As it is Ash Wednesday, I am in the mood for confession. I have owed an apology to my heritage for some time. My friend Jack Whritenour will be interested to know that this day has finally come. He predicted it years ago. In seminary, he was especially attentive to the way I have always lamented my Pennsylvania Dutch roots. I have often found the culture more problematic than helpful, mostly in dietary terms, but also in some cultural mores. I don’t have time to delve into all that. Suffice it to say that I do not find it a helpful community building value to elevate the principle of “never offend” to the point where it becomes “never publicly disagree” so that you turn that into the actual practice of never having honest conversations with people, and instead, holding multi-decade long grudges and cutting off communication entirely.
But let’s talk about the diet of the PA Dutch.
1. I was into my 30s before I would eat sauerkraut. I avoided it like mowing the lawn.
2. I thought that dandelion as a “spring tonic” made no sense if it was covered in hot bacon dressing.
3. The normal PA Dutch influenced meal involves a minimum of one white potato prepared any number of ways, and at least two other refined grain baked goods.
Soooooooo, with my new found appreciation of the ancestral health movement, which of these two practices of my ancestors do you think I am ready to embrace?
Of course, Germans are known for beer as well, but the piety of most Central PA Dutch tends toward the anabaptists, who are totally dry. And bread in a glass is not exactly unique to Germans, so it’s not as central an issue for my identity. Fatty sausages are, so I’m down with that.
I was discussing my pursuit of whole health eating with a friend who has strong roots in the Slovakian culture. When I used the phrase “eat like your ancestors” she pointed out that her people have long loved pierogies and similar dishes. My short response was “go back further.” But it does go to show that we can’t be so glib as to reduce ancestral health to one narrow paradigm. A good starting point for most of us is whether or not our great great grandparents would recognize it as food. It really isn’t safe to say “your grandparents” because they grew up at the forefront of industrial seed oils, packaged foods, and the invention of trans fats.Next blog will be on how WWII changed American diets and made Europeans better.
But even in the 1800s the industrialization of food was being seen. Yet it was still a small enough part of consumption that humans did not overwhelm their systems entirely with synthetic food-like substances. Now, we’re so awash in everything canned, bagged, mechanized, etc…. Nutritionism (see Michael Pollan for a description of this flawed philosophy) leads to things like soy protein isolate. They use a highly toxic solvent to produce this. (Same for seed oils.) Then we pack it into “health bars” and congratulate ourselves for not eating butter.
So if you want to follow the philosophy of the paleo movement,. we’re talking pre-agricultural anyway. Fair enough, but it’s not like there was one paleo diet then. This is not a weakness of the theory, but strength.
OK, enough side ranting. Back to my people, the PA Dutch. That 2 out of 3 is for real, but I am not letting the modern version of this diet off the hook. Sauerkraut is amazing stuff for gut health. Bacon fat on spring greens: awesome. (though I am sure the modern versions add sugar though.) But that third, the high starch and baked goods obsession, well that’s where we went off the rails. If you don’t live in Central PA, you wouldn’t know this, but there are tons of fat Amish people. Hard working, heavy laboring, fat Amish people. And they have highly profitable businesses called bakeries. Tour buses stop along Route 15 not far from me, and throughout Lancaster County. They mostly buy pies and sticky buns.
So I still have issues with my people. That and the latent anti-semitism of course. Just as it is silly to assume everything new and novel is always better, it is equally as myopic to assume everything old is superior simply because it is old. The ancestral health movement starts with a premise, but does not freeze perfection in a time that is impossible to replicate.
I plan to blog 40 helpful, actual coherent thoughts for Lent. Each will be on a real topic, not just my meanderings about training, how I feel, and the stuff that can make a blog insufferable. I will give one or two updates on the “events” on my 2013 schedule, but as you can tell, the direction of this blog has changed. The point is not to get to a finish line. The point is to get to the start line well. I am still trying to figure out what the icon should be between Doughboy and Ironman. Actually whatever it is that comes between, is my real goal. I’m not so cliche as to steal “caveman” from paleo. They are tired of that image anyway. I’ll figure it out.
So as I said, tomorrow: how the war separated the European and American diets.