Longevity in Mountain Culture

by Ashby Underwood / Editorial Staff

In our last issue we met Ervine Chastain, a Rabun County man at 86 years of age, who is a beekeeper and productive member of his community. We continue our look into longevity and have invited Sally Fallon-Morell to the discussion. She is the President of the Weston A. Price Foundation, author of Nourishing Traditions cookbook, educator, researcher, and visionary in restoring traditional foods to the table. She takes a different look at what we eat and food safety. Here is our conversation on fats and a progressive movement to living a long, happy, and useful life.

AUG:    Welcome to your interview. In our last issue we took a look at the 1972 study of “Blue Zones” by Dr. Leaf, in which he found pockets of people living well into their hundreds. We proposed that our Appalachian area which is fertile (and was well farmed just 60 or 70 years ago), with lots of water, and hiking potential could be a potential “Blue Zone”.

SFM:     Actually, I don’t agree with the premise that mountain cultures are long-lived because they live at a high altitude and get lots of exercise. 
I believe that mountain cultures are long-lived because they are isolated, and for this reason they are not eating a lot of processed foods.  In addition, isolated mountain peoples tend to be poor so by necessity they live on their own natural food. And nothing goes to waste so they eat things like organ meats. If you have a mountain area that is littered with places where you can get snack foods, I don’t think that it’s going to be a blue zone. 

In Third World countries poor people eat better because they don’t have access to processed foods.  In rich countries, they eat worse because all they have access to is processed foods.  They can’t find real food in their neighborhoods. They’ve even lost their cooking skills, and they may not even have the energy for cooking anyway.  

AUG: Our view at B&L about longevity is that the starting point is now.  This seems to be the message of the Weston A. Price Foundation. So I’m looking at it from the starting point of “this is where we are with health and society… and now what?”  We are not seeking guidance from our elders in the same way, with a rise in Alzheimer’s and Dementia. It seems that when we get old, we are just something to be dealt with. In the past older persons were more revered for their experience in life. We wonder at B&L if by eating more of these“natural foods” we could still enjoy the fat of the land and live well longer. 

SFM:    I remember that Leaf talked about the minerals in the water.  Mountain soils are not particularly fertile; flat valley lands are much more fertile.  The longevity in these mountain cultures may have been supported by the minerals in the water, but the minerals can only be absorbed by the body if you have the vitamins in organ meats and animal fats-- vitamins A, K, and D.  Fundamentally, the key to good health is to have good fats in the diet, and all of these other factors follow after that.   

In long-living isolated cultures, people respect their elders because the elders still possess sharp minds and good memories.  But if the elders are a burden on society, if they have become senile and demented, younger people are not going to look to them in a positive way. 

AUG:  That leads me to consider how society pushes low-fat in our culture.  What is the price we are paying for low-fat choices? 

SFM:  We will be wiped out as a civilization if we continue eating low-fat foods or foods containing industrial fats and oils.  Industrial fats and oils are to western culture what lead was to the Romans—the unrecognized cause of infertility, mental decline and many other health problems.  These industrial fats and oils will lead to the complete destruction of our culture and of civilization.  Neither industrial fats nor low-fat foods support adequate brain development.  If you don’t have people with their brains wired right, you can’t have a civilization.  And we are seeing exactly this with the current generation of young people; we have an epidemic of learning disorders.  Who is going to repair our roads, make our metro work, maintain our airplanes and keep the phones working?  All these things require people with normal brain function, and without animal fats, our brains don’t get wired properly. 

Very few people in our western culture are actually eating a low-fat diet.  The problem is that they can’t see the industrial fats that they are eating, the industrial fats and oils are hidden in the foods so they eat them without realizing it.  Whereas you can see butter on your bread and fats in your meats, so people avoid these.  The diet today is really not low-fat, it’s wrong fat.  The vegetable oil industry has deliberately demonized its competition—butter, lard, meat fats and coconut oil—while promoting a low-fat diet knowing that most people will be eating industrial fats without realizing it. 
The vegetable oil industry has tapped into the feeling of distrust that we have for nature.  Our materialistic, deterministic philosophy, plus Darwinism, allows people to conclude that everything in nature happened by chance so there’s bound to be some mistakes.  And the food engineers can help “fix things by fabricating foods without those evil demons—saturated fat and cholesterol.” Modern dietary guidelines have imposed guilt on the guiltlessness of nature.  Today, people actually feel guilty when they eat butter or fatty meat. So-called civilized people are afraid of the most innocent things, like animal fats, raw milk or germs--afraid of all the natural processes we find in the natural world.  It’s a definite mind-set that makes people vulnerable to the low-fat propaganda. 

AUG: It sounds like if we could cultivate a better relationship with the land and our food… 

SFM: A good diet needs to start with a reverence for nature, and we don’t have that anymore in our culture.  We are afraid of nature.  Reverence for nature is interpreted as paganism, as something primitive.  

AUG: “Primitive” sounds like drinking out of the cow’s udder…or breastfeeding… 

SFM: Good point!  For many years, scientists really believed that they could make something better than breastmilk.  And that’s how mothers were talked out of breastfeeding. ”You don’t want to do this primitive dirty thing.  You want to do the modern thing, give your baby formula, that’s better.”  And the low-fat movement is very similar: “You don’t want to cook with dirty smelly lard, you can eat and cook with clean, modern Crisco instead.”  

AUG: It sounds like longevity is really a consideration at any age? That the patterns that
we are setting in our children based on their
receptor-sites or their tastes for fats, or for satisfaction, or for what is true to their nutrition is paramount to how they make choices later on.
SFM: First and foremost, we need to understand the principles of good nutrition—how to eat to be healthy, happy and well-formed, generation after generation.  That is number one.  Then the other things we are looking for follow naturally: longevity, respect for elders, feelings of usefulness and accomplishment. And the first step to a healthy diet is to get over the fear of fats and eat nutrient-dense foods: butter, organ meats and egg yolks from grass-fed animals, as well as cod liver oil. These foods are especially important for pregnancy and lactation.  Liver and egg yolk should be the first foods for babies, and children need raw milk during their growing years.  The dairy industry has been able to demonize raw milk by tapping into our fear of germs, our fear of natural processes.  

AUG: Do you feel that adding fats at any point can help restore mental function? 

SFM: Absolutely.  For example, the brain needs lots of saturated fat and a fat called arachadonic acid—both of which are in butter and animal fats.  We need vitamin A in order to be able to plan for the future and complete tasks—vitamin A is found in the fats of grassfed animals. 

AUG: Which ones do you suggest? 

SFM:  Dairy fats like butter and cream; animal fats likes lard, tallow, and bacon fat; fatty meats; egg yolks; cod liver oil; and coconut oil.   

AUG: As chef and author of Nourishing Traditions, what are some of your favorite fatty foods?  

SMF: [ laughs]  Definitely butter, and also egg yolks.  Think Bernaise sauce.  I’m a great lover of full-fat cheese.  I also take cod liver oil daily. 

AUG: There was something I heard you say during a the Wise Traditions Conference during your Traditional Diets Seminar, that women during menopause should gain weight, comparable to two or three dress sizes. 

SMF:    TWO dress sizes (We both laugh.) 

AUG: Oh, yeah, well we don’t want to push it…(still laughing) .

SFM: Yes, women would be much healthier if they would let themselves gain a little weight at menopause. And almost all women do gain weight at menopause. They need the extra weight to prevent frailty and to give them energy. But of course, we don’t want to gain too much weight. There is a very interesting study showing that women who use full-fat dairy products gain less weight at menopause than woman using low-fat foods.   

Once again, when it comes to menopause, we are afraid of these natural processes. For many years we have treated menopause as disease that needs to be treated with drugs, namely synthetic estrogen. And rather than grow gracefully into middle age, women try to keep themselves too thin--so they get wrinkled, they get bent over, they get frail, they get tired, they can’t think right, they are much more vulnerable to disease. 

AUG: We touched on an energetic piece, about fear and reverence for the land. On that note, I may not fully understand the chemical process but I feel that fats are grounding and settling in my own body. 

SFM: Yes, fats are calming, stabilizing, and grounding.  Fats, especially saturated fats, protect the nervous system, they support metabolic processes, and they stabilize the blood sugar.   

AUG: I like that word “Stability”, especially with the rise of learning disorders, Attention Deficit Disorder, that kind of thing.  And even adults that claim that they have some form of ADD, ADHD, and are concerned about their weight, who are in their mid-fifties, exercising, and eating low-fat choices. What resources do you recommend to learn more about the kinds of fats we are suggesting in this article? 

SFM: Please visit our websites westonaprice.org and realmilk.com. If you are new to our message, you can take a “Beginner’s Tour” at westonaprice.org. Members receive a quarterly journal.  You can also order two reprints, one on Healthy Babies and one on Heart Disease that will provide all the references to back up what we have been talking about. 

AUG: Thank you, Sally, for your time.