18th Century Locavore

“It is highly probable that the infinitely wise Author of our nature has provided proper remedies and reliefs in every climate for all the distempers and diseases incident to their respective inhabitants, if in his Providence he has necessarily placed them there: and certainly the food and physic proper and peculiar to the middling sort of each country and climate is the best of any possible for the support of the creatures he has unavoidably placed there, provided only that they follow the simplicity of nature, the dictates of reason and experience, do not lust after foreign delicacies: as we see by the health and cheerfulness of the middling sort of almost all nations….”

George Cheyne, from The English Malady (1733)

Dr. George Cheyne was something of a celebrity in his day. A physician, he had ruined his health with overeating and heavy drinking. But with dietary discipline he was able to restore it. John Wesley became an admirer of Cheyne’s books on health and diet. I tell the story of Cheyne’s influence on Wesley in Organic Wesley. 

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12 comments on “18th Century Locavore

  1. BeeHappee says:

    Great quote! I have to admit, I never even seen the word locavore used before.
    I think there is good wisdom in that, yet going back to your previous post on wine, Wisconsin plum wine is sweet and all, but I am still “lusting after those foreign delicacies”, the good old European red wines. I was talking to a Slovak baker at a farmers market, she admitted how it is impossible to bake the bread that tastes the same as in Europe, over here. Smallest things, slightest changes in ingredients, elevation, humidity of the air, make a huge difference.

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    • Bill says:

      I often lust after those foreign delicacies too. In fact I’ve just been enjoying a nice cup of coffee. Wouldn’t want to have to live without it!

      I enjoy the fact that it is impossible to recreate certain regional foods exactly in other places. That is one of the joys of local food!

      Interestingly, some things that may seem at first to be “foreign delicacies” need not be foreign. We’re growing beautiful and delicious “Asian greens” for example. It seems to me they are perfectly suited to our climate and soil. Maybe someday they’ll be part of our regional food culture, as veggies that originated in Africa, South America and Europe now are.

      As I say in the book, modern nutritionists might not agree with all of Cheyne’s reasoning, but they do confirm his opinion. Food grown locally (and therefore eaten fresher) is more nutrient-dense than food imported from far away. And I believe that our bodies synch with nature and expect and desire the food that nature is providing naturally during the season.

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      • BeeHappee says:

        Bill, how are your fall crops co-habiting with the deer? Any more deer issues?

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      • Bill says:

        Our purple hull peas (a very important crop for us) were nearly a 100% loss. I can’t keep the deer out of them. But the good news is that they love the peas so much that they’ve spared (so far) everything else. Our broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts are inside the same fence as the peas and the deer step over them to get to the peas. As disheartened as we are about losing our pea crop, I suppose it’s keeping them sufficiently well fed to leave everything else alone (for now at least). Every morning I wonder if we’ll have anything left.

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      • BeeHappee says:

        Wow, I guess you could ditch the morning coffee, deer keep it exciting for you guys. 🙂

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  2. Joanna says:

    I have been pondering for quite a while about the use of local ingredients in healing of various illnesses. As a scientist with a Pharmacology background I tend to feel that a substance should be tested and used consistently to observe the results and yet something inside also seems to say go with the seasons and go with the locality. I think that feeling is echoed in the quote above.

    Why would our good Lord not provide something different for the seasons? Sometimes we can use dried or preserved herbs etc. but why not use fresh whenever possible and let that be our guide as to what to give at certain times? Got a cough? Coltsfoot in early spring, yarrow in autumn! Whilst the Pharmacologist is trying to isolate the definitive ingredient, maybe it is the combination that works best. After all we do not eat just broccoli because it is good for us.

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    • Bill says:

      Cheyne (and Wesley) believed locally available plants and herbs were the best remedies/medicines as well. I use what they had to say about that as evidence for my argument that Wesley’s ethic favors local organically-produced food.

      You’ll probably appreciate this quote from Cheyne:

      “For it is in medicines as in food (medicines being only a more rare and less natural kind of food), that which is common to the middling sort of every country, and which has the approbation of the generality of its inhabitants and is suited to the constitution of the community, is generally the most beneficial, since it is the experience and observation of the generality that makes them common: and special or particular things, or rarities, are justly to be suspected.”

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  3. gatheringplaceseasonfour says:

    difficult to read the (last) name without thinking of Halliburton and Iraq war.

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  4. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    Lol, my GranMa always said “For every ill known to man, the good Lord has put something on this earth to heal it.”
    Obviously she wasn’t alone in her thinking; )
    Foreign Delicacies nope, can’t imagine a day without either a coffee or cuppa tea…
    Right on Joanna for Seasonal Remedies (and truly Locavore Bill; ) The settlers brought Plants when they came here because they were considered NECESSARY (not just for their looks; ) I will trust the hundreds, if not thousands of years of medicinal use over test results from someone who stands to gain from and therefore wishes to limit the public use of phytomedicines.

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  5. Bill says:

    John Wesley would agree with you. He maintained that simple herbal remedies were the most effective and that the practice of using “exotic medicines” (pharmaceuticals) served “only to swell the apothecary’s bill,” adding “possibly on purpose, to prolong the distemper that the Dr. and the apothecary may divide the spoil.”

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