When my son was three, we discovered that he had an allergy to tree nuts and sesame. Soon afterwards, he developed asthma. A few years later, my daughter was diagnosed with ezcema and an allergy to milk and eggs, which she fortunately outgrew.
We got a quick education. For one thing, we learned that peanuts are not tree nuts (they are legumes; they grow on the ground), therefore he can enjoy peanuts and peanut butter despite his tree nut allergy. We learned the hard way that hummus contains tahini paste, which is sesame. We learned how to use an EpiPen (fortunately we've never had to use it on my son, although I once had an unfortunate confrontation with the device that I'll not soon forget). And we learned that while cases of allergies, asthma, and eczema are rampant in 21st century America, no one seems to know what has caused it.
Our friends often ask questions like,
"Why do so many kids have allergies these days?"
"When we were growing up, I don't remember kids having so many allergies."
"What's causing this? It must be something."
To which we just shake our heads and shrug our shoulders. No one really knows.
Along with the rise in food allergies and asthma comes more and more cases of ADD, ADHD, autism, and Asbergers Syndrome.
And then what's up with the gastrointestinal issues that plague our modern society? I suffer from IBS, GERD, and gastirits, and it's not pretty. Everywhere I turn, someone is treating heartburn or candida or Crohns. It's always something, it seems.
And of course there are the Big Three -- heart disease, diabetes, and obesity; these diseases are rampant, and the victims are getting younger and younger.
Was it always this way? Did we just not know as much? Did people die younger, before they could be diagnosed? Or are these diseases unique to our day and age?
For one thing, the diseases I mention above are not only new in the last 100 years, they are unique to Western civilization. Societies that still eat the traditional diets of their ancestors do not suffer from the same ailments as we do; they are much healthier. So what's the difference?
That's the easy part. It is the industrialization of our food that sets us apart from other cultures. The more I read, the more convinced I am that returning to traditional food and turning our back on the processed food products that make up the majority of the inventory on our grocery store shelves is the answer to the diseases that plague our society.
I've always thought that I ate fairly well. Sure, I like sugar a little too much, and I have been known to indulge in an occasional Quarter Pounder with Cheese from my favorite fast food joint, but at the grocery store I've always tried to avoid products with high fructose corn syrup and trans fats and artificial sweeteners and colorings. We don't feed our kids a lot of soda and junkfood. A Pop-Tart has never darkened the door of my home.
But since discovering the truth about processed foods and the harm that they are doing to us as a society and as individuals, I have taken it upon myself to rid our home of all but the most basic processed foods, and I've started trying to feed my family traditional foods in a traditional way.
This is a journey I've only just begun (I feel like I should be humming a tune) but we are well on our way to a much healthier way of eating, and believe it or not, I already feel better.
This isn't just about eating organic, this is about rejecting the modern processed, industrialized foods that we have become so accustomed to and returning to the way our great-grandmothers used to eat. It means letting go of the low-fat, diet mentality and enjoying food the way it was created to be eaten. It also means re-evaluating how we eat. I try not to eat on the go, but to sit down at the table and enjoy my food, preferably with human companionship. (And Twitter doesn't count.)
We have started buying raw whole milk from a local dairy. Yep, I mean unpasteurized, nonhomogenized milk straight from the source. (I know, it sounds skeevy at first, but don't knock it till you've tried it!) Pasteurization kills beneficial vitamins, minerals, and enzymes, and reduced fat milk removes the nutritious butterfat that helps you digest those vitamins. I am lactose intolerant and get horrible stomach aches from drinking pasteurized milk from the grocery store, but amazingly I can drink raw milk without complaint. That's because the enzyme that digests lactose has not been destroyed by processing. (Pretty cool, huh?)
We have switched to homemade granola and eggs for breakfast rather than the boxed cereals that are pretty much worthless from a nutritional standpoint, despite the misleading health claims on the boxes.
We buy our eggs and chicken at a local farm from hens that are pastured, eating a traditional diet of grass, seeds, and bugs.
I have been working on finding a source for grass-fed meats, and I plan to start making homemade bread, but I'm not quite ready to tackle that yet.
I was never one to buy juice or fruit snacks but now I no longer buy storebought granola bars or other snackfoods. Instead, we've been snacking mostly on fruit and yogurt (whole milk yogurt sweetened with maple sugar -- my kids actually think it's dessert. It's that good.)
Returning to traditional eating habits is time consuming and overwhelming at times, but it is so rewarding. I've never felt so satisifed by food. At first it sounds limiting, and you think you will feel deprived, but it's actually just the opposite. When the kids ask for Dairy Queen, we come home and make homemade ice cream from whole milk and heavy cream. How bad can THAT be? Instead of boxed cereals that all taste the same, we enjoy eggs and pancakes and homemade granola and oatmeal for breakfast (no, not all on the same day!) We pop our own popcorn in coconut oil and slather all our veggies with real butter and flaky sea salt. That's hardly deprived, now is it?
Supposedly those who switch to a more traditional diet find that they suffer fewer colds and viruses. I'm eager to see what winter brings. I can say that my nails and skin already look better than they have in years, and I was only converted to traditional food about a month ago. I am crediting my Cod Liver Oil pills for that, but I'm sure the a healthier diet can't hurt.
If you made it this far, then I assume you have some interest in this topic. I highly recommend reading one of the books I listed above. There is also a plethora of websites geared to this subject, and on my personal blog, I am writing posts a couple times a week detailing my journey. Feel free to stop on over. Warning: it's a huge time suck. But then, what better way to spend your time online than informing yourself on ways to feed your family better?