We were eating non-GMO, organic, locally grown, pesticide free, fresh food before any of us had ever heard about these modern buzzwords.
As I look around at kids today, it is completely obvious to anyone with eyes that we have an epidemic problem of obesity in our country. It doesn’t require a degree in nutrition to realize that processed food, fast food, and even chemically laden supermarket food is to blame, as well as sedentary lives of sitting in front of the screen. It makes me so sad for them.
This is often a topic of conversation as we sit at dinner with our kids because honestly, we are just trying to get them to eat the healthy food we put in front of them! Have you ever used this tactic in your house? “Just remember, eating this will help you be strong and give you lots of energy to run and play!” It doesn’t always work, but it never hurts to remind them of why we eat real food. And my trust and hope is that over time they will learn to love whatever I put in front of them.
The other night the conversation was a little different because for the first time, I explained to my 9-year-old what I ate when I grew up and where my food came from. I didn’t grow up eating veggies produced in my parents’ garden or animals raised in our pasture like my boys are doing. My parents purchased everything we ate, but I still grew up eating real food!
I was raised as a missionary kid in the country of Papua New Guinea. It was not only a tropical paradise, but a haven for real food lovers. We were eating non-GMO, organic, locally grown, pesticide free, fresh food before any of us had ever heard about these modern buzzwords. We were so blessed and spoiled, and we didn’t even know it! We could actually eat bananas off of trees growing wild in our own backyard! Three times a week, local Papua New Guineas would bring their garden produce to sell to the missionaries in an open air market. We would all walk (yes, walk!) from our homes and wait on the perimeter of the market until it was announced to be open. In the time we had to wait, we would scout out what we wished to buy, chat with neighbors, and laugh at the antics of dogs and children. Oh, how I miss those days.
All year round we could buy things like pineapple, papaya, guava, broccoli, sweet potatoes and other root vegetables, all sorts of greens, tomatoes, onions, eggplant, squash, peppers, and various other veggies. It was all locally grown. In all reality, it would have probably been harvested that very morning and carried on villagers backs (yes, they walked too!) to be sold to the missionaries. It was a wonderful gift for everyone involved. The missionaries got great tasting and healthy food. The Papua New Guineans were provided a way to earn a living. It was a win win!
At our local “country” missionary store, we could purchase free-range eggs produced by hens that were always free to run around and never confined. The meat they sold was raised in local pastures and butchered by a local butcher. All the fish were wild caught and brought on an airplane from the coast. Bread was baked at a local bakery, but my mom always freshly baked much of the bread we ate. We were also able to buy many other dry goods and canned items. Among them were rice and canned mackerel (both native staples), and Coca-Cola products. I’m thankful my parents walked right past the “sugar in a bottle” refrigerators.
With all of this real food, there was one basic thing missing. For some reason, it never occurred to me to ask why we couldn’t buy milk! The only milk we had was powdered and shipped to us from Australia. My “fresh raw milk loving” husband still can’t fathom the fact that I drank powdered milk as a kid. We could not buy cottage cheese, sour cream, yogurt (although my mom made ours from powdered milk), cream cheese, or real butter. Actually, the only dairy food we could get was hard cheese shipped from New Zealand. Consequently, we ate very little dairy. But without knowing what we were doing, we ate margarine and processed cheese food. Shame! I’m still hanging my head over that one. It was the one black mark on my “real” food record during the 10 years of life I spent there. We just didn’t know any better back then.
Why don’t Papua New Guineans drink milk?
I’ve wondered about the answer to this question since my family began producing our own food. Recently, after a little research, I realized that the answer is pretty simple. They didn’t need it! And because they have never historically eaten dairy products, most are probably largely lactose intolerant to this day. In order to understand, it takes a little knowledge of how environments (geography and climate) historically affected people’s food consumption around the world.
Papua New Guineans make their home right next to the equator. Their climate and geography always meant that they could grow their food year round. It has only been in the last 100 years that they have actually been exposed to the western world. Previous to this, they had no knowledge of typical farm animals. And they didn’t need them for food sources (as other cultures in colder climates do) because the land, sun, and sea provided all their essential dietary nutrients. They actually ate a very “Paleo” diet. Coconuts, lots of greens, root vegetables, fish, and hunted jungle animals.
I have been told by people who have visited Papua New Guinea lately that the open air market is still in operation. The little “country” missionary store has grown in size, but it is still selling locally raised and butchered meat and free-range eggs. I have not been back since I was 17, but perhaps one day I can take my family there to see the sites. I often look back on my childhood and miss many of the things that I took for granted. I had no idea what a gift I had been given in growing up with readily available healthy food. Now, in our off-grid homesteading life, my family is working hard to provide the same kind of food for our children that I took for granted as a child. I hope that they will also grow up to see the blessing that they have been given.