Chicken feet soup, blood pudding, fermented horse milk, brain tacos… Though these foods have been eaten around the world for many years, most Americans would say they belong on Fear Factor rather than their kitchen table. Our modern diet has evolved from our ancestors’ traditional diets and that’s not necessarily for the better. With access to many foods not even in existence 100 years ago, we have set aside some of the most nutritionally dense foods in favor of those with no nutritional value whatsoever.
Our ancestors, from 10,000 years ago up to just before the Industrial Revolution, spent a great deal of time both sourcing and preparing their food. This involved things like raising a whole cow, then carefully and humanely butchering the animal to have meat for dinner. This time investment invariably led to a greater appreciation for the whole animal. People were not so quick to discard organ meats, skin, fatty, and collagen-rich tissues. And soup with chicken feet floating in it was not such a rarity, nor the frightful sight it is to many people today.
Getting Back to Our Roots
In an age where chronic inflammatory disease runs rampant (read: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, etc.), it’s more important than ever that we reconnect with the foods we choose to eat. We are learning the hard way that how fast we get a meal to the table can come at a price.
Investing the time to learn about different foods and how they can work to heal illness is not just for the experts. A reliance on pre-packaged foods is one of the primary causes of the disease epidemic we now face. Taking control of your diet by not only preparing more foods fresh from home, but learning to diversify the foods you eat, can bring the power to prevent and even heal disease.
Fish Heads, Fried Grasshoppers, Headcheese, and More
Traditionally (and in many areas around the world still), the foods people eat are sourced from the resources they had available. They valued what they had and made the best use of it possible. That meant using every part of the animal, not just the common muscle meats we eat today.
The Inuit people — those who inhabit the far northern regions of Russia, Alaska, and Canada — rely on muktuk (a dish made of the skin and blubber of whales) to meet many of their nutritional needs. Blubber is rich in vitamin D3, collagen, and beneficial fatty acids (1, 2). In fact, many fish oil supplements are made from blubber. The lack of available sunlight for much of the year results in a need for dietary vitamin D that was met from hunting marine life, one of the only food sources the Inuk have available (3).
Another example of nutritional needs being met by utilizing available resources can be found in the people of Latin America. Historically, full use of the fish body can be seen in many dishes, including the shells of crustaceans (rich in glucosamine, 4), eyes, and heads. In Chile and other parts of South America, fish heads are used in a dish called caldillo de congrio (Spanish for conger stock, conger being the fish commonly used). The fish heads are boiled together with vegetables and herbs to make a nutrient-dense, collagen-rich stock, which is used as the base for the soup.
Headcheese is a cold cut that is eaten throughout parts of Europe, Asia, and Latin America. It actually contains no cheese at all, but is made with flesh from the head of a pig and set in a circular shape in aspic, a gelatinous (collagen) meat stock. The tongue and even the feet and heart are often included. Headcheese resembles a meat jelly, which has been eaten historically as far back as the Middle Ages. Just like with our Collagen Proteins and Peptides, the consumption of the stock made from gelatinous parts of the animal is proven to boost the immune system (5), strengthen the gut (6), and improve sleep (7).
Add More Traditional Foods to Your Diet
We’ve listed just a few traditional foods here, but when it comes to diversifying the animal parts you eat, the possibilities are endless. Eating locally is a great place to start. In fact, locality is exactly what drove the invention of these seemingly eccentric dishes. A resourcefulness in making good use of every part of the animal likely contributed to the greater health of our ancestors and a lesser occurrence of disease than we see today.
Most of us enjoy plenty of common muscle meats like chicken breast, pork chops, and ground beef. But what is missing from our diets, and prevalent in traditional foods, is collagen-rich tissue. These tissues are found in offal (animal organ meats and entrails) and parts like the skin and bones. Our Collagen Proteins and Peptides are both comprised of the amino acids that make up these collagen fibers.
Daily use of our Collagen will provide the same health benefits we’ve talked about here. But you can add even more collagen to your diet by slow simmering heart or tongue in rich spices. Make your own broths and stocks with shrimp shells or beef bones. Chicken or pigs feet can yield a gelatin-rich (collagen) stock that when simmered in a crockpot with a roast will actually produce something very close to your very own head cheese.
- The biochemical composition of fin whale blubber; Canadian Journal of Zoology, 1984: http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/z84-373#.VSMnV1zvrwV
- Vitamin D content in Alaskan Arctic zooplankton, fishes, and marine mammals; Animal Science and Zoology, 2004: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/zoo.10104/abstract
- Sunlight and vitamin D, a global perspective for health; Dermatoendocrinol, 2013: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3897598/#R42
- N-acetylglucosamine: production and applications: Mar Drugs, 2010: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2953398/
- Arginine and immunity; J Nutri, 2007; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17513447
- L-glutamate supplementation improves small intestinal architecture and enhances the expressions of jejunal mucosa amino acid receptors and transporters in weaning piglets; PLos One, 2014: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25368996
- Glycine ingestion improves subjective sleep quality in human volunteers; Sleep and Biological Rhythyms, Vol 5 Issue 2, 2007: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1479-8425.2007.00262.x/abstract