Over my lifetime, I have changed my eating habits fairly dramatically on two occasions. From my childhood until my early thirties, I ate what would likely be described as the Standard American Diet (SAD). I often ate fast food, drank lots of sugary sodas, and snacked on supermarket junk food. However, I was always the skinny kid. When I reached my current height of 6’2” at age 16, I weighed 129 lbs. It wasn’t until after college that I gained any meaningful amount of weight. Even as an adult, the heaviest I have ever weighed was 186 lbs.
When I was 32 years old, I visited Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. Normally I tend not to notice shapes and sizes, but for whatever reason my attention was drawn to the other tourists. Many were obese and unhealthy looking, happily consuming their funnel cakes, French fries, cotton candy, and quenching their thirsts with quart sized soft drinks. I walked straight to a book store and spent the next two hours in the diet and health sections. On the plane ride home to North Carolina, I read Diet for a Small Planet by Francis Moore Lappe from cover-to-cover. Twice!
Shortly thereafter, I converted to vegetarianism, not only to improve my health, but to do my part to save the planet. Looking back, my vegetarian diet was probably an improvement over my previous food choices. I ate less fast food, ate more vegetables, and gave up the sugary sodas. On the downside, I ate more bread and pasta, ate meat substitutes made from processed soy, and increased my intake of desserts. My vegetarian experiment continued for the next eight years, and while I didn’t notice any major health issues, I still got several bad colds each year and my energy level was low.
About 4 years ago, my wife and I were discussing our diet with our friends Ben and Tricia. They mentioned the work of Dr. Weston A. Price, a dentist who traveled the world in the 1930’s, studying the health and diets of isolated cultures that had not fallen prey to the diseases of modern civilization. Instead of looking at diseased individuals and trying to figure out how to restore their health, Price began with healthy people to see what they might be doing differently. Price documented his work in Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, a book well known among anthropologists, but obscure and largely unread by the broader scientific community.
After the conversation with Ben and Tricia, I went to the library and checked out Nourishing Traditions, a book by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig. The authors had taken the research of Dr. Price and distilled it into a more modern day format and added an extensive cookbook. Unfortunately, after reading about 30 pages, I was so angry I had to return the book to the library. The problem was that the book went against the advice and conventional wisdom of the entire medical and health community. Everything that this vegetarian knew to be true was being challenged.
After about a month and plenty of soul searching, I decided to give Nourishing Traditions another chance. While I wasn’t sold on his conclusions, Dr. Price’s approach to understanding health greatly appealed to me and I wanted to learn more. Also, if my assumptions about my vegetarian diet were correct, they should be able to stand up against the reasoning in the book. Lastly, I felt a huge sense of responsibility to find the right answers as it wasn’t just my diet and health that were being affected by my decisions, it was the well-being of my entire family. So, I went back to the library and checked out the book once again.
More to follow.