Countryside Magazine February 2016 Issue Words by Sue Scott
When the Great Yorkshire Agricultural Show was rained off by a deluge that brought Harrogate to a standstill in 2012, farmer Durwin Banks found himself standing in a fish and chip shop, talking about dripping – not the stuff that was falling in great splashes from the awning outside, but the fat his fish was being fried in.
It was a conversation he’d had many times with chippies up and down the country.
Why? Because since losing one of his three sisters to cancer six years ago, he’s been on a mission to change the way we eat, convinced that how we cook and process food is responsible for doing untold damage to our individual health and the well-being of our planet.
More and more GPs, nutritional therapists and others are coming round to his point of view. Hundreds have visited The Linseed Farm, run by the Banks family in Sussex, to relearn what Durwin believes most of us instinctively already knew – that, despite 30 years of messages to the contrary, not all fat is bad. Visitors also hear the remarkable story of an ancient crop whose powerful reserves of Omega 3 could go some way to undoing the harm we’ve done ourselves over the past 40 years.
“More and more people when I tell them butter’s okay and not to eat margarine say they always knew in their heart of hearts that junk oils and abused fats were bad for them,” says Durwin.
Cancer of the type that killed his sister Lyn could be just one manifestation of a diet that’s fundamentally gone wrong and he’s not afraid to go head to head with manufacturers, policymakers – and even chippies - to change it.
A well-known brand of Scottish shortbread was bemused when he took them to task recently for reducing the amount of butter in their age-old recipe and replacing it with vegetable oil so they could claim it contained less than 3% saturated fat; his criticism of NHS advice to replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats as being too simplistic has met with similar incomprehension.
He doesn’t blame anyone. “I was largely taken in by a system that turned most farmers into producers of commodities in the 1970 and 80's in much the same way as doctors have been sucked in by a system,” says Durwin. “But I have met many doctors who are now thinking, or would like to think, differently.”
The son of a farmer, Durwin was born into a Britain still haunted by war-time rationing and driven by a determination that it would never go hungry again. As big farms grew and fewer people were involved in producing what they ate, so the food chain also became increasingly complex and opaque. By the late 90s, small family farms, like the Banks’, were under increasing pressure.
“The need to create an income from the land pushed me to have lots of ‘make-a-million’ ideas, which led to lots of failures,” says Durwin. But one literally sowed a seed that’s changed his life and thousands of his customers.
It started in the late 90s when, selling a still that had failed to earn him a fortune from chamomile oil, Durwin came across a linseed grower. The more he learned about the tiny seed, whose healing properties were so powerful that an entire army medical corps – the Linseed Lancers – had taken its name, and was so respected that the 1st century Emperor Charlemagne had decreed it should be eaten by all his subjects, the more he wanted to know. So, in 2001 he began mining his own oil fields – hundreds of acres of linseed whose tiny seed heads held an untold wealth of human health.
“The first person’s work I came across in the medical field who’d talked about linseed - or flax as it’s also known - was Dr Johanna Budwig, a German cancer scientist and leading expert on fats, who developed the Budwig protocol for cancer patients. It cut out sugar and processed fats and included pure linseed oil instead,” says Durwin.
The key component in linseed is alphalinoleic acid (ALA), one of a family of Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoicacid (DPA), commonly found in fish and to a lesser extent in meat and milk, which are both formed in the body from ALA. A natural anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory, it also helps lower cholesterol.
Durwin began by cold pressing his home-grown linseed to sell as a premium culinary oil to be used in no- and very low-temperature cooking. As demand grew, he measured out a daily amount in easy-to-swallow Linseed Pods, encouraging people at the same time to reduce consumption of processed foods and oils HIGH in Omega 6.
“The ideal ratio of Omega 3 and Omega 6 is 1:1,” says Durwin, “but 83% of the Western world is deficient in anti-inflammatory Omega 3 and walking around with 15/20/25 times more Omega 6 in their bodies, which is linked to the production of pro-inflammatory hormones. Many of our most common diseases today begin with inflammation.”
Pre-war, Omega 3 was present in much larger quantities in our diet – in meat and milk from animals fed on Omega-3 rich pasture and linseed meal – while Omega 6, the product of many crops held responsible for destroying the rainforest, had not yet crept into the food chain in any large quantity.
As he researched, Durwin began to strike more and more Omega 6-rich oils off his shopping list, including soya, rape and palm – all frequently lumped together as ‘vegetable’ oils on food labels; not because they are intrinsically bad in the right quantities, but because when heated to high temperatures in manufacturing, there is evidence that they are so denatured the body no longer recognizes them for what they are.
“People will buy an organic potato and get back home and roast it in organic rapeseed oil and turn a healthy food into an unhealthy one at a stroke,” says Durwin. “What they should be using is saturated fat – dripping, lard, ghee or coconut oil. The chippie in Harrogate was in fact using dripping because he thought it made the chips taste better anyway.”
The Linseed Farm is still the only one in the country growing, pressing and selling fresh oil direct to customers, many of whom report a remarkable impact on their quality of life. But, sadly, it came too late to help Lyn.
“The cancer was particularly aggressive and didn’t respond well to treatment,” says Wendy. “But Lyn’s death made Durwin much more determined to get the message about fats out there to people.”
Sometimes the farm office feels more like a consulting room. “People talk to me on the phone and at shows like they talk to their doctor; men tell me about their cancer, women talk about their menopausal symptoms. For all of them, their underlying question is: ‘If I eat better foods, will I be healthier?” says Durwin.
His conversations over the years has prompted him to begin writing a no-nonsense, non-medical handbook to good health, called ‘The Farmer Will See You Now…’
“The majority of farmers probably do not realise the vital role they should be playing in keeping us healthy by understanding how to provide food that heals,” he says. ”I bet there is no other farm in the country who specifically invites doctors on to their farm to talk about it.”