But first, travel with me back in time. In the early 1900s, there lived a dentist by the name of Weston A. Price. During his practice, Dr. Price noticed an interesting phenomenon – more and more people were coming to him with cavities and crooked teeth. Dr. Price suspected that there was a correlation between the poor dental health he was beginning to observe and the new “foods of modern commerce” as he called them. These foods include white flour, processed sugar, and canned goods, to name a few.
Dr. Price decided to put his theory to the test. He set out on a legendary journey to study the remaining civilizations of the world that were yet untouched by modern man. The people he studied included Swiss, Gaelics, Eskimos, North American Indians, Melanesians, Polynesians, Australian Aborigines, Torres Strait Islanders, New Zealand Maori, and various African Tribes.
All of the peoples studied by Dr. Price exhibited unbelievable health. They all ate radically different diets consisting of what limited whole foods were available to them, but they had a few things in common: a simple life of interdependence and connectedness with the earth, plants, animals, and each other. Joy, peace, and contentedness that came naturally to them. And a level of health and physical beauty that we in Western civilization only dream of. They were not plagued by diseases: no cancer, no heart disease, no malaria, no flues, no colds. And just as Dr. Price suspected, cavities were rare and crooked teeth were non-existent. All of these people, no matter the race, had broad faces, wide dental arches, and bright white, perfectly straight teeth. They did not own toothbrushes and they did not have expanders, braces, or other dental technology.
Perhaps the most famous of Price’s primitives were the African Masai tribes. They, according to Price, exhibited the most unbelievable physical perfection of all the peoples he studied. The men were well over six foot; the people were the tallest, strongest, and the most well-built and beautiful of any tribe he studied. They are known among the traditional food movement today for their wisdom, contentment, fearlessness, strength, and gentleness with each other and their animals. They are also revered among paleo groups as the people who subsisted mostly on the meat, milk, and blood of their cows. I’ve often wished I could have seen the Masai.
Unfortunately, brilliant health was not the only thing noted by Dr. Price. He also observed a tragedy. Alongside the tribes of people with outstanding health and physical perfection, he observed others of the same exact races who had adopted the ways of modern man, along with our processed foods. His travels occurred during the time when our modern ways were being pushed on the so-called “primitives.” In some areas, the generation of adults, including the pregnant mothers, were beginning to eat our modern food. Price observed that the children whose mothers switched to processed foods, and who grew up eating processed foods, had cavities and narrowed jaws. These children’s permanent teeth came in crooked. Hand and hand with this loss of physical perfection came a loss of the vitality and resistance of their ancestors. These children had greatly weakened immune systems and fell prey to the diseases of modern civilization.
Human health is a complex subject. Sometimes, studying it can feel hopeless. We all want to solve the health puzzle, but everyone has different answers. The fact is that people are overweight and sick. Children are now developing cancer and type II diabetes. But it goes beyond that. People are not happy anymore. People are stressed, depressed, rude, and angry. Kindness, peace, and contentedness don’t come naturally. I’ll be the first to admit that I have to make a conscious effort every day to be at peace, to not stress, and to be happy. I believe all of these things are connected to health – to the shape of the skull and jaw-bones, and the rate of metabolism for starters. There’s a lot more to be said on those two subjects, but that will have to wait for another day. Suffice it to say that health, physical perfection (beauty), and happiness go hand in hand because beauty and happiness are the results of a healthy, functional body.
Here’s my opinion: I believe the answer to the health puzzle is both more complex and more simple than we could have imagined. All the research and science is fascinating and definitely has it’s place. But we can study for a hundred years and we still won’t have all the answers because the human body is just too complex. Simpler, yet more profound answers can be found by looking to the best teacher there is. Experience. History.
It is indisputable that people who have lived simple lives, connected to the earth and nature, eating, drinking, and breathing food, water, and air in their most natural forms, were healthy, beautiful, and happy. Why? Science has shown us a multitude of reasons and there are sure to be many more still unknown. For starters, they were constantly touching the earth with their bare skin and connecting to the earth’s healing electromagnetic energy. Science has proven that this reduces inflammation and improves overall well being. The foods they ate were bursting at the seams with nutrients, even though they would be seen as boring or even repulsive in our culture. The air they breathed was pure, the water they drank was full of minerals. In short, everything they exposed their bodies to was healing and not harming. I also think there is a psychological element here. Their lives were lived deeply dependent on each other for survival. They had just enough, and they had to work for it all. They didn’t have excess and what they had was real and valuable – real food, sun, soil, animals, water, and each other. They built their homes out of real, organic materials, their tools their possessions with materials of value. It was long-lasting. It was health-giving.
Am I saying that everything about primitive, tribal cultures is good and that civilization and advances in technology is bad? No, of course not. It is the way we have gone about making these advances that are the problem. There have been and still are better alternatives, but because environmentally-friendly technologies are usually self-sustaining, there is no profit involved and they aren’t even given a chance.
As it is, there is nothing healing about the world we have created for ourselves. We are completely cut off from the earth and separate from nature. We are satiated in electromagnetic frequencies from technology that further drown out the healing electromagnetic field of the earth. We are surrounded by synthetic materials – almost nothing in our homes are “real;” everything from carpet to paint to mattresses leaches harmful chemicals into the air. Our food is processed beyond recognition, our water and air are polluted, and our culture revolves around independence and the pursuit of cheap, lifeless material things. We have created a world of death.
We as a culture, without even being aware of the process, have traded in our health, happiness, and beauty for comfort, convenience, and stuff. This, in my opinion, is the answer to the health question in its most simple form.
And this is something that is very close to my heart. There are few things that I care about more than human health. There are few things I am more passionate about than a simple life. I long for the life that Price’s primitives lived; I always have. I wish I could provide such a life for my daughter, but it does not exist, at least not in my corner of the world. Recently, I found something that gives me hope.
Just a few weeks ago, I came upon this video put together by Lindsey Sterling, amazing violinist and modern dancer. She took a trip to Kenya and recorded her interactions with the native peoples. As I watched the video, I was astounded by the physical perfection of the natives. Beautiful broad faces with bright white perfectly straight teeth. Even the little boys and girls possess a beauty that is unbelievable. I knew immediately that these people must not be eating modern foods and must still be living a “primitive” lifestyle.
It wasn’t until today that I discovered who they are. They are Masai.
The Masai still exist; I knew that. I think they are the only culture studied by Price that has stubbornly stuck to their “primitive” ways. But to see them right in front of my eyes…it feels so unreal.
Here is what Lindsey Sterling says of her experiences with the Masai:
“Africa is always painted as this poverty stricken country of hopelessness; however, I found it to be quite different. In the remote villages we visited, the people had so little and yet, they were incredibly happy. This was largely due to their humble and simplistic lifestyle. Whether they were the chief, or the poorest man in the village, they all live in the same sized, one bedroom homes, and which are made of a mixture of cow dung and mud. Their diet consists of little meat, and vegetation, however the main sustenance comes from drinking cow blood and milk. In spite of these lowly circumstances, there was so much peace and goodness that just exuded out of these people. It was actually contagious in that just by looking at their smiles I felt light inside of me.
I don’t know exactly what makes them so happy, but I think an important factor would be that they are content. They aren’t constantly needing more and the idea of being “better than the Jones’s” doesn’t exist at all. A tribe is a family and they stick together. Rather than an “every man for himself” mentality, people take turns watching each others cattle and helping one another so their efforts are the most efficient for the group. They are loyal to their traditions and the things they believe in and because of those ties to tradition and one another they know who they are and they are very proud of that identity.
I think there is a lot we in the western world can learn [from] our brothers and sisters in Kenya. In the villages, their everyday is filled with acquiring the necessities of life; food, water and shelter. I feel that, we in the “civilized” world rely more on a brutal survival of the fittest mentality then do they. We are so much more cut throat, territorial and competitive and yet, we pity them?” (Source)
I can’t stop watching the music video. And when I watch it, It’s all I can do to hold back the tears.
Tears for a way of life that is all but gone.
Tears that Audrey will not grow up in a world like this.
Tears for all those around me that should have this life, this beauty, this health, this happiness, but never will.
Tears that instead, we insist on destroying our world and along with it ourselves.
Tears that we have traded in our health and that of our children for comfort and convenience and the fleeting pleasure of material things.
Tears of sadness.
Tears for these beautiful, strong Masai who have stubbornly stuck to their superior way of life.
Tears for the beautiful children who are growing up free of ailments, free of the trappings of this material world.
Tears of hope.
Tears of joy.
Here’s another one – this shows more of the beautiful Masai children
To read more about Dr. Prices observations of the Masai, click here.
Photo used under Creative Commons from fashionjunkii