Foreword to “The Real American Tragedy”

By Dr. Royal Lee

Summary: Processed food is not food—no matter how much we tell ourselves it is. If there’s one statement that sums the opinion of early nutrition researchers, that’s it. When industrial food processing burst onto the scene in the late nineteenth century, it began fundamentally changing the stuff that had always nourished human beings. Harsh mechanical and chemical methods destroyed the power of our food to nourish us; and to make matters worse, artificial substances of untested effect were added to the mix. This destruction of America’s food supply is one of the great ignored crimes of history and the subject of C.E. Burtis’s 1960 book The Real American Tragedy. In the book’s foreword, presented here, leading nutritionist Dr. Royal Lee describes a telltale pattern observed repeatedly by nutrition’s first investigators: wherever processed foods were introduced, cancer, heart disease, tooth decay, and other “modern” diseases—virtually unknown previously in the population—soon followed. While this fact is utterly ignored today, it was entirely evident to Dr. Lee and his colleagues that a preponderance of processed and artificial foods in the diet is the main reason for America’s poor health. From The Real American Tragedy, 1960. Published by the Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research.

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Foreword to “The Real American Tragedy”[spacer height=”20px”]

There are three ways to select a food. First, by taste; second, by the chemist’s label; third, by knowing what the experience of others has been, including feeding tests on animals.

The last two are the “scientific” methods.

The chemist cannot tell an Indian River Florida orange from one that must be dyed artificially to induce someone to buy it. But the flavor [of the former] is so good that it commands a far higher price than any other orange, and its rusty color is its trademark quality.

Now, after careful investigation to determine why Indian River fruit is superior, we find that it is the seawater that seeps in around the tree roots [and] supplies trace minerals so necessary to health. Every orange tree in Florida would produce Indian River quality if it were given a few gallons of seawater per year.

Probably the most important of those trace minerals is manganese. In Deaf Smith County, Texas, where manganese is particularly high, the native born are so immune to tooth decay that when the state authorities decided to check up on rumors of the tooth situation there, they inspected 73 natives before they ran into a single cavity. Later, Dr. L.B. Barnett of the county seat, Hereford, reported that the average age of old people suffering broken hips was 20 years [greater] than the average for the rest of Texas.

Scientists have been unable to tell us why these facts may be explained in terms of food biochemistry.

Scientists have been unable to tell us why tooth decay is 1200 times as prevalent here as in India.

Scientists have been unable to tell us why Dr. Albert Schweitzer found no cancer in mid-Africa…until “civilized” foods followed him.

No cancer is to be found in the isolated Hunza land of northern India, according to the celebrated authority Sir Robert McCarrison; according to Steffansson no cancer existed among the Eskimos until “civilized” food became common; and, according to Dr. Weston A. Price, there was no cancer in high Alpine villages until better roads brought in “civilized” food.

But science has given us various food “counterfeits,” such as oleomargarine, fraudulently labeled “corn” syrup (synthetic dextrose, glucose), fraudulently labeled “vegetable” shortenings (really, synthetic hydrogenated fats), and an endless array of chemical additives to ruin our health by slow poisoning.

These counterfeits provide calories without vitamins. Why do sane people knowingly buy foods that contain calories only at the same time that they are trying their best to reduce their caloric intake?

This practice has resulted in 750,000 deaths per year of preventable heart disease.

Dr. Kettering of General Motors fame once said, “The only difference between theory and practice is that in practice you must take into account all the theory.” 

It is very evident that in food and nutrition science we have a lot yet to learn to know all the theory.

Meanwhile, those who use foods selected from honest sources by their flavor will no doubt live much longer than those who heed the advice of national advertising experts. To quote Gayelord Hauser, they will have a lot more “life in their years”:

“Technical progress has practiced adulteration of foodstuffs on a grand scale. Not only has technical progress changed the qualities of our foods through mechanized farming, scientific meat production, and the fertilizer industry; it has not only created the canning industries and the cold-storage and freezing methods; it also has brought to the fore theories of nutrition that parade under the labels of ‘biological’ or ‘scientific’ nutrition.

“However, modern biology, as both its methods and its terminology betray, is only an appendix of technical progress. Biology has become one of the disciplines of technical progress, characterized like all others by the fact that it is subservient to mechanist thinking in terms of cause and effect. A man who has lost the instinct for proper food, who moreover could not possibly follow the old rule of Celsus, sanis omnia sana (‘all is health to the healthy’), because he has no way of knowing the contents of the substitutes that get on his table—such a man must indeed fall for ‘scientific’ and ‘biological’ nutrition. For even taste and appetite, the infallible counselors of old, guide him no longer.” (From The Failure of Technology by Friedrich George Juenger, Henry Regnery Co., 1949.)

At the moment a news item comes to hand stating that the British government has ruled that synthetic fat may be used in ice cream in place of butterfat without a label statement, and that 90 percent of the ice cream sold today in England is of such type.

This explains in a few words the collapse of the world leadership of the mighty British nation. It was destroyed from within by the termites of civilization—the makers of counterfeit food.

As I write this, oleomargarine is on sale in Los Angeles at ten cents per pound. It costs at least eight cents to flavor it and provide a package, I would estimate. That is like the inflation of paper money when it gets to where you need a briefcase-full to buy a sandwich. Few people know that if they paid the usual price for only one vitamin found in butter (the vitamin E so necessary to cardiovascular health), the rest of the butter is free. No wonder our chief cause of death is cardiovascular disease.

Can you imagine a more pathetic spectacle than the housewife trying to balance her budget by buying oleomargarine or a synthetic fat?

Just one of the facets of this tragedy is the epidemic of blind babies that has appeared in the last decade. The vitamin E deficiency causes the baby to be highly susceptible to oxygen if put into an incubator by reason of premature birth. Retrolental fibroplasia is the result. The food we eat today is the body of tomorrow. If we eat defective food, we suffer from a defective body.

C. Edward Burtis in this book, The Real American Tragedy, has most efficiently drawn our attention to a situation that we all must recognize and do our best to correct.

April 10, 1959.

Royal Lee
Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

From The Real American Tragedy by C. Edward Burtis, the Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research, 1960. 

Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research
2023 W. Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee 1, Wisconsin

Printed in U.S.A

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