Living (and eating) the way elder generations did still makes a lot of sense today.
You’ve probably heard the old health idiom, “eat the way your grandparents ate.” But as a nutritionist, I often think the phrase should really be, “eat the way your great-great-grandparents ate.”
Unfortunately, food has evolved so that it’s no longer just nourishment. Back in the day, farming was more prominent and factories were scarce. We used to eat food that nourished our bodies and brought grace to our temples, our bodies, our gifts from the Lord. Now we hammer in junk food by the pound and ask the Lord to perform a miracle. And it would take a miracle indeed to allow that over-processed junk to bring real nourishment to our bodies. Granted, Jesus did turn water into wine, but I think we’re crossing the line to ask him to turn meat-lovers’ pizza into salad.
In so many ways our elders (specifically the oldest generation still living, born about 90 years to a century ago) was so much smarter than we are now. They lived more simply, and their bodies were often healthier for it. So I’m going to highlight some of the ways they ate and approached daily life that we’d do well to keep in mind in our modern daily lives:
1. Live off the land. Older generations, way back in the day, grew a lot of foods in their own backyard gardens to feed their families. They raised their own animals to use them as food. The result was ethically sourced fresh food, free of processing, additives, and chemicals.
2. Use whole foods. This is a principle I believe really works. Because, again, it comes back to the idea of eating foods with little to no processing. What processing our ancestors did, they did themselves, at home. I even remember my Grandpa cracking nuts.
3. Preserve with fermentation. Our grandparents and their grandparents jarred all their summer produce for big, bad winters. Sometimes they even had to dig holes to store it in the ground. Preserving with only salt and cold storage creates fermentation, which not only preserves the food for long periods of time, but also enhances the nutrients.
4. Be resourceful. In the 1900s to 1920s, if a family cooked a bird, they used it all; the organs and the bones for bone broth, too. They didn’t need supplements for collagen like many of us today, because all the collagen protein they needed came from those bones. It was a well-rounded way to eat, not to mention waste-reducing.
5. Eat diverse meats. Not only did many of our great-great-grandparents farm, they also ate game. This is as free range and organic as you get. Deer, bison, rabbit, and more are all very lean meats, as the animal is very active, making a healthier meal for you than say, a regular steak, burger, or hot dog.
6. Don’t fear good fat. They used butter and cooked with lard. And recent research has indicated that full-fat dairy may be better for preventing weight-gain than skim or non-fat dairy products.
7. Eat what’s fresh and in season. Markets back in the day were more comparable to our local farmer’s markets (that many of us must hunt down and drive to on the weekends). Again, fresh foods were everywhere. I remember my father-in-law saying when he was a kid, there was only one kind of potato chip, not an entire aisle! And that’s just one generation older than mine.
8. Make all your meals slow food. There weren’t fast food options in our elders’ day, and while they dined out once in a while, even the restaurants offered fresh, real food.
9. No dieting. Dieting didn’t even become a thing until the 1980s, which is also when processed food began to rise up.
10. Move all day. You know all those claims that sitting is the new smoking in terms of its bad effects on your physical health? Well, that sedentary lifestyle wasn’t a problem for our great-grandparents or great-great-grandparents because most of them woke up at the crack of dawn and were active right off the bat. They moved more and lounged less. More of their jobs and chores required manual labor, away from TVs, computers and smart phones which today distract us and keep us still.
I know, this simplicity sounds so appealing doesn’t it? If I had it my way, you would find me living on a farm with free range chickens, an acre garden, tons of flowers and trees and my kids running around bare-footed, while I dry their clothes on the line and dial up my parents on the rotary dial.
But we can’t go back in time. Farming is not an option for most of us, fast food options are everywhere waiting to tempt us, and many of us do need jobs that require a lot of sitting and screen time. But you still can incorporate some of these simpler lifestyle choices into your modern day schedule. Because even if you can’t live or eat exactly the way your great-great-grandparents ate, you can make an effort to exercise and move more often on your breaks, and you can make your own meals with fresh produce and whole foods.