It sure is a controversial idea. Eat how they used to eat back in the day before cholesterol became nutrition’s boogey man. Back before ethics was a player. Eat that lamb chop, and when you’re done eating it, sit back and gnaw on the bones for a spell. When you’re done polishing off that chicken drumstick, treat yourself to a bit of bone marrow. And don’t hold back on the organ meats. Approach dinner like a lion and go for the heart and sweetbreads first, leave the meat for the jackals.
I’m talking about Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook That Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats by Sally Fallon. The message of the book is that consumption of animal fats and cholesterol is crucial for optimum health. Flicking through Rosie’s copy I am reminded of my Mum (formerly a dietician) making mention of ‘good fats’ as I was growing up.
Be afraid: margarine, artificial sweeteners, salad oils
Fear not: Organic butter, eggs, meat, fats, sea salt
Fallon’s cookbook is based on the findings of Weston A Price. Weston Price was a dentist who became interested in nutrition. In 1939 he published a study Nutrition and Physical Degeneration where he put forward the idea that the modern Western diet of flour, sugar and processed animal fats, caused malnutrition and dental problems. In the late nineties Fallon co-founded The Weston A Price Foundation to spread the word. Nourishing Traditions spreads the word thick like organic butter; dobs it on top of modern cookbooks and watches it melt down the sides.
‘Wild animals eat the organs of their kill first, thus showing a wisdom superior to our own’
The ideas of Weston A Price are debatable. In 1981 an editorial by a doctor identified Price’s work as an example of the ‘’myth of the healthy savage.’ Nourishing Traditions cookbook has its fair share of detractors. I am one of them in places. When I read that you need to consume animal fats for the proper functioning of your brain my thoughts turn to one of the smartest people I know who has had a vegan diet for close to two decades. His brain seems to be doing just fine without eating any brains.
Fallon suggests that organic butter is a healthfood. This must rile health professionals who are dealing with myocardial infarction and subscribe to the idea that a diet high in saturated fats results in an increased risk of heart attack. Dr Fuhrman, (inventor of the word nutritarian but try not to hold that against him) doesn’t hold any punches when he writes, ‘Nourishing Traditions is full of bad science and illogical reasoning and its appeal is dependent on people’s ignorance about nutrition…Only fourteen of the references are from peer reviewed journals published in the last ten years, and for most of those fourteen, the authors misrepresented what was stated in the articles.’ Ouch. The Dietician’s Association of Australia has criticised Fallon, saying ‘She’s basing her ideas on observations of primitive populations in isolated areas who eat traditional diets, and its so far removed from Western civilisation…In a population that is sedentary there is no need to consume saturated fats,’ but a quick look at their website shows that one of their partners is Nestle! In Fallon’s defence the book is about more than eating fats. It is about eating organic. It is about avoiding processed foods (like … ah something made by Nestle), it is about eating meat in moderation and taking the time to cook.
My foray into this heated argument began with a pot of baked beans. When I heard that Rosie and Lynden, some permaculturists, were cooking a meal a week from the cookbook I insisted that they invite me over for dinner. The first time I went there expecting thymus gland and was disappointed when I saw beans. My disappointment turned to rapture upon tasting them. Rosie had slow cooked the beans for six hours and they were sweetened with apple cider vinegar, maple syrup and molasses. But they didn’t push the limits. I wanted meat. Obscure limit pushing meat. The words Nourishing Traditions had reminded of Adam gnawing on the bones of a lamb chop or peering into a pho of rooster’s balls. I wanted to push my own lapsed vegetarian but still anaemic boundaries. Last Friday I got my chance. Organic lamb’s kidneys with a hazelnut sauce. ‘Everything is from the book even the vegetables,’ Rosie announces as she puts the kidneys under the grill while Lynden and I go look at the moon and the seedlings out back.
As I bite into the kidney Prince’s song Controversy is playing on the stereo. The flavour is strong and the texture unnerving. While Rosie and I take tentative bites of the kidney Lynden smashes the back out of his and is licking the plate. In between mouthfuls I ask Rosie , ‘Why are you doing this?’, expecting an answer that references permaculture, primitve diets, locavores or food ethics. She grins and says, ‘For fun.’
I was vegetarian from about 15 to 25. I know from living with Lynden that he is a lapsed vegetarian also. I ask Rosie if she had a history of vegetarianism.
‘Yeah until about a year ago.’
‘Why did you start eating meat?’
‘I didn’t really have a reason for being vegie anymore. There was a lot of good meat around.’
By good meat I wonder if she means Lynden, the meat-eater she started dating around the same time of her departure from vegetarianism. But she says that she started eating meat before the love affair.
‘How did you find out about the cookbook Rosie?’
‘At an anarchist collective that I was living in in California. They often referred to it.’ As I eat my kidneys I remember eating them only once as a kid. I remember chewing up a mouthful and throwing them onto my sister Katie’s lap under the table to get out of eating them. But the taste is so familiar that I suspect my Mum of sneaking kidney into the pies of yesteryear. Fallon writes, ‘If you cannot get your family to eat organ meats when served as such, there are plenty of ways to add them to their food without their knowledge.’ . I begin to wonder: While Bondy and Hawke were sipping champagne and coasting on the America’s Cup victory was Mum hiding organ meats in my food?
‘Its amazing how filling meat is’, Rosie says pushing away the plate.
Over the next ten weeks I am going to investigate claims that Nourishing Traditions makes. I will be conducting the majority of my research through my gastro intestinal tract. I might also read some eco-primitivists, vegans and Calvin W Schwabe’s book Unmentionable Cuisines. I am about a quarter of the way into the book Slow Food Revolution: A New Culture for Eating and Living which is having a major impact and I have been cooking from Prince Wen Hui’s Cook: Chinese Diet Therapy. I would love to know other people’s opinions on Nourishing Traditions, please comment and Mum, please feel free to admit to sneaking organ meats into my bolognaise.
When I started talking to my Swiss friend Corinne about this project her brain sizzled like a plate of Geschnetzeltes, ‘Brain is something I don’t really like. I’ll eat it if I have to. My favourite is smoked beef tongue in a madeira sauce. Oh I’ll cook that for you. Except when I first cooked it I didn’t think I could do it. You cook it for three hours and then you gotta peel the tongue. I thought oh. But I can gut a fish so I did it…The tail of the pig and,’ Corinne reaches over and runs her fingers behind my ear, ‘…behind the ear is the best part. I really do not like kidney. The taste is too strong. I eat chicken feet. I’ve eaten the nose of pig and the feet. You know. The trotters. I don’t know if I would eat the testicles. I don’t think I could do intestines. Don’t South Americans eat intestines? Look my philosophy is I’ll always try it once.’
‘Not sure about maggots. I love tripe…’
As Corinne talks about her tendency to overeat blood sausage I look at her and realise she is one of the most robust people I know and I wonder if I too will look like an extra from The Sound Of Music after a few weeks of liver, heart, kidney, sweetbreads, brain and tongue. Maybe. Or maybe I’ll drop dead from a heart attack.