In the earlier part of the 20th Century, vital substances needed for human nutrition were being discovered and named. Vitamin A, or retinol, was the first vitamin discovered, hence, the name vitamin A. The name retinol came about because it was found that a deficiency of vitamin A caused blindness, connecting the substance to the retina. Soon after came the discoveries of the B vitamins, and then vitamin C.
Even in those early days, a debate emerged as to whether these newly discovered vitamins were simple chemicals found in plant and animal foods, or whether they were part of complex combinations of nutrients found in abundance in well-grown food. By far, most of the scientists and medical people believed that vitamins were simple chemicals and therefore could be adequately supplied to people in their simple chemical forms. This belief, over time, gave rise to the commonly accepted practice of taking chemicals, putting them in pill or powder form, and claiming that the common vitamin-deficiency illnesses had been prevented or cured.
A few prominent medical people dissented, most notably Royal Lee and Weston A. Price. Royal Lee, in particular, insisted that the newly discovered vitamins were effective only when part of the complex plant or animal tissues from which they arose. Lee founded the company Standard Process based on this whole-foods principle and invented ingenious machines to carefully extract the nutrients from plants and animals without destroying the all-important matrix in which these nutrients arise. Standard Process is still around 88 years later, and still one of the most successful natural-supplement companies in the country.
The other whole-foods proponent was Weston A. Price. As many of you know, I am a founding board member of the Weston A. Price Foundation, an organization devoted to educating people about the importance of whole and traditionals. Weston Price became famous for the treatment of his patients through the use of cod liver oil and his own invention, butter oil, two foods that are loaded with naturally occurring, fat-soluble vitamins in their original matrix. Dr. Price took great care, particularly with his butter oil, to extract the final product with as little disruption of the oil as possible. He believed that this “matrix” was as crucial to the success of the supplements as the vitamins themselves.
As we learn more about the interactions of food and health, one can’t help but be struck by how complex life and health really are. With the discovery of the hundreds of phytonutrients that plants make, many of which are crucial to the prevention and treatment of disease, it is no longer tenable to assume that taking a chemical-based multi-vitamin pill will adequately nourish you or help prevent disease.
True nourishment and prevention can come only through a strategy of eating a wide variety of plant and animal foods in as close to their natural state as possible. This is the mission of Dr. Cowan’s Garden. Our products are all made from organically or beyond-organically grown plants, or are wild-harvested foods. They are processed to retain most of their complex of nutrients, those that are known and many that are yet to be discovered. In my view, eating a diverse, traditional diet and perhaps “supplementing” with such “super” plant or animal foods as cod liver or krill oils are the best prevention strategies we have.
For many of us, our relationship to food is a never ending journey. Sometimes to move forward one finds themselves looking back. For bread and specifically the grains used to make it I find that the best results are indeed found in reflection. It is sometimes true that modern ingenuity has value for us, but that is usually only when paired with ancient wisdom. For grains, that wisdom is in the ancient varieties that have been grown for thousands of years.
During this time of relative uncertainty, we have decided to renew our commitment to gardening. Dr. Cowan’s Garden was originally a place, located in Napa Valley on a plot of land generously donated by a friend. It embodied our ideals and was a sanctuary for growth and learning.
The garden was our muse for new product offerings and for improving existing ones. The garden kept our ambitions grounded to certain fundamentals, as the practice of gardening can be challenging.