Monday, December 5, 2011

Baby Steps to Health

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Lao-tzu, The Way of Lao-tzu
Chinese philosopher (604 BC - 531 BC

The following is part of a post I wrote for the Yahoo! Group I moderate, Native-Nutrition, which is dedicated to helping people better their health through incorporating the practices of traditional cultures into their diets.

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Just as the cultures Price studied had no two diets that were the same, there are a multitude of ways to incorporate traditional foods into one's diet. Here's my experience, which occurred over about 4 years, in a nutshell:

When we got started eating this more nourishing diet, we were transitioning from having been on a pretty strict elimination diet. I was very ill, and my son had sensory integration dysfunction (which was largely eliminated through avoiding gluten and dairy, but he still had anxiety). We weren't eating gluten, dairy, eggs, corn or soy, or chemical additives. We were eating a lot of very low-nutrient foods (I look back at that time as "the time when my diet revolved around "bread" that tasted like cardboard), as I was looking for a house at the time. After we moved into our house, I had the time to take charge of my health, and I did so with baby steps.

First, I stopped being afraid of animal fat. I stopped getting boneless breasts of chicken, and started buying thighs and legs (what a cost savings that was!). We started eating a lot more bacon.

Then, I got rid of all the industrial oils in my house. My biggies were canola oil and Smart Balance. That meant nearly all packaged foods, save a few. Out they went. Initially I used olive oil, lard and bacon fat for all my cooking

Then, I started making bone broths. I started getting whole chickens and roasting them, then putting the carcasses in my crock pot, covering them with water and a bit of vinegar, and making broth.

I was continually reading during this process, but around this time, Chris Masterjohn's article "On The Trail of the Elusive X-Factor: A Sixty-Two Year Old Mystery is Finally Solved" was released, and I began giving my family Green Pastures Cod Liver Oil/Butter Oil Blend (this was before it became an even more superior product through the addition of fermentation).

At this point, I also started figuring out ways to sneak liver into our food, on a weekly basis. It was usually via hamburger, and nobody was the wiser. But over time, I experimented making chicken liver pate' and frying grassfed bison liver (after soaking it in milk for a while) in bacon fat with onion.

After tolerating the butter oil for a while, we purchased a cow share and started consuming raw milk. Around that point, we also started eating butter, coconut oil and palm oil.

After that, I joined a CSA and started getting locally-produced vegetables and fruits. After a few years, I cared enough to become the CSA pickup point. When my husband lost his job, and we couldn't afford the cost of the CSA, we started our own garden (which cost more than joining the CSA the first year, but it's less and less expensive each year).

Then, I started soaking grains like rice and oats before cooking them. (We don't eat very many legumes, because they take so much time to soak and cook at our elevation, but when we did, I soaked those, too).

Finally, I delved into lactofermentation. I made a bunch of different cultured dairy products (kefir, yogurt, villi, creme fraiche, fil mjolk). I made sauerkraut. I made kimchi. I made sauerruben. I made pickles. We always had some sort of science experiment growing on our countertop. I tried making cheese, but then discovered that I have limits to my abilities. :) I also learned how to make kombucha.

Somewhere in there I made a conscious effort to get pasture-raised animal products (to go along with our raw milk from pastured cows), and found local sources. We purchased a quarter of a cow from a local biodynamic farm.

With each step, we became healthier and healthier, as measured by the number of times we had to visit the doctor, the number of times we would get sick, and our mood and general outlook on life.

When my husband lost his job, I tried to spend a lot less on food. We started eating bread again -- traditional sourdoughs. We still tried to avoid packaged foods, as they cost so much for so few nutrients. Also, I went through my freezer and cooked up anything that we had neglected eating (due to pure fear!), which included heart and tongue. They were delicious. We discovered that we love sweetbreads (thymus).

We tried eating a very low-carb diet for a while, and while we all slimmed down, we didn't feel well, and certain health problems returned (menstrual issues for me, acne for my husband, anxiety for my son, and night-waking for my daughter, to name a few).

So, we've added back carbohydrates and have gained the weight back, but we *feel* great again.

For a while, my kids were attending a school enrichment program, and I had to pack them a lunch. Because we don't eat gluten, I found this challenging. I packed things like crispy nuts (until nuts were banned in everyone's lunches), salami, cheese, fruit and vegetable slices.

Sometimes when we would go to the park, I would bring things like canned oysters, cheese, fruit, vegetables and kombucha.

One winter I challenged myself to make every one of Sally Fallon's soup recipes. After that, it became a tradition for me to make oyster chowder at Christmas each year.

Now, we are fairly well. So I am more forgiving about cheating now and then -- I am active in my community, trying to do various activities to promote food and educational freedom, so I don't always get the time to create beautiful dishes for my family. I feel like there's a fine line between being healthy, strapped to the kitchen stove all day, and getting out there exacting change. So, since our health is doing well now, we might end up eating out once or twice a week. Or sometimes more during a really busy week (we had a couple of those this summer!). As long as I keep the food in our house clean, everything else seems to fall into place.