One week ago I returned from my first trip to Perú. I went on behalf of the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF). My commission was to speak about wise traditions—the benefits of eating according to the traditions of our ancestors—and to learn about the customs still embraced by the Peruvian people.
I was so moved by Peru and its people. It was absolutely amazing! First of all, Peru is incredibly bio-diverse. Peru has 84 of the 104 existing ecosystems in the world, and it also has 28 of the 32 climates on the planet! From such natural diversity stems incredible cultural diversity, as well. There are many indigenous people groups that speak distinct languages and eat their own traditional foods.
Dr. Weston A. Price traveled there himself in the 1930’s, to document the dietary habits of people around the world. His book “Nutrition and physical degeneration” dedicated two chapters to Peru. (Most places he went only got one chapter in his book.) Clearly, he was captivated by Peru’s people, history, and the variety of diets he found there.
In a subsequent blog post, I will touch on the diet trends I spotted there, traditional foods that are still enjoyed, and some of the dishes I tried, including "cuy" (guinea pig)! But today I want to tell you the story of an encounter that made the greatest impact on me. I trust it will affect you, as well.
Let me set the scene. Katie Williamson and I had been travelling all over Peru, giving talks and connecting with folks. (Katie is an enthusiastic WAPF member, and a former chapter leader from New Orleans, who at one time had lived in Peru. And she is the very one who proposed this trip in the first place.) Anyway, so picture Katie and I traveling to and fro and finally coming near the end of our trip.
We arrive in Pisac, following an 8-hour bus trip from Huaraz to Lima, a 1 1/2-hour flight from Lima to Cusco and a 1-hour taxi ride from Cusco to Pisac. Pisac is a town in the Sacred Valley region of Peru (not far from Machu Picchu). Suffice it to say, we're pretty wiped when we get to Pisac.
Sanán greets us with ginger tea and equally warm hugs. He is the head of an organization called Amsted Sagrada (Sacred Friendship). He knows about WAPF and wants to introduce some community leaders to the WAPF wise traditions principles. It was late (I think after 10 p.m.) when Katie and I launched into our talk but we were thrilled for the opportunity. We set up the projector and got going.
Besides Sanán, Katie, and me, there were only two community leaders present: Hernán and Baldo. It felt like a privilege that these two had made the time to come listen to us because it was obvious that they lived close to the land for decades and that they were close to their indigenous roots. Both men spoke Quechua and were intimately acquainted with their wise traditions. When we mentioned the wise traditions principle about how all cultures would make strong efforts to help prepare young couples for conception, for example, Ubaldo mentioned that in his community, they would give guinea pig and sheep blood to their young people between the ages of 16-18 for that same reason.
Hernán & Ubaldo are flanking Sanán
But what really struck me was when Ubaldo responded to my phrase: “Optimal health doesn’t come from something ‘modern’ but rather from the past.” This was something that I often repeated during our presentations. “For good health,” I’d say, “we need to look back.” But Ubaldo explained that this made no sense to them because in their culture and in Quechua, there is no past. He went on to say that they have no future either. It’s all the present.
Mind blown. Had I said, “For good health, we should look to our ancestors,” that would have made more sense to them. Because they don't see their ancestors as in the past, but right beside them. And the future is right there, too.*
There is beauty and truth in this perspective that is so different from my own. It resonated with something that Katie would often also say: that we are all on a quest to rediscover things we have forgotten. Wise traditions are in some ways already with us, not buried in the past or unseen in the future.
So, Wise Traditions aren't in the past. They're here now! Why did I find this thought so helpful? Because we all live in the present, whether in Peru or in other parts of the world. We occupy a here-and-now that is a beautiful mix of old and new, traditions and modernity. To embrace wise traditions, Ubaldo taught me, we don't need to look back necessarily; it’s more a matter of living the way we were meant to live...today. We honor our ancestors and their ancestral wisdom each time we make the best choice we can--given our situation, circumstance, where we live, what is available, and our resources of time and money. When we choose the most whole, real, natural foods--those raised sustainably and gently on the earth--when we consider the kind of clothes we buy, the work we do---with the land and justice in mind, we are living in harmony with the the past and the future, as we understand them. And I am convinced that this is the path to the good health that is our birthright. And the way to best receive the wonder and beauty and mystery that is the gift of the present.
*Since this post, I have learned that I may have misunderstood Ubaldo's point about the Quechuan view of time. From what I understand now, there is a past and future in Quechua. But it remains quite different from how we, westerners, perceive it.
Hilda Labrada Gore is the host and producer of the Wise Traditions podcast. It is sponsored by the Weston A. Price Foundation for wise traditions in food, farming, and the healing arts! Hilda is also an integrative nutrition health coach and a fitness professional, the Director of Communications, and the DC Metro Regional Director for Body & Soul. In additions, she leads the contemporary music service for National Presbyterian Church. She lives in D.C. with her husband and children, their cat, Mia, and their dog, Summer.