A Traditional Foods Movement: The Balance of Healthy Eating

The traditional foods movement calls you back to the kitchen, and allows you to weave the connections between the food on your table, the time you take to prepare it and the farms that produce it.
By Jennifer McGruther
June 2014
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Traditional foods are the foods of our great-great grandmothers — the foods of gardens and of farms. They represent a system of balance, emphasizing the value of meat and milk, grain and bean, vegetables and fruits.
Photo by Jennifer McGruther
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The traditional foods movement is a fad-free approach to cooking and eating that emphasizes nutrient-dense food, and values quality, environment and community over the convenience of processed products. The Nourished Kitchen (Ten Speed Press, 2014), by Jennifer McGruther, not only teaches how to prepare wholesome foods, but also encourages a celebration of old-world culinary traditions that have sustained healthy people for millennia. The following excerpt comes from the introduction and discusses some of the general benefits of joining the traditional foods movement.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The Nourished Kitchen.

"Everyone had a garden back then; you just couldn’t get by without it. We fried our dinner in lard, and sauerkraut got us through the winter,” Trudy explained, answering a question about how the old-timers survived in the rough-and-tumble Colorado mining community of Crested Butte long before the roads were paved and imported, packaged foods traveled up the winding mountain passes in eighteen-wheel trucks to line the shelves of our grocery store.

Trudy, you see, is an old-timer. She grew up when convenience foods and long-traveled fruit and vegetables simply couldn’t be found. That time lingered in the isolated town of Crested Butte, where I make my home, longer than it did in most American communities. Here, seasonal vegetables straight from the garden filled the dinner table, along with whole milk and butter from the local creamery, and locally produced meat and lard. In the fall, plenty of sauerkraut was put up to last until late spring lest bellies go hungry.

These foods—meat loaf and liver, whole raw milk and just-gathered eggs, sourdough bread and soaked oatmeal porridge—nourished generation after generation of healthy people the world over until the global food supply began to change slowly but dramatically at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century and again after the Green Revolution of the mid-twentieth century.

A Traditional Foods Movement

Traditional foods are the foods of our great-great grandmothers—the foods of gardens and of farms. They represent a system of balance, emphasizing the value of meat and milk, grain and bean, vegetables and fruits.

There is a movement afoot to restore this way of eating. The movement honors the connection between the foods that we eat, how we prepare these foods, and where they come from. In this way, the traditional foods movement celebrates the connection between the farm that produces the food, the cook who prepares it, and the individuals who eat it. Traditional foods is a system of connection, emphasizing support for time-honored ways in farming, cooking, and eating, and finding a place for fat and lean, animal and vegetable, raw and cooked.

Where other diets and philosophies of eating emphasize good and bad, black and white, a message of balance exists within the traditional foods movement. Unlike vegan and vegetarian diets, which restrict animal foods, the traditional foods movement emphasizes their importance while encouraging the purchase of locally produced meats, milks, cheeses, and fats from grass-fed and pasture-raised animals. Where the Paleo diet restricts grain, pulses, and dairy, the traditional foods movement embraces them, focusing not only on how the food is produced, but also on how it is prepared to maximize the nutrients it contains. While the raw foods movement restricts cooked foods, the traditional foods movement embraces them, honoring the place of cooking as one of balance in partnership with raw foods, and fermented foods, too.

Emphasizing whole and minimally processed foods, the traditional foods movement calls you back to the kitchen, to real home cooking, and offers you an opportunity to weave the connections between the food on your table, the time you take to prepare it, and the farms that produce it.

The Philosophy of the Nourished Kitchen

As I choose what and how to cook, I focus on a simple philosophy that combines sustainability, balance, tradition, and community involvement.

Sustainable

Sustainability is a word tossed about rather easily, and yet its concept rests at the heart of the way I nourish myself, my family, and my broader community. Sustainability provides a broad and comprehensive approach to agriculture, food, and community building. That is, not only does small-scale sustainable agriculture minimize chemical inputs, build upon soil reserves, and nurture the plants, animals, and people, but it also provides fair economic benefit for farmers. The work of small-scale farmers practicing organic and holistic methods warrants fair compensation and livable wages.

When I spend my money locally and purchase farm-direct through CSAs, farmstands, and farmers markets, I ensure that the agricultural roots of my community are well fed and that the farmers profit from the hard work they undertake nurturing the soil, sowing the seeds, harvesting crops, and raising animals with both compassion and respect. By connecting directly with food producers, I ensure that the food with which I nourish myself and my family is not only safe, but grown and raised under as close to optimal conditions as possible.

Raising animals on holistically managed pasture helps to sequester carbon in the soil and improve the variety of native flora. In this way, the plants need the animals that feed upon them as much as the animals need the plants. Moreover, foods grown locally, sustainably, and picked fresh offer their peak nutrition, flavor, and texture to the consumer.

Balanced

There’s a deeply pervasive disconnect in the collective relationship with food that persists in American culture: We often view healthy eating as synonymous with restrictive eating, and we likewise view joyful eating as a guilty pleasure, something that begs for strict limits. I believe that real food allows us both the gift of nourishment, and the gift of pleasure, without unnecessary restrictions. Eating a diet of traditional foods helps us to develop a positive relationship with our food, not one born out of guilt and denial; rather, the traditional foods movement teaches us to purchase, prepare, and enjoy our food with intention.

Real, traditionally prepared foods offer nuanced flavors, subtle differences in texture or aroma that change continuously as the seasons of the year wax and wane. Enjoy meats and fish. Relish grains, breads, and pulses. Take pleasure in good fat and take a mindful approach to sweets. The multidimensional flavors of traditionally prepared real foods bring a complexity of different notes and textures to your tongue, and even a small amount of concentrated foods like butter from the raw cream of grass-fed cows, or a lovely single varietal honey will bring deep satisfaction that is otherwise missing from industrialized foods with their single notes, cloying sweetness, or overt saltiness.

Meat from wholesome, pasture-raised animals offers concentrated sources of vitamins, minerals, and wholesome healthy fats. Vegetables, fruits, and plant foods offer antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Properly prepared whole grains offer minerals and energy. Whole, raw, fresh milk provides conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), vitamins, and minerals—all nutrients that have a powerful positive effect in supporting health and wellness. From all whole and minimally processed foods, seek out balance and flavor.

Unprocessed

I favor unprocessed, unrefined whole foods. Choosing to purchase single ingredient foods is one step—perhaps the most important step—to finding the joy of food again. Industrial processing strips foods of their inherent, natural nutrients and value. By consuming foods in an unprocessed state, you consume their naturally present nutrients and no additives.

Traditionally Prepared

The nourishment we receive from the foods we eat depends not only on which foods we choose to eat, but also on how we choose to prepare them. Preparing whole grains through a slow process of sourdough fermentation maximizes B vitamins, reduces glycemic load, and enhances the availability of minerals. B vitamins perform many functions, from helping to support the nervous system to preventing neural tube defects in offspring, while a reduction in glycemic load supports the body’s handling of blood sugar, reducing the load on the pancreas and other organs. The fermenting of vegetables (as in sauerkraut and kimchi) was born of practicality—a way to preserve the harvest well into winter—but this process also serves a dual purpose of increasing beneficial bacteria, food enzymes, and B vitamins. By preparing foods traditionally, we maximize their nutrient density.

Involved

Much of my love for real food and farms arises from devotion to community, and from a spirit of giving. In this spirit, my husband and I started the Crested Butte Farmers Market in 2007, growing it into one of Colorado’s most progressive markets. We dedicated much of our time to exploring and growing the availability of local, organic foods within our tiny mountain town. The soul of food comes not only through its farms, but through the community that supports those farms, and each other in the process. Farmers markets, CSAs, bulk buying clubs, community gardens, and farms all allow like-minded food lovers to come together, increase access to traditional foods, and develop a cooperative effort that protects and binds the interests of everyone together.

Join a CSA. Hold a community supper featuring wholesome, local foods. Celebrate the beauty of your foodshed, and support local farmers practicing sustainable agriculture. Support nutritional advocacy groups like the Weston A. Price Foundation and the Savory Institute, as well as the work of farmer and consumer rights organizations like the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.

Traditional Foods Recipes from The Nourished Kitchen

Spring Vegetable Stew Recipe
Chicken Feet Broth Recipe


Reprinted with permission from The Nourished Kitchen written and photographed by Jennifer McGruther (Ten Speed Press, © 2014). Purchase this book from our store: The Nourished Kitchen.


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