Three Stone Hearth & The Eleven Characteristics of Traditional Diets
--created by Sally Fallon Morell, based on the findings of Dr. Weston A. Price
The Weston Price Story
Dr. Weston A. Price (1870-1948), a dentist from Cleveland, Ohio, has been called the “Isaac Newton of Nutrition.”
Seeking to understand the causes of dental decay and physical degeneration he observed in his practice, particularly in the children and grandchildren of his original patients, he turned from laboratory research to the unrecognized, under-appreciated -- and rapidly disappearing -- evidence still to be found among living human populations. In his search for the causes of ill health in the world around him, he discovered the source of vital health among the people who still possessed it -- traditional societies uncorrupted by modern agriculture and food processing.
Before World War II, there were still many of these small thriving groups around the world. Price traveled extensively in the 1920s and '30s, gathering evidence wherever he went. His findings led him to the belief that dental decay and deformed dental arches, which he witnessed throughout the industrialized world, were signs of broader degeneration caused by nutritional deficiencies. While dental health was his gateway, his research led to fundamental insights about nutrition and health in the modern world.
Dr. Price traveled to snow-bound villages in the Swiss Alps, Polynesian South Sea islands, Gaelic communities in the Outer Hebrides, to the Inuit of North America, East African tribal groups, Australian Aboriginals, New Zealand Maori and the native people of North and South America. Wherever he went, Price found that beautiful straight teeth, freedom from decay, resistance to disease, ease of childbirth and even admirable personal characters were typical of indigenous peoples on their traditional diets. These stalwart people stood in sharp contrast to those subsisting on the impoverished, convenient and superficially satisfying foods of "civilization" -- white flour, pasteurized milk, cheap vegetable oils, sugars and increasingly processed foods (or "food products") filled with extenders and additives.
Price presented his discoveries and conclusions in the classic volume, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. The book contains striking photos of healthy indigenous people, and illustrates in an unforgettable way the degeneration that occurs -- and often occurs quite quickly -- when human groups abandon nourishing traditional diets in favor of modern convenience foods. One of his classic revelations is a comparison of two brothers, one who stayed in his village and ate the same foods his people had for generations, and the other who went off to the city in search of opportunity. Guess which one remained healthy and vibrant, and which appeared weakened and damaged...
Nutrition and Physical Degeneration is a compendium of traditional dietary practices from societies that were disappearing in the rush of colonialism, modernity, industrial agriculture, and food processing. Existing in wildly different environments -- from desert to tundra, from rainforests to the great plains -- these societies learned over centuries and millennia to sustain themselselves, thrive and heal, by making the most of the particular resources locally at hand. This dietary wisdom often went against the (mono-cropped, synthetically fertilized, denatured) grain of the modern food industrial complex of the 20th Century.
In 1999, however, Price's neglected work was revived in the landmark book, Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon Morell and Mary Enig, which launched a movement and galvanized the community that gave birth to Three Stone Hearth. The five co-founders of TSH came together in connection with the Weston A. Price Foundation, founded in San Francisco by Sally and medical doctor and author Thomas Cowan. Three Stone Hearth co-founder Jessica Prentice began a series of monthly "Full Moon Feasts" centered around the seasonal associations of the New Moon with certain foods in traditional cultures -- also the theme of her book by the same name, published in 2006, the same year TSH first opened. There is also a blog called The Nourishing Cook, which documents the preparation of all 773 recipes in Nourishing Traditions. In 2014, Sally Fallon Morell published Nourishing Broth, focussing on one of the most fundamental healing foods Price discovered in traditional cultures around the world -- slow-cooked bone broths from pasture-raised animals. She has also published Nourishing Diets: How Paleo, Ancestral and Traditional People Really Ate; The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby and Child Care; The Nourishing Traditions Cookbook for Children, and Nourishing Fats, among others.
In the years since Three Stone Hearth was founded, many writers, chefs, food activists and entrepreneurs have found their way to an appreciation of real, whole foods and indigenous food traditions as a basis for health, sustainability, community and social justice, from the Slow Food movement begun in Italy to the two indigenous restaurants just opening in the East Bay -- Wahpepah's Kitchen in Oakland, and the return of Cafe Ohlone on the UCB Campus coming this summer. One of the most galvanizing voices in this movement has been Berkeley author Michael Pollan. His journey began with an open question about humanity's desire to both control and surrender to the power of plants, in The Botany of Desire, and culminated in a manifesto that extolled the unique virtues of Traditional Diets. That manifesto, In Defense of Food, discusses only one specific dietary approach, and at some length --and that is the Weston A. Price/Nourishing Traditions approach. Whatever value can be found in other dietary approaches, they all, at least in part, succumb to what Pollan calls out as "nutritionism" -- breaking foods down to individual nutritional components and removing them from the larger, holistic contexts and complex relationships of whole foods, environments, human bodies and societies. Traditional Diets, by their nature, precede that scientific reductionism, and that separation of nutrition from food, of food from the environment and the social life that sustains a community -- whether they live on blood and blubber, fish and fruit, or rye bread and butter.
Weston Price was a passionate scientist, and in his attempts to bridge the modern with the traditional, he saw connections between health, food and the environment that we are just starting to recognize and prioritize again. In his words:
“We can now visualize our universe, its light, gravity and heat, its seasons, tides, and harvest, which prepare a habitation for the universe of vital forms, microscopic and majestic, which fill the oceans and the forests. We have a common denominator for universes within and around each other. Our world, our food and our life have potentials so vast that we can only observe directions, not goals. We sense human achievements or ignominious self-destruction. Every creed today vaguely seeks a utopia... Yes, man’s place is most exalted when he obeys Mother Nature’s laws.”
For information on Weston Price and the Weston A. Price Foundation, including many resources for further exploration of these topics, click here