The Global Food Experiment

NPR has a Fresh Air interview (here, be sure to listen to the full interview with Terry Gross, available at the top of the page) with Dr. Kevin Patterson, a Canadian physician who has spent time treating Afghani, Pacific Islander, and Inuit patients, as well as his fellow Canadians. He talks about some of the physiological differences he’s seen in these populations.

What a waste of a perfectly good chicken leg.

“Typical Afghan civilians and soldiers would have been 140 pounds or so as adults. And when we operated on them, what we were aware of was the absence of any fat or any adipose tissue underneath the skin. Of course, when we operated on Canadians or Americans or Europeans, what was normal was to have most of the organs encased in fat.”

What’s fascinating to me about this is that certain populations have only been eating this way for about 40 years and we can trace the effects. For some reason, the effects here in the US have been more mixed and seemingly multi-factorial. Nobody wants to believe our entire food system has been killing us for almost 100 years. But if you look at these isolated populations and you can pinpoint the introduction of Western foodlike edible substances, in concert with an abandonment of their traditional foods and customs, there is no denying what is awry. In other words, the debate about traditional diets like Paleo/Primal is being won on the evidence of these populations.

It was alarming to hear someone say out loud that no country is equipped to deal with the future of diabetes as currently projected. Dr. Patterson makes an excellent point that it would be best to get out ahead of it by choice rather than forced to make difficult decisions.

I was a bit surprised to hear Dr. Patterson privilege exercise over food when asked why this was happening to the Inuit. Although he mentioned simple carbohydrates next, his stance seemed to skew toward CW. But I was relieved to hear that there is a movement toward encouraging traditional foods like caribou, what the Inuit call “Country Food.”

I was just discussing this the other day with my husband, regarding North American native people. How amazing would it be for the leaders of these groups to guide a return to a more traditional way of life? My naïve musings imagined Plains tribes becoming bison ranchers, perhaps even leading buffalo hunts. I’m sure there have been efforts in this direction before that have failed, or perhaps it comes across as a quaint idea. But it seems to me that their very survival depends on it.

I had some fun trying to imagine what an American traditional diet would look like. We have so many influences, it would be hard to call any of them uniquely American. But I concluded that Primal comes closest by embracing parts of our past (offal, game meat) and merging it with our present (cauliflower crust pizza, anyone?). And I’m fairly certain finding my traditional way of eating has been crucial to my survival.

If you could “return” to a traditional way of eating, what would that look like for you?

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