Interview with Gen MacManiman: The 5 Keys to Health

Gen MacManiman (1916–2012), author of “Dry It: You’ll Like It,” the original bestseller on food dehydration, photographed at her home in Fall City, Washington. Photo by Lily Casura. All rights reserved.

by Lily G. Casura

© 1997. All rights reserved.

Gen MacManiman was a quiet superstar on the scene in the natural medicine-friendly Pacific Northwest. Ask her about anyone who was anyone, like the founder of Bastyr University, and she’d have a tale to tell: She’d delivered babies with him, long before he had a school named after him. Somehow there was always a connection. Spend an afternoon with her, or an evening, as I frequently did in the years that I knew her, and the landline in her rustic 1910 log cabin high on the top of a “mountain” outside Seattle, near Weyerhaeuser forest land, would be ringing with calls from people around the world, eager to get her advice and input on often chronic, frequently vexing health conditions. In all the time I knew her, I never saw Gen charge anyone for her wise counsel. What she did, though, was “scatter good” — whether in the form of tasty dried treats she had baking in her many food dehydrators, or just the pure delight of spending time with her. I don’t believe I’ve ever met a more positive, kindly person. “She’s like an elf in the forest,” one of my friends exclaimed, after having met Gen through our connection.
In the 1970s, no less an authority than the Village Voice pronounced Gen “the Northwest’s own Euell Gibbons.” (Remember him?) Her national fame, such as it was, came about during a crisis, where Ball jars needed for canning were suddenly off the market. Gen ended up on a radio show, letting listeners know that they could dry their produce instead — and her subsequent, cheerily illustrated book, “Dry It, You’ll Like It” became a sleeper hit. When I knew her at the turn of the last century, it had already sold more than a quarter million copies, from her humble abode in the woods. Sadly, Gen passed away in 2011, but her legendary status and fond memories of her presence continue. The following is an interview I did with her in 1997, where she shares what she believes the five keys to better health are.

Gen MacManiman is a “student of herbal medicine” (not an herbalist, she affirms, just a student) who had the pleasure of studying with the noted American herbalist, Dr. John Christopher. For many years, she has sold herbal supplements and various health products and books via her mail-order company, Nature’s Assets. The food dehydrators which she and her husband, Bob, designed are still in production, and her book, Dry It, You’ll Like It!, is the veritable Bible of the home food-dehydration industry. We met up with Gen on her farm in Western Washington, shortly after her 81st birthday.

Q: Now Gen, you said that you’ve been thinking that there are “five things” that people need in order to thrive. Do you think you could talk a little bit about what those five things are?

A: There are five things in your personal environment that I believe you need to thrive, five things you can do for yourself.

Q: And those would be?

A: Good food, which takes a lot of thought, because we have to know about our foods, and know what’s good and what’s not good. We have to know what it does for us personally; and, we have to know, in reality, how good it really is. Better than “good foods,” we want “nourishing foods.” Not just halfway nourishing the body, you know; we want truly nourishing foods.

Q: And what this is would be different from person to person, right?

A: Oh, yes. Individually, that’ll be probably goat milk for somebody, and for another person it would probably be soy products, depending on their personal experience. I think I’ve been so long in my life knowing that good food was important to me for survival that I’ve almost forgotten about it. When I was really sick years ago, I ended up going on a raw foods diet for ten years. Ten years is a long time to be on a raw foods diet! And that’s what started us making the food dehydrators, because I eventually wanted some variety in my mouth with the food I was eating! I could use dried foods that were dried without much heat, and carefully handled, as a raw food.

And that’s how come we got into our dryers. Our dryers have been very successful — we’ve sold them all over the world. And our drying book (Gen’s Dry It, You’ll Like It, now in its 26th printing) has been sold all over the world. So, those opened up a whole new world to me — thinking about food for my own self, and then turning it into something that was creative for somebody else. Because, creative food preparation is the name of the game — enjoying your food, enjoying the preparation, enjoying the whole process of it — and there your attitude comes in. Give thanks for every bite. Not just for the whole thing, not just to say grace at the first of your meal, but give thanks for every bite — and the ability to chew it, if you’ve got good teeth! (Laughter). Because being a dental cripple makes it a little bit hard.

“Dry It: You’ll Like It,” by Gen MacManiman, has sold more than a quarter million copies since it was first published. It’s the original “Bible” on food dehydration, complete with cute and quirky illustrations.

Nutrition can be helped with supplements, but food is still the biggest part of the whole thing. Supplements are necessary nowadays because we don’t have the quality of food that we need. We’ve lost the minerals, we’ve lost the whole feeling about what food is good. We think that filling up the stomach is all we need to do, but it isn’t. When I say food, I mean good food, nourishing food — food that will sustain the body, and bring it through any crisis.

The best thing I ever did was to move to this farm here, 53 years ago this summer. Because I found here the life that I needed, the outdoor life. And I had the right things happen to me to find my way. One book that I give credit to was a book called You Are What You Eat; it was a very vital book. The author, Victor Lindlahr, was a contemporary of Paul Braggs, and some of the others along that line (natural hygienists). That book really got me started thinking about what I was eating. I think all my life I did think about that, I used to try to find out why I was having headaches as a child, and I would try eating this or that to try to make it better. And I would find different foods that were helping me, but I didn’t know why, or anything about that. I knew that there was a connection between my misery and what I was eating. I guess I had this inner desire to be better than I was, healthwise, or at least I didn’t give in.

I learned about sugar by reading the book, Body, Mind and Sugar. It was one of the first ones on hypoglycemia and candida. That was a big help to me, to read a few books like that. I read a lot, but I didn’t spend a lot of time reading, because I just would read things that I could put to work for me.

Q: What is your diet like these days?

A: Well, I give credit to my raw foods diet for helping me through a lot of my crises. I wasn’t a vegetarian, so I did eat raw goat milk and eggs. I did eat some pickled fish, over the years, which probably wasn’t a good idea — I know now — because now I’ve learned more about parasites, and would avoid that, but I had my raw goat milk, and I feel like that was really the winner for me, and goat milk is still the biggest part of my diet right now.

Q: Really? Because you make it into a lot of things?

A: I make into my Quark, that I mix with flax oil, and things, and I have that every day. I eat it generously. I don’t drink a lot of [goat] milk, but I make a lot of things with it.

Q: Like cottage cheese…

A: I make cottage cheese, and kind of a yogurt thing. I can make it any way I want it.

Q: And Quark, is that one of those things that Johanna Budwig talks about in her books? (Two key ones are Flax Oil as a True Aid, and The Oil-Protein Diet Cookbook.)

A: Yes. And with my little seed grinder, I grind up nuts and seeds very fine, so that it’s all right that I can’t chew very well [with dentures]. Like for dinner tonight, I had some Quark, with a little bit of salsa in it, for flavoring, and beet crystals, and some ground-up flax seed, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts in it. And I used that as a spread on my muffins! So it was all raw, except for my muffin.

Q: And beet crystals are for iron and energy, and for strengthening the blood?

A: Yes. Also, beet crystals very much help with irradiation, and all the problems that people are having with being exposed to chemicals and things like that. They’re very good for that. These beet crystals come out of Germany, and I don’t know that they make them in the United States. They’re wonderful. They’ve very tasty, and you can do so many neat things with them.

Q: How do you eat them? Do you sprinkle them on something, or mix them with water and drink them?

A: I just mix them into things. They turn out to make it a very red food that I’m eating, just “beet red!” (Laughter). Very, very good. And it was a very good, satisfying meal. Very good for the digestion, beets are, and help you to build good blood. One of the best things, for iron replacement. And they’re tasty — you can stir them into a little hot water, and have a nice drink with them, too.

The second thing that would be important for people to have is good water. One of the great things about moving here was having good water, right from the start, because we have this natural spring water, right on the property, without the chlorine in it. It’s very important to have good water. Water is the most neglected of all of the things we do for ourselves. Almost always we have to remind people to drink more water. Somebody comes along and feels a little bit “logy,” I ask them, “How much water did you drink today?” And they say, “Oh, I don’t know; I didn’t get around to it. I did have some tea or coffee, but…” You know, they think that takes care of it, but it doesn’t.. It has to be water. And so, water can do healing. Water is a healer. You can do without food longer than you can do without water. And dehydration is more prevalent than you ever imagined it would be, in reality, because many people are suffering from dehydration, one way or other.

Wild flowers on Gen MacManiman’s 45-acre “farm” in the Pacific Northwest. Photo by the author.

Q: Like the Batmanghelidj book, Your Body’s Many Cries for Water, talks about?

A: Oh yes, I think that was the most enlightening book on water. Of course, I’m very interested in water because I’ve always had good water here, and that’s been a lifesaver for me, and a lot of other people who come up here and get my water. I’ve given water a lot of thought. Distilled water is not what I’m talking about when I’m talking about good water. Distilled water has the capacity for becoming corrosive in the body, trying to renew itself in the body and swiping all your minerals, so distilled water is not the answer. And by the same token, boiled water might not be the answer. Because you take the life force out of the water when you boil it, and the life force in the water gives us oxygen and things that we need. So we have to think seriously about the water, but we do the best we can, wherever we are, and I know that it’s very, very easy to get bad water. I also think that people need to be very concerned about their water in another way: When they’re drinking chlorinated water, they’re drinking poisoned water. When they’re drinking fluoridated water, same thing. It’s not “what the doctor ordered,” it’s what somebody seems to think that we should have. So I would not want anyone that I know personally to drink chlorinated or fluoridated water. I think that would be a very bad choice. However, you do have to moisten your mouth with something, and if you’re tough out of luck, you might have to drink some water that isn’t quite right, every once in a while, but not to live on it, not on a regular basis.

One of the biggest causes of illness, I think, is dehydration. Maybe I’m wrong there, but it appears to be a big problem, to me.

Q: And why is that?

A: Well…I think if anyone wants to read that book, The Body’s Many Cries for Water, that’s a good place to begin, to see what dehydration does to people. And to see how fast you can recover from your problem by drinking some water. I think he told about a man being all bent over, and couldn’t even straighten up, he was in such a bad state of dehydration, and they gave him water, and within half an hour, he had straightened his back and was sitting up straight. So it is a possibility that you can recover very fast from dehydration by taking some water internally.

Number three of what would be important to have in your personal environment would be “good air.” This realization has only come to me in the last few months, maybe six months or a little longer than that, as I’ve been becoming aware of how bad certain kinds of air can be for people. And I’m thoroughly convinced that our homes are the worst source of bad air: old houses, mildewy houses, smoke-filled houses. In retrospect, looking back over my life and wondering why I was so sick all those years, when I was growing up, I lived in a very small house that had to be tightly closed at night, because we would have gotten cold if we hadn’t had it closed up tight, and we had a very smelly oil heater, and I do remember the headaches I grew up having, all the time, from that.

And that was 20 years of my life in that environment. Besides my father smoking in the house, in the wintertime. He was the kind who smoked the cigarette down to the last nubbin, you know… He would hold it in his mouth with a toothpick, to get the last of it. Unfortunately, the sad part of it was, he died because the smoke got into his sinuses, and caused cancer in his sinuses, from that. So you have to tell people not to use a toothpick to hold their cigarettes together for the last few drags! (Laughter).

Q: That’s incredible.

A: And the second experience I had with air quality, and how much it affects you, was after I moved here, incidentally. We lived here for 20 years without electricity. We didn’t use a wood stove for heating, because my husband at that time was working at Boeing, driving back and forth, and was gone from home almost 15 hours a day, and he didn’t have much time to go out and get the wood, so we had propane heat, with no vents. We had a propane heater, but it didn’t have a stovepipe. And that was another 20 years of my life. I didn’t think too much about it at that time, but lately, because I’ve talked with several people who’ve had severe allergies to propane, it has dawned on me that was part of my problem, part of why I was so sick for those 20 years, was the propane I was breathing. I don’t have it anymore, and I haven’t had any propane since 1963 in my house. Not that there’s anything wrong with propane. I still think it’s good for water heaters, and I like to cook with it, and all that kind of thing, but I still think it adds too much pollution to our homelife to have it in the home. And this might be true of some of the gases, if you have gas leaks in your house, and things like that. I think people need to be very, very careful what they’re breathing, in the wintertime especially.

I talked to some people recently who were down here from Alaska…

Q: I was going to ask you about them. I thought they’d be perfect for you to talk about here.

A: They were schoolteachers, both of them. The man was kind of in and out and around, not in the school building all of the time, but his wife was, and I asked her, “What do you do for fresh air in the wintertime?” And she said, “We can’t open the doors; we’d freeze to death.” I said, “You’ve got to get some kind of an air purifier.” So I told them about getting an air purifier, and I gave them all the information, where to go, and they were very, very enthusiastic about that being an answer to their problem.

The view from Gen’s living room window in Fall City, Washington. Photo by the author.

Q: Because didn’t they pass colds back and forth all winter long, in their house?

A: Yes, with their children. This woman was very sick. She was worse than colds, now. Her immune system was kind of shot down the drain, and it was getting very serious for her. But I haven’t heard back from them. I would like to. Sometimes you go for a good many years before you hear back from somebody you’ve talked to. It was just one afternoon that I had this conversation with them. But then I’ve been thinking so much lately, that we’ve had a lot of cold winters, and I have friends who live in Wisconsin and Michigan, and places like that, closed up tight in their houses in the wintertime, and hearing about how sick some of them were. Some of my friends were reporting that their mother was real sick, or her father-in-law was real sick, and when I talked to the friend who wrote to me again, I said, “they’re being poisoned by their own environment.” And it was causing very, very bad emotional struggles in these people. They were becoming hard to deal with. The girl who wrote me the letter said that they “wouldn’t listen to anything you had to say,” they “won’t help themselves,” and they’re very adamant against anyone butting into their lives. From lack of fresh air, I think. I think it’s very powerful. Lack of fresh air is one of the biggest causes for emotional problems, I think. Maybe not. I could be wrong. But before I would go for any counseling to straighten out your emotions, I would straighten out the air first. (Laughter). Might not be a good answer, but…

Q: Okay, we’ve got three things so far that are important for health.

A: Now we’ve got air, water, and food. And there’s another thing that happens to us in the wintertime: we don’t move enough. So the next one is movement. Anyone who’s studied up on the lymphatic system knows that you don’t have any success with the lymphatics being completely healthy if you don’t move them, because they don’t have any circulation of their own, of course. Movement is the only thing that activates the lymphatics. In order to encourage movement, we started carrying the bouncing balls for sale, and the Rebounder, and things like that, doing more and more of that kind of thing, but people still don’t do enough of that. They sit too long at one stretch. They sit in front of a computer, and their work keeps them sitting. And their studies, if they’re students, keep them sitting, and they don’t move enough. When I’m traveling in a car, I stop at every rest stop whether I need to or not, just to get out and move. I won’t sit longer than an hour without moving. So that gets me out of going to shows, and all kinds of neat things that take three and four hours. I guess you could say I’m not a “spectator sports” lover!

Movement is very, very important. I’m one that had to force myself to move. I was too involved with all of the health problems that I had to want to move. There were times when I could hardly move. But I had to make myself move. So that’s when I used to get out my “Sons of the Pioneers” record and listen to “Cool Water,” and the important words in that song were, “Keep a movin’ Dan, don’t you listen to him, Dan, he’s a devil not a man, he keeps a burning sign of water.” (Laughter). But “keep a movin” was the idea of that song that always intrigued me. I always thought that somebody ought to have put a little more into that idea.

Q: And the last one?

A: Attitude. The first thing that comes to mind with that is, “Don’t let your attitude interfere with your altitude, or the magnitude of your gratitude.” Health comes from within, allow it to. And attitude helps good health to come out. I don’t know that there’s that much more to say about it than that.

What we’ve looked at here are the five things to do. We haven’t even come across in our conversation the things not to do, because there is a very, very lot of them. One of things not to do, that jumps out in my mind as very important that we pay attention to, is that we get rid of the toxins in our body one way or another. Study up on it, and move out the toxins that are causing us pain and distress. So there are things to do there, in a cleansing process you might call it, something of that sort.

Q: And that again is different for all kinds of people.

A: That’s right, it’ll vary from person to person. It takes looking into parasites as being a reality, it looks into candida as being definitely a reality, it looks into bacteria of all kinds as being behind some of the health problems we’ve been experiencing. I don’t know what else to say about toxins, except that it’s very important to get rid of them. The other things, good food, good air, good water — those are “plus” activities. But I think if you have “leaky gut syndrome,” or an impaction of the bowel, those are “minuses,” and you’ve got to deal with them.

So, other than that, Mrs. Lincoln? (Laughter).

Q: How about when you were so sick, were you able to do much movement, or were you were really focusing on restoring your health, so that you could start movement later?

A: Movement was really hard on me. I didn’t have much energy. I could hardly move. But all along, I had my [farm] animals to take care of, my garden that I needed to work on. I lived on my garden, really, out of my garden, and I had to keep moving, because I had to take care of my family. So I moved, but I had to know my limitations, too. That’s one thing that’s really hard to learn, all by yourself, is your limitations.

Q: Boy, it sure is.

A: Because you overdo, and then… I was so low in the blood sugar range, with hypoglycemia, that I went to one doctor to get it checked, and he said, “How come you’re walking around? You shouldn’t even be able to walk, the way you are.” And I said, “I have to,” that was my answer, “I have to walk.” Because I had children to take of, I had a family to think about, that kind of thing, and my chores to do, and I was doing it all by myself. I didn’t have any help. I had this inner knowing that I needed to know more, all the time. It was something inside of me, because no one else was telling me what to do. I wasn’t getting any false stories, anyplace, at least. It was coming through loud and clear that there was something wrong with my health, and that I could do something about it.

One time, years ago, I was doing a demo on my herbs for a preventative medicine doctor group. And one of my naturopathic doctor friends asked me if he could introduce me, and I said, “Okay.” I didn’t know what he was going to say. He got up and told them, “Here was a gal who needed so much help, and I couldn’t help her. She did it all herself.” And that’s the way it was.

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The food dehydrators that Gen and her husband built and sold are still available at DryIt.com, along with supplies and her book on food dehydrating.

Note: This article does not constitute health advice, merely educational information. If you want to make effective and appropriate healthcare decisions, consult your physician or credentialed healthcare practitioner for advice.