For those who aren’t as attached to their computers and the goings-on in the Paleoverse, Sean Croxton of Underground Wellness recently held an online Paleo Summit with presentations from various characters and experts in the Paleo community. If you missed it, I highly recommend purchasing access to all the materials. It saved me hours of reading and lots of money on hardbacks and e-books. I found the information much easier to absorb than from reading it in a book. If you’re not familiar with Sean’s work, he’s a tireless and enthusiastic health and wellness seeker who does damn good work.
But enough plugging. What’s been on my mind for over a week now is the fallout from the Summit.
Once the presentations started rolling out, blogs and discussion boards started lighting up with reactions, some positive, some negative. This is nothing new, it happens anytime there’s a ripple in the Paleo pond, whether it’s Kurt Harris’s Archevore announcement (my take here), Don Matesz’s goodbye to Paleo (my take here), or the post-Ancestral Health Symposium fallout of 2011 (my take on the Guyenet-Taubes brouhaha here).
But lately, the tone has been getting shrill out there.
Before I get started, I’d like to disclose. I am not affiliated with anybody. I’m not a doctor, researcher, or scientist, and while I am of above-average intelligence, hard science is difficult for me. I’m not mad at anybody. My goal here is to discuss what I see from an outsider’s perspective.
There is a lot of clique-making and I’m-taking-my-toys-and-going-home going on. I’ve been amazed at how some of the folks who are doctors or researchers can devolve into personal barbs, and quick. Aren’t they the ones who are supposed to understand how to disagree respectfully with evidence? To say, “That’s an interesting observation, but my research shows…” instead of accusations? Or, “I’ve read that study you cited there, and I can’t find that reference.” And then us amateurs get in there without understanding the whole picture, and the whole thing gets all mucked up. I’m irritated with one in particular who has gone AWOL and only pops up on comment boards when he’s feeling feisty enough to napalm everybody. I say be the change you wish to see, be respectful, or shut up.
Some of what’s troubling me about all this:
Paleo Woo is a term being thrown around to identify someone as falling outside the main boundaries of accepted Paleo dogma (NEWSFLASH! To the rest of ‘Merica, we’re all woo.). It’s used derogatorily as a means of discrediting someone without meeting them as an equal with sound evidence. Now, I’m not saying that some of the recipients haven’t deserved it. In fact, when I first signed onto Paleo, the woo troubled me immensely and still does. For example, I think that many alternative health practitioners have been ahead of the masses on this nutrition-as-medicine bit, but then there’s a tipping point where I just can’t sign off on it anymore. And yet, I must remind myself that a mere 15 months ago, I thought gluten-free folks were just attention-seeking gut-mongerers. And now I’m one of them.
- Do you have a license for that comment? There are lots of smart folks in the Paleosphere. But the intellectualism can be smothering. I’ve seen comments about how someone “doesn’t have the credentials” to be speaking on some of these topics. This reminds me of the historical tension between engineers and inventors, with engineers being studied/educated and inventors arising naturally from a need. Engineers deride inventors for being stupid and inventors deride engineers for being out of touch. I was once asked at a party if I had a nutrition degree, as though I wasn’t qualified to be speaking on it without a string of letters after my name. I would argue that having those credentials may actually put one at a disadvantage, making it harder to think outside the box. For example, where the hell are all the endocrinologists in this great obesity problem of ours? Nowhere to be found. The way I look at it is, we’re all seeking answers and we have to make space for other people’s answers that don’t line up perfectly with our own, whether they are qualified or not. Asking for credentials is insulting to a large number of folks in this community and is a strawman as far as I’m concerned. Meet them on the level of the science and evidence.
- Will the real Paleo please stand up? Lots of discussion about who belongs or not in the Paleo movement. Let’s be clear here: Nobody owns it. It’s an amorphous polyglot of unknown. We’re in a time of flux and everyone’s excited by new ideas. I’m not worried because as Denise Minger put it in her Paleo Summit talk, Paleo is pretty self-regulating. Where we get into trouble—and I’ve seen people say things to this effect—is when people get fed up (with featured presenters at conferences, with the attention some folks are getting, etc.) and decide to give up or not participate anymore. I say feel free to call them out, but use evidence. We need to keep the intelligent discussions going! Ask questions. Be humble. But remember that the crazy person may well turn out to be right about something.
- All I know is I do not know. I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it. We know far less about nutrition than we don’t know. If it was known, nobody would be sick or obese. This is not easy, perfect, or a simple matter of applying an equation. The minute you get locked down is the minute the truth will pass you and keep going for the horizon.
I’m attending the Paleo F/X conference in Austin, TX next week, and I’m feeling a little gun-shy here. I’m about to meet these folks for the first time ever, and everyone’s all pissed off at each other! I’m guessing that a lot of this is due to the fact that it takes place on the interwebs behind anonymous computer screens instead of face-to-face.
So now what? Where do we go from here?
Just eat real food. At the end of the day, you can try to interpret what’s on the other end of that microscope or you can relax and realize that by eating real food, you’ve won most of the battle. Sure, if you have more complex issues that need to be resolved, by all means, get microscopic if it serves you. But when we sit down to dinner, it’s not a ratio of macronutrients or a “Safe Starch” on our plate, it’s food. And as powerful as food can be, clearly its power over us is far greater than it should be when it becomes a land mine in no man’s land.
Mmm…sacred cows sure are tasty.