A cry for help, or
When Katy Met Sally

November 8, 2009 · 14 comments

Oh, Sally Fallon. You smirk at me from the photo on the back of your book. Your look says, “See? I can soak every nut, grain and seed; ferment every vegetable; and never let the poison of processed food enter my mouth. All while keeping my hair coifed and my shirt puffy.”

Readers. If you have not yet purchased or read (or even heard of) a cookbook called Nourishing Traditions, then let me fill you in: Sally Fallon wrote this educated and resourceful tome as a cookbook that follows the teachings and ideas promoted by the Weston-Price Foundation (an organization founded to further the ideas and eating philosophy documented by one Dr. Weston Price, a nutritionist and dentist in the 1930’s “whose studies of isolated non-industrialized peoples established the parameters of human health and determined the optimum characteristics of human diets”* [translation: he studied tribal peoples, and saw that while they might easily die from a run-in with a wild boar, they had Hollywood-worthy teeth and almost no degenerative disease, i.e., everything that kills us today]). Anyway, he took a lot of notes and wrote a book about it.

And the thing is, I totally buy it. I think the guy was onto something — and moreover, I think Sally Fallon is a very intelligent woman who understands the science behind it all. The diet (I hate to call it that — it’s more a lifestyle of eating) is all about “nourishing” foods in the truest (now long-lost) definition of the word. What foods actually nourish our bodies, and what ways can we prepare them to make the most of what they offer? How do our modern-day food preparations and processing prevent our bodies from absorbing necessary nutrients, and how does this cause the very diseases that modern-day science says we should be working through our diets to avoid? It is important to note that this philosophy is not for the ethical vegetarian or the dietary faint-of-heart; they have you eating organ meats (I’m not quite there), lots of thick, raw cream, and foods left out on the counter for longer than you think they should and still be edible.

So what attracted me to this? Well, I have a friend who showed me the cookbook a few years ago, so I was a little familiar with it. Then — remember the raw milk hunt? While looking for local sources (no, I didn’t end up with the Bearded Milk Man, but that’s a story for another day — and honestly, I’m now truly worried about revealing too much information on this, especially after my friend Gretchen alerted me to the Athens Locally Grown Raw Milk Debaucle) I ended up doing a lot of reading about the benefits of raw milk. Most of these articles were linked in some way to the WPF. The more I read, the more I became that girl I talk about in this post — the one who is so easily swayed into trying a new diet? — and once I start on that rollercoaster, it becomes all downhill, very fast.

So fast, that one day soon after, my easy-going, always-along-for-the-culinary-ride husband comes home to a kitchen full of jars, bowls, and pots; all full of this or that item soaking or lacto-fermenting. It was like he was transported back in time to the house of an early-19th century Welsh family who was preparing for winter without the use of a refrigerator. Except that we do. Have a refrigerator. Over the next few days, his kitchen routine involved lifting a plate or lid off of a random bowl of gunk-infused liquid, and he would just ask, with reservation, “And what’s this?” To which I would respond, with mild irritation, “It’s my oatmeal. You don’t have to eat it. But I’m going to digest my breakfast better than you will digest yours. So there.”

And, really, I think I have a handle on this. I can eat this way. Not only that, but I can also feed my children this way (Tim politely declined, and withdrew from my pickled adventure the morning I tried to force our family to switch to a pancake recipe that had, of course, soaked all night in a vinegar-infused liquid. I went too far, and should’ve known it, since pancakes have always been his baby). But one fateful evening, I found myself in my kitchen, looking at a flurry of failures. I had, on an otherwise regular weekday, attempted to:

  • Bake bread. Normally a very routine task; but this bread flour had been soaking for 24 hours in acidified liquid, making it slightly more difficult to work with.
  • Bake and begin fermenting sweet potatoes for use as baby food. Don’t ask.
  • Cook a large batch of soaked oats, for use as breakfast for myself and baby (since no one else in the family will eat it).
  • Make homemade yogurt from raw milk.
  • Make homemade dairy-free yogurt from a homemade coconut tonic. Again, best not to ask.
  • Cook dinner.
  • Feed 3 children 3 meals.
  • Wash diapers.
  • Wash dishes.
  • Keep myself fed, and my teeth brushed at least once. No, wait: that didn’t actually happen.

That night, after the kids were put in bed (thankfully with full bellies, I did manage to feed them), I sat looking at two disastrous loaves of bread that my sweet husband swore he would still eat (I had put them in a warm oven to proof on a cold day, but forgot about them, so they over-rose, and then collapsed in the pan), a quart jar of non-dairy coconut tonic that was not resembling a cultured yogurt in any way (I had used an expired starter), and a filthy kitchen. I was completely exhausted, and realized with defeat that not only did I not have the energy to clean up the mess I’d created, but I also had not enjoyed my children or my life at all that day.

So there I sat at my kitchen table, pondering these things, flipping aimlessly through the book that started it all — perhaps I was looking for the chapter where Sally tells me where I’ve gone wrong. I landed on a page about mushrooms. The first sentence claimed:

Mushrooms must be very fresh or they are not worth cooking.**

And the lightbulb went off. I was, in that moment, set free from the binds of Nourishing Traditions. Sally: I refuse to believe that the good folk of cultures past threw out mushrooms that looked a little less than perfectly fresh. I tend to think that, when they got their hands on some, if they had traveled a few days and got a little bruised in the pocket of the guy who picked them, they ate them anyway. Sally, I have prided myself on finding things to do with less-than-very-fresh mushrooms. I like using them, because that means they won’t be wasted; and while I agree that past-their-prime mushrooms might not make the best salad, they still make a mean pot of creamed soup.

The moral of the story is: I just can’t keep up with it. I suppose it would be nice to be a woman who was able to make all of our food the most nourishing and digestible that it could possibly be; but if that means I must resolve myself to utter exhaustion and irritability at the end of the day, if it means I miss out on leaf-raking with my 3-year old (not a very efficient task, by the way) because I’m too focused on the livelihood of my sourdough starter (not that there’s anything wrong with that), if it means I must throw out food because it doesn’t look like it came straight that day from the soil of its making, then I give up. I throw in the the towel. I succumb to a life of nourishing mediocrity.

Ok, no, I don’t. I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater; plus, deep down, I’m too competitive to give in. I’m just looking for the middle ground — which, in some ways, is what we all have to do on a daily basis. I know that Krispy Kreme doughnuts aren’t good for you; I don’t eat them daily, but once in a blue moon, a Hot Now! treat is completely and utterly enjoyable. In the same way, if soaking my flour before I make bread makes the wheat less toxic and more digestible, then I’ll do it when I can; otherwise, it’ll be the homemade bread I’ve been making for years, which has served us well. If my husband wants to make his pancakes his own tried-and-true way, then who am I to turn down a made-from-scratch breakfast from the father of my children?

Really — when it comes down to it — I just want Sally to tell me I can use the mushrooms in soup. And assure me, along with every other mom out there who is trying to feed her family the best she can, that cooking the way she cooks is not easy, and while it’s better for you, there are days in this modern world where you just have to let the wheat go un-soaked, the yogurt be store-bought, and sit down to enjoy a coffeeshop latte made with ultra-pasteurized milk.

And maybe, just maybe, let the hair go uncombed.


Note: Author excluded, there are lots of women who manage to pull off the Sally Fallon way of kitchen life. If you are interested (like I still am, even amidst my bitterness at failure), there are wonderful resources at this site and this site. These girls make it look easy, and have tons of recipes and suggestions.

*Quote from the Weston-Price Foundation website.

**Fallon, Sally. Nourishing Traditions, p. 389

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Rebecca Martin November 9, 2009 at 10:40 am

Great post.

sarah partain November 9, 2009 at 2:10 pm

Kudos to you Katy for the fight for good food, but also for the realization that sometimes, you have to choose your battles–you have to prioritize, and that everything (and everyone) will still be ok!
Hope you all are feeling better, too!!

Wardeh @ GNOWFGLINS November 11, 2009 at 7:14 pm

Katy, now that I am finding the time to read your excellent post, I find myself glued to the screen and reading it over and over again! I love how you described everything and how real you are in it. I just want to hug you and tell you I’ve been there (and still am). None of us can do it all – but the important thing is that we try and we do everything in Love. Love is eating your husband’s pancakes. Love is leaf-raking with your 3-year old. Love is slowly over time, working on introducing nourishing foods into your diet (aka lifestyle). And you’re doing that. And doing it well!

PS I’m bookmarking your cream of mushroom soup. :) I have some old mushrooms in the fridge right now.

Jen November 11, 2009 at 7:50 pm

I. Am. Speechless. I’m hiding out in our bedroom with my laptop, notebook and NT cookbook trying to get up the energy to go through it for the 40th time and make my meal list for next week…but instead am checking your blog as a means to avoid the amount of work ahead of me in NT. I cannot believe this is your post!! I have bowls and jars and pans all over the place with lacto fermenting this and that…and am feeling a bit overwhelmed, will I ever succeed at this? Kimchi anyone? Sans the organ meats, I am determined to…And after your post, I’m encouraged that others out there are neck deep in this stuff and still pressing on. Oh my, thanks for this!!

katy November 11, 2009 at 8:40 pm

Sarah, thanks for the virtual back-pat ; )

Wardeh and Jen, I’m glad to know I’m not alone — thanks for the encouragement and commiseration! We should start a support group…

Sarah-Jane November 12, 2009 at 11:51 am

What a quitter. You are going to look so bad next to me.

Kim December 2, 2009 at 4:42 pm

Ok, I just found your blog and I’m reading this post laughing so hard because I could have written it WORD-FOR-WORD. Seriously, I felt like such a good, healthy cook until I “met” Sally. Grrrrrr. We really should have a support group. I’d join :)

katy December 2, 2009 at 5:28 pm

I’m in. Who wants to start a support-group blog for those of us trying to learn how to cook this way?

But now that I think about it, who of us would have the time? Isn’t that the point?

Ann Quinn December 6, 2009 at 5:35 pm

This is fabulous. I’m going to e-mail it to my husband, because we’ve been through this. I feel somewhat on the other side of it, having found what works for us–for instance, he can detect a trace of liver in anything and will eat it but with a bad face, while I, who never ate liver before, now enjoy cooking up the liver from our pastured chickens, and sharing with my daughter. We are eating very well, but no, no raw meat. My fermenting is limited to sauerkraut. My soaking is limited to oatmeal (lemon juice is the most innocuous acid for this). Sally does say on p. 63, “The challenge to every individual is to determine the diet that is right for him and to implement that diet in a way that does not divorce him from the company of fellow human beings at mealtimes. . .it is the loving heart who will find. . .guidelines for providing an abundance of all the nutrients we need to live healthy, happy and productive lives.” Thank you so much for your post!

katy December 6, 2009 at 7:23 pm

Thanks for your comment, Ann. I’ve admittedly never read through, page-by-page, the entire copy of NT. So I’ve not stumbled upon that quote, and yes — it is a heartening one. I’m glad that she made a point of saying that we should “not divorce ourselves from the company of fellow human beings at mealtimes,” since I fear that the opposite of this end is so easily where it could go.

Good to know you found a balance for your family. We’re still working on it here, but I’m definitely more comfortable with some aspects, and some I’ve totally foregone for now.

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