One of the hottest food books in Clark County right now is the second edition of Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats
, written with Mary G. Enig, PhD, and beautifully illustrated with line drawings by Marion Dearth. Much of its popularity is among devotees of raw milk, but the book has lots to offer those who don't even drink milk, such as vegetarians and vegans. Although it looks much like a cook book, Nourishing Traditions
is really an invitation to reconsider what food is for, and how it fits into our lives.
Nutrition Includes Minerals, Bacteria, Wee Beasties
Opening with a chapter on basic nutrition, Ms. Fallon lays out not just the basics of fats, carbohydrates and proteins, but also discusses less-obvious things such as minerals and enzymes. Fallon was a co-founder of the Weston A. Price Foundation, which builds on the work of the late Dr. Price, a dentist and nutritionist who famously argued for the importance of a whole-foods diet for oral, bone and general health. Key to this view of nutrition is an attention to small things, including trace minerals that many people consider vitamins, if they consider them at all. As important are bacteria and enyzmes, the wee beasties that live inside our digestive systems, and which are encouraged by many of Fallon's recipes.
Anyone who has been prescribed antibiotics for an infection within the past dozen years has probably also been advised to purchase and eat a solid, "pro-biotic" yogurt with it, such as Nancy's brand from near Eugene. The reason for this is that, at a cellular level, people do not digest their food: enzymes do. From the moment food encounters saliva, a host of chemical reactions help break it down and make it available to to us as nutrients. Similar bacterial allies are present throughout our bodies, such as a woman's wholesome vaginal flora. When the body has too much available sugar in the wrong place, or these expand beyond their normal place, the results are things such as urinary tract infections, yeast infections or other problems. Those who have only read about E. coli in newspaper reports of produce scares may not appreciate just how full of the stuff they (and all healthy people) are. Fallon does a great service by explaining their relevance, and providing recipes designed to promote intestinal health.
Feed the Gut, Feed the Soul, Family and World
provides a variety of recipes designed to maximize healthful intestines, by providing traditional fermented foods, whole grains and a variety of dairy products made from whole milk. Not everyone will be interested or comfortable in obtaining raw milk to create their clabbers, kefirs and cheese, but there are plenty of other good things to learn from Nourishing Traditions
. Although not the best book on anything, Fallon does a wonderful job of being a good first book on many things, with terrific examples of fermented foods such as non-vinegar sauerkraut, extensive discussions of the importance of stock for key minerals and a solid introduction to the reasons and methods to sprout grains, nuts and seeds. As important as the solid science and microbiology of this approach is, though, the cultural and familial benefits are as important.
Agriculture and Bacterial Culture for Healthier Human Culture
Proponents of one diet or another are sometimes seen as zealots, with many folks viewing raw food, vegetarianism or veganism almost as cults. What Fallon's book does beautifully and in each section is to provide fertile grist for meditation on what the word "culture" means. Our word for "cult" comes from an older word that means to tend to and nourish, as in agriculture, bacterial culture and human culture. The ways we grow and use food are a key part of who we are, and by outsourcing so much of our food and nourishment to large corporations, all of us are made poorer. This is a key tenet of the "slow food" movement, and Nourishing Traditions
provides a good starting-point for folks who wish to take control of their own lives by paying more attention to what they cultivate: in their yards, in their kitchens, and in their lives.
It is no accident that some of the oldest and poorest nations in the world have the richest cuisines. Consider China. Consider India. Consider Mexico. Fallon offers a roadmap toward creating similarly rich food culture at the home scale, for people of modest means.
"Slow foods" sometimes get a bad rap as affectation or luxury items for the well-off but, as Fallon demonstrates, the creation and nurturing of these foods is a basic part of human life. Rather than watch the Home and Garden Channel, learning different ways to braise deserts with a propane torch, Fallon shows how simply soaking grains, baking bread or a pickling crock can make wholesome, home-made foods a central part of one's life and home. This is very much in keeping with the home sustainability movement, as championed by local folks such as Monique Dupre. As importantly, and more convincingly, the things that Fallon describes are just plain fun. Although I don't think that her condiment recipes are the best, learning to make condiments and fermented foods is fun, turning something one normally pays too much for into something very personal that pays you back.
For Further Information
- Sally Fallon's Sally Fallon's 2001 book Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats is available through the Fort Vancouver Regional Library under call number 641.5 FALLON 2001 or may be purchased at Powell's.
- Sample chapters and more information are available through the publisher, New Trends Publishing.
- The Weston A. Price Foundation has a huge catalog of resources that explore these ideas at http://www.westonaprice.org/sitemap.html
- Yahoo Groups has an entire category of groups for discussing the values and techniques of lacto-fermented foods.
- Raw Milk Stirs Prohibition-Style Fervor: Health, Safety Cited by Both Sides in the Legalization Debate" by Amanda Pennely. The Portland Tribune, July 8, 2005.
- Vegetarians and vegans interested in fermented foods may wish to explore Sandor Katz' 2003 book Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods, co-authored with Fallon and available under FVRL call number 641.7 KATZ or from Powells.com.