Wilhjalmur Stefansson on Living with the Eskimos

Adventures in Diet
Part 1

By Vilhjalmur Stefansson
Harper’s Monthly Magazine, November 1935.

In 1906 I went to the Arctic with the food tastes and beliefs of the average American. By 1918, after eleven years as an Eskimo among Eskimos, I had learned things which caused me to shed most of those beliefs. Ten years later I began to realize that what I had learned was going to influence materially the sciences of medicine and dietetics. However, what finally impressed the scientists and converted many during the last two or three years, was a series of confirmatory experiments upon myself and a colleague performed at Bellevue Hospital, New York City, under the supervision of a committee representing several universities and other organizations.

To the best of my estimate then, I have lived in the Arctic for more than five years exclusively on meat and water. (This was not, of course, one five-year stretch, but an aggregate of that much time during ten years.) One member of my expeditions, Storker Storkersen, lived on an exclusive meat diet for about the same length of time while there are several who have lived on it from one to three years.

When we are returning to the ship after several months on meat and water, I usually say that the steward will have orders to cook separately for each member of the party all he wants of whatever he wants. Especially during the last two or three days, there is a great deal of talk among the novices in the part about what the choices are to be. One man wants a big dish of mashed potatoes and gravy; another a gallon of coffee and bread and butter; a third perhaps wants a stack of hot cakes with syrup and butter.

On reaching the ship each does get all he wants of what he wants. The food tastes good, although not quite so superlative as they had imagined. They have said they are going to eat a lot and they do. Then they get indigestion, headache, feel miserable, and within a week, in nine cases out of ten of those who have been on meat six months or over, they are willing to go back to meat again. If a man does not want to take part in a second sledge journey it is usually for a reason other than the dislike of meat.

The broad results of the experiment [at Bellevue Hospital in New York City] were, so far as Andersen and I could tell, and so far as the supervising physicians could tell, that we were in at least as good average health during the year as we had been during the three mixed-diet weeks at the start. We thought our health had been a little better than average. We enjoyed and prospered as well on the meat in midsummer as in midwinter, and felt no more discomfort from the heat than our fellow New Yorkers did.

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