And now I shall finish the tale of how I am still, learning to cook.
In the Summer of 2009, I found myself pregnant with my third. After two highly medicalized birth experiences, I knew I wanted to work with a midwife this time around. Thanks be to God, I found an amazing one. She took my insurance, delivered at a local hospital with a pro-natural birth rep, was accepting VBAC clients and (while not necessary, but certainly encouraging to me) shared my faith.
While checking out her website I saw her recommended reading list. One cookbook was on the list: Nourishing Traditions. I had never heard of it, but was intrigued by the subtitle: “The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats”. I had already declared that I did not need any more cookbooks, but keep looking it up online and decided to order a copy. I could tell from reader reviews that this book suggested a radical approach to cooking and nutrition. When my copy arrived, I was impressed by it’s heft and the amount of text accompanying the recipes.
The author of Nourishing Traditions (hereafter “NT”) is Sally Fallon. Inspired by the work of a early twentieth-century researcher Dr. Weston Price, Fallon promotes traditional foods (hereafter “TF”) – a pre-industrial diet. Much of the information found in the book is contrary to popular opinion and yet, makes perfect sense to me. For example, traditional peoples valued saturated animal fats such as butter, cream and lard as health-promoting. The increasing use of so-called heart-friendly vegetable oils (primarily industrially-produced) corresponds with an increase in heart disease, diabetes, and other “diseases of civilization”. NT elucidates discarded grain-preparation practices (soaking, sprouting, and sourdough) that vastly improve their nutritional profile and digestability. There is a lot of info on how to prepare “nutrient dense” foods such as seafood, organ meats, and cultured vegetables.
There were several forehead-smacking moments as I read my way through NT. I’ve always been a skeptic of “better living through chemistry” (one of the reasons we decided to forgo hormonal birth control, commercial air fresheners, and florescent food products). Why would I assume that factory-produced low fat cheese (or worse, soy cheez) is better than the real, raw deal? It certainly didn’t taste better!
I started using butter and buying bacon weekly. The biggest challenge was weaning my family off breakfast cereal. We’d been used to buying it cheap at the grocery outlet and had always had quite a selection. The Boy protested for literally months, but I stood strong. (Now he says he loves porridge for breakfast.) And after turning off the “low fat” mental switch I’d had since around second grade, I started liking butter! Really, really loving the pastured butter from the coop. Raw milk – way more expensive, but wonderful. Now that I knew just how unhealthy soy was, I acknowledged that soymilk is gross and chalky.
Some of the changes at home went over well. Who doesn’t like bacon? Cereal was verboten – although P.F. bought some for himself now and then and had it for an evening snack (after the kidlets were abed). I worked my way through NT recipes and slowly managed to develop a taste for liver. One change that was slower in coming was cutting back on sweets. I made a healthy decision to up my fat intake, but didn’t make the corresponding cut in sugary carbs that should accompany the switch to traditional eating. Nonetheless, my weight gain with this pregnancy was perfectly reasonable.
All in all, the results of my dietary changes shocked me. The foods I’d always craved during pregnancy (eggs and sausage, primarily, were justified by my growing baby’s nutritional needs. I gladly indulged. My first two pregnancies ended with several weeks of bedrest precipitated by a diagnosis of oligohydramnios (low amniotic fluid). No doc was able to explain why my placentas didn’t do their job unless I spent much of the day horizontal. This time around, the amniotic fluid level never dropped below normal. I had never experienced anything other than frustrating idleness in my last few weeks of pregnancy. This time around, I could actually “nest”!
My first two pregnancies found me severely and persistently anemic. This time around, my iron levels tested low again, but recovered to an acceptable level with supplementation (Ferrasorb, Yellow Dock root, and nettle infusions) and an admonishment to eat as much red meat as I wanted. Hello, Burgermaster! (There just happened to be a drive-in near my midwife’s office. While not health food by any stretch, they did serve grassfed beef.)
The most noticeable difference for me, since changing to a traditional foods diet was a substantial reduction in joint pain. All three of my pregnancies led to a diagnosis of SI dysfunction – a severely tweaked hip joint caused by loose ligaments. In my first two pregnancies, the pain began in the second trimester and became debilitating (as in, I couldn’t walk half a block without pain) by seven months. The last time around, my SI joint started behaving funkily around six months, but I was still able to walk several blocks. Instead of agonizing pain with every step, I would have aches and soreness afterwards. Not perfect, but manageable. A huge difference.
My family is sick much, much, much less often now that we focus on homemade, nutrient-dense meals. My kids (The Boy in public K, Princess Bean in preschool) haven’t had an actual illness in almost a year. We do pick up viruses occasionally, but colds seem to be very minor – a low fever maybe, one night with some coughs, then back to normal. Also, my toddler does not have the permanently-runny nose I see on so many of her playmates. Anecdotal evidence, to be sure, but plenty convincing for me.
(Sheesh. That took a while to crank out. At some point, there will be an epilogue to the “Learning to Cook” series – highlighting our recent adventures with food intolerances. Until then, expect to see an update on our planned escape from the city. And maybe I’ll figure out how to make this blog more “bloggy” – with a blogroll, widgets, pictures, more frequent updates and whatnot.)