Part 5 from my paper, "Modern Health, Primitive Wisdom: American Health History and the Findings of Weston A. Price."
"Meat, potatoes, and gravy. I don't like vegetables; I can't hardly eat any of them. The potatoes take care of all the vegetables."
-- Lena Stanley, Centenarian (Edelman 1999, p. 378)
The world of human health and nutrition is a bewildering labyrinth at times. Just about everybody has their own idea of what is and isn't healthy, and there are plenty of diet books, doctor's recommendations, health gurus, and dieticians out there to guide the way. Who is right? Who is wrong? What is the optimal human diet? It is questions such as these that can stir up confusion and debate. Yet, nutritional science is still in its infancy, having only been in the public light since the late 18th century. There is plenty of room for confusion and debate. As one nutritionist says, "It's all theory" (A. Minear, personal communication, January 17, 2007).
If we are to only work with what the last 100 hundred years of research and science has told us about how the foods we eat affect our health, we are left with but a small period of time upon which to base our ideas -- we only see how food has affected human health over a millisecond of the time that people have been eating. During this brief period of history, we have conducted multitudes of studies that make very convincing arguments for or against certain aspects of nutrition. An interested, research-oriented individual can find in books, articles, and journals many studies supporting a low-fat, high-carbohydrate way of eating, for example. That person can also find many resources that support the complete opposite -- extolling the benefits of high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet. Add in the varied interpretations by the scientists involved in these studies, as well as the opinions of independent researchers, the media, doctors, nutritionists, friends and family -- and that's when bewilderment arises.
This is where Weston A. Price comes in. His research and conclusions are drawn from a combination of modern and ancient dietary wisdom. The traditional population groups he studied had all been eating a certain way for thousands of years. With the aid of modern science, Price found that the foods these people ate provided needed nutrients in consistent quantities to allow for optimal growth and development -- and these foods worked for these cultures over thousands of years. In studying nutritional science, why work with only a miniscule piece of human health history (as in the last hundred years) when there exists a firm foundation in the dietary wisdom of primitive peoples -- a foundation built over thousands of years? In interpreting our own health, why not look to our ancestors and ask what kept them free from degenerative diseases? Dr. Barry Groves, a health researcher and author, puts it this way:
We should not be looking for answers to the diseases we suffer from today, but why many peoples in the world don't get them at all. That way we might stand a better chance of an answer to the dreadful plague of ill-health we are beset with.
It is extremely important for our modern world to acknowledge the findings of Weston A. Price. In considering Price's discoveries of healthy traditional cultures, we have the basis for a logical advancement in modern medicine: the creation of a benchmark that describes what true health looks and feels like. This is something that does not currently exist in the medical establishment. Though we have many tests and procedures to determine whether or not a patient is "normal" or "at-risk" for disease, we have no set standards for optimal human development. This was Price's idea in the first place: he wanted to find "control groups" of healthy populations who were not suffering from the physical and mental malfunction of his day -- he wanted to define what it meant to be truly alive and healthy:
Instead of the customary procedure of analyzing the expressions of degeneration, a search has been made for groups to be used as controls who are largely free from these affections (p. 1).
And this is what Weston Price found in primitive peoples across the world. He found in these people a new standard for human potential. But how can we define such a standard in a world where disease and deformities are the norm?
Like Price, we simply observe the people who are actually healthy. When we look at the photos that Dr. Price took during his travels, we witness a level of physical and mental well-being simply unknown to most modern human beings. When we see those broad faces, perfect teeth, and -- as Price stated again and again -- high moral character of primitive peoples, we are observing a higher degree of human health. It is readily apparent that primitive peoples have many qualities that modern people do not possess. Through the observation of these ancient cultures, whether through books, photographs, documentaries, or travel, it isn't hard to see that they are different -- and not just culturally. We can gain immense benefit from observing these differences and determining what they possess in health and well-being that we do not.
Minds and Hearts
Let us consider the way primitive people use their bodies and minds: how they respond to excitement or danger, the values they live by, the nature of their temperaments, and the way they breathe, eat, play, and live. Are they hyper-anxious? Do they steal, cheat, and murder? Do they have nagging physical problems, such as back, neck, and shoulder tension? In large part, the answers are: No, no, and no. We moderns can use the answers to such questions -- and the implications therein -- in the betterment of our own health. In addition to subjecting the "control groups" of healthy indigenous people to medical tests, let us also communicate with these people and sense with our hearts the degree of their well-being. Let us observe closely what separates them from us in body, mind, and spirit. And let us ask what we can learn from these differences.
Perhaps a good start would be to eat the way our ancestors did. In returning to the food traditions of antiquity in the United States, we have a chance to restore our health. Much has changed in American food habits over time. Most people would say that our nutrition has improved immensely in modern times; after all, we have progressed in technology, medicine, and hygiene -- isn't it obvious that we would have enhanced our nutrition as well? With all of the knowledge that we have accumulated in the sciences, children are still being born with facial and dental deformities. These deformities are not questioned so much as they are accepted. In fact, they aren't even referred to as deformities as they were in Weston Price's day, and they are not at all believed to be connected with nutrition as Price's research revealed.
In the U.S. these days, it is just part of life to have your wisdom teeth removed, have a narrow face, get braces, or develop a chronic health condition. We assume we are advanced enough to know if something isn't right with human growth and development. Yet again, how can we know that something isn't right if we don't have any clue as to what is "right" in the first place?
Once again, traditional peoples like our American ancestors paint a picture of how human beings are meant to be. Our ancestors provide -- through their facial and skeletal development and lack of degenerative disease -- an example of close-to-optimal health. I say "close-to" because Americans at the turn of the century still did not match up to the vibrant glow of the aforementioned primitive cultures of Price's studies, all of which were completely free from disease and deformity. However, early Americans were far healthier in many ways than we are today. And, as was suggested earlier, all things in consideration: early Americans' lifespan closely matches the life expectancy of today.
Once we observe the characteristics -- physical, mental, and spiritual -- in traditional peoples across the world, it is readily apparent that modernized populations are sorely lacking. It is only sensible then to ask how traditional peoples attained such refined attributes. It was apparent to Weston Price that diet was a key factor, and this is my assertion as well. Centuries of nutrient-dense foods have allowed for the creation of superb human beings in traditional societies:
One immediately wonders if there is not something life-giving in the vitamins and minerals of the food that builds not only great physical structures within which their souls reside, but builds minds and hearts capable of a higher type of manhood ... (p. 27).
The "minds and hearts" of primitive people provide our modern civilizations with a lucid, inspiring picture of what true health is. We are given a wonderful opportunity to observe these examples and ask how we can attain this health through employing traditional food habits and following the wisdom that our ancestors have left for us.
Edelman, Bernard. (1999). Centenarians: The Story of the 20th Century by the Americans Who Lived It. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Groves, Barry (2005). Our love affair with fat -- a historical perspective.
Price, Weston A. (2003). Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. La Mesa, CA: Price- Pottenger Nutrition Foundation.