All the children were, washed early in the morning, they were told to go get the urine from the cow. You would wash your body with the urine of the cow. Then you get well.
“So now if someone gets scabies, you go to the chemist (pharmacist), get chemicals, apply on the body. And…so many things are happening, because we are fighting what God has created for us, what God has said is good for us, we are going our own ways. When we pretend that we are wise, even God, and make our own things. I think we’re not right. That’s why we’re having lots of diseases. I really concur with you, even with the Weston A. Price Foundation, that traditional diets are really good for us. So, it’s time to try to reflect our minds and go back to the beginning and just say what God created for us is good for us.”
How pleased we were to hear these words! Frankly, everywhere we went there was a receptivity to the message, which was very encouraging. And, to top it all off, as we prepared to leave Matapato, Dickson shared the following.
The elders listen to the WAPF message.
“We pray that God will open doors for us to meet again. It was a joy and blessing to have you visit us. We feel honored to host you. Your testimonies have strengthened our faith. The talks we had with the community women and youth were fruitful and we pray that the Weston Price Foundation will consider to send you in the future. We enjoyed our time together and happy to meet you all. Asante sana! (Thank you very much!)”
INDUSTRIAL FOOD IN KENYA
In Kenya, the influence of the West on the diet is evident at every turn. Fast food restaurants are sprinkled liberally throughout the city of Nairobi. “It’s considered posh to be seen at KFC or Pizza Inn,” one young professional confessed.
Growth in fast food shops and in soda products is clearly by design. Fast food companies are losing business in the U.S., as is the soda industry. The Coca-Cola Company’s sales have declined for five consecutive years. Consequently, they have initiated an aggressive marketing campaign focused on Africa.
Their goal is evidently to get in every mom-and-pop shop (or duka) that they can possibly find (or build). But they are not content with selling the products inside. The company offers to paint the exterior of the dukas in exchange for displaying their logo prominently.
The “share a Coke with a friend” campaign is also in full force. In the small village of Matapato, we attended a church celebration, and sodas were passed out to all attendees.
Advertising does not end with sodas, though. Margarine and partially hydrogenated oils are also pushed on the people. One ad encourages Kenyans to add margarine to a traditional side corn meal dish, ugali. Another promises that vegetable oils contribute to “happy, healthy living.”
For one-stop shopping, Kenya has its own superstore, Nakumatt. It’s like a Wal-Mart, of sorts. It is filled with juices, chips, candies—everything showcased and designed to appeal to those who want to emulate the West. As one Kenyan put it, “Kenya is a hub, a gateway [for] the good and the bad.” We are pleased that WAPF is taking steps to be an influence for good.
Coca-Cola offers to paint the dukas—local mom-and-pop shops—in exchange for displaying advertising for the soft drink company.
Billboard ad urges Kenyans to add Blue Band margarine to ugali, their traditional corn side dish.
I TOOK A TRIP TO AFRICA
By Mary Gercke, RN, BNS
I took a trip to Africa. I was called by the urge to do good, to see diverse ways of living, and simply to make amends. It was quite serendipitous really. One might even say all the stars had aligned. Though I had never thought to go to Africa, I greatly believed in the mission on which I would embark. I have spent the last six years reinventing my diet through WAPF principles, and it has drastically changed my family life, our health and my career. I have always been compelled to share knowledge, especially something that so dramatically rescued the health of my son.
I had been hoping for a way to share the verity of what Dr. Price discovered, but in my community found few who would listen. In Central Illinois, where I live, corn and soy are king. I wondered whether this trip to Africa might be a chance to encounter a more receptive audience. A bit naive about what the trip would take, I jumped at the chance to walk in Weston Price’s footsteps.
My day of departure arrived, and I found myself on a plane with a stranger. Hilda Gore was a bit closer to this storyline than I was and had been the first to volunteer to travel to this foreign land. As she shared her part in this adventure I learned that she was just the right companion, possessing strength where I was lacking. We became good friends over the next eighteen days of sharing our stories and uniting our hearts with a people neither of us had before encountered. We had responded to the call of a Maasai warrior who heard of Weston Price through a friend. He sent out a plea to the Foundation saying, “Send someone because we are all getting sick.”
When he traveled the world, Weston Price saw the beginnings of what would become a downward spiral. He
compared the faces and health of those still eating their traditional diets with those who had been modernized. The poor health of those modern Africans was a result of industrial influence. When he traveled there, the number of native people holding to their traditions was many. That was not what we found. The permeation of industrial influence was widespread, and chronic disease an epidemic. In a way I saw this as my influence. I could not shake the feeling that in order to have any credibility, I would have to start with a confession. I had not personally brought poor dietary practices to the Maasai tribe or to any other Kenyan. But I was a member of the industrial world, with all that implies. The history of those from so-called developed nations coming to the so-called third world is one muddied with not-so-good intentions. Much has been done in the name of progress and even religion. These were things that I could not ignore. That people in Africa were suffering from so much chronic disease was due at least in part to our influence.
Another thought that plagued me about taking this message to the Kenyan people was that many we would speak to have limited resources. I knew from my own transition to healthy eating that I struggled with how to acquire and afford the foods that would nourish my family. In my own journey I have become more and more a part of producing my own food. I had to learn so much having grown up on supermarket fare. To tell people that to be healthy they need to eat healthy, but not give them any tools with which to do so seems disempowering. I knew I needed to bring a message that would give hope. As I positioned myself to include sustainable farming in our talks, a divine coincidence occurred. I was introduced to a Kenyan farmer, Joseph. He is a permaculturist who started PRI-Kenya (Permaculture Research Institute). Joseph and I had obtained our permaculture design certifications through the same organization, and Hilda and I agreed to share the WAPF principles with his institute. He in turn agreed to send one of his permaculturists to share his knowledge with the Maasai. This inclusion was, in my mind, essential to bringing hope instead of despair.
Our eighteen days in Kenya were packed with many talks to diverse groups of people. We took the message of Weston A. Price back to the Maasai, to foreign missionary families and to the professionals and academics in the capital of Nairobi. While our audiences varied, the receptivity to the message did not—almost everyone ate it up.
Kenya is one of Africa’s wealthiest nations. As such, it is also one of the most “advanced.” Advancement has come at a high cost. I was shocked at the chronic diseases now so prevalent. I had thought that the prevalence of diseases in Kenya would be lagging behind us. Sadly, it seems they are very familiar with cancer, diabetes and heart disease as well as newer diseases like autism and autoimmune dysfunction.
We went to Kenya to share our stories of illness and recovery. I told the story of my son’s battle and his tremendous progress. Over six years ago, my son was diagnosed with autism. As a nurse, and knowing medicine had no real answers, I went looking. Like a mama bear, I ripped through every bit of information I could find. My desperate search led me to the Weston A. Price Foundation. I explained to all my audiences how changing my son’s diet had drastically improved his health. I shared the principles and how Price had visited Africa many years ago. I thanked them for the wisdom of their ancestors and their traditions. The heart of the message, though, was “Go back!” I urged everyone I spoke with not to follow the ways of the industrial world. I confessed how we had been wrong; I confessed the sorry state of health in America, the corruption of the medical system, and the horrendous state of our food system. I confessed how our production methods denature food and cause chronic disease. I confessed how our companies care more about shelf life than life itself. This message was not lost on those in the city of Nairobi, who are farther removed from their traditional ways. Many have not forgotten how they themselves or people they know grew up on traditional Kenyan foods. They see the connection that my audience at home could not see.
The tribal people we visited saw the connection as well. They struggle with drought and fewer and fewer grasslands for their herds. The animals have overgrazed, leaving sparse vegetation and increasing soil erosion. I was delighted to have included the message of permaculture. I believe it can restore the lands there, and, indeed, there seems to be a convergence of WAPF and permaculture. Along with nutritional information, the people of Kenya need the skills and training to bring it to pass. PRI-Kenya is doing this great work and gaining momentum throughout Kenya.
For me this experience was the trip of a lifetime. As our Maasai friend told us, “You will teach, and you will learn.” And so we did. I learned that, just as in America, the issues surrounding how we nourish ourselves are complex, and the misinformation runs deep, but there is so much hope. Every time I think on the trip, I gain more wisdom from it. I believe that the audience in Kenya was receptive. They were seeking answers, and they easily understood and were poised for action. What a blessing to be a part of taking the message back to its roots.
Mary Gercke, RN, BSN, while maintaining her nursing license, seeks to acquire and spread wisdom merging nursing, farming, and culinary arts. She obtained her permaculture certification through the Permaculture Research Institute and has farmed for the past five years. Her passion and advocacy for local healthy food inspired her to joing the fight with farmers across the U.S. for the right to provide raw milk privately. Mary promotes local sustainable agriculture and food systems through community organization. She has represented the Weston A. Price Foundation at the AutismOne Conference and has spoken on traditional nutrition at the Growing Power International Farming conference. Her true passion lies in helping others transform their dietary practices. She also teaches classes focused on fermentation techniques and their health benefits.
SANKAU OLE SIROTE, A MAASAI CENTENARIAN
In the village of Matapato, Sankau Ole Sirote, age one hundred, talked to us about growing up in Kenya. “During my youth, there was no school so my life was just to go and handle the cattle. That was my daily activity—getting the cows and going hunting. When we were morans (young warriors in training), we would hunt lion, rhino, elephant and buffalos. We would just hunt for fun. We would not really eat the meat of the lion or elephant or rhino. But we could eat the animals like the giraffe and the eland. Mostly we ate our own livestock.
“When we were children, up to the age of youth, our diets were milk, fat, meat and also sometimes honey. There was a lot of rain. Wild fruits were available and the milk was plenty. And the cows also were healthy, so they can make milk. So everything, when we were young, everything was just healthy. There was no one who was sick. We were all very healthy.” We asked what the key is to a healthy diet. “Start with milk exclusive, or cream made from milk. Just that. That is it. For up to seven years (of age).”
We asked about the difference in diet and health between then and now. “Even food they have changed, because [now] you have to buy food. Everything you have to buy from the shop. And during my time, we would depend on what is coming from the livestock. But now you have to go and buy.”
“There are so many changes. People are getting sick. There are diseases which I cannot even describe. There are a lot of diseases coming, but before, as I said, there were no diseases. During my days, there were no injections but right now, every time, they just say the people need to be vaccinated because a disease is coming. People need to be injected. But when I was a young man, I never had an injection.”
His final comments? “I am thankful to God that I had opportunity to do good while I was in this world. I am alive because of God.”
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2015