Factory food is making us dumber and dumber

Nutrition and Physical Degeneration

Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price, DDS, Expanded Edition with New Photos and Text, Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, 527 pp, $27.95.

In the film Idiocracy, the decline of America comes not through an oil shock, a debt crisis or even the rise of China and India. Instead, a kind of reverse eugenics, where yuppies defer childbearing until it’s too late while guys in wife-beater T shirts keep on multiplying themselves generation after generation, brings the nation to a sad place in the year 2505.

The average IQ has declined to well below 100. Water is only used for flushing toilets but a power drink called “Brawndo, the Thirst Mutilator” is fed to both people and animals and sprayed on crops. The top-rated TV show, called “Ow! My Balls!” features one scene after another of a guy getting his groin slammed.

Oh, yes, and at the local hospital, if you stand out as sounding particularly intelligent, a physician consulting your medical record is likely to provide a diagnosis like this: “Sez here u talk like a fag and uh…ur shit’s all retarded.”

Weston Price* was another kind of doctor from another era who also thought that America was getting progressively stupider by the generation. And Price would agree with the makers of Idiocracy that a populace that had gotten too stupid to take care of itself could mean the end of our democracy.

A nation of degenerates

In his 1939 classic, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Price cites research that a quarter or more of American adults had such low intelligence that they “require some supervision.” Price approvingly quotes a contemporary writer who asks:

Should the ballot be restricted to citizens able to take care of themselves? One out of four cannot…The tail is now wagging Washington, and Wall St. and LaSalle Street…Each generation has seen some lowering of the American average level of general ability.

But Price does not blame the decline of our national stock on dolts over-breeding or rubbish on the radio or the poor example set by President Hoover. Instead, Price fingers the standard American diet of his day for helping to create a nation of dimwits: white bread, sugar, skim milk and all the stuff you can make from these, from sweet jams and jellies to cake.

In a world entirely innocent of GMOs and still largely free of food chemicals, Price found plenty to hate in the industrial food of the thirties, namely, that it lacked the nutrition needed for good health. And the problem went beyond the Wonder Bread and Co’Cola of his countrymen to encompass all the sugary, starchy and low-fat processed foods eaten by civilized people everywhere, presumably sparing neither British scone nor French croissant nor Italian pizza pie.

Such a diet, composed of dead foods that even an insect would reject but that provide modern humans with enough calories to somehow limp along for three score and ten, fills the belly without providing adequate vitamins or the natural activators needed to use those vitamins even if you can get them. As a result, modern people suffer from degenerative diseases like cancer and tuberculosis largely unknown before the industrial era. And we also suffer from birth defects that come not from a long line of genetic mutations but instead just from our parents’ own bad diets.

This may be a new idea for people today, accustomed as we are to blaming everything from a slow metabolism to myopia on genetics. But Price argued that whatever your parents’ genetics, if they simply ate crappy modern food just before you were born, then the sperm and/or egg that made you would also be defective. And that in turn would make you defective from birth. This may be hard to accept, perhaps, especially if you’re generally healthy and feel, as I do, that you’re not a total moron most of the time.

Price’s argument is subtle. He finds that nearly all modern people are born imperfect but that the symptoms are so pervasive as to be considered normal by society at large — primarily, growing up with crooked teeth, which Price sees not as a natural variation on human development, but rather as a skeletal deformity resulting from poor nutrition.

Bad teeth bite

By the standards of today’s diet gurus, whether celebrity personal trainers, celebrity nutritionists or just plain old celebrities, Price stands out.

As a dentist (who practiced in Cleveland, no less), Price’s concern for nutrition started not from a flabby belly or a large butt, but from the crooked, cavity-riddled teeth of his patients. An early holistic practitioner, Price got tired of the old routine of drilling and filling and guessed that there must be more to dental health than brushing, flossing and staying away from salt water taffy.

Price had already decided that the root cause of tooth decay was the unhealthy diet of modern civilization. And to find the cure, Price departed from the study of pathology to the study of health and set out to find people around the world who had good teeth. So, in the early 1930s, with his wife Florence at his side, Price embarked on a world tour of indigenous people and their diets, traveling Indiana Jones-style by “prop planes, steamships, canoes, automobiles, and on foot, visiting 14 countries on 5 continents,” as cancer specialist Patrick Quillin puts it in one of the book’s forewords.

[Price] was troubled with the dramatic increase in dental problems among his patients. His travels proved his theory: if you eat your native ethnic diet in an unprocessed form you will have good mental, physical and dental health. If you eat highly processed foods, which adds questionable agents and removes essential nutrients, your health deteriorates.

The Indigenous Diet

Price’s results are hard to argue with. Of the dozens of groups he studied, nearly all had perfect teeth that grew straight in their dental arches and remained free of cavities throughout their lifetimes without any help from modern dentistry.

New Zealand Maori

Among thousands of native people that Price photographed on his travels, these New Zealand Maori enjoyed the straight, cavity-free teeth and overall good health of people who ate their traditional diet.

What all the native peoples Price studied also had in common, whether Inuit in Alaska or Aborigines in Australia, was that if they stuck to their native diet — which always consisted of unprocessed foods with plenty of animal fats and vitamins but more or less seafood, whole grains, meat, dairy and vegetables depending on what was available — their teeth would remain nearly 100% cavity free and their general health would be good.

But as soon as these same peoples started to eat foods from trade, from white bread to jams to canned goods, their mouths would fill with cavities and they would also become susceptible to diseases that had never troubled them in the past, particularly tuberculosis. Even worse, if they were eating western foods, their kids would be born with narrow dental arches that couldn’t accommodate all their teeth, leading to the crooked teeth common in Europe and America but almost entirely absent from indigenous societies before contact with modern foods. And they’d suffer birth defects from club feet to mangled hands.

Thus armed with the key to not only a clean mouth but a sound body, Price brought back the wisdom of primitive peoples to a largely indifferent western world about to spread an orgy of canned food across the globe during World War II and then settle in to the TV diet of the 1950s.

A man ahead of his time, Price’s teachings would only come into their own with the advent of organic and whole foods diets in the 1970s. Paleo, caveman and other low-carb diets also follow in Price’s footsteps, with the important exception that Price was not against starches or grains per se, but only against refined grains. Indeed, two of the groups Price studied, Gaelics in the Hebrides Islands off the northern coast of Scotland and Swiss perched high in the Loetschental Valley of the Alps, were big users of grains (oats and rye, respectively).

Price would certainly consider it good news that so many of us are now taking back our food from big corporations. Indeed, the last words of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration make this man of the 1930s, who refused all offers of sponsorship and funded his extensive travels entirely from his dental practice, sound like an early fan of Occupy Wall Street: “Great care must be taken to avoid commercial encroachment from gain.”

— Erik Curren, Transition Voice

Also see Erik’s review of Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats by author Sally Fallon, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation.

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  1. Diane Trout says

    Michael Pollin’s In Defense of Food also made reference to Prices work. As well as an experiment with a similar conclusion. Scientist finds austrialian aboriginals who still knew how to hunt traditionally, but were developing diabetes and obesity, and asks them lets go out into the bush and see what you eat.

    The diabetes went into remission and they all lost weight.

  2. says

    I firmly believe that in the future Idiocracy will be considered on of the classics of dystopian fiction along with “1984” and “A Brave New World”. It seems to become more prescient as the years go by. The same reductionism that lead to the belief that all plants needed was Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium to grow, and neglected the complex nature of living soil, has turn the rich variety of foods into calories, fat, carbs, protein, etc. Depending on the fad of the day, one or the other element in food is declared “bad” and we use all sort of industrial wizardry to eliminate it, without considering the whole. Speaking from personal knowledge, breaking free from the addiction to processed foods is a difficult path.

    • says

      I have to agree that “Idiocracy” is a work of Swiftian genius. And we’re trying to cut down on processed foods now, and it certainly ain’t easy. But worthwhile, I hope. After about a month, my clothes seem a little looser.

      • Tiffany says

        It isn’t easy because much of the processed foods are just so damn addictive, just like narcotics. But if you believe that your body and mind is worthy of health it makes that transition much more easy to manage. This transition eventually simplifies your life in so many ways.

    • Kamran says

      I agree with this statement wholeheartedly.

      One thing I noticed is that some people who follow WAPF tend to demonize all carbs. If we are to truly progress in our understanding of nutrition, our bodies, and advance the human race, we must absolutely stop demonizing any sort of nutrient, without viewing the whole food or the context of one’s diet.

      • Andrea says

        I am a WAP follower and, while carbs may be demonized by some, this is not the result of Price’s findings or the official stance of the WAP foundation. Healthy meats and fats are given top priority, but good carbs have their place in the diet too. Sally Fallon has many delicious recipes with rice, potatoes, wheat and other grains in her cook book “Nourishing Traditions.” I personally LOVE sourdough bread (-:

        • says

          Good point. I’m a big fan of pretzels. I gave them up after reading Dr Price’s book. But I look forward to either making our own from home ground organic whole wheat flour or else finding a good source for them, because, darn, I really miss my pretzels.

          • ashleyroz says

            I’m a huge fan of sprouted wheat pretzels. I’ve seen them at the health food store and whole foods. They’re really good and strangely filling after just 2 or 3.

      • says

        @ Kamran:
        Check any medical, physiology or biochemistry textbook for the REAL scientific truth: Carbohydrates are physiologically UN-necessary in a normally functioning body, period! end of story. There are plenty of other sources of the nutrients found in carb foods that, as an added bonus, lack the destructive sugars and anti-nutrients in wheat, grains and certain vegetables, and IF you feed it right and take good acre of it the body can happily and easily make the ** 1 **, ONE!! teaspoon of sugar it needs to maintain homeostatic blood sugar levels in the roughly 1000 teaspoons of blood in your body. Those texts also clearly and accurately state that the preferred fuel substrate of BOTH the brain and the heart is fats, NOT glucose from carbs as most people have either mistakenly or intentionally been led to believe.

        Ironically, about the only people that have an actual physiological need for glucose from carbohydrates are diabetics who lose ALL control of their blood sugars on both the upper AND lower end, and who in losing not just the pancreatic beta cells used to produce insulin to bring high blood sugars DOWN to homeostatic level, also lose the alpha cells used for production of glucagon to make glucose to bring low blood sugar levels back up to the homeostatic 1 teaspoon level.

        And in a further irony, with the exception of inborn errors of metabolism, most post natal Type II and many cases of insulin dependent Type 1 diabetes can be and commonly are INDUCED by excessive intake of carbohydrates, NOT protein, not fats, CARBS!!, the chronic over intake of which over stresses and causes pancreatic burn out and total and permanent loss of of the body’s FRAGILE sugar control system. The body is just NOT designed for or capable of processing the excessive level of carbohydrate intake common to most people these days, thus the already high and increasing rates of obesity, diabetes and the diabetes related problems of heart, kidney, vascular & neurological diseases, blindness and cancer.

        This science has been known for MANY years, see the work of Dr. Richard Bernstein and Dr. Richard Feinman who both state that sugars from carbs inflict many kinds of physiological damage every time you eat them, and that when it come to carbs as a macro nutrient it’s simply a matter of how much damage you’re willing to sustain & inflict on your and your loved ones bodies and health, and that the less sugar a person eats over a lifetime the healthier, longer and high quality life you will have.

        It is not for no reason that “some people who follow WAPF tend to demonize all carbs” and I can assure you they do not do so lightly or without cause or evidence. They do so BECAUSE of their understanding of the body as a whole, complete, naturally balanced system whose health and function is inseparable from it’s parts and the properties of the foods supplied to it.

        If you are to truly progress in your understanding of nutrition & your body and advance the human race, you must stop demonizing and shift your focus from the people who know and teach that many sorts of naturally occurring nutrients and the “modern” engineered wheat and grain proteins are not nutritious even though they appear to grow “naturally” in the modern nutrient depleted & chemically toxic soils, and start viewing the foods in one’s diet, AND their intake levels, in the context of their physiological effect on the human body.

        I challenge you to reexamine your biases & then re-reexamine the complete scientific truths in the context of the overwhelming evidence of increasing global disease and mortality rates.

  3. IAmMary says

    Right after/below it says that Price refused all sponsorship… and… this last sentence…. “Great care must be taken to avoid commercial encroachment from gain.”, and the name of the author, Erik Curren, Transition Voice, is an ad, a sponsorship, ” TXXXton Dental Care – Veneers, Implants, Bleaching Call today for a free consultation – xxxx.com”, to bleach teeth and implant foreign objects into the mouth..’

    • says

      Glad you have an eye for irony, IAmMary. It is indeed fitting in a perverse way for a cosmetic dentistry ad to appear on a review of a book about why we all have such bad teeth. If modern people didn’t eat the crappy diet that Price decries, then maybe there’d be no market for dental veneers, implants and bleaching. Unfortunately, I don’t see that particular ad, since Google ads appear only partially based on keywords in the content of a page. Since the user’s browsing history also plays a role, I’m getting a banner inviting me to “Find out what your competitors are doing better than you.”

      Incidentally, sometimes, we do a story on an oil spill or peak oil, and we get ads from Exxon or BP. That makes me smile.

  4. says

    You get it Erik! Few do, but we keep trying! I presume you are hooking up with WAP’ers in your area, like Sally Holdener, Harvery Ussery, and of course, Joel Salatin?

    • says

      Thanks Mother Hen! We’ve just hooked up with the WAP group in Harrisonburg and are looking forward to learning more. Meantime, we’ve been buying food from Polyface for a couple years and we do enjoy having Joel as a neighbor.

  5. Raw Milk Granny says

    Cheers to Erik! Well written, well researched, and pithy. The sad truth young mothers are more concerned about getting into their tight jeans after giving birth than preparing and eating to successfully breast feed. Doctors are clueless about nutrition and defer to canned formula and prenatal vitamins. The FDA has declared war on those mothers who have taken nutrition seriously and seek out clean and healthy raw milk to feed their bodies and children. Soy is feminizing our young men and causing infertility and breast/prostrate cancer to sky rocket. Soy is hidden in all industrial processed food. Antibiotic dependence and poor gut health through poor nutrition is compromising mothers to be and predisposing new borns in the birth canal to developing autism. Yes, a mother’s gut flora (e.g., chronic yeast infections) via the birth canal can populate baby with compromised immunity, hence baby/toddler is at risk to toxicity of vaccinations. Join the Weston A. Price Foundation and TEACH, TEACH, TEACH!

    • says

      Thanks to you Raw Milk Granny. Those were powerful last words of Dr Price and it appears that his students are ably continuing his tradition. And I know it’s tough to be a mom these days who really wants to provide good nutrition to your kids. But these days it appears to be more important than ever.

    • says

      And thank you Susan. After reading the book, I was sold. If inigenous people have eaten this way for hundreds or thousands of years and if they’re healthier than we are, then why shouldn’t we learn from them? Definitely not a fad!

  6. Lorra says

    Great article. I’ve been reading about WAPF for the past 8 months, and you included some great details that I hadn’t even come across yet. I was tickled to realize that he traveled with his wife! Of course, there were other more important details I picked up too. Thanks. You are on to something good, and with your ability to write – you have a great ability to help facilitate change. Teach, teach, teach!

    • says

      Yes, there’s a great picture of Mrs Price wearing a pith helmet in some village in Africa. And thanks for your super nice comments. I’ve been glad to connect with so many WAPF fans through this article. I look forward to reviewing more books and writing more on these topics.

  7. says

    A fantastic website and a fantastic article to boot.

    I was an older mother and always cared about diet, but not enough it seems (both children have disabilities, one speechless and in nappies aged 9). I rarely ate processed foods, but even supermarket fruit and veg it seems lacks something. Now I’m growing a lot of our family’s food, and use chickens as part of rotational permaculture (what grows in the ground chickens have been on is amazing).

    But for me it’s a little late, so I do wish I’d stumbled on WAP and these articles when I was in my twenties, before even thinking about having offspring.

    Live and learn! I love the website and enjoy being challenged by the ideas. Thank you so much, everyone who contributed.

    • says

      Erica, Thanks for your nice comment. I’m with you — in some ways I also feel it’s too late for me, though the diet changes I’ve made in the last couple months have helped me lose weight and feel healthier. Now, the challenge is to try to get our kids into it.

  8. Nicole says

    Thanks Eric – Im glad you got hold of this topic. as a physiotherapist (physical therapist to you), severe frustration, burnout and a realisation (after reading Dr Price’s book) that I was spending my life treating the symptoms of generations of dietary neglect was my entree` into permaculture – then community gardens and finally Transition movement. I personally have been following WAPF for 10 years now with results exactly as he and Sally Fallon outlined including overcoming cancer without treatment, and breeding cavity free extremely healthy children.
    Part of my passion in Transition is the fact that we as a race are not only incredibly dumbed down but outstandingly weak. I find it really hard to see how without a massive change in public health policy (a return to cod liver oil prescriptions for children for example?) we are going to regain the physical strength to rebuild our communities for a low fossil fuel future. At the same time the concern about the environmental impact of meat consumption pushing vegetarian and vegan diets is at great risk of making the young people to whom these movements appeal even more vulnerable.
    Thanks for writing this – and lets keep putting this info out to the wider Transition communities.

    • says

      Thanks Nicole. We’ve just started taking cod liver oil and I agree with you that it would be great if it were prescribed for kids and all of us. And I also share your concern about going veg/vegan as a way to do one’s own bit for climate change and peak oil. If it’s unhealthy for us, then it’s no solution for the planet. Better would be local organic farming a la Joel Salatin.

  9. says

    Hi Erik, so well written, I am excited to share this with our WAPF fans.
    I have just returned from circumnavigating Tobago in a sailboat, and at every port saw evidence of how modern processed foods are creating food deserts and displacing local food culture. While backyard sheep, goats and chickens were everywhere, and cows were tethered by the roadside throughout the rainforest, I learned most locals don’t milk the cows and goats anymore. Local yogurt was available, but very rare and thus pricy.

    The local merchants had tiny shops filled with what Dr. Weston Price called “the displacing foods of modern commerce.” And, it was hard to find a vegetable or whole food, except for eggs. Even the ice cream stall seemed to be serving up a treat made with powdered milk. At least that is what my taste buds told me.

    Luckily, many still have backyard gardens, and the natives prefer single family residences with their own yards, and lots of tropical fruit trees were evident. I hear they do have farmers markets. Most men on the island are fishermen, and most who are not government workers seem to be self employed. So there is hope for local foods to not be fully displaced.

    I am motivated to get WAPF literature sent to their government officials in hopes of showing them the dangers of these displacing foods!

    Maybe they will invite me back to their beautiful island to discuss this undesirable transition!

    Kimberly Hartke, Publicist
    Weston A. Price Foundation

    • says

      Thanks for the kudos Kimberly and for chiming in. After reading Price’s book, my wife and I joined the Weston A Price Foundation and I can recommend your group to Transition Voice readers who want to take more control over their food.

      In my travels, particularly to South Asia, I had much the same experience as you did in Trinidad, that the “displacing foods of modern commerce” had begun to crowd out the healthy, whole foods native to the local diet for centuries. Packaged and processed foods were most common in cities and most purchased by the newly wealthy or middle class, but unfortunately modern food products were also spreading to the countryside and becoming popular with the poor, who could ill afford the expense but found the temptation of Westernized food hard to resist.

      A silver cloud in the global recession could be that processed foods become more expensive relative to whole food and that people everywhere start to go back to their traditional diets slowly and gradually. I think folks in India or Trinidad will find this easier than Americans will, but I’m heartened by the progress we’ve already made here and I hope that, if the economic downturn continues and families need to save money, that they’ll be more willing to cut out processed and fast food and make more healthy whole foods at home.

  10. Donna says

    I’m wondering why George Washington had wooden teeth! Pretty sure there wasn’t processed foods in the 1700’s

  11. birdgirl says

    Thank you for this post. It’s been very interesting learning this stuff since I have living proof in my family of how a traditional diet is good for health. My step mother, who is Mexican, grew up on a farm. She looks like one of the very healthy people in Price’s book–high cheekbones, wide jaw, perfect teeth and eyesight, and no health problems even though she is sixty. She has almost no grey hair. I recently overheard her say that she had no cavities until she was in her late thirties, almost twenty years after her move to the United States. She still prepares her traditional foods, though also eats modern, processed food too. Her siblings, as far as I know, enjoy good health too and they all have great teeth. Some of my step mother’s grand nieces and nephews, who were born in the US, don’t look the same. They look EXACTLY like the children pictured in Price’s book who ate processed food. They have crooked teeth and narrow faces.

    I see the deterioration going on in my own biological family too. My cousin’s kids wear glasses and braces. As the oldest child of a mother who was very healthy and attractive, I didn’t need braces, but my brother, who was born two years after me, did need them. My mother had two more children, six, and then twelve years after my brother. Neither of them needed braces.

    I rapidly developed severe nearsightedness from eating a lot of “foods” like Frankenberry and Lucky Charms during puberty. I feel so stupid now, knowing that my eye problems most likely could have been prevented with good nutrition. My younger siblings, with the exception of one, ate better than I did during puberty, and have perfect vision.

  12. says

    I got glasses and braces at the same time, both about age eleven or twelve. And I had the same diet of childhood pseudo-foods you describe, with an emphasis on Cocoa Puffs. I feel kinda stupid about it too now. But I guess there’s nothing I can do except try to live healthier from now on and help others to avoid the mistakes I made.

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