Yesterday, Bill and I went to spend a couple of days in Amish Country in and around Arcola Illinois. The area has the fourth largest Amish population in North America. I have always had a particular fascination with the Amish, since childhood, and have really looking forward to spending some time in their midst. I've read books describing their lifestyle, and every time a new movie comes out with an Amish theme, I'm the first to want to see it!
As it turns out, our time with the Amish was cut short, because we did not know that all the tourist attractions and shops close at 5:00 pm on Saturday, and they are not open at all on Sunday. Not knowing that, we planned our trip for Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday. Oh, well! We headed back home in the late afternoon on Saturday with plans on coming back again some other time when we can spend all day Friday and Saturday. I'm really looking forward to it!
We weren't entirely disappointed with the brevity of our trip, because we had the opportunity to eat a meal with an Amish family in their home. Through Rockome Gardens in Arcola, we reserved a spot and paid $20 each to share an authentic Amish lunch with an authentic Amish family nearby. Three other tourists, a Jewish husband and wife and their daughter, joined us.
I came to the Miller home determined to partake of a true Amish diet, no matter how many carbs were involved. And high carb it was! It made me wonder about the rate of diabetes and heart disease in the Amish community. Everything is homemade, but definitely contains large amounts of refined flours and sugar. The Amish eat the way my Croation grandparents ate, and my grandmother developed Type II Diabetes in her later years, and was 30 or 40 pounds overweight most of her life.
I did a little research on the internet on the incidence of diabetes in the Amish community, and found that the they are no different than the non-Amish (or "English", as they call us) Caucasian population in North America when it comes to obesity: they are just as overweight and/or obese as the rest of us! However, their rate of both Type I and Type II Diabetes is only half that of ours. The different articles I read alluded to the high instance of in-breeding and the likelihood of good genes, plus the fact that the Amish live very active lifestyles, and exercise is thought to lower the incidence of insulin resistance.
Although the Millers did not sit and eat with us, they did sit in chairs near our table and engaged us in conversation on the differences between the Amish and the "English". I did mention to Mrs. Miller that I normally eat very low carb, but that I was really enjoying the high carb fare, which I was, and she looked at my small frame and then at her own obese frame and remarked, "Maybe I should be eating low carb!" Hmmm... I really doubt that she could adapt her cooking to low carb without seriously disrupting the traditions of her faith. I am equally convinced that the way she feeds her family is not the healthiest, and that a more carb-controlled way of eating would benefit both her and her family! Yet, I am also sure that body image and looking like a 'stick model' is not high on her list of priorities of what it means to be a good wife, mother and homemaker in the Amish tradition. According to statistics and my own observations, most Amish women are overweight and/or obese. I think that it might be an expected part of life for them.
It was very interesting to have three very different groups of people present, discussing dietary practices and traditions. Not only was there Amish and low carb represented, but the Jewish family we shared lunch with observe the dietary restrictions of the Jewish faith. In other words, they "keep kosher", eating "meat meals" and "milk meals", each meal being prepared only in its designated pots and pans, eaten only off of its designated plates and eaten only with its designated silverware. I have never been friends with any Jews, and it was fascinating to listen to our lunch partners describe their religious observances. I was very impressed with their level of devotion and commitment in this area!
Aside from Michelle (my new Jewish friend) not eating bacon with her breakfast, we found that we had much in common, including the ingesting of vast amounts of vitamins and supplements, our determination to eat only real, fresh, whole foods free of hormones, antibiotics and chemicals, and an interest in the works of Weston A. Price. Michelle is currently reading Weston A. Price's book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, a book that I have had in mind to read, and now am determined to read!
Michelle is also a member of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nonprofit, tax-exempt charity founded in 1999 to disseminate the research of nutrition pioneer Dr. Weston Price, whose studies of isolated nonindustrialized peoples established the parameters of human health and determined the optimum characteristics of human diets. Dr. Price's research demonstrated that humans achieve perfect physical form and perfect health generation after generation only when they consume nutrient-dense whole foods and the vital fat-soluble activators found exclusively in animal fats. The Foundation is dedicated to restoring nutrient-dense foods to the human diet through education, research and activism. It supports a number of movements that contribute to this objective including accurate nutrition instruction, organic and biodynamic farming, pasture-feeding of livestock, community-supported farms, honest and informative labeling, prepared parenting and nurturing therapies. Specific goals include establishment of universal access to clean, certified raw milk and a ban on the use of soy formula for infants.
So I got two benefits from my lunch with the Amish - not only learning more about the Amish way of life and how they eat, but the chance to meet Michelle, a person who is like-minded in areas of health and nutrition. Near the beginning of our time together, we ate butter, and said, almost in one voice, "Saturated fat is healthy!" I think she was even more excited to meet a person like me as I was to meet a person like her, if such a thing were possible!
If you are ever in the area, you can eat with the Millers, too! You can visit the website for the Illinois Amish Interpretive Center, or phone 1-888-45AMISH.