ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Eat Better and Live Longer With Traditional Food Cultures

Updated on March 13, 2011
Dim Sum. Photo by wEnDaLicious.
Dim Sum. Photo by wEnDaLicious.

French Women Don't Get Fat. Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat. Chinese Don't Count Calories. Traditional food cultures are hot right now, and for very good reason. People from cultures with very strong food traditions eat tastier foods than Americans and, frequently, more food than Americans, yet they are thinner, healthier, and live longer.

How can this be?

The answer lies in both the foods consumed in traditional food cultures, and the attitude of traditional food cultures towards food.

The Mediterranean Diet

One of the most popular traditional food cultures is that of the Mediterranean regions of Southern Europe and the Near East. The traditional Mediterranean diet has been recognized since the 1960s as one of the healthiest in the world.

How to Reap the Benefits of Traditional Food Cultures

In order to take advantage of the benefits of traditional food cultures, you first need to decide on a food culture. Although the best known food cultures are Mediterranean (including French) and Asian, almost any traditional food culture will do.

You can also create a fusion of different food cultures. Although the dishes may vary wildly, most strong food cultures have a number of characteristics in common.

  1. Traditional diets emphasize local foods, eaten in season at the peak of freshness, or preserved in ways that preserve or enhance nutritional value, rather than reducing it.
  2. Traditional diets treat red meat as a condiment or special treat, rather than the main event.
  3. Traditional diets consume animal products primarily from organically fed, pasture-raised animals.
  4. Traditional diets emphasize nutrient-rich whole foods, including whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruits, and whole dairy products.
  5. Traditional diets consume many fermented products, such as yogurt and soy sauce.

The healthfulness of traditional diets is further increased by traditional lifestyles.

  1. Traditional lifestyles emphasize portion control by the simple method of eating until you're full, and then stopping.
  2. Traditional lifestyles emphasize meals as social affairs.
  3. Traditional lifestyles treat food as a pleasure, not a source of guilt and stress.
  4. Traditional lifestyles are active, with lots of walking, bicycling, or other physical activity.

Photo by ellievanhoutte
Photo by ellievanhoutte

Rediscovering American Food Traditions

Although America's food traditions have been overshadowed in recent decades by the explosion of fast food, convenience food, and other quick fixes that devalue the principles of traditional diets, America once had a number of thriving regional food cultures.

Like Old-World food cultures, American food cultures valued local foods eaten in season at the peak of freshness, or preserved in ways that enhanced their natural value.

One of America's most famous food traditions is "Soul Food," which is descended from the cuisine of Southern slaves. Soul Food is a fusion of African, Creole, Spanish, American Indian, and European cuisines. In its modern form, many traditional Soul Food dishes are notoriously unhealthy. However, during the slavery era and its aftermath, Soul Food cookery was a model of drawing nourishment from unlikely sources, with little or no waste. Traditional Soul Food relied heavily on nutrient-dense, wild-gathered greens and game animals. Slaves and sharecroppers also became masters of drawing nutrition from the "leavings" of their white masters and neighbors. Water used to boil vegetables for the master's family was incorporated into soups, as were offal and other low-quality, yet nutritious meat by-products. Soul Food has its roots in deprivation and oppression, but it is also testament to the human ability to rise above circumstance to produce something unique and extraordinary.

Other uniquely American food traditions include Creole, Cajun, Tex-Mex, and Pennsylvania Dutch, all of which fuse Old World tastes and techniques with New World ingredients.

The traditional diets of most North American Indian tribes were also extraordinarily healthy, due to their reliance on nutritious preparations of wild game, wild plants, and native American crops such as corn and squash. The diet of the Plains tribes was considered especially healthy. 


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • hot dorkage profile image

      hot dorkage 

      12 years ago from Oregon, USA

      Actually Japanese totally do get fat once they switch to a fast food diet. I won't call that an American diet, because I view fast food as a global evil that just happened to take root in America first. Check out my local megadinner slide show, Last night I had friends and neighbors for a meal that was as much local as we could. There was one dish containing local pasture fed beef, the rest were based on whole local products.

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 

      12 years ago from India

      Quite honestly, I'm not too fond of kefir either - it is an acquired taste I guess! My husband's company deals in dairy ingredients so we do eat a lot more yogurt than most too :)

      Yes, grassfed is so much better. I try and avoid chicken in Inidia as it's almost totally commercialised. Beef and lamb are not and being grassfed, they tend to be leaner and for me, much healthier. And Melissa, I also like the fact that they're free to roam till their time comes!

    • kerryg profile imageAUTHOR


      12 years ago from USA

      I make an effort to eat as much grassfed meat, eggs, and dairy as possible. Gotta put my money where my mouth is! And they really do taste better, too. I am especially fond of bison, and am currently browsing local farmer's markets trying to find a lamb producer I like. My parents get some of their egss from a family friend who keeps her hens on pasture with some milking goats. Brightest yolks you ever did see. They're divine!

    • Melissa G profile image

      Melissa G 

      12 years ago from Tempe, AZ

      I agree with you, kerryg--I wish I could be a vegetarian because of how much animal cruelty there is in the food industry, but I do much better with small amounts of meat, fish, and poultry in my diet. Michael Pollan has a list of great resources for local, sustainable food sources on his website at There is a site called "Eat Wild" in particular that you can use to find local sources of grass-fed, ethically raised beef, in an age when most cattle spend their lives in tiny, indoor pens, and are raised on a diet of cornmeal and antibiotics before being mindlessly shot in the head at the end of their short and uneventful lives.

      I'll look into adding more cultured foods to my diet, thanks for the tip!

    • kerryg profile imageAUTHOR


      12 years ago from USA

      Melissa G, I hear similar stories from ex-vegetarians and vegans all the time. It's kind of sad, because there is a lot to be said for both diets, though I've decided neither is for me. I'm a firm beliefer in quality over quantity with meat, though, and usually eat red meat and chicken once or twice a week, fish and seafood a bit more. High-quality foods (especially meat and dairy, but grains,vegetables, etc. too) are so much more satisfying than cheap, heavily processed ones, I end up eating a lot less, yet feeling more satisfied. And my taste buds certainly appreciate it!

    • kerryg profile imageAUTHOR


      12 years ago from USA

      qlcoach, I think simply not stressing out so much about food will help us reduce our emotional eating! But you're absolutely right.

      misha, hee! Just quoting titles...

      Shalini, I eat more yogurt than Michael Westen! My husband is very fond of kefir, and I am trying to develop a taste for that too. The aftertaste bothers me a little, not sure why.

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 

      12 years ago from India

      Loving what you eat does help a lot - adding cultured food products to your food like yogurt, kefir, etc help even more! are soooooo funny!!! :)

    • Melissa G profile image

      Melissa G 

      12 years ago from Tempe, AZ

      Mmm... I'm really hungry now! Great hub about a very important topic. I think the three things that contribute most to obesity in America are high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and the overabundance of nutritionally-void, overly-processed and chemically preserved food-like items served up in the fast food industry and lining the shelves of our neighborhood grocery stores. I'm glad you touched on the emotional aspect of our relationship with food also. I used to be a strict vegan, ate a cup of oatmeal for breakfast and a pb & j sandwich on sprouted grain bread with some almonds for lunch. Then I'd eat soy-based "meat" products for dinner along with way too many vegan chocolate chip cookies from Trader Joe's. Needless to say, my weight ballooned up during my two years as a vegan--then I read a book, called "The Only Diet There Is" which is about a diet from negative thinking about food--eating whatever you want, and loving whatever you're eating. The excess pounds I had packed on during my misguided adventures in veganhood literally slid off after reading that book. When you change your relationship with food, it becomes a lot more difficult to mindlessly stuff your face with chemicals and byproducts instead of taking the time to prepare wholesome, nourishing, and truly delicious meals.

    • Misha profile image


      12 years ago from DC Area

      What do you mean Japanese women don't get old? Do they all just go to Mount Narayama before that? :O

    • qlcoach profile image

      Gary Eby 

      12 years ago from Cave Junction, Oregon

      Wonderful information on this Hub about eating healthier! But it seems Americans overeat for emotional reasons. So we also need to search for better ways to maintain that healthy balance between mind, body, and spirit. Feel free to see how I try to help others in new ways. Sincerely: Gary Eby, author and therapist.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)