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What We Can Learn About Foraging From Pottenger's Cat Experiment

Updated on June 8, 2017
My 'wild' cat companion Marley. He hunts most of his food and lives off a raw optimal diet.
My 'wild' cat companion Marley. He hunts most of his food and lives off a raw optimal diet.

An experiment conducted in the 1930s by Francis Pottenger revealed the impact on how a diet can affect cats over many generations. He used cats to extract what he required to experiment with the theory that tuberculosis was linked to adrenal gland deficiency. He stumbled upon what would become his ten-year long experiment on cats during that period.

Francis would feed the cats in his initial practice on cooked meat, and noticed that there was a higher mortality rate versus those who he later had to feed with raw meat from another donated source. His later studies involved feeding two studies of cats. His experiments revolved around something he termed ‘heat-labile factors’, which in effect questioned whether cooking food deemed it nutritionally deficient, causing eventual physiological degeneration.

In both studies, one-third of the diet consisted of raw meat, offal, bones, raw milk, and cod liver oil. The remaining two-thirds differed, where one study was fed either raw meat or cooked meat. The second study was fed two-thirds of raw milk, pasteurized milk, evaporated milk or sweetened condensed milk. Both studies echoed identical results and the cats that remained on the whole raw diets were healthy, without any signs of deterioration. In the other studies, the cats suffered from numerous ailments, ranging from bad teeth and gums, fatigue, impaired sense of coordination, and arthritis. The most startling of all was those fed on condensed sweetened milk showed similar signs to what people act like when living on the high sugar diets we are fed today. They were nervous and could not sit still or relax.

Alarming results evolved through the second and third generations of each study. The offspring on the whole raw food diet remained strong, healthy and larger than any of the other kittens from the other litters. Also, the skull structures began to deteriorate in those that were on any cooked diet, holding much less calcium within their bones than the raw diet counterparts. There were many other deteriorating features, and by the third generation, there were very physical and apparent deformities, ranging from unformed bones to infertility. It took four generations to reverse these effects after changing the diet to a whole raw regime.

Please Watch This Video for an Introduction to Pottenger's Study

So How Does This Involve Humans?

Although this study relates to cats, in particular, this can be reflected in many situations of our modern lifestyle. Have you noticed the many diseases, deformities and other ailments plaguing our modern society?

If you pay close attention to the final minute of the video on Pottenger's cats, they mention the correlation observed in a study by Dr. Weston A Price who documented the physiological changes, namely the jaw lines of native tribesmen who were 'domesticated' and introduced to the western diet.

Not so many decades ago, a lot of these new problems were rather minuscule, perhaps much like the second generation cats. Now we find ourselves with similar issues to the third generation on a sugar enriched diet. The one common factor we can perhaps attribute this to is our degenerating source of real good food, replaced by refined and processed nutritionally deficient… I am not all that sure it is worthy of the name food!

Source
A raw vegan dish of cucumber and common hog weed stems served with a lemon juice, wild garlic, and nettle pesto.
A raw vegan dish of cucumber and common hog weed stems served with a lemon juice, wild garlic, and nettle pesto. | Source

If we trace back to the potential physical health of hunter-gatherers, they had access to hundreds of species of wild plants, animals, insects and the diverse microbe that existed at that time. I doubt they cooked all their food, and I wonder if some cooked any at all. I am at a stage where I can almost exist on 100% raw food including meat, which is eaten only if hunted myself and on the utmost rare occasion. I am rather interested in delving into insects this year.

My diet consists largely of raw plants and raw milk from our own free-ranging goat herd where possible. Since I began to change my diet from cooked foods, I had felt like Pottenger’s cats on the raw food study. Suddenly I had a whole lot more energy, greater mental clarity, and an improved solid immune system. I stepped away from the fear of ‘bacteria’ and instead I hold faith in my own healthy microbial makeup to fight off any potential intruders – which to this day seems to hold true.

Intensive agriculture on depleted soils and sprayed with chemicals is, for the most part, the new face of ‘healthy greens’. It is a very limited diversity of that at best, compared to the spectrum of the fast diminishing variety of wild counterparts. Is it any wonder that we still suffer on the accepted ‘healthy lifestyle’ that has been promoted?

I do not quite understand where we took the ‘wrong turn’, and if we continue on this current path, we face further preventable degenerative diseases and deformities, I can almost be sure of it.

To build the perspective further, imagine Pottenger’s results applied to the meat industry. For many generations of domesticated livestock, they have been committed to a diet that is far from their original diverse and natural wild habitat. In the modern day, much livestock is fed grain. The grain is not optimal for a ruminant and as such we help them along by pumping them with drugs and providing crutches just so we can carry them long enough to send them to slaughter. We are fed a limited variety of grains as our dietary staple, and the animals we eat are also fed grains, how ironic?

From an already deformed, and heavily manipulated limited gene pool of domesticated sources already lacking in the diverse microbial makeup of their wild counterparts, and accompanying health are we then consuming that said meat in the effort to fill the holes by our already deficient modern generations who have, especially in the last few decades, succumbed to a similar treatment. Is it any wonder that we are experiencing the issues we face today?

How Do we Combat our Fast-Declining Modern Health?

Without the pharmaceutical drugs that address the symptoms rather than tackle the cause, we would suddenly witness the real state of our population. What caused this? – A long declining gradient over centuries of our food, environment, and lifestyle.

Wild food is one of the keystones to solving our current predicament before the train crashes head first into its final destination, throwing each and every one of us out into an ‘apocalypse’ of our own making.

If we brought to the table a new awareness and a truly remarkable perspective of ‘letting the wild back in’, could we perhaps begin to place a firm foot on the brakes? – A simple act of encouragement to nudge our fellow members of the human race out of their comforted, drugged up lives on sugar, caffeine and other legal substances, and let their taste buds lead them out into the open to experience the diverse beauty and wonder of foraged wild food.

A sourdough baguette filled with wild garlic leaves and flowers, pickled wild garlic buds, wild plum sauce, and a few olives.
A sourdough baguette filled with wild garlic leaves and flowers, pickled wild garlic buds, wild plum sauce, and a few olives. | Source

Restoring a vital connection in the process, it could lead to re-wilded cities, where skyscrapers and other buildings, and gardens are bursting with life. A new blend of permaculture and wild food could emerge, to enhance the habitats within a human dominated zone to provide free healthy wild food at every turn. Not only food, but nettles as one example could provide paper and clothes while restoring forests and agricultural land to their wild original states.

This would fall hand in hand in destroying our reliance on oil, and using the technology we already possess to eradicate our need entirely. A revolution in vision and culture could erupt into a positive movement to connect the broken bonds of humanity. A world free of pollution and a re-established cycle that we had somehow broken, creating a finite existence that should one day end if we continue upon that path.

From wild to tame and back again - A great perspective by Tor Norretranders.

It may take a few generations to see improvements, as it did with Pottenger’s cats when he reversed the nutritionally deficient diets. However, it can be done! – But it must be done soon. Because once infertility hits a peak, amongst growing disabilities, illnesses and deformities in our genetic structures, it will be a steep mountain to climb before we can glimpse the peak of what human civilisation can truly create on this shared and beautiful earth.

Do you believe that wild foraged food is the key to our optimal health?

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    • Bella Sames profile image

      Annabella 4 months ago

      One of the best pieces I have read