Book Review: Nourishing Traditions


Hey, guys. Sorry it took me so long to post this entry! I haven’t had as much free time for writing as I would have liked, and I’ve also been a bit lazy about posting. I have a bunch of rough drafts ready for this blog, but they still need some editing. Thanks for sticking with me, and I hope you find this post interesting and informative! I’ll add a picture later.


I think I have found my nutritional Holy Grail in “Nourishing Traditions.” Thanks to the recommendation of a fellow blogger, I purchased the book, and it has since been a joy to read. It was written by Sally Fallon; she’s a chef, journalist, and the founding president of the Weston A. Price Foundation. She teamed up with Dr. Mary Enig, an expert in nutrition (and lipids in particular) to write the book.

“Nourishing Traditions” is, at its heart, a very in-depth cookbook. However, at its roots is a philosophy derived from the research of a very intrepid dentist named Weston A. Price. This dude, in the 1930s, took it upon himself to travel the world, analyzing the diets of isolated traditional societies. He was exploring the connection between diet and tooth decay, but he ended up making observations about general health, including incidence of chronic diseases, mental illness, and success rates in childbearing. Price found commonalities between the diets of these peoples, regardless of their geographical location, which included the high consumption of fats; meat and organ meats; full-fat dairy products; legumes; vegetables; fruits; seeds; whole grains; and various fermented products within these categories. He also noted their low incidence of chronic disease, tooth decay, and mental illness, and their high rate of successful childbearing. Price compared this data to what he observed to be happening in western diets at the time, and documented his findings in the book “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.”

Sally Fallon’s interpretation of Weston A. Price’s research resulted in “Nourishing Traditions,” which serves as a guide for the person who refutes the Standard American Diet; who is skeptical of advice from her aptly-titled “Diet Dictocrats;” and who appreciates the history and lore of traditional cooking.

“Nourishing Traditions” is well organized; there are informative ingredient and nutrient sections on fats, carbohydrates, enzymes, etc, and separate sections on how to prepare everything from appetizers, to entrees, to breads. The text is densely filled with valuable information; I’m just going to list the things I liked and disliked about the book:

First of all, this book validates my instinctual, historic refusal of low-fat food products for their fattier and less adulterated counterparts. I don’t think anyone’s ever seen me eat anything with the label “low-fat,” and now I feel even better about that decision. Fallon’s thesis is that you should eat food in as natural a state as possible, with all the fat that comes with it.

Fallon appreciates the synergistic approach of diet; she speaks often of the different vitamins increasing the viability of others when eaten in tandem. She also decries the process of fortification for this reason.

“Nourishing Traditions” is very thorough. It not only provides recipes, but also historical information about many of the dishes. Fallon makes sure to note the ways in which her food preparations increase the nutritional value of each ingredient or make them more easily digestible.

Time and Effort
One criticism I have is that many recipes require advanced preparation for one or more of their components. For people who are pressed for time or who don’t follow a set schedule each week, this might be difficult. And some ingredients aren’t affordable or easily accessible for everyone, especially some of the seafood and other animal products she recommends. Raw dairy and grass-fed, organic meats can be especially tricky. However, Fallon provides a generous appendix that includes resources for buying each specialty food she mentions, as well as tips for time management in the kitchen, and how to get multiple meals from one recipe. And many of her suggestions are cost-effective simply because they involve buying items in bulk (like dried beans) and storing them. Personally, I think learning to plan meals in advance is a valuable skill. Fallon also advocates preparing items in bulk and freezing portions for future meals. Even if you choose not to follow some of her more complex recipes, you can still get meal ideas and learn skills like fermenting, sprouting, and making broths, or adapt her recipes to suit your own needs.

Acknowledgement of Dietary Restrictions
“Nourishing Traditions” doesn’t claim to provide the perfect diet for everyone. There’s a whole section for people with allergies and intolerances, with advice for alternatives and substitutions. She talks about the Macro lifestyle, problems with candida, rules for food combination, and gluten intolerance. The beautiful thing about this book is that it’s not a diet. It’s a book of history, scientific analysis, and recipes. I think it’s a great resource for people who have tried other dietary lifestyles like Macro, Atkins, Paleo, etc, but haven’t had the best of luck. “Nourishing Traditions” isn’t preachy or self-righteous, but is well-researched and concise.

Vegetarianism and Veganism
How does this lifestyle work for vegetarians and vegans? Obviously the same instructions can be followed in terms of vegetables, grains, and legumes, but the dietary importance of animal fats is really emphasized in the cookbook. Fallon advocates eating a good quantity of high-quality meats and dairy products. So for vegans and vegetarians, the sections on fermenting vegetables and sprouting grains would be quite useful, and the sections on meat eating are still interesting from a historical standpoint.

One point that really came together for me is that the way animal products are raised is incredibly important in terms of their vitamin and micronutrient content. The components that go into animal feed become components of the flesh of that animal, and they are then passed on to us. It baffles me that we think that no direct and noticeable biological consequences will come from feeding animals an unnatural diet. So not only is grass-fed, organic, ethically raised meat better for the environment and the animal; it’s also better for our bodies.

Final Thoughts
I respect Sally Fallon for her thoroughness in examining the work of Weston A. Price, which must have held an overwhelming amount of information. (I’ll find out for certain soon, when I read it for myself!) “Nourishing Traditions” doesn’t prescribe one particular diet at all, but rather examines commonalities between the societies researched for Weston A. Price’s book and makes conclusions based on his results. I believe in her philosophy because it just makes sense, no matter your geographical location or ancestry. Eat foods in their most natural state. Sprout and ferment to make grains and legumes easier to digest. If you eat meat, eat the whole animal and don’t waste certain parts. Don’t ingest foods that have gone through long processes of refinement. Take time during the preparation of meals; take pleasure in creating and enjoying them. These are all reasonable rules. Even if you don’t plan to follow her recommendations, I’d still advise reading Fallon’s book purely for pleasure.

Also I cooked some bone marrow and I still don’t know how I feel about it. It smells very…meaty. It was good on toast. Chicken liver is next! I should probably start documenting my cooking experiments, huh?

Edit: Here’s a great link for vegans and vegetarians that talks about incorporating some of these principles!


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