Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bubbe Meises

The Shrink (my dad), loves to joke. He is witty and very able with a pun. But he is downright wicked when it comes to funny commentary on the habits of our forbears, all Eastern European Jews from Russia and Hungary. The food (think kugel and kasha varnishkes, shmaltz and chopped liver), the relationships ("how's your motha?" "my son the doctor" and so on), and the geeky intellectualism (Woody Allen meets Albert Einstein) are all fair game. Sometimes, though, I can hear a bit of childhood fear of the formidable bubbe (grandmother) coming through. As in the subject of enemas. Which are a favorite target of his brand of humor.

The enema was a useful threat of his (with a twinkle in his eye of course). If we weren't cooperating, he'd ask if we would like an enema at that moment... and when you put it that way, well, who would answer in the affirmative? Really, I mean, what 14 year old would respond well to such a bizarre notion? It must be really awful if The Shrink was using it to dissuade certain behaviors (not that we'd ever had one, or had any idea of what it really meant).

As strange as it seems, given the conditioning from my dad, one of the things that I so love about Dr. Natasha is that she reminds me of my grandmothers. She embraces liver, shmaltz, and yes, enemas. No joking about that, she knows what's good about the old ways. She is a scientist in her overall approach, using her medical training to evaluate each situation and choose a direction. More often than not, though, that direction owes more to the Bubbes than to medical school and pharmaceutical companies. As a first generation immigrant from Russia, she has not thrown over all of the wonderful practices that are handed down from mother to daughter. Instead, she is teaching them to us, so that we can heal ourselves and our families.

This is the approach I am drawn to over and over, the whole reason for The New Hunter Gatherer. The wisdom of The Grandmothers is precious, but it has been imperiled by the rise of industrial agriculture, industrial medicine, industrial education. I feel that I can change that with each decision I make at home. A pot of stock can make a difference. A batch of yoghurt or pickles. An herbal tea and a steam bath instead of an over-the-counter medicine. We are not perfect about this, and have been known to eat out or take a pain reliever on occasion. But with each successful food we forage or ear infection we treat at home, we are reclaiming the independence, the wisdom, inherent in traditional knowledge.

And so it is with Dr. Natasha. She has laid out a protocol of self-treatment she calls the GAPS program, but she acknowledges that her primary expertise has been in assembling age-old approaches and helping people figure out how to apply them to their baffling situations. She teaches, as I always mean to, that we can look to the ways that women have always used to keep their families healthy, and that we can wrest control of our health and happiness from corporations, supermarkets, and even doctors.

What does that have to do with enemas?  Well, we know from Dr. Natasha that it's super important to poop daily (sorry, but this is a subject that needs addressing). This is especially crucial on GAPS Intro, where you don't want go 36 hours without a bowel movement. When doing Intro (or even beginning full GAPS), we are inciting our bodies to detoxify naturally. That is, we are helping our bodies clear any pathogenic material that might have been making us feel like, well, crap. In whatever form that is for us (or our kids, if you are helping a kid through GAPS).

When we detox, we pull this junk from its storage places in the body and it all has to go somewhere. Sometimes when we shift our diets radically, as in Intro or full GAPS (depending on where you start), the elimination part of this process slows down. This yucky stuff is now loose and needs to be sent on its way. Like NOW. So we can't wait for our bodies to just get around to it, we have to help (until the situation has shifted enough to let our bodies take over).

I should add that everyone detoxifies all the time, without any additional help. This is a normal part of being alive. We eat, utilize what we can (hopefully what we need), and then eliminate the rest. Nowadays, though, many of our bodies are not functioning optimally, so this normal process doesn't work so well. This is especially common in people who have conditions that GAPS addresses.

The nitty gritty:  Feces are comprised not only of toxins and insoluble fiber, but in large part, of dead microbes. Gut bacteria, yeasts and viruses that have lived their useful lives and now serve to bulk up the stool. But most GAPS people don't have enough of that wonderful stuff. That's why we eat/drink/supplement with probiotics. We may still be at the stage where we are taking in tiny amounts of these helpers, so they aren't quite doing their full work yet.

All of this can equal constipation. Which definitely does not do the job of eliminating the baddies we weeded out! So what to do? Dr. Natasha recommends a few things: enemas, increasing fats, and juicing, primarily. She has several suggestions on her FAQ's page, which is useful for sorting out all sorts of other issues as well. Ultimately, the diet will resolve this situation, and it is temporary, so these remedies are coping tools to help us until the time when our bodies re-learn how to eliminate healthfully.

GAPS Guide and the GAPSHelp list both have great support and suggestions--Baden even has detailed enema directions in the book. Which is a good thing, because most of us have heard bubbe meises (old wives' tales) about how awful it is to do an enema. Come to think of it, most of us have negative opinions about chopped liver too. And fermented things (someone told me once that pickles are just rotten cucumbers...)

Let me reassure you: The Shrink knows a lot. But in some areas, I defer to the Bubbes. Chopped liver is delicious. Pickles (the real fermented kind) are not only yummy, they help your gut to be happy and healthy. Sour milk is food and medicine, not garbage. And enemas are, well, a relief. They are one more tool in the quest to be healthy, and therefore sane and happy.

I honestly could have called my blog "The Wisdom of the Grandmothers" (except that name was taken) because I think that everything I need to know I have learned from studying the Old Ways. I am still surprised when people react with fear or disgust at the thought of traditional foods and practices. I suppose I shouldn't be though, because most of us don't have a bubbe to pass on this knowledge.  So we have to dig it out of books, and look to other countries that have preserved traditions long forgotten in the west. We have to treasure people, like Dr. Natasha, who so ably marry the information of Science with practicality and effectiveness of Traditional Knowledge.

It can be hard to sort the fact from the fiction when it comes to health and nutrition information. So many of these old ways that I am praising have been characterized as hopelessly old-fashioned in the push to embrace Science. Remember "Better Living Though Chemistry"? Now we are learning more and more about the complications that ensue from such a romantic image of industry. We are currently on alert for radiation poisoning,  plastics leaching into our foods, drug-resistant "super-bugs", manufactured fats (trans-fats) and so much more.

The upshot is that there's renewed interest in the Old Ways, the ways of The Grandmothers. I can only hope to channel a bit of that wisdom as I sit down each day to write for you. Maybe, just maybe, we can reclaim traditional knowledge from the label of "bubbe meise." Because we really need some Old Wives to tell us their tales right about now....

What Old Ways are you helping to revive? What skills would you like to hand down to your kids?

Dedicated to Gladys Sussman Robinson, 1904-1999 (The Shrink's mom)


ginatrbo said...

Wonderful Post!! This is also what I love about GAPS. I always knew that the wisdom of my Grandma was not getting passed down and even as a kid, I knew that was a shame. She used to push cod liver oil and my favorite soup of hers "albondigas soup" was a GAPS Intro soup! When she served it, there was a little bowl of avocado & chopped garlic, onion & cilantro with a squeeze of lemon, which is almost exactly what I do on Intro! I'm trying to revive these recipes so my kids grow up with them and become their comfort food. Instead of PopTarts or sugar cereal! I'm also trying to learn how to grow our own food so the kids will have that skill. I never did. But I'm learning now. I think this is all so important, I pulled them out of school and we are homeschooling just so we can live this life. The schools are so filled with junk food it is so hard to avoid there. I want them to learn the old ways, to have that as their foundation. Back to Grandma's way!!!
Another big change from "Grandmas way" that has happened is when Grandma cooked, you ate it. There was no requesting what to eat as kids. Nowadays, moms are always making what their kids want to eat. I'm trying to change that in our house also. My job is to put healthy food on the table, it's their job to eat it.

Jennifer said...

I feel triumphant each time I thwart 'the system' (our modern American life) and make a successful ferment or heal an illness with food. Resourcefulness gives me an amazingly strong feeling of deep-seated satisfaction. This year, I am following three hundred years of tradition in my family and growing my own food. Though dropped in the last generation, we have been farmers in this country since before it was a country. I'll be doing it on a suburban scale but will try to increase our yields each year to self-sustain as much as possible. I'm also stealing my home remedies from other bubbes so I can continue to heal my family with food. What a lovely time to be a homesteader. :)

I am amazed every time I have to go onto the Internet for some of this wisdom. It's amazing how long it has been passed from generation to generation but how quickly it has been forgotten. I'm glad to know others who are carrying the torch and who this amateur can learn from. Thanks for all you share!

Erica Gott, aka Erratica said...

Great post! I totally agree with you about the wisdom of our grandmothers. I only wish I still had one to consult. Mine died when I was very young. Instead, I'm reading your posts and living vicariously through you. Thanks for what you do.

Justine Raphael said...

That's funny, because I almost added "abuela" into the mix! After living in Miami so much of my life abuela seems interchangeable with bubbe...Good for you for reviving her spirit. And when you figure out how to get the kids to eat it--in this day and age--let me and everyone else know! I think this is something I was supposed to start when they were little, because now mine would rather go hungry than eat my food!

Annie said...

Loved this post. I just braved my first enema yesterday and gave my daughter her first one. I was terrified - but it went totally fine, and we both felt so much better afterward. It's funny how so many of the "old ways" because there's something visceral and raw and personal about them, so we created pills to try to circumvent feeling uncomfortable or human or something. But the you can't beat the hold ways for their simplicity and effectiveness!

Justine Raphael said...

Oh Annie--I am so glad the enemas went well, and more importantly, that it helped you both to do them! It really isn't as bad as the reputation, is it?


Justine Raphael said...

Jennifer and Erica--somehow your comments got lost waiting for me to approve them-I just found them...

Thank you both for such kind words! I love getting everyone's feedback!

Jennifer--so wonderful that you are continuing the family tradition--you will all benefit.

Erica--you get to revive the old ways on your terms, and then pass that on to your children. There are things my grandparents did that I won't emulate, but it's the feeling of continuity with my forbears that I cherish--even if I didn't know them (and I didn't know most of them)

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