Indigenous Communities Know About The Key to a Diet Inspiring Longevity
Bear with me.
I did think and re-think about the perils of having the word ‘legume’ appear in the subject header of this week’s chat, just because legumes are often associated with some sort of culinary punishment in Western diets where too many of us have only been exposed to a factory version – canned and lacking flavor and incorrectly prepared, so I avoided it though most of this newsletter is indeed going to be about the relationship between legumes and longevity.
I’m going to include a gorgeous bean and bacon marsala recipe to hopefully inspire you to learn how delicious they are when they’re prepared properly because over and over again, research keeps pointing us back to something so poignant about legumes.
The more I look into what the legume is and what it represents in the natural world, the more I learn that there is something almost mystical and alchemic about this misunderstood member of the plant world.
Before we go deeper there, quick store snippet updates.
New steak cuts in today from a source I trust that only sources like us, wholly veldt-reared beef with no supplement feed, antibiotics or growth hormones and from cattle raised for longevity on grass and veldt only. Because we only take whole carcasses of the Boran, we often have in between times when the steak (smallest representation of a cattle from a nose to tail eating point of view) sells out but it doesn’t make sense for us to order more as we have the other cuts to sell first. Nose to tail eating is a vital part of sustainable food selling but we are a larger steak consuming society (irrational) so those always sell out before stew on bone and forequarter cuts. I have found the perfect partner to keep us stocked with steaks from a farm with the same philosophy and perfectly aged so look out for those in-store today. The marbling on these cuts is out of this world and speaks to a life lived fattening on veldt.
The Boran is back in from Thursday.
The organic sourdough bread is in and the pocket breads today are a sweet version again – cinnamon, raisins and jaggery.
Of course a special mention of new things in goes to the African Marmalade Winter beans – sugar beans, black and red (heavenly) and njugo or Bambara beans – much like a chickpea – just with a deeper flavor – wild grown naartjies (utter heaven), madumbes, sweet potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, broccoli, brinjals (both exceptional quality), garlic and winter turnips and the candy colored beets.
The new real Bulgarian yoghurts made with Mooberry milk by a Bulgarian customer are back in and Tori Raine’s kefir, milk, amasi and plain yoghurt in too together with the double thick Friesian clotted cream.
And one of your fast favorites – Jan’s heritage chickens & lamb – we are slowly growing with this farmer and finally at a point where we generally have enough in stock to last just before his next delivery. The heritage chicken breast packs are a delight, the chicken as tender as the whole ones and his chicken wings are unsurpassable. The heritage chicken has larger wings so these bare little resemblance to broiler wings that people are more used to, they are much larger and characteristic of the heritage birds have so much more flavor.
Now to just focus back on legumes and why I’ve dedicated so much time and research this week to learn more about them.
Legumes in traditional and indigenous diets have been a staple food for centuries but neglected in the Western diet – like so many other indigenous foods and it’s crazy – especially when there is an undeniable link which is coming up again and again and again with – longevity. Longer years with lower risks of disease.
I stumbled across something quite magical in my research that points to the fact that though western scientists and researchers are exploring this link and the extreme all round nutrition offered by the legume – older civilizations inherently knew this to be true.
Where knowledge wasn’t gained through academia and textbooks – knowledge was gained through the inherent wisdom that comes from being in touch with nature and it was exceptionally and profoundly wise.
The legume was extremely symbolic amongst the Native Americans who had a deep connection to nature and saw meaning and symbolism in the natural world. Every part of their lives was characterized by being in dialogue with natural laws and they were very clear that legumes – corn – and squash – named The Three Sisters – were some sort of conduit to nature’s abundance.
They believed that if you looked after The Three Sisters – nature would bless you with a longer life – ironically the same conclusion that nutritional research now advocates.
What is utterly fascinating is that I’ve discovered that what the Native American Indians believed to be true about why these 3 plants and foods should be kept together – was also – an inherent part of African indigenous food wisdom, the link astounding really.
The Native American Indians knew something that modern day agriculturists know as their genius – called companion planting – that their story of why Corn, Squash and Legumes should always be planted together and eaten together was profoundly wise.
The Indians believed that the corn, bean and squash plants were sisters that existed in a symbiotic relationship and should always be planted together. That their differences united – gave all 3 strength. They used the analogy and teaching of the Three Sisters similarly to prove that the differences between people – combined – provide strength. When differences are accepted – strength in unity is the result.
They also then believed that if you ate food from the three sisters together, your return gift from nature would be strength. This too, is now supported by nutritionists that tell us that when you eat corn, legumes and a squash together – you have a meal that is a complete protein and high in a broad range of hand holding phytonutrients that form a whole, complete meal.
The Three Sisters is a combination of three plants working together:
- Sister Bean fixes, or makes available in plant form, nitrogen from the air.
- Sister Corn provides the support for Sister Bean’s trailing vine.
- Sister Squash provides ground cover to hold moisture and maintain healthy soil environment as well as deterring animal invaders with its spiny stems.
“To Native Americans, the meaning of the Three Sisters runs deep into the physical and spiritual well-being of their people. Known as the “sustainers of life,” the Iroquois consider corn, beans and squash to be special gifts from the Creator. The well-being of each crop is believed to be protected by one of the Three Sister Spirits. Many an Indian legend has been woven around the “Three Sisters” sisters who would never be apart from one another- sisters who should be planted together, eaten together and celebrated together.”
It got even more interesting for me when I learnt that this knowledge was also inherent in African traditional knowledge. Though not languaged the way the Native Americans did – African indigenous cultures – also – knew this and have a strong history of always planting them together as well as eating them together – and still do – to this day!
Speaking of the Three Sisters yesterday with Cassandra, she echoes what every African tells me – she tells me that in rural Zimbabwe – her Mother would ALWAYS sow pumpkin, sorghum, maize and njugo bean seeds together. Why did she do that, I asked? “We were just told that these seeds must always be together”, Cassandra replies.
The more I discover African indigenous foods – that are eaten by the majority of people and that hold cultural, social, traditional and food sovereignty significance – and I look at how these foods do not feature in commercial retail nor much in dismembered SA suburbs – the more it brings me into touch with the dismemberment of African knowledge, wisdom and culture that has characterized Africa’s troubled past and still characterizes suburban elitist bubbles sadly. It also brings me into touch with our own nutritional poverty by not eating them.
The cost of being disconnected from the blessings of the Three Sisters perhaps?
It also helps me understand the outpouring of emotion that we see in this store when Africans get to see effort made to restore the place of these foods where they belong – and one thing is utterly clear – they most certainly belong in any space standing for nutrition density, food sovereignty, organic and traditional farming and biodiversity. They should feature. It also happens that these very foods are also being associated with ideal diets for longevity.
The emotion is because it isn’t usual to see African indigenous foods represented in suburban Jozi retail stores. That putting them here – just evokes such emotion in our customers and it is a deep- rooted sense of joy I feel seeing an African community starting to form around our store.
Food security in Africa revolves around the support of small-scale subsistence farmers – so this journey with African Marmalade – who is responsible for the array of legumes that sparked off this thirst for more knowledge about them as did a conversation with Dr Lindeque – is an utter and vitally significant delight.
I have recently come to understand two things about this peculiarly named vital member of the plant kingdom – that it is an exceptionally wise idea to include them in our diets and secondly that I was entirely wrong about them not tasting great, that was only a form of ignorance and quite a cultural mistake too. They just need to be cooked properly.
Before Siphiwe brought us the beans we have in-store now – I had my curiosity pique about the role of legumes in diets for longevity by some very special time I spent recently on with Dr Gerrie Lindique on his farm in Parys.
At the time we were standing in his fields of blue and red Mexican corn which he is specifically growing for his patients because of the off the charts medicinal value of it – being higher in antioxidants than blueberries and talking about the turtle black bean that he is also growing for the same reason. On that note – we will shortly have the first batches in-store for you of this superfood – blue and red Mexican corn as our partnership with ‘Made to be Well‘ evolves. I’ll jump on Instagram and FB when it arrives.
I will write more on this incredible man shortly but the long and the short of it is that this is a Dr in Parys that we have witnessed heal people with serious illnesses as easily as if he were treating flu for many years with a very specific focus on healing through nutrition. I have met too many cases now of people healed from advanced cancers and serious illnesses who have their lives back because of this incredible man.
His knowledge on the relationship between disease and nutrition is unsurpassed for me and the healing that comes out of his practice is something that needs to be dedicated to a book but anyhow the point is that I was on his farm with him and had two paradigm shifts on my own view of the ultimate diet occur – because of his incredible knowledge.
The first was about legumes and the second was around natural sugar and carbohydrates.
Neither legumes nor natural sugar feature in the trendier diet philosophies that are dominant in South Africa at this point in time. In fact, worse, they have been sort of demonized and very definitely – misunderstood.
Dietary philosophies that have risen as a response to one extreme, – that being, metabolic disorders caused by the Western diet too high in refined food, sugar and carbohydrates – have created dietary trends that address the imbalance – with another extreme. Philosophies that demonize all carbohydrates and value factory farmed industrial protein.
You’re needing to correct one imbalance by swinging the opposite way and there is a time and place for the need for those diets to swing the pendulum but like all pendulum swings – balance is found in the middle – not in the extremes.
Time spent with two of the most nutritionally progressive minds I have met on this journey – with Ian Craig from The Nutritional Institute and the co-author of Wholesome Nutrition with Rachel Jesson and Dr Gerrie Lindeque have me understanding – that the trendier diets that focus on reversing insulin resistance and metabolic disorders borne out of a Western diet – are not for everybody and are not necessarily diets for longevity.
Diets that address one dietary imbalance to reverse metabolic disorders – are not the same as – diets for longevity that remove the need for any extreme swing at all!
The problem is that they are also guilty of demonizing too many whole foods and cutting out a vast array of foods that are necessary for a range of antioxidants, flavonoids, polyphenols and nutrition that are equally important in cell health and the health of whole immune systems, according to Ian Craig and Dr Lindeque. Their position supported by the recent Blue Zone study on food associated with longevity.
While I was walking with Dr Lindeque among the Mexican blue corn, we spoke about the study called The Blue Zone and about what was found to be common across all cultures who have the highest levels of longevity – in other words who live the longest. Dr Lindeque points out that the regular eating of legumes most especially paired with heirloom corn varieties – is consistently associated with longevity.
That had me curious to learn more and re-think the legume. He believes in this so firmly that he has invested in growing a Mexican bean together with the corn they are typically eaten with for his patients – that’s how we will be able to introduce you to blue and red corn and turtle beans shortly but equally – this is an African traditional way of eating that has been around for eons in Africa too and this week’s focus is on the African version of this story.
For those of you not familiar with the study, The Blue Zone is a book that was written based on a study done by health professors from the University of Illnois, Chicago, the Boston University of University of Minnesota and National Geographic, looking to find communities with the highest levels of longevity and to study what seemed to contribute towards that.
The book is the summary of their findings – visit www.thebluezone.com for more information and for videos of their findings.
The Blue Zone communities are all geographically in totally different areas and yet have the highest levels of life expectancy over 100 and some stand out similarities despite their differences. One being the regular consumption of legumes, a largely plant based diet and high degrees of social cohesion, a sense of community and meaning. All communities also have this in common, they are communities that value older age groups and do not have a word for ‘retire’. Daily and weekly time given over to meaning and recuperation and connection to a faith or nature were also stand out characteristics.
The problem with this piece of information though on legumes is that it isn’t much in line with trendier dietary philosophies of our time, yet, the more you look into it, the more the connection between legumes and health just can’t be ignored.
Something else that I found particularly interesting. In my research I learnt that another aspect of the diets of indigenous communities that is particularly wise is the way legumes are eaten. When Cassandra speaks about how the njugo or Bambara bean (in-store now) was eaten in her village in Zimbabwe, she speaks – like every African who recalls memories – about how it was always soaked the day before and always eaten with a grain (typically maize, sorghum and millet) and squash, typically pumpkin. As was the custom with the Native American Indians and the Three Sisters.
This is where things get very interesting for me. Once you eat a legume, a whole grain and a squash together – you have a complete protein and range of antioxidants that work in concert.
I have heard over and over again this week – how this was an integral wisdom of African people too.
Not language – just ‘known’.
A 2004 USDA study surveyed the phytonutrient content of 100 of our most common fruits and vegetables and found that 3 out of the 4-top ranked – were legumes! The 4th being wild blueberries.
Arguments against legumes come from one two places really neither of which hold up under scrutiny.
The first – that because legumes contain phytic acid which causes digestive disturbance they should be avoided. Phytic acid is very necessary in any seed. It prevents the seed from growing until conditions are favorable – it is an inbuilt mechanism to maintain the evolutionary strength and potential of the seed. All indigenous cultures – again – without the internet or academic tuition reason – knew that legumes needed to be pre-soaked in order to relax the seed and phytic acid. Once soaked in water or pre-soaked with water and an acid (like amasi for example, another clever ingenious African food staple), the seed or legume, in the presence of water, unlocks and the phytic acid is released and then is available for digestion.
So people eat ill prepared legumes missing this vital part of the knowledge of the legume and then complain of digestive discomfort and an extremely healthy source of all round nutrition gets demonized.
Then – the next – how to talk about this without bursting out into giggles which I’ve done several times wading more deeply into this topic. More trendy dietary philosophies at the moment focus quite heavily on – I’m going to need to simplify this – the premise that we have not evolved genetically much past the era of the hunter gatherer and that the perfect diet most suited to us is similar to what hunter gatherers would have eaten. Well – that story – focuses on what the hunter (man) was bringing home – the gatherer (women)’s contribution seems to be glossed over. Much.
These diets focus on eating more animal protein, not eating much carbohydrate and putting yourself back to cave man times, assuming that if you mimic that diet, all will be ok.
The story line flicks to the agricultural revolution – and then states that the demise of the health of human kind can be attributed to the grains grown from this era. Which is overly simplified.
The critiques of these theories are wide and varied but in summary, they believe that the view that it was the agricultural revolution that was responsible for the demise of our health – over-looks the rather more poignant industrial revolution which changed farming and how food was processed and introduced refined food and sugar – critique views are that this is far more likely the reason for the rise of western disease.
That the real truth of a hunter gatherer lifestyle – is that no matter who you are – it is most unlikely that you can replicate the ‘hunting part’ in a modern-day lifestyle to the point where it anywhere mimics what that lifestyle was.
I haven’t met too many people lately who have burnt 2-weeks worth of calories hunting down a bison. If you walk at a brisk pace 3 times around the meat aisle of your store of choice, selecting your various cuts of pre-packaged protein – you’re nowhere near in the same context as the hunter and the protein you are selecting – most especially if it is factory farmed – will bear no resemblance to the game hunters ate.
Quite poignant too – and a fact overlooked in theories that glorify the life of hunter gatherers – the view of what was actually eaten seems to be told from a rather patriarchal view. That meaning, that the story is told in terms of what the men were doing.
It implies that because men were hunting game and providing their communities with meat from it – can we emphasize – not – every day – what the women were doing and the significance of it has paled in the telling of the story.
What were the ‘gatherers’ eating do you wonder? The women and children?
Far from lying about starving waiting for our glorified hunters to return with meat – they were – gathering – eating and preparing – legumes – grains – and tubers!
They were cooking legumes in ash. They were grinding grain they gathered and pounding it into flour – and this formed a large percentage of the diet that kept everybody alive – it simply isn’t true – that their success was all dependent on hunted meat – that was not always available.
Bushmen – most definitely hunter gatherers – ate – legumes. According to Sigrid Leger, author of The Hidden Gifts of Nature, the Bushmen ate wild coffee beans and Marama beans. He asserts that the absence of pots and pans is not evidence that grains and legumes were not eaten – at all – legumes were cooked in hot ash or pounded into a flour.
Aboriginal tribes also commonly cooked legumes in ash.
The Khoi San ate tsin beans, the Native Americans ate mesquite – even Neanderthals ate legumes!
Findings in the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences released evidence in December 27 2010 that despite being skilled big game hunters, compelling evidence sheds light on the fact that the Neanderthals equally ate a wild variety of plants. Starch granules from legumes, dates and wild barley in the hardened plaque of – 40 000 year old Neanderthal teeth evidences this. Cooked wild barley was even found in their teeth.
It simply is not an agreed upon fact that legumes were not a part of our early diets and that we did not evolve on them.
I’m not sure why we need to be turning back to all that time ago though studying fossils to work out what pre-historic man was eating when there are currently living communities who have the highest numbers of people living over 100 and low levels of disease – are here to be studied – live – right now.
That’s why the work of the Blue Zone researches is pretty interesting. It’s current and undeniable – that legumes are associated with longevity.
So I hope you enjoy this recipe – there will be a great focus on reviving African legumes this Winter and shortly we’ll have Mexican varieties available too. When you do the Mexican 3 sister version – 😊 – you could make the blue or red corn which we will have in milled – to make a ‘polenta’ and pair those with the Mexican turtle beans – that’s a combination that provides off the charts antioxidants – and add a squash – perhaps roast pumpkin or butternut – and honor the Native American 3 sister blessing bestowed on you.
We’ll have blue corn tortillas in shortly for you too perfect to put a slow cooked chilli bean filling in with some plain yoghurt of amasi. That’s another thing I found incredible – fermented dairy works very well with legumes as it also pre-digests the bean and helps with digestion.
Nature is so damn clever and indigenous communities knew this and were in touch with it. We all moved on past them in the name of modernization thinking the rationale mind to be more important and made the planet sick as a result as much as did ourselves.
Our own African version would be cooking the Bambara or njugo beans with the other two varieties in from Siphiwe – black and red and the sugar pink beans into a delectable curry and serve it on organic maize with some roasted pumpkin.
You’ll be in touch with an alchemy that has been a part of indigenous cultures for eons and nourished wholly.
My last point before I rush off – is that beans cooked well – in other words pre-soaked and then cooked with spices and heat – like chilli which they just so love – can be deeply comforting because legumes have high levels of glutamate which like sugar triggers the umami response – a flavor sensation that jostles the pleasure center of the brain.
Always pre-soak beans in filtered water over-night, the day before you want to use them.
Cooking time for the varieties we have in-store now are at least an hour on a fast boil – from there on – just keep tasting one until it is soft. It’ll tell you when it’s ready because the texture will be palatable – if it’s too pasty – it’s not ready.
See you in store and I’ll carry on featuring Winter dishes as promised.
Article References and Further Reading