Saturday, February 2, 2013

Book Review: Nourishing Traditions

Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats
By Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig, Ph.D

You may have noticed that many of the recipes on this blog that I label "Healthy" don't exactly fit the typical low-fat, low-cholesterol mold. This book is why.

It all started when I joined a now-defunct yahoo group called New Harvest Homestead, all about, well, what this blog is about - raising food for your family on your own "homestead" - be that a few acres in the country, a city lot, or an apartment with a membership to a CSA or community garden. I found that many of the women in the group kept referring to Nourishing Traditions. Intrigued, I went to my library's website to place a hold and found I would be in place 130 waiting for 3 copies! Not sure of what other option I might have (I'm too cheap thrifty to buy a book before I read it and know it's worth it) I placed the hold and went on with life.

That summer, my brother-in-law and his family lived with us while they looked for a house in the area. As fall approached and they prepared to move into their new house, I was helping my sister-in-law pack when I found, to my astonishment, that she had a copy of Nourishing Traditions. Here it had been, sitting on a shelf in my very own house for three months, while I waited impatiently for the library copy to become available!

Of course I asked if I could borrow it, and she readily agreed, and so I sat down and started reading the first chance I had. I was hooked (I never did give her book back - when I'd finally read it through, I figured it would be easier to buy her a new copy so I wouldn't have to move all of my bookmarks!)

Although technically a cookbook, this book is more a treatise on how healthy people the world over have eaten since the dawn of time, how we've abandoned their healthy eating habits in the last few hundred years, and the dramatic decline in our health because of it. It's incredibly dense with research - the recipes don't start until page 82, and even these are heavily sidebarred with scientific studies, quotes, and other relevant information. It took me a year to get through it cover to cover, and I'm an avid reader!

The book is based on the research of Weston A. Price, a dentist who travelled the world in the 1930s seeking out isolated groups of people who still ate the way their ancestors had eaten for thousands of years, and specifically looking at how their diet influenced their teeth and dental structure. He published his findings in the book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, which became a seminal work in the Traditional Foods movement. He found that not only were the people who ate their ancestral diets more healthy, with fewer cavities and degenerative diseases, but that when people began to eat more "modern" foods (most specifically white flour and refined sugars) that their health declined dramatically.

Nourishing Traditions, then, is based on Price's research, but also draws heavily from research done in the many decades since then. Time and again, science points to the fact that a healthy body is fed by foods rich in nutrients, and that "empty calories" not only don't satisfy our hunger, they actively harm our long-term health.

But it's not just another "fad" diet - in fact, it's the anti-fad diet. There aren't any new, expensive products to buy to pad the author's pocket; instead the book calls for a return to the healthy, nourishing foods our ancestors ate - grass-fed meats, fermented foods (think sourdough bread, sauerkraut and yogurt), soups based on rich bone broth, and as-fresh-from-the-farm-as-you-can-get-it clean dairy products.

For me, it just made a lot of sense. If you want to know how to be healthy, look to people who are healthy, and who have maintained that level of health for generations. Then figure out how you can do likewise - for your own sake, and your children's. It can be a big change - for the most part, it means cooking from scratch - it's hard to find restaurants who use traditional foods rather than pre-packaged ingredients, and those that do are often out of a normal family's price range. But the way I see it, time and money invested on nourishing your body will pay off both now and in the future - if you could avoid many of the degenerative illnesses of our time and remain healthy and productive throughout your life, wouldn't that be worth it?

I've been slowly implementing more and more of this philosophy into our diets over the last 5 years (it's definitely not something you can do all at once!), and I can already see improvement in my own health, as well as in my husband and children. One baby step at a time, we're eating better every day, and getting healthier every day.

And it all started when I read this book.

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