About five years ago, when I heard an Amish farmer describe how a relative had been “shunned” by the community, I realized it was the first time I had even heard the term since I was a kid in religious school, learning Biblical stories.
As I came to know a number of Amish and former Amish, I came to hear about shunning more regularly. I heard about it from Vernon Hershberger, the Wisconsin raw dairy farmer, who was shunned for a time by the Ohio Amish community where he was raised, for deciding to pursue a more secular life; he subsequently made amends with his family, and his father testified eloquently on Vernon’s behalf at his 2013 criminal trial. While covering the trial and its aftermath, I met several members of Vernon’s church who had similarly made decisions to break with the Amish community, and had similarly been shunned.
The common thread in all their stories was about the terrible hurt and personal upheaval experienced by the shunned parties. There’s no way of getting around the pain of being shunned by the tribe where you grew up and to which you devoted so much of your life—of having family members refuse to be with you, of not being able to participate in major life events like weddings, of being seated apart at funerals of loved ones.
I can’t help but think about this ancient tribal and religious ritual as I watch Sally Fallon Morell attempt to deal with dissension in her tribe, the Weston A. Price Foundation. First to be shunned was Ron Schmid, for publishing the story about his near death from heart disease, which he thought most likely was brought on by fermented cod liver oil. Next was Kaayla Daniel, for her report. I was next, with Fallon Morell ordering other members of the WAPF tribe to refrain from linking to my blog, under penalty of shunning.
Now, I learn that Fallon Morell has followed through on her threat to legally shun those who link to my blog, by ordering out of the tribe the Santa Cruz, CA, chapter of WAPF. The shunning comes in the form of a legalistic letter about violation of a trademark agreement. “The (Santa Cruz) Chapter’s Facebook page has published and/or republished materials critical of WAPF, its goods and services, and the goods and services of WAPF’s partners, including false and defamatory materials published by Mr. David Gumpert and Ms. Kaayla Daniel….Despite several warnings, including WAPF’s September 18, 2015 notice regarding use of the mark in connection with the dissemination of Mr. Gumpert’s and Ms. Daniel’s false and defamatory materials, the Chapter’s Facebook page continues to feature these materials. Accordingly, pursuant to Sections 10 and 11 of the Agreement, we write to inform you that the Agreement has been terminated. You must immediately cease all of the Marks and you may not in any way indicate that the Chapter is or has been affiliated with WAPF. For example, you must immediately delete the Facebook profile page entitled ‘Weston A Price Foundation Santa Cruz Chapter,’ and cease all use of the WAPF name and logo.”
This is shunning, in the best, or worst, sense of the term.
The Santa Cruz chapter is one of WAPF’s oldest chapters, having started back in 2000. Jean Harrah says she took over leadership in 2007 or 2008, and until 2013, chapter communication was mostly via a list serve. In 2013, she says, nutritionist Michael McEvoy became involved, and energized the chapter.
Here is how he describes the chapter’s re-vitalization, and the hurt associated with the excommunication received yesterday: “Since November of 2013, Jean and I have held monthly WAPF potlucks at a local grange here in Santa Cruz.
“As of this past Tuesday, we have hosted 24 consecutive WAPF community potlucks. We have exposed hundreds, maybe thousands of people to the WAPF, and to Dr. Price’s work in general.
“We have made this happen despite our busy, personal lives. Jean travels 90 minutes every month to make this happen. I have sacrificed my time as a nutritionist and business owner in order to be a part of the community we have built.
“We are able to rent the local grange every month, exclusively by donations from people who attend. There are several months where we actually give our own money, in order to break even on rent.
“The potluck attendees, both returning as well as first timers, spend a considerable amount of time preparing the high quality food to share with the group, as well as sacrificing their own time to be there.
“In order to help pay rent, we have sold both of Sally’s books, as well as sold WAPF current and back issues, and other WAPF literature. We don’t have any financial incentives or motives. Any incoming finances that exceed that month’s rent, are used for back-up for the next month, if we fall short.
“Sally’s recent actions and behavior seem dichotomous to building a free and open community. I feel that one of the great attributes of WAPF chapters, is the sense of community, the feeling of charity, the feeling of open exchange of dialogue and ideas, without borders, and without reservations or bigotry.
“With the recent series of events, I feel like the WAPF is moving away from its roots of community-orientation. Through Sally’s actions, language and behavior, I have lost a sense of interest and connection to the organization, and I suspect others have as well.
“In my opinion, it appears that Sally’s behavior is self-serving, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the greater good of the community chapters who represent the WAPF. I find this deeply concerning, primarily because the WAPF has done an amazing amount of good in our world, and self-serving actions by its leaders will jeopardize the reputation of all of the WAPF chapters.
“Charitable community events, such as our potlucks, are selfless. We don’t host them for self-serving interests. I do them (and I hope I can speak for Jean as well) to freely offer my time to the greater community, so that there is more consciousness and awareness about nourishing foods, and healthy living. My hope is that the WAPF will be more sensitive to how its actions reflect negatively on its chapters.
“I am disappointed that Sally felt it necessary to remove the Santa Cruz chapter. By doing so, she has potentially dismantled a community that not only promoted her organization, but also promoted the importance of whole food nutrition, shared in monthly meals, and in selfless community gathering. I don’t suspect she has considered these factors when making her decision.”
I’d like to acknowledge at this point a comment Laurie made following my previous post, questioning my motives and those of others critical of WAPF. “This insistence on keeping the complaining front and center suggests that the real imperative here is to attempt to destroy WAPF so that you don’t have to keep working so hard to build an equivalent organization in its stead. Your problem is that WAPF has a long history of integrity so now you continue the strategy of divide and conquer by re-hashing what you have already stated and with which arguments you did not prevail.
“Now you are resorting to ad hominen attacks and character assassinations which reads like poor sports at best, and as a sneak attack by divide and conquer, Codex Alimentarius sponsors at worst.
“WAPF had a right to remove a board member who, in their collective judgement, did not have the best interests of the WAPF at heart.”
I agree that Sally Fallon Morell has the right to run the organization the way she wants, and if she wants to shun those who disagree with her, that is her right as the queen of the tribe. I can see where some might think that my purpose here is to somehow tear down and destroy WAPF.
That is not my intent, though. I’ve been a big WAPF supporter because of its backing of small farms, local food, and a shift in dietary and nutritional priorities. I don’t belong to many food-related organizations, but I have been a long-time member of WAPF, and I’ve attended a number of its conferences, as well as spoken at some. I’ve had no desire to form another organization—starting nonprofit or advocacy organizations isn’t something I’ve ever done, or aspired to.
I’ve been writing about this current controversy because of my concern about the safety of Green Pasture fermented cod liver oil and WAPF’s ongoing endorsement of it, and as part of my long-term chronicling of food rights activities. WAPF has been a major player in that struggle, and its actions on Green Pasture and fermented cod liver oil relate to that struggle, albeit in a negative way.
I really wanted the previous post I did about WAPF’s “shame” to be my last on this subject. But then I learned about this latest episode with the Santa Cruz chapter. I don’t get pleasure from writing about the pain coming out of this ongoing infighting within the food movement.
Shunning is an ancient tradition, just like many of the foods and recipes WAPF advocates. Will Sally Fallon Morell’s shunning campaign intimidate other chapter leaders and members to toe the line, to refuse to inform their members about what’s posted on this blog and elsewhere about the FCLO controversy? That is the purpose of shunning, after all—to scare the rest of the tribe from deviating from tribal edicts.