A few months ago, someone sent me an article from the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) about soy and its hidden dark side. I had never heard of the foundation, but was perturbed–to say the least–to see that they seemed to demonize soy and hail the glories of meat and dairy products.
I felt like this foundation was attempting to write off everything I believed: that plant sources were generally healthy, that you could live a healthy life as a vegetarian, and that meat and dairy could lead to obesity, heart disease, and other health problems.
On the defense, I immediately started researching this foundation. Some of the claims about soy seemed ludicrous to me. Other claims were just plain peculiar.
What I found out about the WAPF was disturbing. It was upsetting to me that people look to this foundation as the final word on soy, and on health overall. It was disturbing that people put their faith–when it comes to diet and nutrition–in the hands of WAPF. I wouldn’t find it unbelievable for people to read articles on the WAPF website and feel intrigued by the claims they make, or even feel concerned about their diets. But I felt that people were using these articles to shape their entire diet. People were seeing this foundation as a health authority, using its articles and philosophies to not only build their diet foundations, but to tear down other people’s diets–like my own.
This was annoying. Aside from actually living a lifestyle that was contradictory to what the WAPF was preaching (and experiencing it as joyful, healthy, and overall one of the best decisions I’ve ever made), there is countless evidence out there supporting my diet. I have read numerous books and articles, seen news stories, and heard radio interviews that agree and support my beliefs. These were articles and interviews from sources I find generally credible — doctors, medical researchers, and people deemed “health experts” (which may not be the most official of titles, but it has to carry some weight right?).
So naturally, as someone who is proactive about their health and who can become defensive when others claim my diet is unhealthy, I wanted to find out who was behind WAPF. This is what I found:
The Weston A. Price Foundation is based on the research of Weston A. Price, a dentist and nutritionist who studied teeth and bone structure in indigenous peoples. He saw that people who stuck to eating their native foods had much healthier teeth–and seemed to be healthier overall–than people who started consuming more processed foods. He believed the health of one’s teeth reflected the health of one’s body and people should avoid eating processed foods.
I thought, “I can get on board with that.”
The Weston A. Price foundation was started to follow and implement Price’s studies. And some of the group’s values have merit. They support organic, local produce and denounce factory farming, genetically modified foods, and the sugar-laden, empty-caloried, typical American diet. Sounds good, right? But as I kept reading, I found other WAPF principles…well, a little less convincing.
They seem to believe we should re-examine the typical American diet, then add more cholesterol and saturated fat. Many physicians and health experts have weighed in on this theory, and others, of the Weston A. Price Foundation. John Robbins, author of The Food Revolution, says “as someone who has great respect for the work of Weston A. Price, I am sorry to say that to my eyes, the foundation that carries Price’s name today is unfortunately exaggerating what was unbalanced in his work, and abandoning much of what was good.”
Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of Eat to Live: The Revolutionary Plan for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss, says the WAPF’s claim that people with high cholesterol ‘live the longest,’ and high cholesterol ‘poses no greater risk for heart disease’ goes against “every respected scientific authority in the world and is utterly ridiculous in light of thousands of respectable studies.”
The WAPF also advocate feeding raw cow’s milk to infants, contradicting the U.S. Center for Disease Control, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
One of their other core beliefs is that vegetarian and vegan diets are detrimental to human health, when extensive research has shown otherwise. There are also living contradictions to these beliefs, like Joe Rollino, the world’s strongest man. Rollino, who just passed away in January at the age of 104, was a devout vegetarian. And even at age 104, Rollino didn’t die of heart disease or cancer–he was hit by a car. He was, pound for pound, hailed as the World’s Strongest Man, and once reportedly lifted 475 pounds–with his teeth! Weston A. Price, himself, would surely have been shocked at the dental strength of this meat-shunning phenomenon. Who knows how much longer Rollino could have lived, helping to disprove the Weston A. Price Foundation’s theory on vegetarianism.
The WAPF also shun soy and blame it for a host of health problems, including breast cancer. Meanwhile, respected medical authorites like the Mayo Clinic say soy can actually help to lower one’s risk of breast (and prostate) cancer. And the WAPF’s campaign against soy is further evidence they have strayed from their muse’s original findings, since Price never mentioned anything about soy, tofu, or soymilk in the original documentation of his findings. He does mention lentils and other legumes, but in a positive light. The WAPF has taken it upon themselves to criticize soy, calling it “more insidious than hemlock.”
WAPF denounce the benefits of soy estrogens (isoflavones). But the estrogens in soy, phytoestrogens (“phyto” meaning “plant”), have been found to keep our (animal) estrogen levels under control and, as stated in the Care2 article Milk: Does it Really Do a Body Good?, “the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism says that phytoestrogens can have health benefits related to cancer, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and menopausal symptoms.”
For more on the scary rumors about soy, and the health concerns of cow’s milk, you can read this Care2 article.
According to their website, the WAPF “has no ties with the meat or dairy industry, nor with any organization promoting these industries.” However, they list Green Pasture, Vital Choice, and U.S. Wellness Meats, (all peddlers of meat and dairy products) as sponsors of their 2009 conference. New Trends Publishing is also a sponsor, a company who happens to sell several books and DVDs by Sally Fallon Morell, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation. They even admit many of their members (a.k.a. sponsors) are farmers.
The Weston A. Price Foundation does have some meritable principles. They also have some very questionable theories. I think, generally, it is a good idea to consider opposing opinions, and to look into the credibility of those opinions and their sources. After looking into the WAPF, I’ll be sticking to my vegetarian diet, complete with tofu and tempeh dinners (against the WAPF’s beliefs). I’ll also make sure my diet is rich in whole, unprocessed foods (agreeing with the WAPF’s beliefs).
To summarize my own feelings on the foundation, and the credibility and faith that I have in their anti-vegetarian principles, I’ll refer back to John Robbins. He wrote this in response to “The Myths of Vegetarianism,” an article by Stephen Byrnes, one of the Weston A. Price Foundation’s Board of Directors:
“The article is harshly critical of vegetarian diets, and concludes with an About the Author section which states, ‘Stephen Byrnes… enjoys robust health on a diet that includes butter, cream, eggs, meat, whole milk, dairy products and offal.’ In fact, Stephen Byrnes suffered a fatal stroke in June, 2004. According to reports of his death, he had yet to reach his 40th birthday.”
You can read my article responding to the WAPF’s searing accusations about agave nectar over on our Healthy & Green Living Channel.