Monday, April 7, 2014

What to eat, how to move? Stewart's Rules

The spoils from a Stewart's Rules-inspired shopping foraging/gathering trip 
to The Grapevine Deli
It seems as though everyone, including me, is looking for the best way to live our lives. Central to this is how best to nourish and use our bodies to promote health, enjoyment, and longevity. For each person there are times where this is more or less of a focus. Times such as starting university, getting married, starting a family, and other similar, important changes often push our focus to the tasks at hand, and as a result, health and wellness may suffer. Similarly, there are times when we are reminded of our own mortality, and are forced to deal with long ignored issues that have resulted, potentially, in simmering health issues. Illness or death of a family member or friend, or the diagnosis of and realization of one’s own health issues cause us to confront what we should have dealt with long before, but hadn’t, and are now made to do so. Overweight, obesity, diabetes, and other chronic and life shortening maladies are commonplace today. And so, we bounce between dealing with “life”, and dealing with the effects of ignoring the one thing central life, our own health.

The only thing more constant than this struggle to live our lives and manage our health, are the number of solutions available. Books claiming to be able to get us fit, help up lose the fat, whether it is by eschewing animal products, grains, or fat/carbohydrates/protein, lifting big, running hard, you name it, line bookstore shelves. Blogs on all these topics and more abound, some with very useful information, others with promises that often are too good to be true. I, like many, have spent time at each end of the spectrum, dealing with life just to keep my head above water, and then doing the same when faced with a looming health crisis. These health crises started typically and innocently enough. A few extra pounds gained during my first year of undergraduate studies, then dropped in subsequent years, only to be gained back again and lost in cycles corresponding to completing graduate degrees, having children, starting a job, and the list goes on.

Luckily for me, oddly enough, I got my most serious wake-up call, a diagnosis of relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis, in May 2009 when I just happened to be in the best physical condition that I’d been in for years. Of course, this made me ask “How could I be in such good condition and still be diagnosed with such a disease?”. 

My search for answers led me to Primal and Mark Sisson and Richard Nikoley (thanks to an introduction by my friend Aaron Blaisdell), Paleo and Loren Cordain and Robb Wolf, Perfect Health Diet and the Jaminets, Chris Kresser, Stephan Guyenet, Chris Highcock, and many others. The quantity and quality of information I have gained from each of these people is enormous, and I am still learning more from each of them every day.

Along the way I have been more or less “strict” with my diet but I kept coming back to the same place; my maternal grandfather and grandmother lived until 93 (grandfather) and 103 (grandmother – still rocking!), so what were their secrets? This is not to say that they didn’t have any maladies, but that in spite of any infirmities along the way, they lived productively well into their late eighties and nineties. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take that, any day of the week and twice on Sundays, as the saying goes.

Below (edited for typos and spelling) is the results of a facebook-mediated Q & A with Joanne Jenkins (aka my Mom) about Hugh and Elsie Stewart’s lifestyle (work and diet) living on the farm in the middle of the 20th century in Southern Ontario. This is somewhat Spartan due to the medium, but from it you can learn a few rules, I’ll call them “Stewart’s Rules”. These rules are very much in line with the thinking of Michael Pollan, bestselling author and journalist, who told us to live by seven words when it comes to food: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” You will see from the transcript of our conversation that my grandparents ate minimally-processed, easily recognizable food that either they grew or raised themselves. No food was off limits, there was no fat reduced anything. Just food. And real, honest work that made you break a sweat once and a while.

I am not sure what more I am going to do with this information besides presenting it in this form, since if I were to convert it into a document it would be a very short one. Nonetheless I may do this and then distribute it by the web.

Here’s our “conversation” of messages:

CHRIS: I was wondering whether you could sketch out the type of foods and frequency with which they ate them? I am not thinking of when they were older, but rather when they were farmers. And could you also do the same for how they worked? Like the hours and types of work?

JOANNE: Meals...Breakfast usually porridge and tea or coffee. Dinner and supper both heavy meals of meat, potatoes, vegetable, fruit and or baked goods. Meat would be chicken, beef, or pork...home raised.  Vegetables and fruit would be fresh or home canned or frozen...usually home grown.  Bread always.  Baked goods usually home baked.  Milk from own cows...fresh.  Bedtime snack of cereal or bread and milk.  When evening company sandwiches and baked goods would be served with coffee.

Work for your grandfather depended on the season but always included feeding and caring for animal twice a day...cattle , pigs and chickens.  Winter western steers were added and pigs and chickens year round.  Spring meant ploughing,discing, harrowing, seeding then cultivating as well as haying...cutting, raking, bringing in either loose or later baled. Summer was harvesting wheat and oats...white beans at one time.  Fall was corn harvest. Early on that was cutting, sheaving, and later combines were used.  Machinery repairs, cleaning manure and spreading added to the mix.

Your grandmother prepared 3 meals a day...earlier on a wood stove,  laundry...pumping. heating water,  earlier washing with a scrub board and later a wringer washer,  hanging clothes outside or sometimes in the house in winter.  She also looked after the chickens, cleaned eggs to sell,  separated milk to sell cream, cleaned house, and in summer cared for a large vegetable garden...canning and freezing.  She cut the grass and sometimes drove tractor to disc, harrow,.. and we both helped in haying.

Work started early each morning and finished late.

I'm sure I missed some things but this is an overview at least.  Hope this helps.
Mom  xo

CHRIS: Thanks for all this information! Did they add sugar or grit to the oatmeal? What about meat and/or eggs at breakfast?

And it was always butter and cream in their coffee, yes?

JOANNE: They used sugar on oatmeal.  Some breakfasts were bacon and eggs but I remember bacon and eggs for a main meal too .  Always butter and cream.  Cream on cereal and fruit too.  Mom was just talking about meat preservation before hydro was available.  Meat was put in jars with fat on top and then cooked in the oven so the fat seeped down through the meat to preserve it. Fat was also rendered...pork fat.

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