In September 2017, I had the privilege and honor, along with my wonderful colleague, Hilda Labrada Gore, to travel to Peru to give a series of lectures around the country about Dr. Weston Price´s masterpiece, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. Our trip was sponsored by the Weston A. Price Foundation. Given that Dr. Price’s book still is not published in Spanish, we felt the urgent need to share the wisdom contained in the book with a people so much closer to their roots than we are here in the United States.
Any Peruvian will tell you, with much deserved pride, that Peru is one of the most biodiverse places in the world. As you journey from the dry desert of the Pacific coast toward the east, you will glide over the majestic white mountaintops of the tallest peaks of the Andes Mountains and then descend into the lungs of the world, the Amazon rainforest.
With such variety in geography and climate comes an even greater diversity of culture. This diversity of culture is really just the conglomeration of the distinct responses of many different Peruvian people to the same basic questions: What does it mean to be human? How can I survive and thrive in this part of the world, wherever I am? Or, in the case of Peru, how can I survive and thrive in the driest desert or the tallest mountains or the deepest jungle? That´s why Peru is home to many languages, many traditional diets, many typical dances and many types of music.
There are so many different ways to answer the fundamental questions of what it means to be human, just within the Peruvian borders. Our three-week journey to Peru on behalf of the Weston A. Price Foundation took us through some of these layers of culture. We started in the hectic city of Lima, moved on to the white and black ranges of the Andes in Huaraz, and finished our trip in the still-glorious former capital of the Incan empire, Cusco.
DR. PRICE’S MESSAGE
To help you better understand our journey to Peru and the goals we had in mind for our trip, we must start at the beginning of the story, with Dr. Price himself. Dr. Price traveled to Peru long before we did, back in the 1930s, and dedicated two entire chapters of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration to Peru. (Most places he visited got only one chapter.) Clearly, Dr. Price was captivated by Peru’s people, history and the variety of diets he found there.
Dr. Price was a remarkable person. Thanks to his vision and efforts, we find ourselves in Peru reading the Wise Traditions journal, part of an incredible family of people around the world who resonate with Dr. Price’s message that “Life in all its fullest is Mother Nature obeyed”—and with his message that for humans to successfully move forward into the future, we must first honor and remember those who came before us and understand our roots and our past.
In fact, you and I are here today because we all come from a lineage of successful people. Our ancestors got it right, and for that, we should be very grateful. We do not have to go far back in human history to find people who knew how to live well. Dr. Price found many of them in the 1930s on his decade-long journey around the globe. The people he studied lived in harmony with the earth to nourish themselves, both body and spirit. They knew how to grow nutrient-dense food while contributing to soil health. They knew how to prepare food so the body could assimilate it well and, in turn, build strong, healthy and robust people who did not suffer from tooth decay and who had an easier time looking at the world with a “glass half full” attitude.
Do these wonderfully robust and healthy people still exist today? If so, where can we find them? Are they in Peru or elsewhere? Part of the great gift of Dr. Price´s work is that he was traveling at the end of an era in human history when it was still possible to find a rather large number of indigenous groups around the world eating one hundred percent in the ways of their ancestors. In 2017, by contrast, you can take a small boat from Iquitos in the Amazon of northern Peru, travel for four long days, and arrive at an outpost in the middle of the jungle where the first thing you will see is Inca Kola, maybe the only drink worse than Coca-Cola. It´s a bright yellow, chemical, sugary concoction, and I´ve heard that it is the only national soft drink to outsell Coca-Cola in any country.
Not long ago I found myself in Yunguyo, Peru, by the shores of Lake Titicaca and quite literally a stone´s throw away from Bolivia, and I was hungry. I went on a search for caldo de gallina (chicken soup), which is a nourishing, traditional food that has been enjoyed for hundreds of years across Peru. It took me forty-five minutes to find a woman with a cart selling caldo. All the other carts were selling the generic, modern Peruvian menu of the moment: pollo a la brasa (factory-farmed roast chicken), salchicha con papas fritas (hotdogs with French fries fried in vegetable oil) and arroz chaufa (fried rice, fried in cheap vegetable oil). Of course, consumers wash all that down with a cold cup of Inca Kola.
RECONNECTING TO TRADITION
Eating in Peru today provides a window into a situation that goes much deeper than what is on our plate. Peru is at a critical crossroads, and for many, it seems as though there are only two paths to choose from—and choosing one means giving up the other. People view the crossroads as “modern” versus “traditional;” countryside versus city life (a third of the Peruvian population now lives in the capital city of Lima); Inca Kola versus chicha (an ancient fermented corn beverage); Spanish versus Quechua (one of the many indigenous languages still spoken in the country today); textiles handwoven in the Andes versus jeans imported from China; and the list goes on and on. But do we really have to make such black-and-white choices? Does accepting the inevitable wave of modernity mean that we must give up all that is old, ancestral and traditional? The Weston A. Price Foundation, channeling Dr. Price´s message, tells us that it does not have to be this way. We can use technology to our advantage to help us preserve thousands of years of accumulated wisdom about how to eat and live in harmony with the earth.
As representatives of the Foundation, our goal in our Peruvian journey was not to preach but rather to inspire. We started each talk by telling the audience: “You know more than we do. This is your land, and these are your grandparents and your traditions. It is your wisdom to remember.” We said that we were traveling as messengers of Dr. Price because his book is remarkable and important. It provides all of us, whether in Peru or beyond, with a roadmap from the past to show us how to take our next step into creating a beautiful future together.
We shared Dr. Price´s message with many different kinds of people, including young, bright students from the National Agrarian University in Lima, small-town schoolchildren in Aija (nestled in the black range of the Andes) and a group of all ages dedicated to the art and science of permaculture. Everywhere, our talks were incredibly well-received. Without having heard Dr. Price’s name or read his book, we found that many Peruvians already carry his message in their hearts. Sharing Nutrition and Physical Degeneration simply provided a little more proof of what Peruvians have known for thousands of years, namely, that “Life in all its fullest is Mother Nature obeyed.”
In the aftermath of our trip, the very important question arises as to what our next steps might be, both within and outside of Peru. What do we do in the face of cultural erosion, which includes culinary erosion? What can we do as individuals—and also collectively as members of the Foundation—to help Peru and other countries that are still closer to their roots? There is so much left that we can help save.
We are all connected. Lost culinary wisdom in Peru affects you and me, even if you never visit the land of the Incas. That it took me forty-five minutes to find a caldo in Yunguyo matters to you and me and every person on the planet. We cannot afford to lose indigenous wisdom. We must be committed to doing our part to preserve what is left and to teach others to do the same, just as Dr. Price did so long ago.
Peru is a place to which we can lend our prayers, our resources and our actions. We are establishing two WAPF chapters in Lima. We filmed our hour-long talk in Spanish about the message in Dr. Price’s book and plan to publish it on YouTube so that Spanish speakers worldwide can watch it and learn more about the value of traditional wisdom in the kitchen and in life. We also want to thank WAPF members for their membership and continued support of the Foundation. Thanks to member support, our dream of a trip to Peru became a reality. Many more projects will be born from this initial effort to expand the Foundation´s presence across Latin America.
Every time I pick up Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, I discover another gem of wisdom that leaves me in awe of the potential of the human being. I have such reverence for life and for all the different ways that people have found to show what it means to be alive and to eat and live well. I believe that Dr. Price shared this reverence for life. In fact, what has always impressed me the most about his book is the profound respect that he had for indigenous people, their lives and their wisdom. As an educated white man traveling in the 1930s to remote corners of the earth, Dr. Price treated the people he encountered as wise people he wished to learn from. Thanks to Dr. Price´s courage and efforts, in 2017 we were able to follow in his footsteps and in his spirt of love, respect and care for the Peruvian people—those living now as well as those who came before in one of the most beautiful countries on earth.
I like to say that “my life is my prayer,” and I like to think that Dr. Price felt the same way. His book is a beautiful, scientific and adventurous love poem to humanity in all of her glory and potential. We can be agents of destruction, but we can also be agents of unimaginable positive change. I choose the latter. May we never forget that to create a healthy future, we must honor our roots, our past and the soil beneath our feet. I am thankful to Dr. Price and to the country of Peru for teaching me and so many others this lesson of respect.
A CONVERSATION WITH AN ALMOST-CENTENARIAN IN LIMA
One of the most amazing conversations that we had in Peru was with Doña Flor Irene Guam de Cruz, a woman who was ninety-eight (and is now ninety-nine!) years old. She lives with her daughter, Pepita Carrión Guam, in a beautiful apartment in Lima. She hosted us for lunch, serving a multi-course meal that included ceviche (raw fish marinated in lemon juice), fish soup and fried fish. She was eager to tell us about her diet growing up and her diet today.
Growing up, Doña Irene reported eating liver and onions made with tomato every morning for breakfast, along with sweet potato. Because Doña Irene grew up on the coast fish was a mainstay of her diet. Still talking about her childhood, she said, “At noon, we had ceviche. We would buy fish from the fisherman. We would spend all day at the beach. At five in the morning, when it was dark, we would leave home and bring everything we needed to prepare ceviche. We would bring dried fruit, everything, and would show up back home at six in the afternoon. Living at the beach is very healthy.”
Describing snacks and soups, Doña Irene stated, “We would eat olives and jamón del país (country ham), which is very good. It’s like the ham from Spain. The pigs are raised on Spanish acorns. Our local ham is like that, but with Peruvian flavor. It’s tastier. We also ate fruit, lots of dried fruit. And broth. We ate beef soup, boiling the head of the cow, the eyes. And beef feet. You get gelatin from the feet of the cow. Great food! Every day.” During pregnancy and for forty days after giving birth, she consumed chicken soup from pastured chickens.
Doña Irene’s daughter Pepita described her mother’s diet today. “You always have a rich breakfast: soft-boiled eggs, boiled sweet potato, cassava. My mom doesn’t like to eat bread, but she does like black olives. She likes cheese very much, too, she loves cheese. Manchego. Fresh cheese from the Cajamarca region. And then you always have to eat fruit in the middle of the morning. After that, lunch is five courses, because you have the appetizer, soup, main course, dessert, fruit and tea, along with wine—always a cup of red wine. After that, you have tea time, and for that we generally get a sandwich with a piece of savory pie made with artichoke or chard. She likes chard very much. And tea or coffee with alfajorcitos (traditional caramel cookies) or a simple cake. And after that, dinner, because if my mom doesn’t have dinner, she can’t sleep. We have soup and a main course and that’s it. It’s actually a lot of work because it’s five meals over the day. Once I said, ‛Mom, you can’t eat so much at night. You should have breakfast like a queen, lunch like a princess and dinner like a beggar.’ I called the doctor and said ‛Doctor, my mom shouldn’t eat so much.’ He said, ‛Put her on the phone’ and he asked her, ‛Doña Irene, how are you?’ She said, ‛You might not be hungry, doctor, but I am, so I am going to eat.’ When I got back on the phone, the doctor said, ‛Let her eat.’”
Doña Irene continues to give her household directions about what to cook. Pepita says, “We have to do what she wishes.” Every Saturday, she asks her nephew (who is a marine admiral) to buy six pounds of fish for her, and he brings her the fish. Doña Irene says, “I eat fish heads even now. Today, when I feel like having it, I go to a restaurant and ask for a fish head.”
Doña Irene noted that with the exception of dengue fever fifteen years ago, she has not had any health problems. Pepita also chimed in on her mother’s health. “My mother, for her age, has beautiful skin, right? She has had no surgeries. She doesn’t really suffer from anything. Just the lungs, because up north in Piura, there’s a lot of pollution, and it affects her lungs. And that’s it. Here, in Lima, she hasn’t been sick yet, not from the cold or anything.” Overall, Doña Irene’s life is a marvelous testament to the power of real food.
A TASTE OF PERU
By Hilda Labrada Gore
Our three-week trip to Peru came and went in the blink of an eye (un abrir y cerrar de los ojos). Katie and I zig-zagged across the country to address children, young adults, mothers of small children, food devotees and many others.
One memorable encounter took place in La Merced, a small mountain village in Aija. The Vicente Guerrero Palacios elementary school almost literally rolled out the red carpet for us at a school assembly. The desks in front of us were covered with bright red fabric, accented by yellows, greens and blues. The student band, dressed in white, played their horns and drums. The principal turned up the sound system and heartily welcomed us and the students treated us to a traditional dance and an inspiring poem. Katie and I were humbled by this reception.
Many villagers in La Merced still speak Quechua. They live close to the land, enjoying the fruits of their farming and their traditional foods. As a parting gift, the villagers served us huge bowls of their traditional quinoa and tocosh soup. Tocosh is a tangy-tasting potato (reminiscent of tamarind), fermented over a period of months so that it acquires wonderful antibiotic and medicinal properties. Admittedly, tocosh may be an acquired taste, but I was thrilled beyond measure that this community was holding on to its ancestral food ways.
We sampled several traditional meat dishes in Peru, including anticucho (beef heart served on a skewer), alpaca meat and chicharrones de cuy (guinea pig fritters). Cuy is a traditional protein source that was even eaten by the Incas, so it was exciting to find these foods still being served in restaurants and homes across the country. I also enjoyed lomo saltado (a meat, onion and potato dish) prepared and served by a lovely indigenous woman in Aija.
That said, Peru is experiencing the same apparent tension between the “old ways” and the “new ways” that we observe in countless other countries. There are multiple threats to the health of the people and the land. For example, Monsanto and Bayer have reached the Sacred Valley (not far from Machu Picchu) and are persuading farmers to replace their natural varied corn crops with genetically modified corn. Some people still cherish traditional foods (and ancient preparation methods), but others regard them as outdated. In many circles, Peruvians equate the word “healthy” with a meatless diet, and veganism is on the rise. (A vegan café in Lima was pleasingly committed to serving locally and sustainably obtained food but is part of a wider trend that unfairly labels animal products as unhealthy.) Supermarkets selling sodas and processed foods are mere blocks away from open-air markets where “mamitas” (indigenous women in lovely traditional skirts and hats) sell garden produce, including medicinal herbs, plants, corn, beans, fruits and vegetables.
Fortunately, mamitas were everywhere we went, and traditional markets appear to be adapting and thriving. Bioferias (organic farmers’ markets) are popping up everywhere. Bioferias sell a dazzling combination of organic, gluten-free and even vegan products. At the Lima bioferia, fruits and vegetables (many of which I had never seen before) were plentiful, along with fresh artisanal bread, butter, cheese and more. In Cusco, we visited a marvelous traditional market (one of several in that city) set up in an enormous concrete building the size of a convention center. Market stands offered fresh chicken, beef, cheeses, juices, soups, fruits and vegetables—you name it! I spotted many fruits (such as aguaymanto, lúcuma and passionfruit) and potatoes everywhere (Peru boasts some three thousand varieties). Also in Cusco, we met a group called Canasta Solidaria Mihuna Kachun that is working hard to resurrect traditional foods, herbs and spices. They sell samples at farmers’ markets, reacquainting Peruvians with these foods and teaching them what nutrients the foods provide and how to prepare them.
While talking with a group of moms in their childbearing years in Lima, we mentioned that every culture had some kind of sacred food to give to mothers-to-be prior to conception. One of the young women interjected that whenever she returned to her village for a visit, her grandmother urged her to have some animal blood so that she “could have babies.” In Pisac, a town in the Sacred Valley region, a Quechuan man confirmed that it was their tradition to give young people guinea pig and sheep’s blood from the ages of sixteen to eighteen to prepare them for conception.
Overall, it was a joy to find so many who are convinced of the importance of embracing and holding on to traditional wisdom related to the soil and food. Fortunately, those who support wise traditions have the proper fuel and strength to weather the storm of modern dietary influences and trends, both in Peru and around the world.
Hilda Labrada Gore is an enthusiastic communicator, health coach and fitness professional. She is the producer and host of the Wise Traditions podcast, and also is the DC co-chapter leader for WAPF. She is passionate about wellness on every level, which is why she is known as “holistic Hilda” (holistichilda.com). She is a blogger, speaker and consultant for those who want to launch their own podcasts. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband, children and dog and cat.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2017.