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Why Change isn’t Always for the Best

by Tammera J. Karr, PhD

How is it that for centuries our ancestors consumed large quantities of high-fat foods and never fell victim to the health challenges of contemporary generations? To answer this, we must look at the lifestyle, food and preparation methods commonly used by past generations.  I have a small collection of antique cookbooks dating from 1886 up through current culinary times. It doesn’t take very long to see, previous generations consumed on the whole more vegetables, unrefined oils and fats, fresh meat, whole grains, and fewer daily calories than modern Americans.  An actual person grew, harvested and prepared meals versus industrial assembly lines and robots, as is the case for almost every food found in a grocery store today.  When we look back in time; it can shine a light on why we do certain things or when changes happened. By reflecting on past events, many that may not be as far distant as thought, the value of change for change sake may be questioned. One example is the use of glyphosate this one chemical, and its fellow family members became commonly available for agriculture in 1994.

Depending on where you lived fresh foods may have been delivered to your door each morning up through the 1960s, you went to the local butcher, baker, and grocer. The advent of Mega grocery stores like those common in the Pacific Northwest came on the scene much later.  The move to commercially prepared foods and the ideology of “better living through science” are predominately a product of post World War II cultural and economic changes.

Prior to World War II, America was filled with farms, many of which blew away in the great depression. It would be wrong to say no chemicals were applied to crops in the 1920s and 1930s – cyanide and arsenic were used to control pests. By today’s standards on average America’s farmers applied over 1 billion pounds of pesticides accounting for the lions share of worldwide use. A Study published in 2009 reported – “As a consequence; it has been estimated that as many as 25 million agricultural workers worldwide experience unintentional pesticide poisonings each year. In a large prospective study of pesticide users in the United States, the Agricultural Health Study, it was estimated that 16% of the cohort had at least one pesticide poisoning or an unusually high pesticide exposure episode in their lifetime”. [1]  Genetically engineered herbicide-tolerant crops now account for over 56 % of global glyphosate use. In the U.S., no pesticide has come remotely close to such intensive and widespread use. [2]

Following World War II, it would be almost four decades before Americans began relying on industrial foods. An unforeseen consequence of the depression were the changes in DNA from famine and food insecurity. Researchers today know the events of our grandparent’s life changed DNA for their children and grandchildren, which in some cases led to an increase in morbid obesity, type II diabetes, and heart disease. [3], [4]   For those living in rural areas during the 1930-70s  food security was better than for those in inner cities;  the foods they consumed came from their own garden or local farms; they sometimes had periods of fasting or calorie reduction due to weather, income, and harvest. The terms “processed” and “organic” were unheard of; everything from condiments to the main course was made from scratch.

Lifestyle and environmental factors have also dramatically changed over time and with these changes comes increases in cancer, auto-immune, endocrine and cognitive illnesses. Every human in history must deal with some stress and trauma, but today we suffer from background stressors we may not even be fully aware of such as noise, electricity and artificial light. This in addition to our modern food preparation and farming practices contributes to the growing chronic health challenges we now face. So while I and all of you benefit from the changes that have occurred in science and, technology, it also behooves us to seriously consider the cost of change – the price may be higher then we want to pay.

 

To Traditional Food and Wisdom of Old

 

 

[1] Pesticides Use and Exposure Extensive Worldwide;  2009, Michael C.R. Alavanja, Dr.P.H. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2946087/

[2] Trends in glyphosate herbicide use in the United States and globally; 2016, Charles M. Benbrook – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5044953/

[3] Brown University. “Famine alters metabolism for successive generations.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 December 2016. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161212115737.htm

[4] Elsevier. “Trauma’s epigenetic fingerprint observed in children of Holocaust survivors.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 September 2016. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160901102207.htm

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