There are few books that are more important to me than Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions.
The Qur’an, of course, is in a different category. I can’t put Sally Fallon above any other religious text either.
Among secular texts, though, Nourishing Traditions is head & shoulders above any other book I have ever read. This book has had a profound positive impact on my:
- Understanding of human history
- Abilities as a chef
And that’s just for starters.
Nourishing Traditions is primarily a cookbook. It is also a treatise on nutrition, dietary anthropology, human history, and agriculture, with a few other things mixed in.
For me, it was impossible to read this book and not change my life. Sure, when I first read it, the timing was right – I was searching for answers, I had few commitments, I was already thinking about my diet, and my health. I was 21, and had just noticed I wasn’t as strong as I used to be. Old age seemed to be coming fast.
At first, it was the right book at the right time. Since then, it has become one of the primary reference books of my household, one that I consult frequently on all kinds of subjects related to food.
At its core, Nourishing Traditions presents a new, exciting, positive vision of human potential. But this book is no Utopian fantasy. It is a practical instruction manual, a detailed, step-by-step guide for the average homemaker to provide healthy food for a family. Fallon backs up her work with an extensive bibliography, pages & pages of footnotes, and several appendices with different types of resources.
Fallon’s primary inspiration for Nourishing Traditions is the research of Weston A. Price, first published in his 1935 classic Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. Weston Price was – of all things – a dentist in Cleveland, Ohio. Upon his retirement in the early 1920’s, Price undertook a personal research project of monumental proportions. In that age, there were still many peoples in the world who lived as their ancestors had lived, whose lifestyles were relatively untouched by modern technological society. Over the course of an epic 10-year journey, Price visited dozens of these peoples, to study and observe two things about each:
- Their diet
- Their dental health
Price also made general observations about the overall health and lifestyle of each group.
Price discovered some awesome things:
- Despite never brushing their teeth, many traditional peoples had excellent dental health by any standards. In some cases, entire tribes had only a handful of cavities combined.
- The excellent dental health of these peoples was highly correlated with excellent overall health, high vitality into old age, and low rates of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and others.
- The specific diets of healthy peoples varied with geography. For example, Polynesian tribes ate lots of seafood, while villagers in the Swiss Alps ate lots of dairy. However, the nutritional factors present in their diets were consistent across cultures, environments, and continents.
Taken together, these three observations form the basis of Fallon’s vision:
- Many peoples of the past were very healthy by any standards, from youth into old age
- Across every continent and environment, healthy peoples incorporated specific nutritional factors into their diets
- By changing their diets to include these nutritional factors, modern people can consistently attain good health and avoid chronic disease
To me, this was a compelling vision – and even more so because Fallon’s model of a healthy traditional diet is based on foods that are both deeply satisfying and absolutely delicious. Before reading Nourishing Traditions, I often felt as if I was fighting my body. It required great will power for me to overcome my desires and cravings.
Now, I eat what I like best. The need for discipline is still there, but I can apply the energy of discipline to different areas of my life. Food is not a problem. I am stronger and healthier at 35 than I was at 21 – when I first received a copy Fallon’s book for my birthday.
Nourishing Traditions is a thoroughly practical text. It is a cookbook, after all, and it is organized as one.
For me, the introduction is one of the highlights. In 63 pages, Fallon lays out the principles of her approach to modern family nutrition. She backs up her assertions with 183 footnotes. This section may well transform the way you think about diet and nutrition – it certainly did for me. Some of the foods Fallon recommends would be considered unusual today – fermented cod liver oil, anyone? Others are more widely recognized and immediately palatable, such as pasture-raised meats, eggs, and dairy. In all cases, her logic is sound, and backed up by documented evidence of both modern science and dietary anthropology.
The next section covers some basic techniques of traditional food preparation, including fermentation of dairy and vegetables, making stocks and bone broths, sprouting nuts and seeds, making sourdough bread, and more.
The bulk of the text is recipes. These are organized according to basic dietary needs of a family: starter courses, main dishes, side dishes, lunch & quick meals, grains, beans, & breads, snacks & finger foods, desserts, beverages, baby foods, and “tonics & superfoods.” Each of these sections begins with a detailed introduction, in which Fallon discusses the role of these types of meals in a healthy diet.
Among the true gems of Nourishing Traditions are the sidebars. Each page of recipes is bracketed by sidebars containing quotes and statements from various researchers, anthropologists, culinary historians, literary figures, and others. In general, these passages relate to ingredients in the recipes on the page, and Fallon selects them to provide us with a deeper context and an enriched understanding of the role of these foods in our diet, lives, and culture. In my opinion, the book is worth it for these sidebars alone.
The book concludes with a half dozen appendices, which include sources for ingredients and equipment, reading list, resources for activists, and more.
Nourishing Traditions might not change your life, but I wouldn’t rule it out. At the very least, you’ll pick up some great recipes and learn a lot about your food.
You can pick up these books on Amazon:
The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby and Child Care has been an invaluable parenting resource for us. I highly recommend it as well.
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We recommend you get it from a local bookstore if you can, though!