"I saw few die of hunger; of eating, a hundred thousand." -Ben Franklin

Sunday, August 12, 2012

AHS: Day 1

Words cannot even begin to describe how incredible of a time I had at this year's Ancestral Health Symposium at Harvard Law School.  I met so many people and learned so many things-- I don't even know where to start!  I took a ton of notes (and therefore not too many pictures... I was too busy scribbling everything down...), so I'm going to do a three-part AHS series to share them with you!
(Note:  Much of the information I post here are either direct quotes-- not all of which I put "" around since I was just trying to write everything down-- or taken right off of the speaker's slides.)

The first talk of the conference-- "What Are Humans Adapted For?"-- was by Harvard professor Dan Lieberman, who was not only incredibly informative, but was also a dynamic speaker and hilarious.  His presentation was a great crash-course in evolutionary biology-- he talked a lot about fitness ("relative ability of an organism to survive and transmit its genes to the next generation") and adaptation ("useful feature that has been shaped by natural selection that promotes fitness") and just how connected the two are.
-Many modern illnesses are mismatched conditions.
-Adaptations always evolved to promote fitness, but not necessarily promote health.
-Evolution hasn't stopped!
-Many so-called "symptoms" are adaptations (such as fevers, nausea, and shin splints).
-There is no Paleo diet-- instead there are multiple Paleo diets.
-Modern humans evolved as hunter-gatherers, but with increased capacities/proclivities for cultural innovation.
-We evolved many diverse adaptations to be athletes.  Physical inactivity is abnormal and pathological.
-"No pain = no gain" is an adaptation to match capacity with demand.
-There is a minimal selection to like exercise.  Instead, there is a selection to rest when possible.
-Cultural evolution is a more powerful force than natural selection.
-Storing excess energy as fat is an adaptation.  Obesity is not a disease, but a long-term imbalance.

The next talk was David Sloan Wilson's "The EvoS Diet: Creating a Framework for Testing Hypotheses About Optimal Diet and Social Organization for a Healthy Lifestyle", which talked about evolutionary mismatch and his theory/empirical research.
-Evolutionary mismatch is the state of disequilibrium between organism and their environments; it's a negative consequence that results from a trait that evolved in one environment being placed in another environment.
-Human health problems can be enormously complex.
-In a typical mismatch scenario, the trait remains the same while the environment changes; the development of most traits involves an interaction between the genes and the environment.
-Evolution requires variation, selection, and heritability; evolutionary theory is required to navigate the complexity.
-Factors to be varied in research: diet, exercise, social organization.  A challenge, however, is that tightly controlled studies are often difficult to reproduce in real-world settings.
-Genetic evolution takes place on ecological time scales; it is an analysis of genes specific to ancestry.

Mat "The Kraken" Lalonde's "Nutrient Density: Sticking to the Essentials" was up next, and wow.  I always knew this guy was incredibly smart, but seeing him speak in-person was amazing-- he was so articulate and sharp and funny, and his information was fascinating.  He looked at (via his own research) the nutrient densities of all different types of Paleo foods and compared them to grains and legumes; no surprise, Paleo foods win.
-Why avoid grains/legumes?  Immunogenic and/or allergenic proteins, unsustainable grain agriculture, and nutrient density.
-40% of Americans believe evolution is false, 20% are undecided, and only 40% believe it.
-NuVal and ANDI: ranking systems that give ratings to food.  Meats get low scores because of research bias!
-Fiber is not considered essential.
-Brazil nuts have 34.85 X the RDA in selenium.  Cashews are not nuts-- they're legumes!
-The losers in the fruit category are apples.
-The best rice (if you eat rice) is long-grain white rice.
-The most nutritious pork product is BACON!!!!  (The entire room erupted in cheers!!)
-Organ meats have the highest nutrient density scores.
-A Paleo/ancestral diet can easily provide all essential nutrients in adequate quantities.

Next up was the first panel of the conference:  "Seeds of Discontent: Regulatory Hurdles to Practicing an Ancestral Diet".  Emily Broad Leib, Baylen J. Linnekin, and Margaret Sova McCabe discussed food policies at the federal, state, and local levels.  I found this talk extremely interesting because it really applies to all of us, considering how crappy food policy has become in this country (MyPlate, anyone?).
-Current federal policies include MyPlate, no raw-milk cheese, and no foraged/hunted foods.
-The government skews things by subsidizing certain things (such as corn and soy) and making bogus claims on packaged foods (like "fat free" marshmallows).
-Other things the government is trying to push:  "Meatless Mondays" and a federal "fat tax"
-Solution:  the federal government should neither establish nor restrict any person's food choices (which is similar to our other First Amendment rights-- they can't restrict/establish our religious choices, for example).
-States have raw milk regulation, BMI report cards, sandwich labels, etc.
-States voluntarily participate in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), which is federally funded.
-A Florida bill aiming to restrict foods high in fat from being purchased with food stamps failed due to the ambiguity of "fat"-- such a bill would ban the purchasing of nuts or cheese, not just junk food.
-Local governments only have the powers given to them by each of the state's constitution, state statutes, or state grants of home rule.
-State governments can generally override local laws.
-Land use rules may restrict food production/sales.
-Most school nutrition programs use the federal government's nutrition guidelines.  However, there are some at state and local levels, such as the 2010 Child Nutrition Reauthorization, as well as farm-to-school programs.
-Food bans have increased over the last few years.  New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and many other cities-- as well as the entire state of California-- have bans on trans fat.  Mayor Bloomberg in NYC has also banned sugary drinks more than 16 ounces; he is able to do this due to powers given to him by the state.
-Local food sovereignty is created from local ordinances that allow farmers and ranchers to sell food directly to consumers within town borders without obtaining required state or federal permits or licenses.
-There have been meat inspection laws in the United States since the 1700s!  (This fact makes me think of The Jungle by Upton Sinclair-- I guess those meat inspection laws weren't all that great!)
-Although Paleo foods aren't profitable, we still need to get involved in any of the levels of the government in order to bring about change.

Peter Ballerstedt's "The Reality of Ruminants and Liebeg's Barrel: Examining the New 'Conventional Wisdom'" discussed how contaminated and messed up CW has become thanks to incorrect science, and how we in the ancestral community have a new CW.
-Grasslands represent 70% of the world's agricultural area, and 26% of the world's general land area (8.6 billion acres).
-1/3 of the global meat supply is from ruminants.
-There are four major topics:  environmental, management, nutrition, and health.  One of the points under environmental is that any carbon emitted from cows come from their food-- for every pound of carbon emitted, 3.2 pounds are fixed.
-"Don't come talking to me about implanted beef if you're eating soy."  High-quality animal products do not cause chronic diseases, and (humane) animal agriculture does not harm the environment.
-"The problem is not the grain-fed cattle; it's the grain-fed people."  Amen!

The next talk was on a topic that has gotten a lot of attention lately: Paleo and sustainability.  Alyssa Rhoden's "Sustainability and World Hunger from the Paleo Perspective" sought to answer if it's possible and what's going on with food throughout the world in general.
-The "food" system is overwhelmingly made up of wheat and corn.
-There are 850 million starving people, according to a 2008 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
-In the developing world, chronic hunger and malnutrition are caused by inequality and poverty, political instability, and lack of infrastructure.
-2 billion people lack iron and iodine, and more than 200 million children are protein deficient.
-70% of an average American's calories come from refined grains, added sugar, and refined vegetable oils.
-World hunger isn't caused by a lack of food-- a huge amount of food is thrown out every day.
-Big Agriculture says to increase calories, increase crop (grain) production, and use more technology and chemicals to solve world hunger.  These approaches fail because increased calories don't solve the problem, and we need to prioritize growing healthy foods with a lower impact to get a healthier, sustainable diet.
-Some solutions are to empower the poor to mitigate hunger, eat the least resource-intensive healthy foods, and to redefine "healthy."
-We should also buy sustainable (organic/seasonal) foods, get involved in CSAs, not buy CAFO beef, eat a variety of cuts of meat, advocate for better foods, and grow our own foods.

Robb Wolf spoke next!!  I'm such a huge fan of his blog and podcasts, so I was expecting quite a lot-- and he totally delivered.  His intelligence, humor, and wit come across even better in-person, and he's also such a nice guy (I had the pleasure of meeting him!).  His talk, "City Zero: How Markets and Evolution Can Revolutionize Medicine" discussed his recent work in Nevada.
-"I just want to Hulk Smash the whole operation" (talking about the American Heart Association).
-By 2050, between 1 in 3 and 1 in 2 people in the United States will have diabetes.
-On-the-job selection pressure has caused many Las Vegas police officers to have cardiac problems.  The estimated cost to retire a police officer is $1.2 million, but it's actually more like 10 times that amount.
-The company SpecialtyHealth, which originally did orthopedic risk assessment, started wondering if metabolic risk assessment could save lives and money.  They did standard blood work for their patients and put them on the American Heart Association diet (high-carb, low-fat), and the results were dismal.  Then they had a paradigm shift:  low carb, yearly risk screening, low-carb/paleo, sleep counseling, and metabolic conditioning.  They then tracked statistics:  obesity, blood pressure, breathing, lipid problems, and blood sugar.  This new way of tracking health in the police and fire departments, as well as some city council members, has saved lives and a projected $22 million (prorated over 20 years).
-The addition of the Paleo template int his program can fix intestinal permeability and autoimmunity, and therefore these should be screened.  This program will encompass all Reno police and fire departments and will save $1.2 billion.
-Robb wants to spread the program to a global audience, and eventually develop a health insurance company and referral network to gyms, physicians, and others.
-"Epilogue:  It's all connected.  And stuff."
-"I think we CAN change this all.  I really do."  "Somebody needs to start this, and it's gotta be us.  And we'll drag the rest of the people along kicking and screaming."

The last presentation of the day-- the keynote address, "Folks This Ain't Normal"-- was by the amazing Joel Salatin, an organic farmer/author who runs Polyface Farm in Virginia (you might recognize him from the movie Food, Inc. or Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma).  He was absolutely phenomenal-- with no notes or electronic presentation, his speaking was extremely captivating, articulate, informative, and inspirational, and I am so glad I was there to see it.  When the videos from AHS go online, you need to watch his presentation-- words don't do it justice.
-"We are the first culture in history that has denied our children meaningful chores.  We're becoming more and more immunity dysfunctional over time, because we've been too busy with video games and anti-bacterial soap.  Our immune systems are becoming lethargic!"
-"And we thought the conquistadors had hubris-- today, we're even worse.  They were just killing people; today, we're killing DNA."
-"Life is more mystical than a cyberspace video game!...  How about growing up with a dream to actually keep tomato plants alive?"
-We're the first culture in history that's had cheap grain; grain is an annual, and historically, it required days and laborious days of walking behind work animals with a sharp stick in the ground... but now there are new practices.
-Barley was way too precious to feed animals-- that's why all ancestral diets coalesce around herbivores and seafood because they're the only nutrient-dense foods harvested without pillage.
-"We talk about having to commune with nature, as if nature is out there somewhere.  We are part of nature...  The point is that I'm supposed to come to this nature with creativity and human cleverness, with my big grain and opposable thumbs....  We think lawns, we think golf courses-- that's the only interaction we have with grass."
-In the course of 150 years, Europeans sent 3-8 feet of top soil out to Chesapeake Bay and collapsed the shell fish and clam populations.
-"We come alongside this ecological womb-- rather, how can I help you?  How can I touch and massage the right places?  This creation is not an enemy to be subdued-- it is a lover to be caressed."
-We didn't buy into the "US-duh" (USDA) because there was no template in which all herbivores ate carrion.
-"Just because we can, should we?" -Salatin quoting Jurassic Park to discuss today's messed up food policies
-"By respecting the pigness of the pig, we see the pig as a co-laborer."
-In 1910, there were 20,000,000 draft animals in the US.  Today, there are no more pounds of animals than there were in 1910.
-"Who needed a gym back then?"
-"If you really wanted to be green/normal, you'd have a chicken coop out the back door of the dining hall."  -Salatin discussing so-called "green" dining
-50% of all the edible foods in the world don't ever get eaten by a human.
-Pigs and chickens are omnivores-- they're not herbivores.  They were scavengers!  Chickens were the garbage disposals-- they got the dinner scraps.
-All of our plant breeding n the last 40 years is breeding a membrane that's 95% water to survive a journey of 2000 miles.
-Food is fundamentally mechanical-- the orthodoxy is different between the "US-duh" and us (the Paleo enthusiasts).
-"We're the first culture that's ever tried to eat foods that we cannot pronounce."
-"Why would you want to eat something that worms won't even eat?" -Salatin discussing an experiment in which kids buried a box of processed foods and a box of real food, and how the worms wouldn't touch the processed foods.
-The #1 thing that we can do is to get int he kitchen and break our supermarket addiction.
-"When we throw away the TV, the Caribbean cruise tickets, and stop reading People magazine; when we begin to unplug and move to a historically normal, visceral relationship with the food shed environment, we will connect to our food source" and we won't have to worry!
-"If it's worth doing, it's worth doing poorly first, because that's the way change is made.  It's okay to fail and it's okay to fall-- our countenance will grow with truth."
"May all your carrots grow tall and straight, may your culinary experiences be delectable, and may we all leave the world a better place than we found it."

Day 1 Miscellaneous:
-I met Jimmy Moore, who is even more awesome in-person than on his blog/podcast (and he is really awesome on his blog/podcast).  Also, he live-tweeted the entire weekend, so definitely check out his twitter for an amazing play-by-play of #AHS12.
-Tanka Bars (made from buffalo) are awesome.  There was a table there, and I finally tried them-- so good!
-Best chocolates ever:  {eatingEVOLVED}.  Seriously-- gluten/dairy/soy-free chocolate truffles are the way to go... and there's a kind made with bacon!  (They're addicting!)
-Best ghee ever:  Pure Indian Foods.  Not only is there just regular ghee, but there are types of flavored ghee too!
-There were so many people wearing Vibrams!!  I'm pretty sure this was the first time ever I went out in public without getting weird looks for my shoes.
-Everyone there was awesome.  You know you're in a tight-knit community when you can leave your electronics/bags/stuff wherever and no one would even think to touch them.  You guys all grok so much.

Quote of Day 1 (not previously mentioned):
"Bacon is the most nutritious pork product we can eat, and eggs are pretty kickass too."  -Robb Wolf


  1. Love that Robb Wolf comment. And I appreciate your summary...

  2. Indeed. Thank you very much for taking the time to share.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this.
    Godd summary and looking forward to the next one.


  4. Thank you so much for the recap posts and even the summary of the presentations. I went to AHS11 last year and so bummed I couldn't make it this year. Hopefully I could go to AHS13!

  5. Thank you so much for sharing.

  6. Thanks for your recap. I admire your ability to type and listen at the same time!

  7. Thanks for your recap. I admire your ability to type and listen at the same time!

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