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Eating healthy on the road can be tricky for Sally Fallon. But if the founder of the Washington nutrition nonprofit group Weston A. Price Foundation ever gets desperate, she can always hit a gas station for a bag of pork cracklings: "It's often the only real thing to eat," she says. Fallon's definition of "real" is vastly different from what many Americans who consider themselves health-conscious might describe. She advocates butter on bread "so thick you can see teeth marks in it," plenty of meat and unpasteurized, or raw, milk.
Those are foods recommended by Price, a Cleveland dentist who traveled the world studying primitive diets. His 1939 book, "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration," concluded that a diet high in the vitamins found in animal fats and untouched by "modern" innovations such as refined flour, sugar and chemically preserved foods was the key to preventing chronic disease and tooth decay.
Such ideas have been considered heretical by modern American public health policy that promotes a low-fat, low-sodium diet. But increasing interest in sustainable, local foods, combined with industrial health scares such as the recent salmonella outbreak, has put the spotlight on the foundation's unorthodox ideas about healthful eating. Its membership is nearly 10,500 strong, and growing at a 10 percent clip each year. There are more than 350 U.S. chapters, plus international groups from Australia to Norway.
For years, these ideas were "as fringe as you could get, as politically incorrect as you could get," says Fallon, 60. "All of a sudden, people are listening."
That new audience is surprisingly broad. Some adherents are interested exclusively in nutrition. But more and more, the concept of returning to traditional foodways is pulling people in. New members include the expected "back to the land" types, for whom the foundation's message provides yet another reason to support small organic farms, and those who oppose the government's attempt to limit the availability of foods such as raw milk.
"This idea of real food crosses all demographics: red states, blue states, seculars, environmentalists, men, women and children," says Nina Planck, a Weston A. Price member and the author of "Real Food: What to Eat and Why." "What's gone wrong with farm policy is something conservatives and liberals can all agree on."