Sally Fallon Makes Me Nervous

Sally Fallon Makes Me Nervous

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 and 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.

13 Comments on “Sally Fallon Makes Me Nervous

  1. Yowza. Just wanted to raise my hand as one of those middle people, and then I ended up reading that whole surprising back and forth about divorce. I wholeheartedly agree with you and Carole–her marital divorce, if there was one, is entirely irrelevant. If Sally Fallon were Sam Fallon and your article read exactly the same, I have a feeling that no one would mention or be curious about the divorce.
    Also, I really appreciate the clarity of your writing. Thanks.

  2. I’m finding your page late in this game, but I am one of those people you wonder about. I am a fan of traditional eating and health, but Sally Fallon’s claims have too much woo and not enough science backing them up. I want to see science!

  3. I appreciate the balanced review in your article. I have owned her book for years, but even though it was well referenced, raw dairy never worked for me. It is a book that works for some and not others.

    I don’t just think it is only eating traditionally that makes the difference. It is also the quality of environment and the people adapted to that environment. For example, a person living in NZ could drink raw milk, eat lamb and fresh fruit and vegetables and not do well because there used to be a serious depletion of selenium in the soil. So no matter how traditional they ate, they needed that nutrient somehow to improve their health and their was no way to get it until it was brought in and supplemented.

    When I was recently on a tropical island in the south pacific, I came across a nutritional fact sheet. Amazingly, all their tropical fruit have good amounts of potassium and other important minerals and vitamins. Naturally moving away from their traditional foods they are adapted to could cause a deterioration in their health as well as the modern day pesticide use. Everything was “free range” and “grass fed” due to environment, not by choice.

    In my experience, real foods grown locally grown in the highest quality mediums are best as well as traditional diets that are adaptable to the person.

  4. Well, I’m one of them. I think her book makes sense, but then I noticed that she remarried. I was wondering what happened to her first husband. Did he die of old age or illness? Did she get divorced? I’m just curious because I’m wondering if her first husband was healthy? I don’t mean any disrespect.

    • Hm, not sure where you’re headed on that one. Why do you say she’s remarried? I just did a quick search and couldn’t find anything on that. Either way, why would her marital status make a person question the arguments she’s making in her book?

      Are you saying maybe this is the backstory on how she first got into the Real Food scene? If she had a first marriage, and if her first husband passed away from nutritional problems… but as wild guesses go, that seems like a pretty big leap to me.

      Whatever the case, when evaluating the strength of her argument and the responsibility of her scholarship, I don’t see the relevance of her marital history. Let me know what I’m missing.

      • Y.M raises a valid point because in the quote you gave above, she states that divorce hastens physical degeneration of the human race. But if you search on her name, you will find “Sally Fallon Morell” come up. Is she being hypocritical by having gotten a divorce? Secondly, as Y.M. points out, did her first husband die an early death due to eating something she advocates in her books, which would indicate that just because our ancestors ate it, it does not mean it was healthy. For example, although the Atkins family denies it, Dr. Atkins had cardiovascular disease, was obese for his height at the end of his life, and died of a heart attack. For that matter, Sally is not exactly the picture of slim health these days. Compare her to doctors advocating a whole foods plant-based diet, like Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Joel Fuhrman and Dr. Neal Barnard and Dr. Gabriel Cousens and you see that they are slim and trim in their 60’s and 70’s, suggesting better health. Time will tell when we see how they die. Will it be from cardiovascular disease or diabetes? Or, like raw vegan advocate Paul Bragg (of Bragg’s Amino Acids) who died in his 90’s while surfing when he hit his head on a rock? And as Y.M. suggests, how Mr. Fallon left the scene is a relevant question if Sally was his chef and wife.

        • Ah. Well, about divorce, I don’t think there’s any grounds to say she’s being hypocritical. First off, we don’t know whether she’s divorced or not. A woman’s last name isn’t really an indicator. But for sake of argument, let’s say she were divorced. When she wrote, “divorce hastens the degeneration of the human race,” she wasn’t talking about literal, legal divorce; she was speaking in an extended metaphor, referring to the figurative marriage between scientific knowledge and traditional food folk wisdom. Anyone – divorced or not – can raise those concerns without being hypocritical. She’s not talking about marriage; she’s talking about food.

          About the fate of her hypothetical husband… while I do think there’s wisdom in the phrase, “Physician, heal thyself,” and if the proponent of a diet is chronically ill after religiously observing that diet themselves, it may raise some reasonable questions – still, the fact remains, I don’t know anything about her husband. If he exists. If he’s dead. If he died due to her food practices. Or what.

          Even if we did know those personal details, I would be hesitant to draw conclusions from them. Nutrition is complicated and nuanced, as is any single person’s overall health. If we’re to draw scientifically valid conclusions from the outcomes of a given diet, we’d need a control group much larger than one anecdote. The experience of one or two people, while valuable and certainly worth exploring, isn’t enough to base a conclusion on.

          • The quote about marriage and divorce has nothing to do with marriage and divorce of a man and a woman–it is totally about our food.

            “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;”

            The quote is totally about the “marriage” of modern invention (think blenders, juicers, flour grinders, bags of flour on the grocery shelf, processed white sugar and salt, MickeyD’s, etc..) with traditional foods and preparation we can do in the 21st Century to have the best of both worlds.

            The “divorce” is a separation from traditionally prepared and consumed foods in favor of a Fast Food nation. The industrial age and foods processed until our bodies don’t recognize as food is what has caused the physical degeneration of the 20th and 21st century.

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