Food History: “… eat the way your great-great-great- grandparents ate, and you’ll live a long life” …

Convicts in New Holland. Source: Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales (1)
Convicts in New Holland. Source: Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales1

Scattered throughout the food and diet literature is the suggestion that to ensure optimal health we should return to the eating patterns before the 1960s. This concept was popularised by Michael Pollan. In his book In Defence of Food2 one of his food rules is ‘don’t eat anything your great-grandmother would not recognise as food‘. His implied take-away message is we should ‘eat real, proper, simple food’ – not the kind from a packet. I have seen others even suggest 3 going back two generations further ‘eat the way your great-great-great-grandparents ate, and you’ll live a long life’. 4

I wondered whether this could be true and whether I could prove it. To begin with, my great-great-great-grandparents number 32. To find if that statement was true, I would have to trace my family history to those 32 ancestors, understand their backgrounds, deduce what they probably ate, then contemplate if foods they were eating in the manner they were eating them could improve my own longevity.

This was an intriguing concept and I decided to investigate.

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