|Doug Flack, Ph.D., of Flack Family Farm in Vermont, believes that grass-fed animals play an essential role on farms and in our diets. English photo.|
Both of Doug Flack’s parents went to medical school in the 1920s, and Doug himself spent some time in medical school, then was trained in ecology and evolutionary biology. He received his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, then researched ecosystems in North America. He spent six years working on island ecosystems and extremely rare birds in New Zealand with the Wildlife Service as well. He told his audience at MOFGA’s Spring Growth Conference in March that his training enables him to ask broad questions and look for interconnections. In the mid-1970s, he moved to Vermont to begin farming and brought a knowledge of management-intensive grazing with him. He has taught Ornithology at the Univ. of Vermont, worked for Cooperative Extension, and sells electric fence to farmers in northern Vermont.
Doug and his family operate a diversified, certified organic, 150-acre, hilly farm in northwestern Vermont. Pastures are managed intensively; animal manures are mixed with rock powders and treated with biodynamic preparations, then added back to the soil; and vegetables and medicinal herbs are raised on 1-1/2 acres of gardens. Flack and his wife, Barbara; his daughter, Sarah; and his son-in-law, Remi, raise dairy cattle, sheep, horses, pigs and poultry. Marshes, streams, beaver ponds, hedgerows and forest are integral to their efforts to manage the whole farm as a complex, healthy organism. The 5 acres of beaver ponds, for example, “paid us back this summer” when they pumped water out of them for irrigation for much of the season.
Their cows are Milking Devons, which, said Flack, “are excellent in an environment that includes woody plants. They evolved in a parkland environment.” Flack calls these “pre-industrial cows because they came to Massachusetts around 1623. They’re no longer found in their country of origin, in southern England. They lived into the 20th century because of their triple purpose: They have the highest percent butterfat; the finest beef; and the fastest oxen. It is a great gift that some very cantankerous old New England farmers stuck with them ….” Their ruminant animals have been selected for grazing and are never fed grains. “If you try to convert straight Holsteins from grain to grazing, you’re on a collision course,” said Flack. “You have to plan way ahead on many levels.”
Even poultry graze. Chickens are put in egg mobiles for some grazing, and “turkeys are even better grazers than chickens. Up to 50% of their feed can be grazed” as compared with about 30% for chickens.
Gloucester Old Spots pigs are raised for their “hardy, lovely, intelligent temperaments,” for their quality pork, and because, “if they’re raised outside in the sun, they produce more vitamin D than any other source we know of. So lard becomes very high in vitamin D.”
Flack is adamant that animals are required for a healthy farm. “Livestock farming has gotten a very bad name from vegetarianism,” he believes. “Livestock are crucial, absolutely essential to fertility” on a farm. “I think you’re making a mistake if you’re trying to farm without livestock.” Using livestock, the vision of the Flack Family Farm is “to create a farm organism,” and the livestock are one of the many organs in the organism.
Among herbs, hawthorn berries are a major crop at Flack Family Farm. They are recommended especially for children with ADD, said Flack.
Flack said that his parents and immediate older family members rarely suffered colds, flu or bronchitis, and they survived the 1918 flu epidemic. He, on the other hand, had frequent maladies “and surely would have perished in 1918.” He also suffered carpal tunnel syndrome by age 46 and prostate problems by age 45. As he raised four children from two marriages, he “was puzzled by dental issues like cavities, crooked teeth, root canals, the strangeness of wisdom teeth.” The epidemic nature of degenerative and new diseases “also sat uncomfortably.”
Today, he continued, “I know that what we eat and don’t eat immensely influences who we are both individually and as a culture … What our parents ate in the months and weeks prior to conception, during pregnancy and nursing profoundly affect the course of our lives, and even the lives of the next generation. Just as powerfully, what we ate as children and what we eat over the long term as adults alters who we are by affecting how we grow, heal or repair, feel, think, and where we will put our resources.
“Health care,” he added, “is that euphemism for the huge, expensive, out-of-control Band-Aid system trying to deal with the chronic or acute premature disintegration of our bodies and minds. The cost of health care started going up in the ‘50s and is almost a vertical climb now. Is there any sustainability in that?” Flack-put up a graph showing health care costs rising rapidly as the cost of food has been decreasing. In 1850, the farmer got 60 cents of every food dollar spent; by 2002, that had dropped to 17 cents. “It’s easy to look at this and say, ‘I wonder where I should put my money – in health care costs or food?’ For me, one reason I farm is because I want this part of the curve – nutrient-dense foods.”
Flack traced the decline of the human diet back to the beginnings of agriculture. He noted that the pre-agricultural, hunter gatherer people had no degenerative diseases; had a diet high in vitamins A and D and fats and excellent proteins; had a low population density; ate whole animal foods in a diet with varying amounts of other foods; and spaced their children well. Animal foods made up much of their diet. “Their main problems were periodic famine, injury and murder, because they didn’t have social systems that stemmed murder very well.”
Early agriculture and grain-based diets were accompanied by the first population with widespread degenerative diseases, which were most measurable in jaw, teeth and bones. Cities developed around agricultural areas, and as they reached populations of about 500,000, epidemics began to occur. The Black Plague was the most notorious of these.
The causes of degenerative diseases were much lower levels of vitamins A and D, of fats (especially certain fatty acids that come ftom livestock), and the poorer proteins in the grain-based diet; phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors in the grains themselves (these prevent germination under unsuitable conditions, but also inhabit the functioning of enzymes in our guts and prevent us from absorbing nutrients); and the density of population with its associated contaminated water. “Grain eaters spent the next 11,000 years neutralizing.those problems” as they made seeds into beers and other fermented foods. Today, we must soak (and rinse) seeds before we eat them to minimize our intake of these enzyme inhibitors, Flack said.
Regarding vitamin A, Flack said that “infants, children and dysbiotic adults (most of us) cannot manufacture vitamin A from plant beta carotene.”
Our population curve “took another tremendous leap with the Industrial Revolution,” said Flack. This was accompanied by the food processing and fractioning revolution and the decline of local food systems. Processing and farming methods both resulted in declines in nutrient contents of foods; raw and traditional foods were no longer consumed so much; invented foods and additives appeared; and degenerative diseases became epidemic. At the same time, the public health infrastructure became huge. This had a positive impact in cities, where sewer systems developed and clean water became the norm. However, public health is becoming more expensive as new diseases are occurring. Likewise, health care costs have increased at an “alarming” rate during the last three decades as degenerative diseases have become epidemic.
A paradox exists, Flack explained, “between what makes a culture and what gives form to a fully healthy individual.”
Why has this occurred? “We have become a culture dominated by economic rather than social or creative elements,” Flack believes. “Information is mainly controlled by industry or the government. One result is the current USDA food pyramid” with its small amount of fat on the top and a large supply of grains and cereals on its base.
The USDA food pyramid, said Flack, is a “completely erroneous and misleading piece of work [that] is the result of fiat by special interest groups with behind-the-scenes infighting.” In addition, an “immense amount of poor scholarship” exists because people are ignorant of history; because research is funded by industry, which is a “very dangerous” system; because of the social phenomenon of the old boy, “old bull” network; and because of bureaucracy and inertia, which is characterized by institutional self preservation; dishonesty or a lack of ethics; self-interest; and which continues because of a distracted public.
On the other hand, some outstanding sources of information are available, dating back 100 years or more. For example, V. Stefansson (1879-1962), born in Manitoba but an Icelander by language, studied Inuit tribes, who rarely ate vegetable matter; the pemmican diets of voyagers and explorers; and his own body in a year-long experiment and concluded that a diet providing 2200 calories from quality fat and 600 calories from protein was a complete diet for wholeness, if the foods were not overcooked. Stefansson went to the Arctic for five years with a group of explorers who carried only knives and rifles and “lived in brilliant health.” If they ran into a case of European food somewhere and ate it, however, “the men got sick.” In 1929, Stefansson “was so upset with U.S. culture because of its anti-meat and anti-fat fad” that he challenged the Cornell Hospital staff. He and one other explorer became subjects at the hospital for a year, subjecting themselves to numerous tests while they ate nothing but meat to obtain 600 calories from protein and 2200 calories from fat. They ate no salt and drank only water. They remained in excellent health. “Fat carries nutrients and fat is a nutrient,” said Price. Data from the Cornell medical study are available at the Dartmouth University Medical Library.
Weston Price, likewise, spent his late teens and 20s studying the dental problems of people in the Midwestern United States and comparing them with those of 40 cultures with different diets. He found that populations that consumed a large component of animal food with a lot of fat in it experienced good bone structure and an absence of degenerative disease. They had very wide palates, wide jaws, no decay in their teeth, and never had to have their wisdom teeth extracted. “Jaw structure is the window to our health,” said Price.
Some natural “experiments” supported these observations. Iceland, for example, experienced a “Little Ice Age” from about 1200 A.D. to about 800 A.D., when the northern oceans froze and the country became cut off from Europe for centuries. Before the Little Ice Age, skeletal remains showed people with “all the signs of miserable health” that come from eating “a miserable European diet.” These included small dental arches, crooked teeth, problems with wisdom teeth, and rotted teeth. During the Ice Age, however, their diet consisted of sheep, dairy, and some fish – and they developed large dental arches, straight teeth, few or no cavities and room for their wisdom teeth. They had a fine stature and fine general health. Similar findings have occurred in other sites.
Historical documents of explorers and others also show general health when fatty meats were consumed and poor health when lean meats were consumed (as when explorers ran out of food and were forced to eat their starving, fat-depleted horses); poor health when populations ate European rations, but rapid healing on native, mostly raw foods; and good health when explorers ate pemmican. “If they were deprived of it, they got ugly. There was actually a war over it,” said Flack. When Admiral Perry walked to the North Pole, he ate pemmican. However, around the time of W.W.II, nutritionists decided that pemmican was not a healthy food. Raw milk provides another example of a health-giving food that has been maligned. From the time of the ancient Greeks to the early days of the Mayo Clinic in the United States, raw milk was seen as healthful but as a sickening food after any heat treatment (pasteurization), after homogenization and after removing its fat. These processes remove vital nutrients and require that industry add them back, although these additives need not be listed on the milk label. “Milk is largely an unlabeled food,” said Flack. But raw milk is full of beneficial bacteria, he continued. “We are so afraid of bacteria in our culture,” he lamented. From the 1880s to the 1940s, however, the medical profession treated tuberculosis, heart disease, psoriasis and more with “nothing much more than raw milk … 5 quarts a day. The source of TB in milk,” said Flack, “was a coughing farmer, not a cow.” He urged people to drink raw milk but also to “pick your farm. Know how they’re feeding their cows and [know] the health of the farmer.” Milk naturally kills pathogens, said Flack, until it’s pasteurized; then pathogens are free to proliferate. “Then if it’s contaminated with microorganisms, you’re in trouble. That’s why they’re ultra-pasteurizing it now.”
In 1908, Elie Metchnikoff won the Nobel Prize for showing that bacteria in our intestinal tracts are the “kingpin” of our immune function, Flack said. He noticed, even then, that Americans were dysbiotic and that such fermented foods as sauerkraut and kim chee could remedy the problem.
Flack himself, in addition to consuming raw dalry products, fatty animal products and fermented foods, eats what he calls “dirt pills.” He takes Primal Defense™ Ultrazorbe™ Caplets, which contain about 18 species of bacteria. “A lot of people are healing themselves of inflammatory diseases of the gastrointestinal tract with these,” said Flack. He recalled when he was a little boy in the 1940s, he and his brothers were in the garden eating dirt. “My [doctor-] mother looked at us one day, went back into the house, brought back cups and spoons, and said, ‘Here, this will make it easier.'” A heifer cow, said Flack, if it’s a little sick, will run to the compost pile and gobble the stuff up.
The key foods that are lost to us or are rare today, said Flack, are raw dairy foods (full fat cream, butter and fermented dairy products; rich in vitamins A and D and special fat factors); fermented fatty meats; raw and fermented fish (rich in vitamins A and D); fermented vegetables (“the perfect answer to how to preserve vegetables in the fall”); grass-fed meat with fat; organ meats such as liver and kidney (rich in vitamins A and D); wild caught fish and shellfish (rich in vitamins A and D; Flack warned against farmed fish); high vitamin D pork and lard from pigs raised outdoors on pasture; grass-fed poultry and eggs (rich in A and D); bone broths; high mineral vegetables and fruits; unpasteurized fermented drinks (milk, beer, cider, beet juice); sourdough grain foods; and foods containing beneficial bacteria and live enzymes. “Almost all of us are very deficient in vitamin D,” he said.
Instead of the above foods, we eat cheap and steadily debilitating foods – no live foods; inadequate animal fats and too much vegetable oil; protein without fat; highly processed foods that are refined or separated into components (oils, flours, skim milk, sugars – to the tune of 155 pounds of sugar per person per year); artificial nutrients as pills and additives; soy foods, which are “extremely diverse in their toxic impact;” new or fake foods aqd additives (fruit juices, carbonated drinks, roasted nut butters, hydrogenated oils, burned oils, vegetable oils, ice cream, cake, cookies, chips, soy cheese, protein powder); and meats lacking quality or prepared incorrectly.
This diet harms our digestive system, as our teeth rot “from inside forces to outside,” our stomachs malfunction; and we experience dysbiosis (the wrong organisms) in our small and large intestines. The latter can seriously impair immune functioning; inflame or perforate the mucous lining; lead to poor digestion; prevent nutrient absorption; slow the passage of food; generate toxins; or reduce or destroy vitamin and enzyme function.
In our circulatory systems, today’s typical diet depresses white blood cells; makes the pH too acidic; causes the circulatory system to borrow nutrients from other organs, thus depleting those organs; floods our circulatory system with sugars, shocking the pancreas, adrenals, the entire system and every cell, in fact; floods it with such toxins as Aspartame, MSG and pesticides; and makes it deficient in fats, fat soluble vitamins and cofactors.
Our nervous system is built from numerous fatty substances. “We are fat heads,” said Flack. So we – especially pregnant mothers and babies and children – must have a high animal fat diet, one containing long chain fatty acids. We can get these from butter, eggs, organ meats, cod liver oil, lard and ocean fish. Some complementary fats and proteins, said Flack, are liver and bacon; lox and cream cheese; caviar and sour cream; salmon in Bernaise sauce; green vegetables and butter; and cream cheese and flax oil.
At the cellular level, the deficiencies in today’s diet affect cell membranes, enzymes, detoxification systems, immune function, nerve function, and intracellular hormones or eicosanoids, which are key cellular regulators built from fatty substances. These eicosanoids regulate the movement of calcium in and out of cells; contractions; dilation; clotting; inflammation; secretion; growth; cell division; fertility; temperature; birthing; blood pressure and more. Major eicosanoid blockers include margarine, Crisco, trans fatty acids, too much vegetable oil, too little essential fatty acids, high carbohydrate diets, high alcohol intake, and inadequate animal foods. Alternatively, eicosanoids are “fed” by saturated fats from meat, organ meats, butter, ocean fish, raw foods, primose oil, borage oil and flax seed oil.
Flack listed the numerous harmful impacts of sugar – with sugar including that in fruit juices, too much sweet fruit, and refined carbohydrates. They are:
• immune suppression;
• mineral imbalance and serious, slow acting mineral deficiencies;
• rise in triglycerides (blood fats) and deposition of fats in body tissues;
• vitamin and enzyme depletion with wide, negative physiological effects;
• reduction of healthy HDL cholesterol and elevation of harmful cholesterol;
• large risk factor in numerous cancers and heart disease;
• large risk factor for diabetes;
• alteration of eicosanoid cellular hormone processes with numerous, serious consequences: nervous, behavioral, regulatory, vascular, etc.
• alteration of adrenal function, raising adrenaline;
• alteration of chemistry within teeth – sugar reverses the direction of flow of nutrients from root through enamel and is a fundamental cause of tooth decay and root infections;
• major contributor to dysbiosis and thus Crohn’s disease, colitis, ulcers, leaky gut, etc.;
• insulin sensitivity and decreased glucose tolerance;
• interference with protein absorption;
• loss of tissue elasticity and increase of aged skin;
• fatty liver, kidney and pancreas enlargement and pathology;
• numerous eye function problems, including cataracts;
• weakened capillaries, constricted blood vessels, hypertension;
• altered brain function, brain waves, thinking; agitation arid depression;
• increased blood platelet adhesiveness and blood clots;
• increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
What to Eat?
Flack summarized his guidelines as follows:
• Avoid all altered fats, vegetable oils, hydrogenated oils, trans fats, invented fats, et cetera.
• Use quality butter from grass-fed cows; lard; tallow; coconut and palm oil.
• Use therapeutic oils only in small amounts and with quality animal foods. Animal fat is necessary for the assimilation of essential fatty acids. A perfect combination is a teaspoon of cod liver oil and some butter.
• Eat lots of eggs from grazed poultry.
• Eat lots of organ meats, such as liver and kidneys.
• Eat grass-fed meat with all the fat.
• Eat wild caught ocean fish, selecting species that can sustain harvest.
• Avoid sweeteners.
• Soak nuts, beans and grains to release phytic acids and enzyme inhibitors. “For most of us,” said Flack, “grains will be a secondary or minor food.”
• Limit carbohydrates.
• Use whole, raw milk foods.
• Pay attention to sources of minerals.
• Eat foods that contain live enzymes and beneficial bacteria.
• Fruit juices should be fermented to reduce sugars.
• Use only raw, unheated honey and maple syrup as sweeteners.
To find the recommended foods, Flack quoted Sally Fallone and Mary Enig: “You must forage bravely for food in the jungle of junk, and for the truth in the briar patch of lies.” We must create local, diversified food systems with new communities supporting farms in new social forms, he added. “Find a farmer and create a local food system.”
Foraging locations can include local, grass-based dairy farms; farmers’ markets; and the directories of organic agriculture organizations. Flack had a novel thought on how to support local farms and farmers: “Pay your local farmers more than they ask!”
He suggested joining the Weston A. Price Foundation (see Resources) and getting its Wise Traditions magazine, which has informative articles and special listings for nutrient dense foods. The Radiant Life catalog (see Resources) is another source. In Vermont, you can contact a grass farmers’ association at 802-656-3834. The Primal Defense homeostatic soil organisms that he mentioned are available from 800-500-9395. Finally, Flack said to “throw out your microwave.”
– Jean English
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Fallon, Sally and Mary Enig, Ph.D., Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook That Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats, 2nd edition, New Trends Pub., Inc., 1999; available at 202-333-HEAL and www.westonaprice.org.
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Wise Traditions Magazine from the Weston A. Price Foundation, 202-333-HEAL or www.westonaprice.org.
In addition, educational seminars and workshops on a variety of topics, including nutrition and traditional diets, are held at the Flack Family Farm. See www.flackfamilyfarm.com or email [email protected] or phone 802-933-6965 for a schedule.