AHS 2012 and the BIG BUTT: Lessons in Nutritional Literacy

An anonymous butt of a close friend who gave me permission to use her rump to make a point.

The comments are starting to come in:  Ancestral Health Symposium 2012 was fun BUT (and it’s a really BIG BUT), the conversation/social activities/celebrity parade seemed dominated by:

  • white people
  • young people
  • thin/athletic/fit people
  • men
  • well-educated, upper-middle class socioeconomic status people
  • people wearing goofy-looking shoes

Some folks who did not fit into these categories very well are expressing that they felt excluded and marginalized. All I can say is, well, yup. It shouldn’t really surprise us, but it should give us an opportunity to look closely at why this is the case.

Buckle your seat belt—ask for an extension if you need one—it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

Right now, “looking the paleo part” is important in the paleo community. Think: gorgeous Laura Schoenfeld  or any of the adorable white guys at AHS 2012—so ubiquitous and uniformly handsome as to be practically interchangeable (with my apologies to them all, as the individuals I did meet were charming and intelligent—yes, Dan Pardi, Colin Champ, and Ben Greenfield, I mean you). It is easier for you to become a valued member of a community if you look the part. Why? Because health, especially dietary health, is—for us middle class white people—a stand-in for character.*

“Looking the part” demonstrates to the world that you are, indeed, a “responsible good eater.” If you are overweight, if you have obvious health deficits, if you are not white, if you are old—you stray from the community’s ideal of a “responsible good eater”—no matter what your diet actually is. Not “looking the part” tars you, however subtly, with the brush of “unhealthy other.”

How did the concept of “unhealthy other” come to be?  The mainstreaming of nutrition science and the middle class’s current obsession with it emerged at the same time. The 60’s and 70’s brought us race riots, civil rights and equal rights marches, economic instability, political turmoil, sex, drugs, rock and roll, and really long lines for gas. It seemed for a while that the stature of the white middle class that was so securely ensconced in the Leave it to Beaver suburbs in the 50s was being flooded with “others,” on the verge of disappearing altogether into the muddy waters of social change.

Meat, veggies, tubers, maybe some dairy. Could this be retro-neo-primal eating?

Thus, when the Dietary Goals for Americans emerged at the end of the 70’s, the middle class seized this opportunity to create a place for itself in opposition to “the unhealthy other”—we know them in our heart of hearts as “icky fat people.” And who are these icky fat people?

Mostly they are women, mostly they are black, and mostly they are poor. For women, the non-Hispanic black population has the highest prevalence of overweight (78 percent) and obesity (50.8 percent) of any subpopulation in America.

  • At age 8, 48% of African-American girls (compared to 15% of white girls) have begun sexual development. Females that go through puberty earlier have a higher prevalence of being overweight, and in fact, these two factors seem to be related.
  • Adolescence is a critical period for the development of overweight/obesity, and it is also when major racial/ethnic differences in overweight/obesity become apparent.
  • Overweight/obesity at adolescence strongly tracks into adulthood.
  • Obese female adolescents become adults who on average earn lower wages and are at increased risk of living in poverty.**

Black women are twice as likely as white women to develop diabetes, heart disease, and many other chronic “lifestyle-related illnesses.” “Lifestyle-related illnesses” are considered to be ones that you bring upon yourself because of your lifestyle choices, or, in the newer world of nutrition policy groupthink, are inflicted upon you because of the obesogenic environment. (A recent NEMJ article discusses how, although policymakers see obesity as a socioecological issue, fat people see it as their own damn fault, viewpoints that are not mutually exclusive nor entirely invalid, but both are built on a faulty science base that I don’t need to preach to the choir about.)

Either way, we—the white middle-class “responsible good eaters”—can place ourselves in a position of distributing, shall we say, the noblesse oblige of nutrition and health. For the middle class, nutrition and health are a way of visibly demonstrating to the world that we care. [Note:  This isn’t to say that white people are bad for caring or that the people they care about are “victims” of ignorance or genetics or social institutions.  This is simply a way to a examine a particular social dynamic that may be at play. I have seen one group of white folks after another–from veg*n to paleo– wringing their hands over the issue of obesity in underserved populations. They all mean well. But they talk about these populations from such a distance that I don’t even recognize my friends and neighbors from here in Durham, NC. ]

This lady cares.

Middle class, educated, fit white person:

“I care about my health so I eat right and exercise right. Not only do I eat right, but I make sure my family eats right too, so that my family can be healthy and not be a burden on the health care system or society. By eating right, I also demonstrate how much I care about my world, as my way of eating right is also what is right for the environment, the economy, small farmers, and poor, fat, dark-skinned people. Lucky for me, as the world seems to be well-supplied with poor, fat, dark-skinned people, I can enter a health care/fitness/nutrition/public health/natural-paleo-farmfresh-local-food real or virtual career and be assured of many more years of professional activity and income because, well, to be honest, those poor, fat, dark-skinned people simply don’t have the knowledge or wherewithal to really care about their health, so I’m here to help them eat right and get healthy [and stop being so poor and fat and dark-skinned].”

To me, one of the most interesting and ironic things about our current “alternative” foods movement is that this type of sentiment can be applied equally well to the veg*n groups as to the paleo groups. The biggest differences? The veg*ns tend to be white ladies with organic salads and the paleos tend to be white guys with grass-fed steak. Both kinds of foods and both kinds of whiteness are equally unavailable, and perhaps somewhat undesirable, to “the unhealthy other” population. To add insult to irony, many of us in both the veg*n and paleo world were once, at least in our own minds, “the unhealthy other.” But we figured it out, got our act together, applied our intestinal fortitude and good moral character and became—visibly, for all the world to see—reformed “responsible good eaters” of the fine upstanding variety.

What are the implications of this notion of “the unhealthy other” and the middle class white folks who care so much about helping them?

“The unhealthy other” is what allows us to believe, when we see an icky fat person, “if only that person would/could eat like I do, they wouldn’t be fat.” Which means we are inclined to either:

1) Stuff “the unhealthy other” full of the nutrition knowledge that we love and cherish and if it doesn’t work for them, obviously they are just not doing it right and it’s their own damn fault

or

2) Work to make “the healthy choice” (whatever that means) “the easy choice” (whatever that means) for “the unhealthy other” and once we succeed, if they are still unhealthy, they don’t deserve our compassion and humanity because, after all, it’s their own damn fault

Hate to break it to you all, these are the exact same methods the current mainstream nutrition paradigm uses, and if  we limit ourselves to this way of thinking, we can expect the exact same results.  In other words, the paleo movement—as Hamilton Stapell alluded to in his AHS 2012—is destined to become just another elitist fad.

Can we change that?  Yes.  How?  Yeah, I got a few suggestions.

Stay tuned for:  Paleo:  Just Another Elitist Fad for Skinny White People Wearing Goofy Shoes–or NOT?

*Much of what follows borrows liberally from the work of Charlotte Biltekoff at UC-Davis, a wonderfully warm and intelligent woman who has been working on and thinking about this issue for—believe it or not—longer than Gary Taubes. She has a book coming out next summer which, IMHO, will be the social/cultural partner to Good Calories, Bad Calories.

**This comes straight from a lecture in my Nutrition of Children and Mothers class, fall 2009, by Dr. Penny Gordon-Larsen.

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66 thoughts on “AHS 2012 and the BIG BUTT: Lessons in Nutritional Literacy

  1. Amazing Post! I have been looking all over the internet for just this type of analysis! As a black,overweight woman in her late 30’s I have had difficulty in reconciling what seems to be an optimal, healthy lifestyle choice with the glaring disparity in diversity and class. I am fairly new to this movement and it becomes increasingly challenging to accept what I feel is sound advice and evidence when I feel so marginalized by its proponents. I think what you have explained here is so imperative to the Paleo movement and hope that the dialogue will continue not only for the benefit of the unhealthy, poor populations you mentioned but for all those who seem unaware of the impact this exclusion can have. While we as individuals are certainly responsible the choices we make, solutions to the obesity and chronic “lifestyle-related illnesses” epidemics should be everyone’s concern.

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words. The more I examine this problem, the more it seems to me that too many of our “alternative nutrition” efforts–from vegan to paleo–are recreating the mistakes of the original “alternative nutrition” movement which took place in 1977-1980 and gave us what are now the Dietary Guidelines and the whole low-fat, low-calorie, mostly-plants approach. There seems to be an overwhelming desire to simply replace the current top-down set of rules with a new & different set of rules, rather than looking at what happens when rules of that sort are enacted, i.e. exclusionary and ideocentric thinking.

      I’m in the middle of the most butt-kicking academic program I’ve ever been in (and I’m a serial grad student so I’ve got some basis for comparison), otherwise I’d be writing a series of posts about the top 10 “I’m rubber, you’re glue” things that the paleo folks are doing that are the same exact things that many paleo folks complain about with regard to mainstream nutrition. But here’s a preview of the things I think mainstream nutrition, paleo, and some other alternative nutrition movements all have in common:

      10. Equating body size,shape, or “fitness” level (whatever that is) with health
      9. Equating food with nutrition
      8. Equating food and medicine
      7. Trying to “return” to a non-existent food past
      6. Creating arbitrary “food rules”
      5. Blaming the individual if the “food rules” don’t work, i.e. if it’s not working you’re not doing it right
      4. Using weak science to make sweeping generalizations about how everyone should be eating
      3. Believing that there is one diet that will be right for everyone
      2. Thinking that “voting with your fork” will make the food world a better place for everyone
      1. Only paying attention to the experts, science, and communities that they agree with, i.e. confirmation bias or epistemic closure

      The problem with these approaches is that they tend to reflect the concerns, values, and social norms of a particular group of individuals (mostly white, well-educated, well-paid, thirty-somethings) with a particular world view, specifically one in which the current systems of power (economic, educational, health) are more or less working for them.

      How would it look if we quite arguing over carbs vs. fat and made sure that people with diabetes got–first and foremost–adequate nutrition in a way that met their individual eating habits and preferences? What if, instead of whining that Kerrygold butter is not from 100% grass-fed cows, we started concerning ourselves with the well-being of the workers up and down our food supply chain who are so poorly paid that they couldn’t afford Kerrygold butter anyway? What if we were willing to champion a movement to reduce the use of all arbitrary clinical markers (from LDL cholesterol to BMI) to determine health and instead started to define health through personal, social, and economic factors? In general, what if we stopped thinking that what the rest of the world needs to do to be healthy is to be just like us?

      Tellingly (okay, I’m on a mini-rant here, sorry), Michael Pollan says (as one of his 8,234 “food rules”): “Be the kind of person who takes supplements–then skip the supplements” because “Supplement takers are healthy for reasons that have nothing to do with pills.” What kind of people take supplements? People who are “more health conscious, better educated and more affluent.” So it is reasonable to think that we all we really need to do to help people become healthier is to help them become better educated and more economically secure, right? Hmmm. Now there’s a thought.

      What about “health conscious” though? What does that even mean? Well, what it means is you follow (some set of) “rules for health” (and I’m not 100% sure that it really matters which ones, although I have some biochemistry-related bias towards some rather than others) because you “care” about your health. And what that really means, is that you’ve created a group of people who, because they don’t follow the “rules for health” clearly don’t care about their health. Which is what I think is the most pernicious and destructive myths to come out of these rule-bound approaches to nutrition. We give people the rules about what to do/eat (while we congratulate ourselves for having figured out and religiously following them ourselves). Later, we scratch our heads and wonder why people are still suffering: we TOLD them what to do, gave them farmers markets and community gardens and sidewalks, and still they eat that crappy food and don’t exercise. What is WRONG with them? They must not care about their health. (Not like us, we CARE.) And this is just plain wrong. Everybody cares about their health. Everybody. Not in the same way, not to the same ends, and–crucially–not at the same time–but everybody makes decisions about how to live in their bodies. We can support them in their decisions as they make their way toward their own life goals, or we can berate them for not seeing things the way we see them, for not being who we are.

      We’ve been so focused on the “product” of these rule-bound debates (Whose rules will WIN???) that we’ve failed to recognize the problems inherent in the system, no matter which rules are being enforced. I can’t get behind efforts to simply replace the old boss with a new boss, but I am energized and encouraged by the efforts of the ancestral health movement (as distinct from paleo) to look at nutrition from an evolutionary biology perspective that embraces our diverse genetic, social, tradition, and environmental realities. Thanks for joining me on this journey. (mini rant over)

      1. Yes to everything you said! Especially the point that access to farmer’s markets and community gardens DOES NOT guarantee health or even healthier decisions.

  2. You (actually) wrote: “we—the white middle-class “responsible good eaters”—can place ourselves in a position of distributing, shall we say, the noblesse oblige of nutrition and health.”

    I have to say, I was ASTONISHED by this: white bwana gonna charge in and save the natives? Go out ministering to the ignorant poor and non-whites?! What an amazing way to view (critique) AHS/paleo!

    If people OTHER than your “white middle-class” *want* to come to AHS — they need only buy a ticket — or volunteer to help. If they want to learn without attending a once-a-year conference: there are books and websites, and, heck — FREE videos of last year’s AHS symposium! When did it become the responsibility of your “responsible good eaters” to go try to force our “way of life” on people who do not choose it on their own? (How does this differ from Christian “explorers” going to Africa or S.America to “enlighten the savages”?!)

    I acknowledge there may be a cultural/economic/racial ‘slant’ to that “white middle-class” desire to dismantle the destructive food system extant — but “we need to find a way to rescue these poor benighted savages” is NOT appropriate! (“noblesse oblige”? Really? Really?) We may indeed have more luck (than your “diverse” folks) at changing the govt’al / big industry control of our food system — and THAT may be a useful action path for the “white middle-class ‘responsible good eaters’” — but to look (waaaay) down on people who don’t fit that “white middle-class ‘responsible good eaters’” mold and feel they need to be “saved”?! {shudder}

    Perhaps it was merely a (really bad) choice of words… but the attitude that underlies your words is … well … horrifying!

    1. I’m sorry that my meaning was misunderstood. I’m certainly not saying that we can/should rescue anyone, nor am I saying that this is something unique to paleo thinking (and certainly not AHS folks). As I thought I pointed out, this approach can be just as easily applied to vegan/low-fat/slow food/etc, or any situation where one group of people seem to have the “right” answer and another group of people seems to be “doing it wrong.” And–as it so happens in our culture–the folks who always seem to have the “right” answer come from a particular demographic and the people who seem to be “doing it wrong” come from another. So, take a deep breath and a step back and re-read the NOTE right below the section you quoted. Or better yet, I’ll restate here with a few flourishes and three-part harmony: The article is written from the point of view of “nutritional literacy” similar to the concept of “cultural literacy,” i.e. that the majority culture operates under assumptions that may not hold up from other perspectives. The white lady who (bless her soul) “cares” so much means well, but–and you clearly picked up on this–her attitude is one of “the white man’s burden.” “We have to *save* these poor folks who can’t save themselves.” I don’t think that. But I am aware that much of the nutrition world does. The article is to point out that the attitude is there and we *must* be aware of it and question it. I have seen one group of white folks after another–from veg*n to paleo– wringing their hands over the issue of obesity in underserved populations. They all mean well. But they talk about these populations from such a distance that I don’t even recognize my friends and neighbors from here in Durham, NC.

      I am trying (apparently pretty lamely) to look at the whole nutrition situation from a cultural anthropology perspective. Obviously, at least from your perspective, I could have done a much better job. Let me see if I can explain. I will explain that I always use the pronoun “we” because I don’t want to excuse myself from culpability in terms of feeling like a “rescuer”–my graduating class of 2011 MPH/RD students was full of white ladies, intelligent, compassionate and earnest, all wanting to “help”–but at the same time, I want to acknowledge and explore the ways that this role is inappropriate, as you so rightly pointed out.

      The question we have to ask ourselves is why “we”–white, educated, middle class folks–really glommed onto the whole “let’s eat a ‘healthy’ low-fat diet and exercise and take Geritol and live forever” without much question back in the 70s and 80s. (This of course is way before paleo came along, and in a way, it supplanted the semi-paleo “meat and potatoes” eating styles of the fifties and sixties.) Could it have been a way of separating ourselves from the masses that we felt we could no longer distance ourselves from?

      Which brings up the next question I was trying to explore: why/how do we self-select nutrition communities? You are absolutely right that AHS is in no way exclusive (in terms of volunteers and AHS personnel, I’ve never met a nicer bunch of people), so why does it seem to attract a particular demographic? We can look at other “alternative nutrition” communities similarly–WAPF, low-carb, veganarian, locavore, etc.

      My point was simply–or complicatedly–that sometimes white folks forget that simply by virtue of our genes–or good luck–we may be more likely to “look the part” of a “responsible good eater.” It surely doesn’t mean we *are* those “responsible good eaters” (sometimes–especially when you are young, it is easier to “look” the part while not “eating” the part). It is very interesting that in a recent study, white women were the subpopulation with the highest average “diet quality” scores (as defined by an index compliant with the Dietary Guidelines), while black males had the lowest. This does *not* mean that black males don’t care about their health. But it might mean they don’t care to have their diet prescribed by a government that has been notoriously bad at looking out for their best interests.

      Our culture tends use youth, beauty,fitness, non-poorness, and whiteness as the standard to “aspire to”. It’s the cultural model nearly all advertisers use, unless they are selling medication. This certainly doesn’t mean anyone *should* try to be “white,” any more than we should try to be “young” or even “fit” (although some folks might say that we all really should try to be “fit,” but I’m not even sure what that means).Some qualities we choose or work for, some are given to us, some we might not even want. Our culture can conflate those things; we should try to pick them apart.

      Just because I’m trying to describe a particular social dynamic or cultural phenomenon doesn’t mean I think it is a good idea–just the opposite, in fact. If we can’t describe it, we can’t dismantle it. I’d like to think its my lousy writing skills rather than any latent racism on my part that led you to think I was promoting this as a way of addressing the current health disparities in our country. Please, let me know I’ve clarified things at all because I have to talk about race some more . . .

  3. I just wanted to say your use of the word “right” in regards to eating, health and morality really grabbed me. I’ve done a bit of research and writing along the lines of dualism and constructing an ideal female body (at my uni, not on my blog) so this was a good reminder for me of just how far this goes.

    I had a friend tell me once when I was gaining weight after quitting a stressful job that I looked like I was eating well. She had a totally different take on it than I did- I looked at it as “badness” on my part but she saw it as a marker of socioeconomic well-being.

    1. Thanks so much for joining the conversation. Isn’t it strange how we internalize those messages without even knowing they are there? After years of being a vegetarian, the fact that my vegetarian diet was not working for me took for-FREAKIN-ever for me to actually comprehend. And I wasn’t even a vegetarian for animal rights reasons! I’d love to hear more about your work.

  4. At the next AHS, so that I don’t fit in with the stereotypical fit white guys, I am going to attend undercover as an obese Ethiopian prince. I’ll send out emails in advance for fundraising, bailing me out of exile, money wiring instructions, etc. See you there.

    1. And this is what I love about you, Ben. Have no fear, I will still be able to spot you because you’ll be the guy examining the state of his coiffure in any available reflective surface.

  5. First, I don’t think the butt shown is big. MY butt is big. LOL I am a 47 yo woman, who has severe insulin resistance and PCOS. I also have Fibromyalgia. The groups I see place a lot of emphasis on exercise, but when walking from the garage to your house or simply brushing you hair on some mornings causes muscle fatigue so severe you have to stop to breathe; exercise the is farthest thing from your mind.

    Don’t get me wrong. I live a full life. I work 80+ hrs a week (we own a business), I’m going to school full time (to be able to close the business and have more time for other things). I am VERY functional despite my size and diagnosis. I don’t need to live on pain pills and don’t lie in bed. I consider myself fortunate AND I drag my butt out of bed and do what needs to be done.

    Where is the support for women like me? I just don’t seem to fit into that group at all. Listen, I was told by 5 doctors that I’d never lose weight and I managed to lose 70lbs – I still have another 150 to go. I am realistic; at my age I will never be small. Does this mean, I’ll always have a bit of looking down their nose attitude displayed towards me? I sure hope not.

    I agree that Dana Carpenter and Jimmy Moore are excellent examples of REAL people, who had REAL weight issues, I want to know how THEY did it. People who have 20-30lbs to lose, or are trying to go from 15% body fat to 5% (I know that’s an exaggeration), don’t understand what I live with. They can’t. I think Stacy from Paleo Parents is a TRUE inspiration. She’s strong and beautiful and has something to say to me.

    THANK YOU – from the bottom of my big bottom for this post. It’s really needed! :o)

  6. Just want to drop a line and say I loved your blog here. Not sure what to make out of the two camps at AHS 2012. Some blogs are glowing and then there is another view to the conference. There does not to be a middle ground as I read the post AHS blogs. I think that is pretty fascinating and I am glad you are showing the opposite end of spectrum, but I am not sure what to make of it yet. Most of the people that come my way are the tired sick and broken off the forums of paleo sites. Maybe the face of paleo and followers of it are separated by many more things than we all thought?

    1. I loved AHS2012, but it could be that I mostly do see a potential for growth and for finding common ground and the event allows for conversations such as this one to take place. I also know and deeply respect the people responsible for putting the whole event together. They are idealistic (in a good way) and hard-working and I fully expect them to change the world. That said, they aren’t responsible for attendees who may be a little more cliquish or exclusive, and–as I was trying to point out–that’s actually kind of natural. We all want to fit in and feel like we’re with the cool crowd, right? Maybe it’s a little weird, but I see the real paleo leaders as people like Nate Rosenberg and Aaron Blaisdell and Grant Barbosa and Michal and Katherine Morrison (and many more). Robb Wolf and Mark Sisson seem like really great guys, who are doing their thing, which is fabulous. I’m just not sure they are planning to change the world. I’m afraid I don’t know either one of them well enough to make that call.

  7. Thanks for the post Adele.

    I asked myself too if the demographics seen at AHS are the result of a self-selecting group based on convergent reasoning or the need to belong to a “tribe”. Or both?

    I am more inclined towards the first hypothesis. My take is that people generally adopt a “Paleo lifestyle” for mainly one of two reasons:

    1. Desire for health improvement, doubt conventional wisdom, research, discover Paleo, adopt
    2. See someone go Paleo, witness improvement, desire the same improvement, copy and adopt

    Group 1 would tend to be more intellectually curious about health than average, and their proclivity to analyze makes them prone too to question Conventional Wisdom, and to undertake lifestyle changes regardless of other people’s feedback, mainly because, well, it makes sense.

    Group 1, I think, tends to include the people who pushes the envelope, questions boadly adopted paradygms. They innovate, trigger change, speak out, debate, walk the walk.

    Group 1 is very probably well aware and accepts the basic tenets of evolutionary biology. And sadly, there tends to be a correlation between religiosity and academic achievements or access to a good education.

    It should be noted that lack of access to a good education can hamper intellectual curiosity. Plus, pushing the envelope requires tools.

    Trying to herd Group 1 members is usually as easy as herding cats.

    Group 2 is, in my opinion, way more diffuse and difficult to categorize. Anyone, independently of IQ or access to good quality education, can simply not be interested in science and have a very pragmatic approach to Paleo (I am not interested in the details, I just give me the recipes to solve X and Y).

    I would accept the following hypothesis: The demographics at AHS are a coincidence.

    My reasoning: The take-off of the Paleo movement would be the result of the coincidental confluence of people with the personality traits described in Group 1. Only the most enthusiastic members of Group 1 would go off their way to attend AHS. They seem to fit well with the demographics given the tools they had access to throughout their lives.

    I’d actually would go as far as saying Atheism/Agnosticism/Secularism is also more prevalent than average amongst Group 1. And contrary to what many apparently believe, a strong Libertarian leaning and a high IQ can actually coexist 🙂

    1. Very insightful commentary. I think the decentralized concept can–ironically perhaps–work to create a movement with momentum, but there is surely a herding cats aspect to it. However, even iconoclasts like to belong : )

  8. In honor of The King who Died on His Throne 35yrs ago today + the hapless twit (twittess?) who bitched about lack of diversity, WACISM, LOOKISM and being told to Get Off The Lawn at AHS’12:

  9. Adele,

    Great post as usual. I think often the way one looks at overweight people (with disdain, etc.) is more a product of why one has entered into the world of diet and nutrition/weight loss. I, for one, was tired of watching people (including myself) struggle with terribly wrong advice from the “experts”. I think the addictive nature of food is a main cause of the obesity crisis (and we have been dosing people with the most addictive foods for about 35 years – carbs carbs carbs) When I see someone struggling with weight, I usually think “I wish there was a way to help them overcome their addiction”. Interestingly, during my early days of medicine I would have assumed they were just lazy or not following advice (which is what happens when you think your advice is the only right advice, which is definitely happening in the paleo world – I agree 100%).

    However, I think it is important to note that many people in this paleo world are also very motivated because they have seen such drastic improvements personally and professionally and many want to spread the good news – regardless of financial or other compensation (and do so even at risk of jeopardizing their career).

    I see it less as “look we are in shape and you could too if you ate like us” as rather “hey we are addicted to food too (as is everyone) and we overcame this addiction by eating nutrient and calorie dense foods. Maybe this can help you”. That fact that there is no right answer is palpable in the paleo community and the movement is turning more towards educate yo-self and then let you decide (which clearly may not be the solution for everyone, but definitely many). I do think the rejection of conventional wisdom and recommendations from “above”, i,e, mainly grains, anti-fat, and high carbohydrate diets, has been central to this movement (and this is backed by tangible data and science – unlike some other parts of the movement). Now that people are realizing just how wrong that information was, hopefully we can move forward and make educated decisions.

    The other issue is: Is it an elitist approach or a central rejection of authority? Vibram shoes, no shoes, tank tops at a scientific conference – there is a clearly a rejection of societal norms, that seems to stem from the rejection of a huge societal norm – that low fat high carb is the pathway to health.

    Wow this is long. Sorry. It was actually longer initially and I cut some stuff out and made myself stop. Your fault Adele – you are too darn thought-provoking.

    1. Wow, articulate and handsome 🙂 Addiction is certainly part of the picture, and the one component of food that we can definitely associate with addiction is glucose (other components may play a part, but I’ve never seen anything to convince me that they would function as addictive mechanisms in the absence of dietary glucose).

      I don’t think there is anything wrong with being fit, beautiful, or wealthy (although I think my husband thinks I’m allergic to money), as long as it doesn’t distract us from the prize–which is better health for everyone, whatever it takes to get us there and using whatever definition of health is appropriate for that individual.

      It is, right now, virtually impossible to free the science from the 30 years of policy that informed it. So we sure need some more science, created under a different set of rules. But no science will be enough until we rethink policy, and rethinking policy means rethinking public health. I like the rejection of central authority theme, it is certainly there at paleo and WAPF get-together and it could be a really helpful sentiment in giving nutrition policy creation back to the communities who are most affected by our current nutrition system.

    2. Colin, you have hit the nail on the head. It was a question I asked dozens of folks over the course of 3 days in Cambridge and to which I did not get a consistent answer. Do Libertarian/Out of the Box/Non Traditional folks select an ancestral lifestyle/diet or does the lifestyle/diet select them? I think we’ll answer a lot of other questions as a movement when we sort that one out.

      To the other line of commentary in Adele’s post. I noticed the clear absence of diversity (particularly among people of color) at AHS 12, but I didn’t experience the “other”ness she wrote about. Sure there were a lot of Cross-Fit types, but there was a good representation from across the spectrum including obese or formerly obese low carbers just trying to get a handle on their issues. That was actually one of the things I appreciated most about the conference. Like both of you I am a licensed healthcare professional (RN) and it was nice to be in a homogenous environment that included all kinds of folks.

      1. Excellent points, Jan, esp w/r/t the lifestyle/diet selection process. How that happens is something that I find absolutely fascinating. I’m glad you didn’t experience any feelings of “otherness.” I think people may have differing levels of sensitivity and/or may simply have encountered folks that made them feel inclusive. I actually think the folks at AHS are enormously outgoing and inclusive, but then I’m also white, not in obvious poor health, etc–plus as I’ve gotten older I tend to be pretty “whatever” about the social parade. I’m glad this has generated some conversation as this was the idea. I really want the wonderful energy I see being generated at these gatherings to persist and grow. One of the ways to do that is to make sure everyone who wants to be under the tent feels welcome.

  10. I am finding this ‘conversation’ very interesting as I am coming from a completely different standpoint. I am the 100+ pound overweight, morbidly obese woman who has been hit hard by the economy. Once very comfortable in the middle class, I am barely above the poverty line now – in a not-fun-at-all limbo where we don’t qualify for help in the form of foodstamps or free health care for our children but can barely afford to cover our meager food bills and day-to-day expenses (and pasta is WAY cheaper than proteins). I have been reading the books (many, thankfully won through the wonderful blogs in the paleo-sphere – the rest, from the library), the blogs, the Facebook posts, and the Twitter feeds. I have over 2 years of experience in low-carb living (pre-baby #2). I *know* that this is the right choice. I understand the science, the theories, the countless personal experiences. Yet, I’m stuck. Grass-fed? Not a chance. I’m happy I can just barely avoid the “pink slime.” I know that I can have success with conventional, grain-fed, readily available meat. But at the same time, there is a voice inside of me telling me it’s not good enough, it’s no better than the junk food I’m totally addicted to (rational me knows this isn’t true!). Cross-fit? Not happening here. My adrenals are so fatigued that I’m happy to be able to put the kids to bed upstairs without completely losing any remaining energy at the end of the day. It is a little dis-heartening to have the challenge to lose 120 lbs – and know that even when accomplished, I may still have lingering health issues and possibly won’t look fit or healthy. So why bother writing this…why bother considering Paleo? Because I have kids, I know I’m unhealthy, I know that every day I’m in pain and that I feel terrible, and because I know it’ll work…so I’m going to do it. My lifestyle isn’t going to look like the grass-fed beef eating, cross-fit training, nearly picture perfect Paleo super-women; but I might lose 20-40-or even 80 pounds and that *will* make a difference…which is better than nothing! Thanks for considering the “others”!

    1. Bonnie, I am in the same boat as you are..we are certainly not alone. In our carb crazed eat crap society..it’s really really had to push it away. I am trying to do a more paleo meal…each and every day….one meal at a time…..am I perfect no…but I am trying..one meal at a time….slow and steady…will win the race…not suddenly…but over time….

    2. Bonnie, you have a tough row to hoe, but it can be done! one doesn’t have to eat grassfed to benefit from low-carb/paleo! buy inexpensive fatty cuts of beef when they’re on sale, and use slow cooking methods to bring out the best in them. 🙂 back in our “impoverished student days” we were able to eat pretty well on the cheap….

    3. Bonnie, my heart is with you. It is a sad catch-22 that sometimes, without the nutrition that helps the body work, we don’t have the energy and wherewithal to get the nutrition that helps the body work. I remember days of being so tired and depressed that I couldn’t possibly care about what I was eating (a lot of which was–I think–brought on by the foods I was eating). Though there is a world of obstacles in your way that have nothing to do with your efforts or your character or you as a person–you can make little changes as you are ready and able. That’s your job. My job is to help remove some of the obstacles. Seek out a community you feel can support you in your efforts & keep us all posted.

    4. Bonnie – I could have written your post. In our 50’s, my husband and I are “starting over” after taking a hit from the poor economy. Currently on SNAP program, trying to lose 80#, and following every low carb, Paleo post I can get for free. Jimmy Moore (livinlowcarbman) on Twitter has been very inspirational for me. I didn’t realize until this article that we were “yucky fat people”. I thought the Paleo community was there trying to help us, not making fun of us. I thought of them as my friends, though they don’t know me. I grasped at every free word I could get, trying to get as healthy as possible and lose this weight I put on. I have eaten “healthy” for probably 15 years, but that was following the recommended guidelines of whole wheat pasta, brown rice, black beans, oatmeal, margarine and low fat everything. I now realize that people probably look at me and think what an unhealthy eater I am. Months ago I quit all the wheat, sugar, flour, pastas, rice, beans and feel so much better. My days are spent looking for a job and a better place to live. I don’t have money for grass fed beef or kettleball. I’m glad I didn’t have the money to go the the AHS12 conference – I didn’t realize how I would have been looked upon. We should keep in touch. My twitter handle is @tropicalplanter. –

  11. While your article is great food for thought (no pun intended), I hope you got the person who owns the butt in your picture to give you permission to post this picture on the internet. Speaking as someone who has been working on nutrition for the last 20 years without “looking the part”, if I found a pic like this of my backside on the internet I would be pissed. Posting unflattering pictures of “the unhealthy other” is part of the problem you are describing.

    1. Yup,good call. You’re absolutely right. It is a tough call. Most fat people pictures are faceless, which is a great way to objectify a person. On the other hand, the ones with a face are often caricatures of fat people stuffing their faces with food. So, real butt; real person. Faceless, but not–at least to me–nameless.

      1. All I can say is her butt looked good compared to my butt. I thought to myself “wow her butt looks good”. LOL But I do get exactly what you are saying. I’m a 46 yo women, who works 80+ hrs a week on our business, and am going to school full time (in order to quit our business that’s virtually killing me) and I’m the one who does all the cooking/cleaning etc. I live in a house with a man that is 10 yrs my senior and we very easily fit into the “man/woman” roles of the 50’s. We are a bit more progressive than that, but I think you understand that some of us “older” women are carrying a full load.

        I live with Fibromyalgia and laugh at all the exercise that is “suggested” (expected) to be a good Paleo follower. Imagine what’s it’s like to walk from the garage into the house and have such severe fatigue that everything aches. That IS my exercise. Or just brushing my hair in the morning means I have to take a break to “recover”. “Go take a walk” is what I’m told – ummm, walking into the house from the garage about kills me. I feel I can’t be a good “Paleo” person or ever achieve “the look” (hahaha – even I know how unrealistic that is), because of my circumstances and metabolically deranged body. I also have severe insulin resistance and many of the foods that the Paleo recipes show have honey, sweet potatoes and things I just can’t eat. I never see much about what people like me are supposed to do. Most of the articles are written for people who are already fairly “normal” sized. I mean, seriously, if I only had 30-40-50lbs to lose I’d be in HEAVEN. I have over 100lbs to lose to be “normal” sized. I’ve read a few articles about women with PCOS who have managed to “cure” themselves with a Paleo lifestyle, but then, even I know that there are thin women with PCOS. One woman had to eat raw meat ONLY for at least a year to get the weight off. I’m just not that committed. Maybe I don’t care enough about myself. Ha Ha

        I don’t want to leave this on a sour note, because honestly, I’ve come to terms with being obese. i’m healthier than many people I know (in regards to how functional I am). I don’t live on pain pills and I enjoy my life overall. My 20 year old daughter has been very positively affected by this lifestyle. In the process we found her to have a gluten intolerance. Since changing her eating patterns, she dropped a bunch of weight and her insulin is much more controlled than mine (she also has PCOS).

        I really enjoyed your article and thought how refreshing it was for some of “normal” size to get it. It keeps me encouraged knowing there is someone fighting for us who are so metabolically .blessed. I will be signing up for your blog posts via email.

        1. Which just goes to show you the “biggness” of a butt is in the eye of the beholder!–as are definitions of what constitutes health. At AHS2011 and AHS2012, I was delighted to be surrounded by such rosy, glowing, healthy-looking young people (I told my husband they all looked like they should be procreating like crazy), but I’m coming at this issue from a very different place. Our public health concerns–which will affect these lovely youngsters no matter how healthy they are–are a huge older baby-boomer population in poor health and continued intractable health disparities for poor and minorities communities. If you are already healthy, paleo is a great way to stay that way. If you are not, it may or may not be a way to get to a place where you feel like you can move through your life with the health you want. If you are someone from a poor, minority community, chances are you’ve never heard of paleo, weren’t interested in adopting that lifestyle if you had heard of it, or could see no way to adopt that lifestyle even if you wanted to.

          In terms of public health, we need to look at two things: helping people like you (and your daughter) now, and helping to make sure that the next generation has a better chance of reducing potential metabolic derangement caused or exacerbated by diet. I think learning how to move away from one-size-fits-all definitions of both diet and health is really important to achieve both goals. I’ve witnessed folks on a very low-carb diet not respond to the diet because something else was going on metabolically–but the first reaction to this was “This person is not doing the diet ‘right.'” That needs to stop. I’ve seen people who may never be “normal” weight but who were able to feel a lot better, regain health (according to other parameters), and reduce medications by reducing carbs. Assuming these people are still unhealthy or could do “more” or aren’t trying is just obnoxious. Some people–I am one of them, it sounds like you are too–would rather have a life than a dress size, because (and this is another one of my mantras) food is also about community and family and culture, not just about nutrition. That I am more metabolically blessed than you are doesn’t make my choices “better” or yours “worse,” it means my body can better handle whatever choices I make and, perhaps, yours can’t.

          It’s a complex puzzle; I don’t have the answers. What I’m learning is that maybe we have to start asking different questions–starting with the individual and not with our preconceived notions of diet and health. I wish you continued good health in the way you define it (sounds to me like you have the right idea). Thanks for the kind words & stay in touch. Sounds like we have a lot to learn from each other.

  12. I appreciate this article. I am a obese, low-income 36 year old white mom. I follow The Paleo Mom, and The Paleo Parents and have saved up and joined a CSA. I agree with the Paleo movement for the most part and see how the diet improves health. I just cannot figure out how to afford it full time for my family, no matter the suggestions that are given. It does seem an ideal for the middle to upper classes, and not at all an ideal that would fill the bellies of the homeless and low income urban families we work with.

    1. Way of not differentiating between vegetarian and vegan. PCRM says it promotes a vegetarian diet; it’s really a vegan one. It’s a short cut. Plus, I get tired of typing them both out.

  13. I find it interesting that the writer refers to the middle class as being part of the paleo movement. I highly doubt that most of the people at the AHS were truly ‘middle class’. Sure they may not be the 1% but they are most definitely the 5% and that is not the middle class.

    1. Yeah, I know. But what are grad students who are “potential” upper middle (or lower-upper, or whatever) class people, but not currently upper middle class people? Any classification system falls apart upon close examination. I wanted to say “non-poor” but that’s awfully awkward.

    2. I think those just may be the people who can afford to attend, along with people who save up like crazy and/or are able to arrange their schedules and child care to attend. We still fit the “middle class” definition, but at the lower end of middle (while we have only one dependable income) and no way to afford such a trip without also arranging expensive child care. If we had local grandparents we could leave the kids with, that would be a different kettle of fish. 🙂

      But the vast majority of the people I know who do Paleo/Primal are a lot like me, squarely in the middle class.

  14. As an obese Primal eater, this was a good read. I often find that people don’t want to listen to what you have to say about nutrition if you’re fat. Because obviously whatever you are doing isn’t right. What they don’t see, is the journey. I may still need to lose 90lbs, but I’ve lost 40 already, and I have the blood sugar of a normal person, essentially reversing my diabetes. I also have normal blood pressure and cholesterol. But you don’t see that…you see the fat first. I’d love to be a nutritionist, but I’m sure I wouldn’t have many clients!

    I was born with hypothyroidism and noticed the signs of insulin resistance when I was a teenager and a soloist with a ballet company (=fit). The recommended low fat, high carb diet only made everything worse and I packed on the weight very quickly. Yeah, it’s still my fault I’ve stayed this fat for this long – I’ve bounced on and off the wagon for 8 years – but I just wanted to be accepted like everyone else. The judgement you can see in other people’s eyes can be really depressing. But sometimes you get this motivation to “show them all!” because one day you’re going to look like these pretty, fit people in weird shoes.

    I can honestly say that while I joined the page for my local Primal group, I have not made an effort to become a part of it… because they are all fit, good looking people and I would feel completely out of place. I read an article about how some places are offering yoga classes specifically for overweight/obese people… it makes them feel more at ease and they are more likely to attend regularly.

    Should I feel inferior? No. Perhaps it is a self-image issue, but the fact is if you passed me on the street you would think “poor SAD eater, if only she knew how awesome Paleo is!”

    Of course I also have to face doctors who think I’m non-compliant because I don’t take medication for my diabetes – “You can’t control your numbers with diet alone! You’re still fat!” – or think I’m lying about my numbers, my bp, etc. One even thought my low bp in his office was a fluke and insists I test several times through the day at home. And the pills….all the lovely pills they want to put me on because I’m fat – a statin even though my cholesterol is normal, metformin even though my blood sugar is normal, a bp medication just in case. Don’t worry, I’m not taking the meds and still looking for a good doctor…already been to 6 in this city! But many people are loathe to go against their doctors and that’s part of the problem – they preach low fat, high carb, and they are doctors so they must know best! They try to scare and shame us into being compliant. I know I have to take my health into my own hands, but too many trust the system implicitly.

    I am a college graduated, but currently a stay at home mom to three boys, and my husband works in a “white collar” office job. We do okay as far as finances go – things are tight and we live simply…but it does mean that we do not get to buy grass fed beef and pastured chickens/pork regularly. If I go with completely conventional meat, we can feed our family of five a Primal diet for $200 for two weeks. I do insist we buy local pasture-raised eggs 99% of the time, and we buy Kerrygold and Coconut Oil at TJ’s. We buy grass fed beef when we can, and I’d love to buy pasture raised chickens, but at $20 each, it’s just not feasible with three boys and a husband to feed. I make bone broths, and I’m considering seeing if we can get just one pastured chicken every two weeks to make that with, but right now I just use conventional beef and chicken bones. I’ve contacted several places and cannot seem to get grass fed beef bones anywhere here. It’s not ideal, but we make it work.

    I’ve probably rambled on long enough, but this struck a chord with me.

    Looking forward to exploring your blog and reading what is to come.

    1. “Perhaps it is a self-image issue, but the fact is if you passed me on the street you would think “poor SAD eater, if only she knew how awesome Paleo is!” You absolutely nailed it. Thanks so much for this.

    2. Stephanie, I’m glad you posted, and the others who don’t fit the “look” of a paleo eater. I’m in the same situation – in a year of primal eating/lifestyle I’ve lost about 10 pounds. I’m still 60-70 pounds overweight by conventional standards; I haven’t experienced any weight loss miracles. I love the primal lifestyle, happy about the measly 10 pounds, and I’ve had other health and emotional benefits that I’m very pleased with – but yes, anyone looking at me would think I’m “not doing it right.”

      Is it time for an “Occupy Paleo” movement? 🙂

    3. Stephanie, I think you would be a good nutritionist, because you would be an inspiring example for your clients and they would have faith that you understand them. You will have to tell them though, that you lost a lot of weight, that is something you cannot see.

      I share the sentiment of this post, that there is a lot of discrimination against overweight and unhealthy people, I noticed myself how different strangers treat me since I got healthier and leaner, which is really weird, BUTT …

      But, I do not find it so strange to expect a paleo blogger, nutritional scientist, nutritionist, etc., to be healthy and lean. It would be strange not to listen to an overweight person at a conference on finance, but when the topic is health, it makes sense to me: If it does not even work for yourself, why advice it to others? The exceptions would be the case of Stephanie (work in progress) or some health problems. It may be stupid to have to state such things explicitly, but I would expect that if you do so, people would then listen.

      1. But who better to tell us what obstacles face a person who is trying to achieve a healthy weight?

        Also, what is the relationship between appearance and health? My grandmothers were both pretty hefty; also both very healthy. But when I was fat, I was fat/sick. Dana Carpender is no fitness model, but I’m pretty sure she could bench press Dick Cheney. Check out In My Skinny Genes, because you can look like a fitness model, but not feel so great. So, I’m not sure that healthy and lean are always found together.

        I would agree that if whatever your doing is not working for you in terms of health, it makes no sense to tell others to do it as well. But the reverse is not always true. Just because it works for you, doesn’t mean it will work for me.

      2. Adele Hite says: “But who better to tell us what obstacles face a person who is trying to achieve a healthy weight?”

        That is what I wanted to say. At least if you are referring to someone who is successful in trying to achieve a healthy weight.

        Adele Hite says: “Also, what is the relationship between appearance and health?”

        While people will try to hide a lack of health, I would say that most markers of beauty point to health and also to power, cognitive skills or youth. Equating female beauty with being skinny is more typical for women. To steal a quote: porn actresses are mostly not skinny and those movies are optimised for the male beauty ideal.

  15. Brilliant post, as usual, Adele. You’ve articulated what’s long been quietly subconsciously bugging me (and apparently others!) about the “paleosphere”. Lotsa these folks are now “bored” of talking about “simple” stuff like the relationship between carbohydrate intake and insulin response and fat storage, and they want to ruminate on 11th level discussions about obscure micronutrients.

    Not saying that it’s not interesting/valid to have those conversations.

    But there’s an almost cult-like situation going on — I noticed it at last year’s AHS, too. If people are going to be skeptical about the carb-sugar-insulin-obesity-disease stuff — which I’m all for, and surely nuances abound — then where’s the same rigorous skepticism about all the other Paleo sacred cows? e.g. “peanuts are bad,” “JERF is all it takes!” “sweet potatoes are manna” “your beef must be grass fed and lovingly pampered and you must eat the whole cow raw, starting at the tongue and working down into the intestines, briefly sprinting in between bites,” etc.

    Sadly, in order to “spread a movement” you have to evolve rigid beliefs that are easy to communicate. It’s why calories-in-calories-out is so vigorous (4 words to communicate the belief system – “eat less, exercise more!”); it’s why vegetarianism/veganism is so vigorous (“don’t eat meat and be compassionate to the earth” is a compelling message indeed!); and it’s why paleo is gaining traction (“eat like a caveman!” – again, just 4 words, and a simple/believable message)

    Simple, memorable, emotional ideas all.

    The complex truth — that it’s not about counting calories, and that even the perfect diet/exercise plan may not be the answer, given the thousands of complicating factors, some of which you’ve named above but which certaintly go well beyond diet-exercise — is an excruciatingly hard sell by comparison!

    Most frustratingly of all, as you point out, all the “easy sell” belief systems, including apparently mainstream paleo now, put the onus on obese people. Maybe not directly, but certainlty indirectly (e.g. “bad non-paleo food is too rewarding; ergo, obese people just can’t control themselves around it, unlike me, the stoic fit white guy”)

    In any event, thanks again for expressing this important sentiment! And I’m anxiously awaiting your second post from Charlotte Biltekoff. Should be good stuff 🙂

    1. Great points, Adam. I am fascinated by the biochemical minutiae, but most of the time it leads away from public health. And we had a literal “sacred cow” deflation this year as Pete Ballerstedt informed us all that our love affair with grassfed beef should probably not be based on arguments for its nutritional superiority. (He keeps us real, Pete does.)

      I think you’ve made an excellent point about why calories in/out succeeded. I was talking to Gary Taubes (speaking of our silverback alpha males) and he pointed out that the opposing paradigm to “low-fat prevents chronic disease” was “we don’t know what prevents chronic disease,” a sentiment that would hardly give the middle class something to seize upon as their golden ticket to wellness. The whole calories in, calories out approach is such a perfect way to keep score and tell who is “winning” the fitness games. And the more toys we have to help us win (download an app for your smartphone!), the more likely we are to not only win, but look amazingly cool doing it.

      I apparently lost an asterisk in the editing process. EVERYTHING even remotely intelligent I have to say about the way that culture shapes our ideas about nutrition comes from Charlotte. Like you, I knew something was going on, but I could have hardly articulated it without her insights. And, yes, more to come.

  16. Culture influences diet greatly and in your discussion of the African American female you state their struggle with weight. Yet it is culturally DESIRABLE for many of them to be heavy. Many of them purposefully eat to stay large. This in itself is an issue that needs addressing. An African American friend of mine discusses this regularly on her facebook page. As for the rest of us…aren’t we leading by example? Weren’t we once the “unfit” who have now changed their body composition and overall health through Paleo and Crossfit? I workout with many people in the midst of their transformations. I hope good nutrition and exercise of this type never die out because America is in an absolute crisis of obesity. Curious to see where you g with this blog…

    1. Thanks for bringing this up. This is part of the whole nutritional literacy approach, anad raises nother good question to think about: who defines “health” for us, how, and why? I know some of us don’t want our health to be defined by total cholesterol levels; some people may not want their health to be defined by weight status or BMI. Why have these markers been chosen and who does it serve? It may be that total cholesterol and BMI serve the medical/fitness industry more than the individual.

      I hope the enthusiasm and energy I saw at AHS doesn’t die out either; but I also hope we widen the embrace.

  17. Hmmm…. some interesting food for thought here. Since I fall squarely in the whole “white middle-class” category, not to mention a couple of college degrees (so educated to boot), in a lot of ways this post is about… me. *gulp* I’ve seen my kids’ school peers going thru puberty way earlier than my kids, and it’s worried me, but I suppose in a lot of ways I do kinda feel a bit….smug, perhaps – it was a journey to get where we are with diet (thanks to my kids and their food sensitivities, without whom I wouldn’t have been motivated to learn in the first place), and it feels like a sort of hard-won victory. I think being constantly questioned about it might have contributed to making many of us a bit prickly about it too, though: friends, family, co-workers, schools, doctors…..

    I agree with PP that the whole idea of free-range organic does have a cachet to it that probably intimidates people without big paychecks; there’s a reason many of my friends refer to Whole Foods (when they refer to it at all, anyway LOL) as “Whole Paycheck.” Is it really any wonder that parents whose kids get free or reduced soy-laden lunches at school despite parents holding down 3 or 4 jobs between them are intimidated at the idea of finding free-range eggs and grass-fed beef in the small amount of time left over between jobs? As a teacher and as a parent, I’m looking forward to reading some constructive ideas for combating this attitude. 🙂

    1. lol, love your blog title! My kids have always gone to public schools were they were the minorities, but my youngest went to a charter school, which my older kids derided as “that hippie school,” which much less diversity. There was some discussion by the PTA of school lunches being catered bento boxes at one point 🙂

      I think many of us who fight the battle–and it truly a struggle even for those of us well-positioned by birthright to make changes–of overcoming knowledge barriers (to which you refer) and environmental barriers (of which there are many) sometimes don’t realize how close to insurmountable those barriers might be to others with, not only less money, but less time, less bandwidth (just getting kids fed at all is a time & money consuming chore), and less social support.

      I don’t have any “silver bullet” answers; I don’t think there are any really. But recognizing that we need to go beyond just replacing one top-down paradigm (low-fat, high-carb) with another top-down paradigm (primal/paleo/low-carb/etc) is, I think, the first step.

  18. I will say that those of us who are held up to scrutiny about what we look like aren’t pleased about this situation either. I know certain unnamed Paleo “leaders” that are hesitant to come to events because they’re afraid they don’t look the part. I know that I’m fit and healthy, but I also know the high amount of time, money, and energy it takes to look like I do, and I’m aware that 90% of the population doesn’t have access to those resources. Hence why the ancestral health movement tends to appeal to the upper class – because they have better access to it.

    I don’t have any idea what it’s like to struggle with obesity or poverty, but I do agree that we need to take the physical appearance emphasis down a notch for all of our sakes. We need to be more realistic about what is ‘healthy’ for most people and what our ultimate goals are when it comes to changing the nutritional landscape.

    1. Beautiful inside and out, Laura. Well said. We also need to think about what we really want for this community–to continue to inspire folks and maybe change the way the world works, or to be a fun hobby for those who can afford to live this way?

    1. Absolutely true, but at the same time, I’ve witnessed a sort of bizarre blindness in addressing obesity/illness. When I was in DC, I’d see a dozen people sitting around a table discussing obesity; half of them are visibly overweight/obese. I wasn’t checking BMIs so I don’t even count folks who looked borderline “heavy”–like myself 🙂 But no one ever ONCE talked about what it was like to be overweight/obese. Now if I was at a roundtable discussion about race relations with folks who had darker skin than mine, I would certainly want to hear their point of view. (I was an intern, so I wasn’t officially “at” the table, or I’d have shared my story about being obese.) This is why we may need to shift our thinking a bit: leaders who still struggle can still be leaders (Jimmy’s a fine example of that, as is Dana Carpender.)

      1. One of my post popular posts was about what it’s like to lose 100lbs. PaleoforWomen.com talks about this too – but there’s a quality of life change that has nothing to do with health and your body. People started making eye contact with me, holding doors open and realizing I existed as a person.
        This real food movement has to be carried down to the masses to both change health as well as the only remaining legally allowable discrimination in this country: obesity. Problem is, because Paleo originated in a gym and is led by amazingly fit leaders (rightfully so) those topics are foreign to them. It’s why ours, Jimmy, Dana, Ms. O, The Paleo Mom, Smart Sexy Paleo and others in the movement who have undergone huge changes are a loud and popular voice in the community.
        IMO, we’re the hope the country has for showing “normal” people that they can do it too! After all, the majority of America is overweight or obese. Perfectly fit and healthy people end up being intimidating to those with metabolic derangement.

        1. Well said! I feel as if I can say that I am well-acquainted with all three “alternative” nutrition communities (4 if you count the 16 years I was a vegetarian): low-carb folks tend to be older & have more health issues; WAPF folks tend to be somewhat younger, concerned moms, families; paleo folks tend to be younger still, athletic & fit. All of these are gross generalizations and stereotypes (and many people move freely among these communities), but the overriding theme is that we find a community that “suits” us in some form or fashion, a place where we feel at home. This is the part where nutritional choices are–in very many ways–social and cultural choices. You can expect to hear me expound on that more soon. In the meantime, you’re right. Those leaders who still struggle have a community that needs them very much.

    2. I’m not sure I necessarily agree wholeheartedly, although I do to some extent. I’m obese, and I really struggle to eat right and exercise. I believe in this way of eating, have been doing this pretty faithfully for 6 months and while my body is definitely healing, I haven’t lost but 5# and certainly don’t look like I know what I am talking about. I know the struggle,and the people who look at me like “really? You have NO idea what you are talking about b/c you don’t LOOK like you do.”

      However, I have never felt drawn to imitate those who are perfect but those who are perhaps farther on the road to success than I am, but know the same struggles that I have. Perfection isn’t inspiring, struggles to succeed, keeping on keeping on even when the road is tough, falling and getting back up and experiencing better health and a willingness to share these experiences are what inspires me. Those leaders are the ones who should stand up proudly and say “Good health is a journey and as long as I’m walking the road, I’ll share my journey with others!” SO thank you to those who do. You are MY inspiration.

  19. Maybe this is too simplistic, but part of the reason paleo occupies an elitist/highSES niche might be that high quality food is pretty darn expensive?

    Out of the ~20 people in my nutrition PhD program, 16 are white, and most are what one would call foodies. I brought up the tokens I got as a kid as part of the free lunch program once, and other students were like “really??? wow!”.

    On the other hand, someone at AHS was talking about their southern upbringing, and how they’re back to eating cheaper offal now. So I guess it’s not a totally clear-cut issue.

    By the way, I love your dietary guidelines paper!

    1. It is a little simplistic. We’ve arranged our food system so that nutritionally-empty (but fortified and enriched) food is cheap, and yes, we’ve also gotten a bit elitist about what kind of meat is OK (see Denise Minger’s talk at AHS 2012). But people can do well health-wise on factory-farmed meat (although there are other external issues to be addressed) and of course, sausage has long been the tried and true way of using up the nasty bits and making them into tasty treats (keilbasa, boudin, chorizo, saumagen, etc.) So paleo doesn’t have to be expensive, but we’ve sure made it look like it does.

      Thanks for the kind words about the guidelines paper–please spread the information.

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