Since 2012′s recent Ancestral Health Symposium, there have been lots of wrap-up posts. I apologize for not throwing my two cents in, but I’m withholding the goods until Doc Fermento (aka @AskBryan) goes live with his podcast featuring myself and some friends discussing the event. I’ll be sure and let you know when that airs.
In any case, maybe it would’ve been boring. I had no controversy to discuss. But plenty of others did.
It’s the usual story. Women are on high alert for men who seem condescending and misogynist. Overweight people feel discriminated against by the thin CrossFitters. Try to find someone non-white, and you’ll have yourself the worst drinking game ever because everyone will stay sober. Old fogies can’t stand the young whippersnappers running on their lawn. Amateurs feel insecure next to scientists and researchers. Ugly people want to hide in shame from Dallas and Melissa Hartwig.
So here’s my question: Who the hell DOES belong at AHS?!
My working theory: Many people are introverts who generally interact with Paleo from behind their computer screens, and when faced with actually having to deal with people face-to-face, they freak the eff out and can’t handle the pressure. And then they blame everyone else for their bad time.
And I can say that as a shameless introvert who only feels witty and interesting after several decidedly un-Paleo adult beverages. My apologies to everyone who had to suffer through this obvious fallacy.
So there have been calls for more diversity at AHS. Frank Forencich, Mr. Exuberant Animal himself, has a good post on this here. I agree with all of his assertions. I would like to see fewer “carbohydrate” conversations and more on community, movement, sexuality, spirituality, and play. There is so much more to being human than what we shove in our gluten-free pieholes. While diet is undoubtedly a huge part of the problem, we’re actually seeing the effects of a much larger mismatch between environment and organism—that is, humans and our modern world.
I also think it would be fascinating to have more perspective from these hunter-gatherer groups we romanticize all the time. Many moons ago, an anthropology professor told my class that these groups know about the outside world and they are curious. One Amazonian village plastered the inside of their huts with Black Sabbath posters, I kid you not. They wanted to know what Black Sabbath was. I would’ve loved hearing the response—I dare you to try and explain Ozzy Osbourne to an indigenous Amazonian. (Go ahead and give it a go in the comments, maybe I’ll even send a prize to the winner!) Many of them want what we have, and who are we to deny them? Wouldn’t you like to live free from the threat of botflies?
But when people complain and say they don’t see themselves reflected back at them when they look in a Paleo mirror? I don’t even know where to go with that. I’m sorry? When I hear that someone is upset because we’re all too white, too rich, too smart, and too thin, I’d like to ask what they want out of pointing that out. There is nothing remotely actionable there. I should buy a ticket and not attend in lieu of donating it to an inner city kid? I should gain weight? I mean…what?! What would they have us do?
And yet, people blame the Ancestral Health Foundation, as though it’s somehow their fault for not filling seats with non-whites, non-academics, old people, overweight folks, welfare recipients, and ugly people. Can we all just admit right now that Paleo is predominantly white, middle class or better, college-educated, and health-obsessed? Seeing as how this is a self-selected population, there are probably reasons for that. I’m not going to speculate on those reasons, it’s enough for me to see that it is so, and that it is so on its own. Maybe this will change with time, but for now, it’s close enough to fact.
From my view (an admittedly “privileged”, white, upper-middle-class, thin, mid-30s, fairly attractive, and college-educated one), there are two ways you can go about voicing your displeasure. You can complain and whine about how excluded you feel, or you can invite your friends and family. You can bitch and lodge claims of racism and bigotry, or you can make specific suggestions to the foundation for how to improve next year’s symposium. You can moan about how rarefied the air is, or you can take the momentum home with you to start spreading the message where it matters most.
But let’s dream something up, shall we? For a case study, let’s imagine that all of us rich Caucasians start reaching out to all the Paleo disenfranchised. How the heckity-heck would we address this as a movement without coming across as paternalistic assholes? Immediately, we’d be faced with accusations of being out of touch because the way our world is set up, the working poor need convenience and value. Which means they’re tucked comfortably into the pockets of the Industrialized Food Complex, leading to an intimate relationship with Big Pharma and our newly minted government healthcare system. It’s a self-sustaining cycle, and the very victims of it will defend it because they’ve been sold on the “benefits”.
I’d like to remind everyone of what happened in the 70s when our government decided to push milk in their school lunches and was accused of being insensitive to the one-third of black children who are lactose intolerant. Believe it or not, this debate is still going on, a powerful testament to the tenacity and power of the dairy lobby. That’s the Law of Unintended Consequences in action, chugging along in concert with No Good Deed Goes Unpunished. As human beings, we just don’t have the foresight or all the information necessary to make good, broadly-brushed policies.
It’s for reasons like these that I feel, when it comes down to it, that it’s every man/woman for him/herself. You must save yourself. And then be a shining example for those around you and keep the conversation going for those who are ready to hear what we have to say.
When it comes to a broader approach, I think that the Weston A. Price Foundation has more of a chance than Paleo to reach across class and race. Their approach is more from the ground up, rather than from research/science/theory down. They have more cred when talking about eating how our ancestors ate because they are more in touch with traditional preparation methods. Instead of telling Hispanic folks they can’t eat the beans that have been a part of their culture for thousands of years and going on and on about “lectins”, they remind them of how their great-grandmothers prepared them. I think that nearly everyone feels a sense of connection with their non-modern-American past, so to promote getting in touch with it, whatever that is for you, is a great message. It’s one being embraced more and more on Indian reservations and Pacific Islands, among other cultures. If there’s a way to encourage this trend without seeming like a condescending majority, I’m all for it.
One of the worst things AHS could do would be to try to please everyone. Clearly, it’s not possible and I hope they don’t attempt it. It’s Marketing 101: Identify your mission and do not waver. This is a fledgling operation that needs our support. Which isn’t to say that we shouldn’t criticize or make suggestions. Of course we should, but I hope we can do so constructively.
Addition 8/30/2012: Because I have an unfortunate, pathological need to be understood, I’ll use this space to respond to a certain-tumblr-I-don’t-want-to-promote. If you don’t understand the reference, suffice to say someone has taken issue with this post.
1. “Isn’t that [old people] a rude way to describe our elders?” Yes. Of course it is. I’m still working on my satirical skills. Bear with me.
2. “My opinion on her is the same as it was back when she was defending Dr. Jack Kruse on Paleohacks.” Please see here and here. It seems that if you defend a person’s right to be treated as a human being, you get conflated with their cause. My point was, and continues to be, that if we debate him on the science, that’s all we need and we don’t have to descend to personal attacks and heresay. I also said he’s hanging himself with his own rope. I think time has borne me out.
3. “[Insert comment about how I allegedly claimed believing in evolution is elitist or not]“ Folks. Seriously. I love evolution. I would marry it if that wouldn’t count as polygamy, but I’m already married to a wonderful, hawt, evolution-loving man. But I’m also aware that if you take data on who believes in evolution and you match it up with class and race data, there will be some strong lines drawn in that sand. So yes, belief in evolution can be seen as a mark of elitism, whether that is a fair assignment or not. My view (to clarify this AGAIN, FFS) is that personal health and well-being are too important to care why someone is eating according to a Paleo template. I don’t care how people get under the Paleo umbrella, I only care that they come. This is not the same as accommodating bad science. It is being a good citizen. To tell people they don’t belong because they don’t believe the science is reckless and yes…elitist. Wait, isn’t this person telling me I’m the one that sucks at diversity?
4. “It’s pretty telling that her about page is a re-hash of the carbs-insulin obesity theory and recommends Taubes as a good intro book to ‘paleo.’” Thank you for pointing out that the blog I started back in February of 2011 is out of date. I’m quite aware of it. Oh, what’s that? You’re not a faithful reader? Oh, because if you were, you would know that I’m currently working on a site redesign and that I also took a health hiatus. Just as Kurt Harris told Don Matesz, it’s hardly fair to use old material as evidence. But thank you for the impetus to take time away from my family for no monetary reward to explain my Paleo educational evolution. I’ll get right on that.