Monday, June 11, 2012

Dentist Weston Price, in his seminal 1930s book 'Nutrition and Physical Degeneration,' predicted that processed food would put American democracy in peril.

In the film Idiocracy, the decline of America comes not through an oil shock, a debt crisis or even the rise of China and India. Instead, a kind of reverse eugenics, where yuppies defer childbearing until it’s too late while guys in wife-beater T shirts keep on multiplying themselves generation after generation, brings the nation to a sad place in the year 2505.
The average IQ has declined to well below 100. Water is only used for flushing toilets but a power drink called “Brawndo, the Thirst Mutilator” is fed to both people and animals and sprayed on crops. The top-rated TV show, called “Ow! My Balls!” features one scene after another of a guy getting his groin slammed.
Oh, yes, and at the local hospital, if you stand out as sounding particularly intelligent, a physician consulting your medical record is likely to provide a diagnosis like this: “Sez here u talk like a fag and uh…ur shit’s all retarded.”
Weston Price was another kind of doctor from another era who also thought that America was getting progressively stupider by the generation. And Price would agree with the makers of Idiocracy that a populace that had gotten too stupid to take care of itself could mean the end of our democracy.

A nation of degenerates

In his 1939 classic, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Price cites research that a quarter or more of American adults had such low intelligence that they “require some supervision.” Price approvingly quotes a contemporary writer who asks:
Should the ballot be restricted to citizens able to take care of themselves? One out of four cannot…The tail is now wagging Washington, and Wall St. and LaSalle Street…Each generation has seen some lowering of the American average level of general ability.
But Price does not blame the decline of our national stock on dolts over-breeding or rubbish on the radio or the poor example set by President Hoover. Instead, Price fingers the standard American diet of his day for helping to create a nation of dimwits: white bread, sugar, skim milk and all the stuff you can make from these, from sweet jams and jellies to cake.
In a world entirely innocent of GMOs and still largely free of food chemicals, Price found plenty to hate in the industrial food of the thirties, namely, that it lacked the nutrition needed for good health. And the problem went beyond the Wonder Bread and Co’Cola of his countrymen to encompass all the sugary, starchy and low-fat processed foods eaten by civilized people everywhere, presumably sparing neither British scone nor French croissant nor Italian pizza pie.
Such a diet, composed of dead foods that even an insect would reject but that provide modern humans with enough calories to somehow limp along for three score and ten, fills the belly without providing adequate vitamins or the natural activators needed to use those vitamins even if you can get them. As a result, modern people suffer from degenerative diseases like cancer and tuberculosis largely unknown before the industrial era. And we also suffer from birth defects that come not from a long line of genetic mutations but instead just from our parents’ own bad diets.
This may be a new idea for people today, accustomed as we are to blaming everything from a slow metabolism to myopia on genetics. But Price argued that whatever your parents’ genetics, if they simply ate crappy modern food just before you were born, then the sperm and/or egg that made you would also be defective. And that in turn would make you defective from birth. This may be hard to accept, perhaps, especially if you’re generally healthy and feel, as I do, that you’re not a total moron most of the time.
Price’s argument is subtle. He finds that nearly all modern people are born imperfect but that the symptoms are so pervasive as to be considered normal by society at large — primarily, growing up with crooked teeth, which Price sees not as a natural variation on human development, but rather as a skeletal deformity resulting from poor nutrition.

Bad teeth bite

By the standards of today’s diet gurus, whether celebrity personal trainers, celebrity nutritionists or just plain old celebrities, Price stands out.
As a dentist (who practiced in Cleveland, no less), Price’s concern for nutrition started not from a flabby belly or a large butt, but from the crooked, cavity-riddled teeth of his patients. An early holistic practitioner, Price got tired of the old routine of drilling and filling and guessed that there must be more to dental health than brushing, flossing and staying away from salt water taffy.
Price had already decided that the root cause of tooth decay was the unhealthy diet of modern civilization. And to find the cure, Price departed from the study of pathology to the study of health and set out to find people around the world who had good teeth. So, in the early 1930s, with his wife Florence at his side, Price embarked on a world tour of indigenous people and their diets, traveling Indiana Jones-style by “prop planes, steamships, canoes, automobiles, and on foot, visiting 14 countries on 5 continents,” as cancer specialist Patrick Quillin puts it in one of the book’s forewords.
[Price] was troubled with the dramatic increase in dental problems among his patients. His travels proved his theory: if you eat your native ethnic diet in an unprocessed form you will have good mental, physical and dental health. If you eat highly processed foods, which adds questionable agents and removes essential nutrients, your health deteriorates.

The Indigenous Diet

Price’s results are hard to argue with. Of the dozens of groups he studied, nearly all had perfect teeth that grew straight in their dental arches and remained free of cavities throughout their lifetimes without any help from modern dentistry.
New Zealand Maori
Among thousands of native people that Price photographed on his travels, these New Zealand Maori enjoyed the straight, cavity-free teeth and overall good health of people who ate their traditional diet.
What all the native peoples Price studied also had in common, whether Inuit in Alaska or Aborigines in Australia, was that if they stuck to their native diet — which always consisted of unprocessed foods with plenty of animal fats and vitamins but more or less seafood, whole grains, meat, dairy and vegetables depending on what was available — their teeth would remain nearly 100% cavity free and their general health would be good.
But as soon as these same peoples started to eat foods from trade, from white bread to jams to canned goods, their mouths would fill with cavities and they would also become susceptible to diseases that had never troubled them in the past, particularly tuberculosis. Even worse, if they were eating western foods, their kids would be born with narrow dental arches that couldn’t accommodate all their teeth, leading to the crooked teeth common in Europe and America but almost entirely absent from indigenous societies before contact with modern foods. And they’d suffer birth defects from club feet to mangled hands.
Thus armed with the key to not only a clean mouth but a sound body, Price brought back the wisdom of primitive peoples to a largely indifferent western world about to spread an orgy of canned food across the globe during World War II and then settle in to the TV diet of the 1950s.
A man ahead of his time, Price’s teachings would only come into their own with the advent of organic and whole foods diets in the 1970s. Paleo, caveman and other low-carb diets also follow in Price’s footsteps, with the important exception that Price was not against starches or grains per se, but only against refined grains. Indeed, two of the groups Price studied, Gaelics in the Hebrides Islands off the northern coast of Scotland and Swiss perched high in the Loetschental Valley of the Alps, were big users of grains (oats and rye, respectively).
Price would certainly consider it good news that so many of us are now taking back our food from big corporations. Indeed, the last words of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration make this man of the 1930s, who refused all offers of sponsorship and funded his extensive travels entirely from his dental practice, sound like an early fan of Occupy Wall Street: “Great care must be taken to avoid commercial encroachment from gain.”
– Erik Curren, Transition Voice

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