Monday, June 14, 2010


By Peg Aloi

In this modern world, many of us do not have a healthy relationship with
Food.  Despite so many choices, many of us hurry through meals or simply
Eat the quickest thing available.  Our European ancestors had a deep
Reverence and respect for the land and its inhabitants, and their
Relationship to food was a very conscientious one.

Modern Pagans try to enhance their relationship to the natural world,
And one good way to do this is by paying special attention to the food
We eat.  This article will look at the ways we can enjoy better health
By aligning our eating habits with those of our ancestors.

Although we have been told for years by the medical establishment that
We need to cut down on fats and red meat, many Americans are losing
on trendy high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets.  Obviously such
An extreme diet is not healthy in the long run.  But the principle
Behind it actually has its roots in our early evolution.

Prior to the advent of agriculture, humans were hunters and gatherers.
That meant eating animals and green plants, and whatever fruits or nuts
Could be foraged.  The consumption of grains, which form the basis of
The starchy, agriculture- based foods--such as bread, pasta, potatoes,
And cereals--in our diets began relatively recently in our history.  It
Is believed that humans are designed to digest grains efficiently,
Because they are made of both protein and carbohydrates, and the stomach
Utilizes different enzymes to digest these foods.  So ingesting them at
The same time can lead to poor absorption of nutrients and faulty
Digestion.  This principle forms the basis of the popular
"food-combining" diets, as found in many contemporary books.

The human body is designed to eat meat and plants; our teeth are made
For tearing into flesh and for grinding down plant material.  There is
Growing interest these days in so-called "caveman diets," which
Emphasize leaner meat than what we find in grain-fed cattle--such as
Elk, deer, or buffalo.

The healthiest humans in the world (with virtually no cardiovascular or
Heart disease, nor cancer) are the Masai tribe of Africa.  These people
Are nomadic cattle herders who eat almost nothing but the meat, marrow,
And milk of their cattle, along with green plants.  They also get a lot
Of exercise--walking and running up to twenty miles a day as they herd
Their cattle.

Clearly their healthy hearts and lungs are helped by the fresh air and
Exercise, but the quality of the food they eat is also significant.  In
The Western world, much of the meat we eat is raised for slaughter, and
Animals are pumped full of antibiotics and hormones for more efficient
Production.  The health dangers of a high-meat diet are not just due to
The low fiber, high-fat content, but also to the traces of these toxic
Substances that remain in our tissues.

So what do we eat to stay healthy--especially if we can't walk twenty
Miles each day?  I propose a lifestyle that attempts to eat as our
Ancestors did: simple, healthy foods in reasonable amounts that are,
Where appropriate, specific to our ethnic background or our region.

In earlier generations, foods were not full of pesticide residue or
Hormones and antibiotics.  Our oceans and lakes were not laden with
Chemicals.  Fruits and vegetables were not tainted.

Today, therefore, there is no better way to spend our food dollars than
To buy organically grown produce and naturally raised meat and fish.
Unfortunately, in some areas organic foods are expensive and hard to
Find.  The greater the demand for these products, the more widely
Available, and cheaper, they will become--so ask for them.  We may raise
Our eyebrows at the higher price on apples grown without pesticides, but
Isn't better health and a cleaner environment worth a few extra pennies?

Our ancestors did not have grocery stores, microwave ovens, or
Refrigerators.  They hunted and gathered from season to season, and they
Stored what they could to get them through winter.  Fruits and
, nuts and seeds were eaten raw, and so kept all of their
Nutritional value.  One of the best ways to align ourselves with the
Natural rhythms of the seasons, as our ancestors lived, is to eat
Locally grown raw foods.

Most cities and towns have a farmers' market in late summer or early
Autumn when so much of the harvest is available.  Depending on your
Area, you could get wonderful fresh fruits and vegetables from April
Through November.  Local grocery stores will also make an effort to sell
This local produce so look for the signs that identify foods as "locally
Grown."  Think of how a tomato you eat in the middle of the winter is
Tasteless, or how store-bought apples in spring are mealy--they have
Usually been picked prematurely and shipped a long way.  We can enhance
our health and get great pleasure from our food if we take advantage of
the growing seasons in our area.

It is believed by holistic healers that the human body stays healthiest
by eating foods grown in our natural climate.  These foods protect us
from infections and enhance our natural immunity because of pollination
and other environmental factors.  So even though I love Florida oranges
and grapefruit in winter, they are not as health-giving for me as summer
raspberries grown in Massachusetts.

We are also products of our ethnic heritage.  Being half Italian and
half Irish, I notice tastes and preferences, not to mention food
, particular to my background. Traditional cultural food
preferences develop over centuries, based on climate and availability.
As customs form, that particular group's genetic make-up is affected by
the foods eaten over many generations.  My Italian half prefers to cook
with olive oil (much healthier than other oils), while the Irish side
likes butter (still better for us than margarine or other partially
hydrogenated fats).  The Italian likes savory herbs such as basil and
rosemary and thyme; the Irish likes good old salt and pepper.  Neither
of these influences has allowed me to stomach hot, spicy food--but
someone of Mexican or Spanish descent would have no problem eating lots
of red hot chilies.

You can find out which foods might aggravate certain chronic conditions
(headache, fatigue, indigestion, insomnia, and so on) by finding out as
much as you can about your mother's natal nutritional habits.  When my
mother was carrying me, she broke out in hives whenever she ate
cheese--so even though my Italian and Irish ancestors were great cheese
lovers, I need to eat it in moderation.

It is believed that the current rise in peanut allergies in children is
due to an increase in peanut consumption by pregnant and nursing mothers
(maybe trying to get their protein from nonmeat sources).  Understanding
our personal nutritional needs, including what we are allergic or
sensitive to, helps us choose foods that enhance our immunity and align
our health in subtle ways.  In this way, we can then avoid any
self-medicating with painkillers, sleep aids, caffeine, or toxic
substances such as cigarettes, alcohol, or prescription medications.

Many health complaints can be traced to a nutritional deficiency, yet
nutrition is not a required field of study in medical school.  Is it any
wonder then that the Western world is plagued by so many
lifestyle-related disorders directly linked to poor diet?

As modern Pagans, we seek a closer relationship to nature, and we feel a
need to be stewards of the Earth.  By following a spiritual path that
emphasizes personal responsibility and self-transformation , we make our
way in the larger community by choosing to make the world a better place.

By choosing naturally raised meats and fish over factory-farmed
products, we show our support for humane methods of animal husbandry.
By choosing organically grown local produce, we show our support for
small, noncorporate farms that choose not to poison our environment with
pesticides.  Food need not be a political issue, but by aligning our
lifestyle choices with the eating patterns of our ancestors, we can not
only honor our past but help to preserve our future.
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1 comment:

  1. Well, calling it a pagan diet is a new one for me. I've followed the paleo diet, or caveman diet, for 14 years now. I have developed a concise definition here: