by William Hill
One of the exciting aspects of being an intern at Koanga Institute is the preparation and eating of our meals. Each mealtime is eagerly anticipated as the food is delectable and highly nutritious, and its preparation is an education.
Dr. Weston A. Price, a dentist and researcher, conducted extensive studies of indigenous peoples throughout the world in the 1920s and 30s. He is noted for his observations that nutrition was directly linked to superior dental and physical health of peoples from traditional, indigenous cultures. He tested the vitamin and mineral content of the American diet at the time and found it contained very low amounts of fat soluble vitamins and minerals in comparison with those in traditional diets.
Today the Weston A. Price Foundation promotes traditional foods and their preparation. It is these principles that the Koanga Institute follows in its food preparation to nourish inquisitive, hungry interns.
Principles of traditional diets found in every indigenous culture observed by Dr. Weston Price:
1. No refined or denatured foods e.g. refined sugar and flour, corn syrup, canned foods, pasteurised and homogenised foods, hydrogenated oils etc.
2. Animal protein and fat from fish, land animals, eggs, milk etc.
3. Four times the calcium and other minerals and ten times the fat soluble vitamins (vitamin A, D, K2) of the average American diet in the 1920s.
4. High enzyme content foods such as those from raw dairy, raw meat and fish, raw honey, tropical fruits, cold pressed oils and naturally preserved lacto-fermented vegetables.
5. Seeds, grains and nuts: soak fermented of naturally leavened in order to neuteralise naturally occuring anti-nutrients in these foods such as phytic acid, enzyme inhibitors, tannins and complex carbohydrates.
6. Total fat content of traditional diets varied from 30%-80% with the predominant source of fats in the form of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids and very little polyunsaturated fats.
7. Omegas 3 & 6 – traditional diets contained nearly equal amounts of these essential fatty acids.
8. Salt – always a part of traditional diets.
9. Consumption of animal bones – usually in the form of gelatin-rich bone broths.
10. Provision for the health of future generations by providing nutrient-rich foods for parents to be, pregnant women and growing children; proper spacing of children and by teaching principles of diet to the young.
The best part about learning these principles: taking them into the kitchen! Kay, an accomplished cook and cookery writer, introduced us to preparing and cooking foods with traditional methods and recipes, those that maintain and even increase the nutrition content of food. And it is this example that we follow, referencing her cook books and traditional cooking methods.
One of the first foods we prepared was yoghurt which is made by adding a starter culture to milk to enable it to ferment. In traditional cultures, without refrigeration, milk was changed into other foods, usually by fermentation. This practise not only ensured that milk could be stored but it also increased the nutritional value of the food.
Each meal served at Koanga provides us with an educative experience. Preparation is varied but always utilises whole foods that are highly nutritious or what is termed “nutrient-dense” foods – those that are grown organically and contain a high vitamin and mineral content. Using quality ingredients and cooking them in ways that enliven them, such as slowly and without non-nutritious additives are key ways of preparing traditional food.
Ingredients used are sourced from the garden and local farms while other ingredients are selected from localised sources. This serves to connect us to the region and ensure we are eating foods in season that have not travelled great distances to out table.
Any seeds, grains or nuts are soaked prior to use to enable the full nutritional benefit of each are made available.
Each week, two interns are charged with cooking the meals for their fellow interns and also Kay and family and Institute staff. With Kay’s guidance, meals are planned for the week ahead and prepared by the interns beginning with ingredient preparation through to cooking and presentation of meals to the group.
Meal times are signalled by ringing of a bell and we pause to give thanks for the food, those who have prepared it, those who are to eat it and for the abundant blessings of the day.
Each meal is served with a vegetable such as carrot that has been fermented (a nutritious way of preserving and increasing the nutrition of vegetables), sea salt and butter, a source of good fat and vitamin A.
Desert? Well, not every day, more likely to be seen on special occasions such as a birthday. And yes, these can be made nutritiously by utilising honey as a sweetener and flour made from ground nuts.
Learning the principles of a traditional diet at Koanga is proving to be highly enjoyable. Through this experience we are being shown how to put traditional nutrition wisdom into practise in our lives today and we will leave with new and vital perspectives of food and cooking that will inspire our families and friends to enrich their lives in the same way.