Sally Fallon Makes Me Nervous

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Sally Fallon

I am a fan of Weston Price.

I'm also a fan of much of what Mr. Price's most vocal disciple, Sally Fallon, advocates. On the other hand? She's kind of crazy.

Let's start with the good. Sally Fallon is a proponent of traditionally-prepared food. Food that doesn't consist of anything but food. A cookbook that doesn't call for squirts of red 40 in the cupcakes you're baking for your kid. (Petroleum products for dessert, anyone?)

I'm frequently disappointed when cooking from just about any of today's cookbooks — take my Better Homes and Gardens, for example — to find recipes built on fake foods, non-foods or thoroughly-processed foods. These industrial foods are so ubiquitous, it's hard to find a cookbook that doesn't rely on them.

For instance, in the Better Homes pumpkin pie recipe, I'm told to schlook a can of store-bought pumpkin pie filling into a pre-made pie shell. If I wanted to assemble a dessert from pre-made ingredients, common sense would tell me that 1 pie crust plus 1 can pie filling makes 1 pumpkin(ish)* pie. When I consult a recipe, it's because I want a road map on how to cook, not how to assemble.

* Canned pumpkin pie filling usually consists of mostly other kinds of squash: butternut, Hubbard and so on.

Back to Sally Fallon. Specifically Nourishing Traditions, the cookbook that Ms. Fallon produced with Mary G. Enig, Ph.D.

On one hand, Nourishing Traditions is awesome. No Jell-O packets in these recipes. The book tells you how to make bone broth, concoct your own baby formula, create a mayonnaise full of living micro-cultures. It offers great ideas for beverages and snacks. It's true to its driving ethic: food is better when (1) it's food, and (2) it's prepared according to long-standing human tradition, rather than the remarkably-recent conventions stemming from industrialization.

That said, let's look at the last sentence of the preface:

The wise and loving marriage of modern invention with the sustaining nurturing food folkways of our ancestors is the partnership that will transform the Twenty-First Century into the Golden Age; divorce hastens the physical degeneration of the human race, cheats mankind of his limitless potential, destroys his will and condemns him to the role of undercitizen in a totalitarian world order."

There's a lot here I can get behind — but dude. It's a little crazy.

Back Cover of Nourishing Traditions

As for the photo on the back cover, it reminds me of a picture I saw on the cover of a different book.

Book Cover of Awkward Family Photos

Sally Fallon's craziness is not what makes me nervous, though. I can vamp with crazy. What makes me nervous is combining thick ideology with unsubstantiated claims.

I've put effort into locating the sources from which Fallon and Enig derive their conclusions. It's hit or miss. In the back of the book, there's an appendix of suggested reading (good, good), an appendix of sources (for food, not information), and a section devoted to sidebar citations: the attributions behind passages quoted throughout the book, including everything from Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder to N. R. Gotthoffer's The Use of Gelatin in Tradition and Medicine.

Where, though, are the sources behind statements such as this?

Boxed breakfast cereals are made by the extrusion process, in which little flakes and shapes are formed at high temperatures and pressures. Extrusion processing destroys many valuable nutrients in grains, causes fragile oils to become rancid and renders certain proteins toxic."

Rancid, toxic? Maybe, but when you start out soothsaying about a Golden Age, you've gotta work double-time to back yourself up later on. As a skeptical reader — not critical, but critically thinking — I want the evidence to be transparent.

Fallon and Enig do include a references list after their lengthy introduction (it's buried between pages 72 and 79) in which they cite sources for some of the claims they set out with. This I appreciate. Thank you, Sally Fallon and Mary Enig. I just wish you were equally transparent everywhere else.

Take this quote, from Fallon's online article "Is Raw Milk Safe for Babies?"

The most likely source of the new strains of virulent E. coli is genetically engineered soy, fed to cows in large commercial dairies. If there is any type of milk likely to harbor these virulent breeds, it is commercial pasteurized milk."

"The most likely source ... is genetically engineered soy." Well, since you said "most likely," I'd now like to see a breakdown of all the possible sources of E. coli and how they compare to each other. Since you said "genetically engineered soy," I want to see why you think this is the most significant of those. But we don't get to see the argument. All we get is the conclusion. Maybe the argument exists; maybe it's bomb-proof, but until we see it, the conclusion is unsubstantiated, and when unsubstantiated facts are thrown around like God's own truth, it makes me nervous.

Especially when the person putting them out there claims the authority of science. If science is on your side, tell me about the studies. If you're not going to tell me about the studies, then don't use science as your authority; use tradition. For me, that would be just as powerful.

Of course, a blending of the two is best. That's what Weston Price did.

Weston Price did a lot of research on teeth.

That's because Weston Price was a dentist. If you go down this rabbit hole, you'll find some simple rules on how to remineralize your chompers and even regrow your own cavities. Amazing stuff, really amazing.

Weston Price is worth finding out about, but today, when you talk Weston Price, what people hear is Sally Fallon, probably due to her website, which flies the banner of Weston Price over everything it does. That's sad, to me. Because as much as I appreciate Sally Fallon — there's a reason I bought her cookbook, after all — Weston Price is actually a separate person.

The last thing that creeps me out about Sally Fallon is how bipolar the debate about her is. In one camp you've got her students, who live and blog by her teachings and don't voice any questions whatsoever about them. Fine and good; some of my friends are these people. In the other camp, you've got people who spit venom at Sally Fallon, who think that her following is full of big silly dopes, and who take personal offense at her claims. Fine and good. I respect them too.

But where are the people in the middle? People who believe wholeheartedly in the worth and necessity of real food, who appreciate both Weston Price and Sally Fallon, who are skeptical of heavy ideology, who mistrust statements that have a radical, defensive edge to them, who have the vantage point to evaluate a claim and sort the pseudo from the science when the author's sources are missing? Riddle me that, friendlies.