Honoring the Ancestors through Food, Part Two

Third question–Theoretical Application

[Disclaimer #1 before the next section:  While I think some traditional ways are preferential to modern ones, I also think that inspiration from traditional ways is more valuable than trying to emulate them wholesale.]

[Disclaimer #2: Yes. I know. These are broad generalizations. “Traditional culture” can mean anything from the milk-and-blood eating Masaai to the largely-meat Inuit to nearly-vegetarian-except-for-bugs. There are similarities though, and restrictions that would have been temporally based. For example, all livestock/grazing animals/game back in the day would have been grass-fed–no CAFOs in the Mesolithic.]

But using food to connect–what does that mean, in particular? I can think of several things:

1. That food be grown and tended traditionally. Pastured-based dairy, poultry and beef has been shown to be higher in CLA, vitamin K2 and other nutrients that our bodies need. Also, land needs animals (there, I said it), especially prairie and grasslands. I’m not going to make outlandish claims about the superior health value of organic produce, as I think those claims are still contested, but growing produce traditionally is low-impact, creative and when done best can be restorative to the soil and surrounding natural systems. Having a part in these processes connects us to the past and to the future, much like picking up your Granny’s knitting needles to make a baby blanket.

2. Eating traditional ingredients. Many pre-industrial diets are pretty healthy, especially with the addition of fresh meat. Think about it: soured oats and an egg for breakfast, a ploughman’s platter of meat, cheese, greens, chutney for lunch, then for dinner is a stew. Emphasizing fresh vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, soured grains and reducing white sugar and flour.  Also, these cultures ate all parts of the meat and used the bones for broth as well–important in traditional cuisine and full of vitamins A and D, as well as minerals and gelatin. Making sure dairy sources are fatty and greens are cooked with fat is also important.

There are some traditional ingredients that are controversial, to say the least. I’m thinking particular about raw milk. Raw milk is what any culture who drank milk drank before the pasteurization process was invented. In modern times, if you haven’t heard, some groups claim that the health benefits of grass-fed raw milk outweigh the risk of maybe consuming harmful bacteria. If you’re going to consume milk, they claim, you should only consume raw. Governmental agencies and other safety advocates say nonsense, if you’re going to consume milk, raw milk could kill you. I’m doing more research on this at the moment, so I don’t have a firm conclusion yet.

3. Preparing traditional dishes. Some of these are harmless enough, such as Colcannon. Who doesn’t love a huge pot of mashed up potatoes, leeks, kale, ham and scandalous amounts of butter? Soured oatmeal seems fine to me; I love fermented foods. Gotta love a big pot of stew, as well! Other dishes…well…I can’t say I’m raring to try oat-stuffed cod heads.

Conclusions

The Weston A. Price Foundation pioneered the traditional food-culture trail in the 1940s, and with the popularity of farmer’s markets, eating locally and the Paleo/Primal diets, traditional foods are coming back in vogue. Pagans as a whole have been on the tradiotionalist train since the beginning of the neo-Pagan movement in the ’40s and ’50s. I’m thinking in particular about the Patricia Campanelli who wrote The Wheel of the Year and Ancient Ways: Reclaiming Pagan Traditions. So, not exactly groundbreaking territory. It really isn’t even a new idea for this blog, I’ve explored it in most food philosophy posts.

Still, I find the idea of ancestor work through food compelling. It has so many nuances. One could connect to ancestors of place by eating seasonal foods, and buying local meat, honey, alcohol and produce. Blood ancestry could be explored through growing cultural ingredients and using them in different recipes. Also, of course, since culture is fluid, one shouldn’t feel trapped in “I’m Scottish so I must eat kippers and bannocks”, and instead experiment with traditional (and non) ingredients, methods, etc. and see how they can be incorporated.

Personally, our family already does some of this, but I would like to incorporate some low-stress daily/weekly dishes and methods into our rotation. Tea, while more modern, is one aspect of this. I’m thinking about starting a soured porridge pot and a sourdough starter. I’m also tentatively exploring raw milk, more for the culturing possibilities (yogurt, cheese, clotted cream) than for drinking. We’ll see.

Much to my husband’s dismay, we’re also now taking regular spoonfuls of ghee and Cod Liver Oil. At least it’s not it’s not fermented.

(Yet.)

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Honoring the Ancestors through Food, Part One

I’ve always been curious about how our ancestors ate. I love the whole realm of food and beverage, from anthropology down to history. One of my favorite aspects of being in the wine business is that it is a traditional industry steeped (fermented?) in history and culture.

So I began pondering: How would eating traditionally connect me to the ancestors? Not just my temporally near ones, but what about my deep, genetic ancestors?  I honor the ancestors in my daily prayers, but it feels important to cultivate that connection in other ways.

My favorite aspect of all the holidays and Sabbats is definitely the food. I make butter on Imbolc, Colcannon on Samhain, soda bread for the Vernal Equinox. Not to mention the feasts of Yule, Christmas and Thanksgiving. So, if I like that connection so much, what about starting to extend it to daily life?

One of my favorite blogs, Hunt Gather Love, got me to thinking about food anthropology, and piqued my interest even more when she posted about a traditional Scots diet (basically, bleeding venison and kale).

So–first question–who are my ancestors? And where are they from?

Thanks to extensive genealogical research done by my maternal aunt, I know that my bloodline contains ancestors who arrived in America from France, Austria, Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales. I also have one flaming genetic marker for Celtic ancestry: I’m a red-head (and freckled).

Question two–That’s a lot of different cuisines and regions.

Sure…well, kind of. And it’s not like I’m trying to be a purist here. Hello, I’m an American whose family has been here since the 1700s. I could also add in Scots-Appalachian food (redundant, perhaps?) and traditional Southern into the mix. But since I’m mostly referring to deep ancestry, I think those more modern distinctions are less important.

Here’s what I’ve gleaned from research into a traditional Scots diet:

Grains: barley, rye, oats.

Vegetables: kale, cabbage, Allium crops (garlic, shallots, leeks, onion), turnips,  sea vegetables, wild vegetables (nettles, watercress), marsh plants (sea beans).

Fruits: berries, apples

Dairy: cream, milk, butter, cheese, whey

Meats: fish (especially salmon and trout), shellfish, game meat (especially venison), lamb/mutton, eggs, sometimes beef.

Sugars: honey

A traditional Irish diet would have looked much the same. In researching the topic I found more references to milk products, ducks, geese and beef in the Irish diet–but that doesn’t mean that the Scots didn’t enjoy these foods as well.

A more continental European diet would include beans and legumes, more grains (wheat, though not much, and millet), and a more diverse set of vegetables and fruits.

Traditionally, grains would have (most of the time) been soaked or fermented, which makes them easier to digest and shortens the cooking time.  Think of soured porridge, sourdough, and soaked oats.

Something else to think about–after the hunter/gatherer period of history, fresh meat would have been the province of the nobility, except for feast days. Food of the lower classes would have been grains, dairy and vegetables, supplemented with blood sausages and the like. It’s interesting to note that because of the emphasis on dairy, some of the dietary practices were similar to the traditional diet of the African Masaai tribe (like mixing raw blood, raw milk and butter together).

[Part II will discuss Application and will have a list of my resources and the Wish List Cookbooks]