The book that says "your body needs old-fashioned animal fats," is a successful challenge to politically correct nutrition and a reason to recall the culinary customs of our ancestors -- includes recipes.
"I have to recommend . . . Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. The first chapter of her book is so right on target that I feel a little guilty for taking her ideas." — Robert C. Atkins, MD--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
My first impression of the book is that it shows exactly how hard nutritional science actually is. The authors are citing hundreds of technical works from both demographic and controlled experiment studies regarding thousands of different food components in their way to painting a complete picture of good nutrition. Their starting point in painting this picture is the common sense assumption that historical, natural diets are invariably more healthy than those laden with commercially processed foods. This assumption is backed up by demographic research done in the first third of the last century. This is the import of the 'traditions' in the title.
It turns out that the potential allies of the authors' approach come from such different quarters as the Atkins diet advocates who endorse eating meat, eggs, and other proteins in preference to (processed) carbohydrates and the 'Raw Food' wing of the vegetarian / vegan movement. The latter camp would wholeheartedly endorse the authors' issues with eating foods that retain their original enzymes to aid in digestion. I'm sure the vegans and the Atkins camp will not join forces any time soon, but their appearance in the same metaphorical room on the side of the authors' position is another indication of how multi-sided complex scientific theories can become.
I have no facts to confirm or challenge the authors' claim of corruption on the part of some academics in endorsing a nutritional position to back commercial interests. I will only say that it is irrelevant to the central tenant of the book, which in very simple terms is 'Eat the way your great grandparents ate'. Some of the more important details are:
1. Avoid processed fats, starches, sugars, and proteins. They are not of no value. They are unhealthy.
2. Eat animal protein and their accompanying fats.
3. Eat whole grain products.
4. Eat foods prepared in such a way that avoids loosing important nutrients.
Almost all of the authors' statements on individual nutritional facts are backed up by published scientific research. One or two or even ten percent of their references may be flawed, but the overall weight of their evidence is truly impressive. The only problem I find in their characterization of the way things are today is in not giving full credit to medical science in lengthening our lifespans through the suppression of infectious diseases. This is likely to be the reason behind the increase in the frequency of deaths by degenerative diseases like cancer and heart disease, not a catastrophic loss of nutritional value in our diets. That is not to say their claims about the drop in the quality of our diet are not true. Always remember that these gals are making a case, they are not simply publishing scientific results.
While I think the authors have a strong case against processed foods, I find it difficult to fully endorse their next step. Their solution takes us close to the land of food extremists such as both traditional vegetarians and the more radical proponents of 'raw' diets. What this means is that they raise up foods which are hard to find or difficult to prepare or are prepared in ways unfamiliar to American kitchens. This may not necessarily be a bad thing. It tends to appeal to my 'Whole Earth Catalog' mentality of the home-brew lifestyle. But this lifestyle is simply not practical for the millions who work long, stressful hours followed by time devoted to kids and spouses.
My skepticism regarding their solutions is reinforced by some culinary misstatements such as the suggestion to refrigerate tomatoes after they ripen, to not add garlic to hot fat, and that artisinal breads are not good for sandwiches. The second and third statements are refuted daily by traditional Italian cooking practice. Their condemnation of all aluminum cookware and the microwave also seem more extreme than they need be.
What I take from this work is the very cautious and undramatic conclusion that the safest (and most interesting) culinary path lies in the study and emulation of historical diets. This gives a strong theoretical underpinning to my admiration of educators such as Mario Batali and Paula Wolfert who examine and promote historical cuisines based on the 'what grows together, goes together'. This could easily be a subtitle of this book. It also gives support to practitioners such as Rachael Ray who promote fast cooking without resorting to overly processed ingredients.
I love a book that pulls together and validates a wide range of (my) opinions. While this book may not always be right, it is supremely valuable in its provocation to thinking. It is also supremely valuable in it's demonstrating the value of some less common foods such as sauerkraut, crème fraiche, and kim chee. This value doubles in that it actually tells you how to make this stuff. Lest it be overlooked, it is important to note that the lions share of the book is a fairly large cookbook of recipes with methods and materials that follow the book's doctrines.
At a list price of $25, the catalogue of vegetables chapter alone is almost worth the price of admission. I'm happy that here, the authors part company with both the advocates of 'raw' and the old Adele Davis doctrine of saving veggie cooking water. They reinforce again the conventional wisdom of old school culinary practice which rarely leaves veggies raw. Some raw vegetables contain some bad things and cooking almost always makes the good things more available to digestion.
I recommend this book to everyone as the very next book you need to buy about food.
Anyway, as far as the time involved, mostly you have to plan ahead. Soaking your grains does not require extra work so much as extra time. It demands a new way of life, which for me has been more of a gradual process of adding one new thing at a time instead of becoming overwhelmed with trying to change everything at once. Add what works for you and live a better life even if it's not perfect. I can't tell you how much better real food tastes and how much better you feel when you cut out processes and refined foods. this is "health" food that pleases the pickiest of eaters and never looks scary!
This book offers a method, a return, so to speak, to a time when food was consumed in its purest state. Ironically, that's a difficult thing to do; only through specialty stores and suppliers can we get naturally raised food. Someone once said: "If God made it, then it's good; if man made it, beware." Most of the food - as cheaply and quickly made as possible - offered in supermarkets is nutritionally worthless, being as it is, refined, processed, laden with questionable chemicals and riddled with substances that have no place in our bodies. The sobering fact remains: most food conglomerates simply don't care about consumers' health.
Sally Fallon, along with Mary G. Enig, have done an astonishing, thorough and painstaking job in spelling out all that one needs to know regarding all manner of information about food. The writing is clear, easy to understand, and concise. The passion and near-missionary fervor with which they have pursued their topic is inspiring and infectious. The breadth of their research and work cannot be overestimated. The scope, level of information, exposés and hardcore truths these women offer is mesmerizing: one is fixated by what they know and the surprising, irrefutable facts that are detailed (by the way, the sidebars in the recipe sections of anecdotes, information and lore are fascinating). Fallon and Enig take on some of the most powerful and ruthless institutions in existence, and effectively challenge claims and biased studies. They even sniff out evidence of lies and corruption. It may in fact be the singular most important body of work on food contained in a single volume. In particular, one needs to pay attention to the information regarding the matter of fats. Enig, a PhD in lipid chemistry, plainly details how fats in today's food supply has wrought health havoc, what to avoid (polyunsaturates and hydrogenated fats are a menace), what is good, and how to go about using them correctly.
Many reviewers in this forum have complained of how complicated it is to take the time to properly prepare many of the foods and recipes Fallon offers. That may be so, but the time invested is worth it. As we as consumers are made more aware of how things must be done, it may be that we simply have no choice ~~ if we are to achieve the best of health ~~ to make the proper preparation of food a top priority once again. Some of the suggestions regarding raw foods is controversial, and not everyone will be convinced, but they make a strong case, nevertheless.
Some of the advice, as well is a bit too severe: Fallon encourages the total elimination of all caffeines, and that includes teas and coffees. No proof has been made that tea and coffee are harmful (unless of course, like anything, it is consumed in excess). Sometimes the book makes absolutely no allowances for an alternate method; some of the advice is eye-opening (like not cooking garlic in oil; sure it will burn if fried in high heat, but it can be sauteed gently. And, everyone KNOWS that refrigeration spoils the taste of tomatoes) In addition, not everyone will welcome the urging of a total abdication from anything even remotely bad for you - why not a white flour, white sugar cake once, twice a year? Despite this, it WAS necessary for Fallon and Enig to overcompensate in the manner they did, for this kind of information is sorely needed; one simply should read it thoroughly, then make their own choices to suit individual needs.
This book will not please vegans and vegetarians, who will be doing a virtual "foul" howl at the convincing scientific argument that we need animal fats and animal based foods. I will never consider vegetarianism after reading this book. Fallon makes a most eloquent plea for the bounty of animals we have been offered.
It is so easy to get carried away by the nutritional information, that it may be easy to overlook the marvelous, inventive and tantalizing recipes. Again, the scope, selection and research on these recipes is amazing...they are numerous, varied, and appetizing. Nearly every cultural cuisine is covered in some small or large part, and are clearly detailed. Most of all, if one relishes culinary challenges, there are some intriguing one as such offered here.
This marvelous volome may be the most valuable nutritional guide one should own. Most of all, it may be the most comprehensive, ground-breaking cookbook ever written ~~ as well as the most nutritionally crucial.