I’ve heard it said that people who cut the cord with a cult often feel a sense of embarrassment, or even shame. As in, How could I have been taken in by an organization so warped in certain of its views, and leadership that it overshadowed the good it did. I’m referring, of course, to my involvement for about seven years in the Weston A. Price Foundation. I never had a formal position, and I’ve been away from it for three years now, but I still find myself reliving my involvement, and wondering why I didn’t see the light for as long as it took.
I’ll never forget how I became introduced to WAPF, back around 2007—I read about how the organization was compaigning against the state of Illinois prison system for poisoning prisoners by serving them huge amounts of soy (as a way to save money). (Eventually, WAPF would help launch a suit against the state, which it lost. )
I thought that was pretty cool. I was convinced even at that time that much of the mass-market food being consumed was potentially dangerous, or at least not very nutritious, and WAPF looked like the proverbial white knight in that cause on behalf of Illinois prisoners.
The anti-soy campaign made me receptive to all the teachings put forth by Sally Fallon Morrel, the charismatic founder of WAPF. I went to WAPF national and regional conferences from 2008 to about 2013. Of course, the major rallying issue for WAPF was raw milk, and resisting the regulatory attacks on farmers producing and selling it across the country.
For me, the fight for raw milk was simply the exclamation point in my growing enchantment with the organization. And the enchantment became a two-way street when I received an award at the 2008 annual conference for “Integrity in Journalism”. Favorable recognition is a powerful tonic.
Then, in 2012, I teamed up with Sally at the famous Harvard Law School debate on raw milk….though even then there were signs of problems when we had difficulties with each other’s presentations in advance of the debate; I insisted on acknowledging safety issues with milk, which she wanted to ignore. We papered our differences over, as I made mention of the safety challenges, but a tension between us persisted beyond the debate. I didn’t quite appreciate it at the time, but one of the hallmarks of a cult is that the leader is flawless. You don’t disagree with the cult leader, as I had done.
Of course, everything blew up when I joined Kaayla Daniel and the late Ron Schmid in questioning Sally’s blind endorsement of so-called fermented cod liver oil. She lashed out at us as “The Three Amigos”, and it continued downhill from there. Things went even further downhill when her husband, Geoffrey Morell, was accused by several women of inappropriate behavior at WAPF national meetings; I’ve read that sexual abuse is a hallmark of cults).
But the cult reminders have continued, even since I wrote the recent post about the WAPF people who have died of brain and other cancers. I just came across a WAPF page that celebrates, via a photo montage (“Healthy Baby Photo Gallery”), a number of young families committed to the WAPF diet. What caught my eye in reading through the diet descriptions was not only the cause-and-effect assumptions (the perfect WAPF diet leads to the perfect WAPF children), but how fermented cod liver oil remains an important part of the WAPF diet regimen.
The Spencer family children pictured at the start of this post are described in the montage as follows: “The entire family eats a WAPF diet of raw milk, fermented cod liver oil, butter, grass-fed meats and bone broths.” So WAPF not only continues to encourage FCLO, but encourages it for children. No doubt any more we’re dealing with a cult.
As you can see from this description of cult traits in Psychology Today, one key is that leaders are flawless. Moreover, they aren’t subject to questioning or error.
There’s one other aspect of cults that doesn’t get attention in the Psychology Today article: Trust is essential for most health-related organizations; once you lose it over something like continuing to endorse and encourage use of a potentially toxic product, you never get it back among those followers who retain critical-thinking capabilities. WAPF is rumored to have lost up to half its membership as a result of the FCLO fiasco; those dropouts stop believing pretty much anything coming out of the cult.