Monday, May 31, 2010

Nourishing Traditions: about going organic

As I went on reading "Nourishing Traditions", I became more convinced than before of the importance of consuming organically grown grains and vegetables and free-range, pasture fed animal foods. However, I must admit that many times, I put aside the book in frustration, thinking, "How on earth is the average person supposed to afford/obtain this?" Don't get me wrong. There are more than enough people who consume junk they could cut back on and buy healthful, wholesome organic foods instead. There is also no denying that the organically grown fruit (and occasionally vegetables/herbs) from our garden are far superior in taste to store-bought foods.

But there are also many, many people in Israel who have no technical possibility to have a garden, who live on a tiny budget, who have many children and strive to put food on the table every month and every day – just to keep their bellies full. For these people, the diet is largely based on beans and grains, and yes, lots of white flour and refined oils – the cheapest they can get. They can barely afford animal products, let alone organic ones.

For us, switching to organic meat would probably mean we (or to be exact, my husband) will never have meat – which is, by the way, one reason why I didn't feel remotely tempted to eat meat after reading the book (unusual, I know). However, I did find it very logical that I experienced an enormous craving for animal foods and especially fish during my first pregnancy, despite the fact that prior to that I haven't touched fish for twelve 

Until not long ago, there was a local organic goat farm here (recently the man who owned it had to sell the goats and close the business because of health problems). Fresh, organic milk could be obtained there straight from the goats. Did we buy milk from there? Only once. It cost four times more than regular store-bought milk, and that just wasn't affordable for us. And don't get me started about the cheeses. Even store-bought cheese is expensive by our measures.

Yes, you could argue that in the long run, it pays off to obtain the best foods you can have, and you're probably right. But when people aren't making ends meet right now, and are struggling to put food on their table right now, their priority is to feed their families with what they can (of course assuming that you won't find soft drinks, snacks, boxed sugar-coated cereals and such like in their shopping cart, but just basic products which sadly, aren't exactly high-quality today in regular supermarkets).

It doesn't mean, however, that if you don't have access to organic vegetables, fresh goat milk and pasture-raised beef and chickens, there is nothing you can do. We can all make our diets more varied, as our means allow, cook more from scratch, cut out as much refined sugar as possible, and learn traditional techniques of food preparation which enhance the nutritional value of food (such as fermentation, soaking and sprouting).

If currently your diet contains a lot of soda pop and Doritos, it can hardly be expected that you make an instant transition to homemade sour-leavened bread and fermented drinks such as kefir or kvass. But if you simply omit the junky pre-packaged stuff from your diet and switch to drinking plain water and vegetable juices, you have already made a huge step forward, even if you continue shopping in a regular supermarket chain. 

An important point to consider while we look at primitive or traditional diets in order to think which customs could be incorporated in our lifestyle, is that the differences are in a lot more than just a menu. In the past, people were not exposed to the caloric abundance we have today. Quite simply, not only the foods were different but people often had less to eat than we have today. They also exercised more and weren't exposed to pollution, the toxins surrounding the modern agricultural methods, and excessive use of modern medicine. That is why we shouldn't think that simply switching to a more traditional diet will solve all our problems.

One thing I believe doesn't belong in Nourishing Traditions is the occasional tidbits thrown here and there about "optimal" child spacing and how in various primitive groups it was unacceptable to have children spaced less than three years apart. I do realize that pregnancy and nursing have everything to do with nutrition, and that without proper nourishment, the toll on the woman's body is great. I just don't think it's to the point to plant a few isolated paragraphs here and there about primitive practices of child spacing (such as men not cohabiting with their wives for years), and leave us to wonder what we're supposed to make of that (not to mention, omitting the fact that in said primitive groups, monogamy was often unheard of, which meant abstinence for women but certainly not for men).

 This was the second part of my review of Nourishing Traditions. To read the first part, click here. The third and final part of the review coming soon!  


Kacie said...

We are working on improving our family's nutrition by switching to more whole, organic foods.

And you're right -- it's expensive!

So we make choices. We try to buy only organic produce if it's on the "dirty dozen" list and if it's just way too expensive, then we buy something else.

It's best to do something rather than nothing at all and even little steps (like drinking water instead of soda) help!

Anonymous said...

Sometimes there is a block or a lot that is bare in the cities even and some of the people come together to put a garden in. It is amazing the amount of food that can be grown in even a small garden . Do you have such an opportunity there in your town? I am in the country and have so much land available and it makes me heartsick to hear when people have no room for even a small garden ( I used to live in apartments and was so desperate for a tiny plot even)Do not give up at the fact that all your food can not be organic so much of it sits so long at the store I doubt it has much good left in it anyhow.A small 4ft. by 6ft. garden could give you quite a bit of fresh food really. You can plant everything quite close if you keep it weeded and watered. you would be amazed at the nice salads and veggies you would get.

Anonymous said...

As an American I have access to so much good food at more affordable prices than other countries that I should have little to no excuse NOT to eat well. Still, organic, natural, pasture-fed, raw, etc is still quite pricey here. Granted, cutting out or way back on processed foods really can save the budget. A carton of oatmeal goes a lot farther for a lot less than a box of frosted flakes.

We also have the ability to hunt here should we get properly licensed. You can't get much more organic than a wild deer, bear or turkey. Not being kosher also opens me up to more choices, though who wants to eat pork that's been fed processed scraps and garbage. We are blessed with a half an acre of land here that we garden. My father has 3/4 of an acre which he gardens and my brother has 6 acres which he gardens. We share and exchange our produce.

I also found that eating the Nourishing Traditions way means I'm filled up and satisfied with eating less.

Otherwise, I just do the best I can. If I have to settle for regular ground beef or non-raw cheese, then so be it.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Anon, we do have a garden and grow some of our produce, though not much. The soil here is hard and is mostly suited for local sturdy trees (olives, grapes, pomegranates, dates etc).

Taighbeag, eating kosher is far more than just not eating pork. For example, hunting for food isn't kosher either - the animals must be properly slaughtered.

Analytical Adam said...

Mrs. Anna wrote:> monogamy was often unheard of, which meant abstinence for women but certainly not for men).

For most men I did mean abstinence because if many men married multiple women that would leave many men without a wife if they weren't dead from some endless war that they were sent to by some male leader. So that really isn't true. I am still a virgin at 36. Judaism did view monogamy as the ideal and clearly our Partirachs and Moses as well all were intending to marry one woman and it was the women who for their own reasons or because of concern for their sister did not have a case of monogamy.

I still think if money is tight abstinence is the best thing to do as it leads you to care more for others and understand the higher purpose of intimacy and it leads to a lack of compassion for others and can't be good for male female relations which it is pretty obvious in the religious world to make women happy they are always puting down Jewish men which is sick and disgusting which shows that clearly while people may be married they don't love each other and their union is based on a common hatred of some other group usually Jewish men.

This post again is claiming a certain situation is good for men and bad for women but that is not true and is mostly bad for men in fact worse for most men then for most women.

Anna B said...

LOL about the child spacing - I'm rather suspect that book was written by feminists who basically see children as a burden and were looking to justify it.


Analytical Adam said...

I also have a hard time believing that most men had the money for multiiple wives in the past or that the women would agree to this. Please Mrs. Anna. You believe too much of the feminist propaganda. The only men who had this were kings who had the power to do this. Although I don't know why Jewish women who don't like Jacob or Abraham (even though they weren't to blame for the polygomy) love Solomon so much as he did marry many, many wives which he wasn't suppose to do. I guess talk is bigger then actions.

Anonymous said...

I thought you might be interested in the posts of food on ladyofvirtue.blogspot. She is a Christian and mother of 15 children. The points she makes about food being a simple thing and eating to live not living to eat are thought provoking.

Anonymous said...

Great, helpful critique of Nourishing Traditions! I have the book, and it has revolutionized the way I look at food. I bought it seven years ago, when I saw it in a bookstore and became intrigued. I live in the Bay Area (San Francisco area), and this way of eating has become cult-like for many people here! I try to follow the book's principles that make sense to me based on my knowledge of the Bible, and almost all of the book's principles seem good to me. I also, however, took issue with the child-spacing suggestions in the book. No where in the Bible is there a suggestion (that I have found) that we should try to make our own arrangements for when to accept children from the Lord.

As far as spending a lot of money for real, high-quality foods, though, I disagree with you. I Timothy 6:8 says that we should be content as long as we have food and clothing, so I have tried to stop buying anything else, and I now have more money to spend on what the Bible indicates is important. I know that you are Jewish, not Christian, and so don't probably care too much what I Timothy (in the New Testament) says, but for me this verse is freeing . . . and challenging.

I am convinced that much of the food we spend money on is not really food -- vegetable oil, for instance. It's bad, not good for the body. If we could learn to eat more moderately (like you seemed to suggest) like people long ago did, we could buy less food, and have more money to spend on higher quality food. It's hard to make the commitment to spend now (on good food) in the hopes of saving down the road (on medical bills, etc.), but I for one think it's a wise investment. Those who are just barely making ends meet can make every effort to avoid what isn't truly food, at least, and only spend money on healthful items -- even if it's only beans and grains. I just read of a family of 10 in Russia about a hundred years ago who mainly lived on dark rye bread (homemade, of course). It takes a lot more for us today to think we're getting by, but should it?

Anyway, thank you for your helpful essay about my favorite cookbook!


Anonymous said...

In the country where I live, "organic" can mean virtually nothing. There is currently no regulation here of the term and what one has to do in order to be able to label something "organic"; consequently, this very expensive food may or may not be any better than its normal commercial counterparts. The government is apparently in the process of changing this, although I don't know what their timelines is (if indeed they are doing anything at all). Does Israel have some sort of authority for regulating this, Anna? I'm just curious, as the situation varies so much around the world.

Of course, when we raise our own produce and/or buy meat from farmers we know personally and feel we can trust, that's something we _can_ do. But in the case of meat and milk, I fear that those of us who have grown up in countries where food security is pretty good get a bit romantic about these things. Milk straight from an animal can taste good, and may be fine; but when it's not, it's brutal. Let a round of brucellosis go through a population and suddenly pasteurisation--which was originally developed to help protect people from dairy-borne diseases--doesn't look so bad after all. We should be be really, really wary of looking to "the good old days" and thinking that everything people did then was better. Often--very often--it was just the best they could do. People lived far shorter lives than we do, and frequently lived with discomfort and disability that we can only imagine.

The best road is, as usual, somewhere in between. Eating a lot of fruit and veg--and cleaning them properly, wherever they come from--are what's important; their source is a good thing to look at, but it's frankly secondary.

Just things I think we should all keep in mind. :-)

Hannah said...

We're in the USA and have a garden, buy our milk from a local dairy farmer, pay to have a cow butchered, raise chickens and ducks for meat/eggs and even with all the costs involved with procuring this food we still spend much less than the average sized american family on our groceries because all the junk and processed foods actually cost more. We're a family of 8 right now.

You mentioned cheese being expensive and so I wondered if you've made some yourself. It is very simple to make a soft farmer cheese with milk. I think you'd be able to find a kosher recipe online.


Lanafactrix said...

This is terribly off-topic, but I read this review today and immediately thought of you:

(It discusses abortion briefly, although not in a positive or graphic way.)

Anonymous said...

I know this is off topic, but I am unable to find your email address. I am looking for good sources to learn about Judaism from a beginner's point of view.
Just, FYI, I am Catholic and the more I delve into Scripture, the more I wish to know about our elder brothers in the faith. :)

My email address is pandabean1 @

Thank you, Anna!

Robin said...

Hi, Anna - I just found your blog. I have this cookbook also, and it really changed my thinking about food. I actually bought it after reading "The Maker's Diet" by Jordan S. Rubin, who seems to share a philosophy of food with the author. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

Elisabeth said...

Our family has gradually (mostly in the last year), leaned our diet more toward the Nourishing Traditions style and also gluten-free (which is very expensive!). Before that, we were trying to be economical (store bought meats, whole wheat flour, vegetable oil, etc.) and we thought we couldn't afford any better. Living as a young adult in my parent's home, I get to see how a "regular" diet plays out in my parent's health in the long run, and even in my own and my siblings' health. So we made some changes. We were not eating junky before. What we ate was probably considered healthy by many people, but it still was non-organic, rancid oils and flour, commercial meats, ect. Now we eat free-range eggs, try to eat the best meat we can find and afford, buy a lot more produce, some of which is organic, and buy gluten-free, nutritious flours (millet, buckwheat, brown rice, etc.) and use olive oil and butter. As well, we now have alot more variety in our diet.
You know what? We spend about the same as we did before on food! It's amazing! The food is definitely more expensive, but I have found that *quality* ingredients go farther. You don't waste as much. Since it's more nutritious, you need to use as much. It tastes better, so it satisfies you faster.

Here are some things I have learned, in steering to a more nutritous diet on a tight budget:

* Eat as well as you can for the budget you have
* Make as much as you can from scratch. This might mean spending extra time in the kitchen making sauerkraut or yogurt, but it's rewarding!
* Develop a greater consciousness about what you're buying. Watch where the money goes, spend it on the priorities.
* Eat well: it's worth it!

Anonymous said...

I do think though, that what anyone can do is use the traditional techniques (some of which are well described in nourishing traditions, and others, are better described in other places, wild fermentation by sandor katz being a great resource) to improve nutrition. Here at least, cabbage is incredibly cheap. Making sourkraut is easy, and increases the nutrition and taste of this inexpensive vegetable (organic or conventional). Soaking grains to optimize your nutrition, making stocks, and such, are fairly affordable to almost everyone, though they take a little work. But they'll improve your diet whether you are eating conventional or organic.

I agree she has some off-putting stuff, but I think there is good info to be had. The child spacing wasn't as offputting to me as the constant quoting of herself in the margins. (SWF? that's sally fallon.) poor taste. regardless, I learned a lot from that book. It's only a starting point though.

Jo said...

I don't read books like this, because it comes down to common sense. Eat in moderation, eat lots of fruit and veggies, legumes, grains and meat (if you are not a vegetarian) and stay away from junk or processed foods. Cook meals each night that are tasty and nutritious and avoid takeaways.

Plus teach your children to cook and enjoy food.

Visit the local farmers market and you will find a very good range of food that is in season. Try and grow your own if you have the space. It isn't the end of world if you don't eat organic everything.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Thanks to everyone who contributed to the discussion; I enjoyed reading all the comments!

One thing I wish to remark on, is that the food prices in Israel are higher than in the USA (relatively to the average income), and the organic farming here isn't as developed. The populated areas in Israel are much more urbanized than many areas of the US, and a large part of the non-urbanized areas is a desert. Also, there is no farmer's markets, at least not that I know of. Organic food, for now, is really really elitist here, both in prices and in availability.

However, it is still possible to maintain an economical and healthy diet, though perhaps not up to the standards of NT. A diet that relies heavily on various legumes and vegetables with a small amount of animal protein is probably the best option for poor people, even if it's not organic.

By the way, as to the question on food regulation and what organic actually means, I have qualms on that myself. Possibly the only food I really consider organic without a doubt is what we or our neighbors grow in the garden.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Oh, and PandaBean, my email address is It's also on the sidebar.

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear you do have a little garden I tend to be a bit obsessed when it comes to gardening.!! I thought maybe this bit of info might be interresting to those discussing eating pork... I used to work at a huge bakery, and when our white bread came out just a bit overbaked they would fill a truck full of the bread and truck it to a pig farm ,the farmer hoped to reduce his cost of feed... but the pigs wouldn't take even a bite...they slept on the growing hill of soft white bread 'till the farmer said stop sending it. Karen