The REAL Paleo Challenge: How NOT to be Just Another Elitist Fad for Skinny White People Wearing Goofy Shoes

The blogsphere is beginning to rattle with commentary on the recent Ancestral Health Symposium 2012 events. Some folks who don’t necessarily “look the paleo part” have voiced concern about feeling excluded or marginalized as 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

You can read my take on why that might be the case here: AHS 2012 and the BIG BUTT: Lessons in Nutritional Literacy.

I understand that an NPR reporter was at the event, interviewing some of the movers and shakers. There was some concern that the reporter seemed to think that the paleo movement is a bit of an elitist fad. I understand this perspective, and on many levels, I agree.

As a “fad,” the paleo movement is a bunch of highly enthusiastic people with a lot of disposable income and time who are deeply committed to a particular way of being fit and healthy. It has its leaders, it controversies, its “passwords” (can you say “coconut oil” or “adrenal burnout”?), and its stereotypical paleo dude or dudette. As a fad, it would be destined to go the way of all of other diet and health fads—including Ornish and Atkins, Pritikin and Scarsdale, extending all the way back to the “Physical Culture” movement of the earlier part of this century (Hamilton Stapell spoke about this at AHS2012).

The original paleo chick – no high heels on this lady

Is it elitist? Well, there are some ways that it is possible that the paleo movement may marginalize the very folks who might benefit most from its efforts. Maybe an African-American guy still sensitive to the fact that his grandfather was consider “primitive” might not want to get his full cavemen on. Maybe a Mexican-American woman who remembers her abuela telling her stories about being too poor to have shoes doesn’t really want to go back to being barefoot just yet. Maybe an older, heavier person simply feels intimidated by all the young healthy fit people swarming to the front of the food line.

But the paleo movement does not have to be an elitist fad unless insists on limiting itself to its current form, and I believe the people at the Ancestral Health Society  are working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen. This is why I really love these folks. I don’t mean the paleo leaders like Mark Sisson or Robb Wolf, although I’m sure they’re good people; I’ve just only met them briefly. I mean those somewhat geeky-looking-in-an-adorable-sort-of-way folks in the brown T-shirts who hung in the background and made it all happen for us last week. Notice that they don’t call themselves the Paleo Health Society, right? I love them because they ask good questions, they question themselves, they think long-term, and they’ve created a community that allows these conversations to take place.

So, what do we do to transform this paleo-led, AHS-supported community into the public health, human rights revolution it could be?

According to Doug Imig at the University of Memphis, a protest becomes a movement when:

1) It defines and proclaims widely shared cultural norms.

2) It creates dense social networks.

3) It gives everybody something to do.

Each of these deserves its own blog post, so let’s look at the first—and most important—item: widely shared cultural norms. This is where the “elitist fad” part of paleo falls short, but not really. Because in all my encounters with paleo folks and people from AHS, I find norms and values that the culture as a whole can embrace. Here’s the weird thing, I’ve spend the past couple of years also talking to mainstream scientists, from one end of the diet spectrum to another, including Joanne Slavin, a down-to-earth, warm, wonderful lady who was on the most recent Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and Henry Blackburn, who is a delightful gentleman and a protégé of Ancel Keys. Guess what? We all have some values in common.

Here are some concepts that I think may unite us all, from vegan to primal, from slow food to open government, from “mainstream” scientist to “fringe scientists” like Gary Taubes (yes, one of my UNC instructors referred to GT as a “fringe scientist,” although another found his views “very convincing”—go figure):

We must create an open, transparent, and sustainable food-health system.

The RD that inspired me to take an internship at the American Dietetic Association for a semester, Mary Pat Raimondi, said: “We need a food system to match our health system.” And whatever shape either of those systems may take, she is absolutely right. Conversations about food must encompass health; conversations about health must encompass food.

Right now our food-health system is closed. Directives come from the top down, public participation is limited to commentary. The people who are most affected by our nutrition policies are the farthest removed from their creation. We need to change that.

Right now our food-health system lacks transparency. USDA and HHS create nutrition policy behind doors that only seem to be transparent. Healthy Nation Coalition spent a year filing Freedom of Information Acts in order to get the USDA to reveal the name of a previously-anonymous “Independent Scientific Panel” whose task, at least as it was recognized in the Acknowledgments of the Dietary Guidelines, was to peer-review “the recommendations of the document to ensure they were based on a preponderance of scientific evidence.” You can read more about this here, but the reality is that this panel appears to not be a number of the things it is said to be. This is not their fault (i.e. the members of the panel), but an artifact of a system that has no checks and balances, no system of evaluation, and answers to no outside standards of process or product. This must change.

Our food-health system must be sustainable. And Pete Ballerstedt would say, yes, Adele, but what do you mean by “sustainable”? And to that I say—I mean it all:

Environmental sustainability – Nobody wants dead zones in the Gulf or hog lagoons poisoning the air. But environmental sustainability can’t be approached from the perspective of just one nutritional paradigm, because a food-health system must also have:

Cultural sustainability – We are not all going to become vegans or paleo eaters. Our food-health system must support a diversity of dietary approaches in ways that meet other criteria of sustainability.

Economic sustainability – Our food-health system must recognize the realities of both producers and consumers and address the economic engines that make our food-health system go around.

Political and scientific sustainability – Our food-health system must become a policy dialogue and a scientific dialogue. Think of how civil rights evolved: an equal rights law was passed, then overturned, a Jim Crow law was passed, then overturned, an equal right law was passed, then upheld, etc. etc. This dialogue reflected changing social norms and resistance to those changes. But we have no way to have a similar sort dialogue in our food-health system.

What would the world look like if, in 1980, an imaginary Department of Technology was given oversight of the development of all knowledge and production associated with technology? Production of food and knowledge about food (i.e. nutrition) became centralized within the USDA/HHS in 1977-1980 and there have been no policy levers built into the system to continue the conversation, as it were, since then. The Dietary Guidelines have remained virtually unchanged since 1977; our underlying assumptions about nutrition science have remained virtually unchanged since 1977. That’s like being stuck in the age of microwaves the size of Volkswagens, mainframe computers with punchcards, and “Pong.” We need a way for our food-health system to reflect changing social and scientific norms.

One of the primary shifts in understanding that has taken hold since 1977 is that:

There is no one-size-fits-all diet that works for everyone.

In 1979, Dr. William Weil Jr at the Department of Human Development at Michigan State University, voiced concern about “the frequent use of cross-national and cross-ethnic inferences” [Weil WB Jr. National dietary goals. Are they justified at this time? Am J Dis Child. 1979 Apr;133(4):368-70.]  He went on to day that we cannot assume that “because ‘a’ and ‘b’ are correlated in one population group that they will also be correlated in another group” yet our one-size-fits-all dietary recommendations make just that assumption.

There were more scientific articles generated from the Nurses’ Health Study–composed of 97% white women–in 2009 alone, than in the entire 10+ year history of the Black Women’s Health Study. Those large epidemiological studies done with a mostly white dataset are what drive our policy making, even though evidence also points to fact that we should not be making the assumptions to which Dr. Weil referred. A landmark study published in 2010 shows that African-Americans who consumed a “healthier” diet according to Dietary Guidelines standards actually gained more weight over time than African-Americans who ate a “less healthy” diet [Zamora D, Gordon-Larsen P, Jacobs DR Jr, Popkin BM. Diet quality and weight gain among black and white young adults: the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study (1985-2005). American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010 Oct;92(4):784-93].

.

DQI stands for Diet Quality Index. Blacks with a higher DQI had more weight gain over time than blacks with a lower DQI. From Zamora et al.

Even with a more homogenous population, this issue applies. Remember all those discussions about “safe starches” you heard at AHS2012?

This concept also captures the emerging knowledge of how genetic variability affects nutrition needs and health, i.e. individualized nutrition, a very useful buzzword. I have lots to say about n of 1 nutrition coming up soon. But, most of all, not trying to cram everyone into the same nutritional paradigm captures reality of our own lives and choices about food. Which brings me to:

Food is not just about nutrition, and nutrition is not just about science.*

When we all begin to question our own assumptions about food and nutrition, we will be better able to reach across communities, create common ground, and be humble about our way forward.

We need to understand and help others understand that all nutrition messages are constructed and contain embedded values and points of view.

We need to learn to ask and teach others to ask: Who made the message and why? Who may benefit or be harmed? How might people interpret this message differently?

We need to think and help others to think about income and funding models, industry, and the framing of dietary problems by scientist, bloggers, and the media (and I don’t just mean “the other guys”—apply these critical thinking skills to your own nutrition/food community).

Nothing about our food and nutrition thinking was born in a vacuum. Food is a part of our cultural and social fabric. It allows us to belong; it allows us to define ourselves. Even as we strive to find better science and to shift our current diet-nutrition paradigm, we must approach this with the understanding that there is no truly objective science. How science gets used, especially in the policy arena moves us even farther from that non-existent ideal. Even as we strive to improve public health, we must understand that we don’t always know what “health” and “healthy food” means to the people we think we are trying to serve.

If these points sound remarkably like the mission statement for Healthy Nation Coalition, my non-profit, then you’ve been paying attention. But it is not my plan for HNC to “lead” any nutrition reform movement as much as it is for us to get behind everyone else and shove them in the same direction. There is very much a herding kittens aspect to this (as Jorge of VidaPaleo.com pointed out), but as a former high school teacher and mother of three, this is not new territory to me.

So, yes, I have an agenda. Everyone has an agenda. I’ll spell mine out for you:

Somewhere out there in America, today, there is a young African-American girl being born into a country where many—if not most—of the forces in her world will propel her towards a future where she will gain weight, get sick, have both of her legs amputated, get dialysis three times a week, be unemployed and unemployable, on disability and welfare, and—this is what gets me out of bed in the morning and drags my weary ass to one more round of getting punched in the face by those very forces arrayed against her—she will, somewhere underneath it all, blame herself for her situation. I’m an old white lady, in a position of relative power and knowledge. I don’t know this young lady, and she doesn’t know me. She doesn’t owe me anything because she’s not asking for my help. But it is my job in this life to begin—at the very least—to shift those forces so that she has a better opportunity to choose a different life if she wants to. That’s all I care about. I don’t care who gets credit or who gets the cushy book deal.  I just want it to happen.  I would want the world to do the same for my children if they had not had the privilege of birthright that they do. That child is my child as sure as the three that live here and drive me crazy are. All I ask of the paleo community is that she be your child too. And if, as a community, you decide to adopt this child, well then, don’t worry about becoming an elitist fad made up of goofy-shoe wearing white people destined to fade into obscurity. Instead, you all will change the world.

Next Up: What makes a movement? (and I mean a social change one, not the bowel-y kind)

*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.

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33 thoughts on “The REAL Paleo Challenge: How NOT to be Just Another Elitist Fad for Skinny White People Wearing Goofy Shoes

  1. Adele, i am so glad that i found this article you wrote! Amazing! Almost all my questions answered…it all makes sense to me now. I know that at one point before everyone started going all “paleo” and the obesity epidemic was no where in sight food was actually natural, and the real problem lies at the point when it began being industrialized, processed, and pumped with all of things that are killing us today. I find many people just discouraged over how much thought and research they actually have to do before even purchasing “healthy” foods. It’s a nightmare. I think that public health policy and research will influence this area greatly and press for change. Thank you for your insight, and your hard work and dedication.

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words! It is sort of a big mess, isn’t it? But working on this stuff keeps me out of trouble (mostly).

      I personally like to make a distinction between “industrialized” and “processed” food–although I’m not sure it’s a very water-tight one. I think it is wise to be suspicious of foods that were not part of the human diet until recently, particularly soybean oil and HFCS. We’ve been “processing” foods for a very long time now, though, in various ways.

      You have much more faith in policy and science than I do 🙂 I keep hoping that mainstream nutrition science (particularly nutrition epi studies) and the Dietary Guidelines will be like a couple of whiny kids: Maybe if we ignore them long enough they will go away.

  2. Thank you for this post! As a Black woman browsing various blogs on paleo eating, I have noticed that majority of people representing this community are exactly the demographic you described above. I can’t help but feel “some kind of way” about it. What particularly bothers me most is that this way of eating has been marketed to “eat the way your primal ancestors ate”, but in my own experience growing up poor and living in a small town, that was how my mother and I got by. We luckily lived near large farms (at times I would l not hesitate to steal juicy ripe peaches off our neighbors tree) and grew our own food to supplement our meals. This freed up money for my mother to buy more meat at the store.
    I feel that this movement doesn’t recognize that those living on a smaller income have been doing this all along out of necessity, not some rediscovered lifestyle.

    1. Angie, Thanks so much for that perspective. Yes, poor folks have been relying on food that comes from close to home (as in yard chickens, etc.) for a long time. In both my family and my husband’s family, all the grandmothers knew how to kill a chicken and churn butter. Fat wasn’t scary; it was food. Something I didn’t know until recently: early food stamps programs focused on making fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, butter, and pork lard accessible to the poorest consumers. Protein from meat, however, was still relatively expensive and unavailable to low-income consumers–but, as you said, food stamps for these other basics freed families up to spend some of their limited income on meat.

      Poor folks all over the world have used plant proteins (rice/beans/corn/potatoes/barley/etc) supplemented by “home grown” animal products and fat (butter/milk/eggs/cheese/yogurt) to stretch meat-based meals or to “get by” when meat was too expensive to even eat the stuff you raised yourself (instead, a family was likely to sell much of their meat to buy tools or shoes–or rice and beans). The switch to meat–in an acknowledgement of its higher quality protein–occurred as incomes and quality of living improved. Pellagra is a great example of what happens when poor folks don’t have access to animal foods, even those simple “home grown” ones such as milk, butter, eggs.

      Right now, animal protein is the most expensive thing in the grocery store–right up there with highly-processed “junk food.” Eggs are relatively cheap, but the dietary cholesterol myths limit consumption; milk has protein, but consumers are steered towards highly-processed, skim varieties (which are the least tolerable to those with lactose issues, and unpalatable to many).

      I think it is an excellent point that “ancestral health” doesn’t have to mean “cavemen” ancestors. We can look back 50-70 years–prior to those pesky Dietary Guidelines–and see eating habits that were nourishing and economical–and perhaps more sustainable in that little was wasted and circles of production and consumption were smaller.

  3. I am so glad I found your blog! I am really interested in this issue. I have Alaskan Native ancestry, and many of my relatives have struggled with obesity, diabetes, auto-immune disease, depression, addictions, and cancer. My mother died of this combo at 59. This is unfortunately the norm. I am 2 generations removed from my hunter-gatherer ancestors who were eating moose, blubber, and seal oil (I have eaten all of these when we still lived in AK as a child). I know we can’t go back to that, (especially those of us who live in places like NC where arctic sea mammals are scarce), but I know we can do better than the Standard American Diet.

    Paleo/Primal eating has really connected the dots for me. It seems like an uphill battle to counter conventional wisdom and breakout of the “fringe”/fad-diet stereotype, but I am going back to school (at 44, Eeek!) to get my RD and MS in nutrition. I wish it could be at UNC, that’s my undergrad home, and it sounds like the nutrition program is somewhat progressive. I really want to empower people who have been disenfranchised from the epidemiological population, misled about the causes and cures of modern disease, and made sick from a one-size-fits-all approach to dietary standards and health care. It’s encouraging to know there are people like you who care and are working to promote change.

    1. Thanks for the kind words. I’m hear to tell you 44 is not too old to go back to school. At this point, it is even money as to whether I’ll get through menopause or my PhD dissertation defense first.

      I do hope you know about Dr. Jay Wortman and his documentary, My Big Fat Diet. If not, don’t even read the rest of this, go find them!

      It is very bothersome to me that we make dietary recommendations as if the connection between food & health is a democratic process. If there’s more white folks in our dataset, and our dataset says a low-fat, high-carb diet leads to good health, well, the majority “vote” says to eat that way. Buried in the dataset are age differences, racial & ethnic differences, gender differences, socioeconomic differences, and any combination of factors. But it is as if it doesn’t matter.

      I wish you lots of luck in your nutrition pursuits. Keep me posted, friend me on FB 🙂 Be sure to check out the RD blog post–you may want to join the PaleoRD facebook group.

      1. I love it!! I am so getting that movie and sharing it with my family! I remember my mom made us Agootuk (?) when I was a kid–– aka Eskimo ice cream. It’s supposed to be animal fat mixed with berries. Here in the south we did ours with Crisco, berries and sugar…and we thought ours was the healthy version!

        1. Animal fat mixed with berries? I do that! (Creme fraiche counts as animal fat, right?)

          So you hadn’t heard of the movie? (I think there needs to be a drinking game for every time Dr. Eric Westman appears on camera in an ugly sweater . . . )

          BTW, love your blog–great recipes (Ants Climb a Tree looks deelish & I have cabbage in my not-so-magnificent fridge.)

  4. I am brand new to Paleo on the advice of 2 doctors and a nutritionist to help me overcome 2 autoimmune diseases and pre-diabetes. I’ve been so focused on how to do it and who’s gotten well on the eating plan that I’ve completely missed the bigger picture. I am certainly not the typical Paleo person you describe above – I am white, but am also overweight, sick, post-menopausal and don’t have much money because of being on disability due to my illnesses. (which explains why you won’t see me at one of those conferences) I would just like to say that I’ve found the Paleo community, imperfect as they are, to be very generous, supportive and motivational. I certainly don’t see myself ever setting foot in a CrossFit gym, but good for those who can and are so inspired. I also don’t see myself staying 100% on Paleo the rest of my life. I certainly hope I recover my health enough to eat a more varied diet, but time will tell. Thank you for holding the bigger picture of sustainability and diversity. There is much work to be done in all the areas you address in this excellent blog post.

    1. Dara, thanks for sharing your story. I’ve found the ancestral health (which I think encompasses paleo/primal/more) community to be wonderfully welcoming in both philosophy and in practice. But it is also true that subpopulations that have been most affected by both the obesity crisis and by the past 30 years of government nutrition policy, are not *currently* either involved in or the focus of efforts of this community. This makes sense in many ways; we have to start somewhere. But once the momentum is there (and I think it is) we can choose to continue to focus solely on optimizing performance and health for young, (upper) middle class white folks–or we can make sure that voices and stories like yours become a more prominent part of the conversation and that we begin to shift our focus towards changing public health perspectives, not just personal health.

      In many ways, I think it is wonderful that all these generally healthy, fit, well-educated idealistic young white folks are eating well, exercising, and developing a concern about our food environment and food policies. That means they should have lots of resources (time/money/brain power/energy/etc) to apply to this issue, right? 🙂 I see my job as helping them, as you said, see beyond the CrossFit WOD and pemmican sticks to better health for everyone.

  5. Adele, I just found you blog via WeightMaven and enjoyed this post very much. A progressive tone is very much missing in the rather self-centred paleo “community”.

    The main bloggers are friendly and many focus just on science, which is neutral, but you are often just one click away from the National Rife Association. The community has a strong focus on the health effects of nature, but I never saw a link to a nature conservation group. Paleo is inspired by the life style of hunter-gatherers, but I had to hear about Survival International, an organisation that helps indigenous peoples protect themselves, on the German radio. There is lots of talk about expensive food, supplements and gear, but not about anti-hierarchical strategies used by hunter-gather groups to keep their band egalitarian and strong.

    I hope the more progressive part of the movement will grow and more people can feel more at home.

    1. All good points, Victor. The paleo community is a diverse bunch (and of course if you are a true “hunter-gatherer” I guess you need your rifle?), but I’m personally ready for the focus to shift away from “me and my body” to “me and my community/world.” We do need to expand our vision a bit, as you said, to what is going on in that big wide world out there.

  6. Adele, thanks for speaking my mind so clearly and with such conviction! You cogently explain how it’s the whole world at stake. Not only every current born and yet to be born human, but the animals, plants, and Mother Earth herself. We’ve got to take care of our birthright.

    1. Absolutely & thanks for the kind words. There is an awful lot a stake here. I’ve been trying to think about what I’ve learned about social change and movements and apply it to what I see in the current “alternative nutrition” communities to see if we can get past some of the focus on minutiae (which is fascinating and informative, but can shorten our sights) and find a larger cause that can unite us. There is so much talent and wisdom and energy in the AHS and paleo communities–and WAPF, low-carb, and others–that it would be a shame not to use it towards a larger purpose.

      1. Don’t worry. I know it seems as if the little debates take center stage (e.g., the safe starch panel), but keeping this in perspective, it’s just part of a much, much bigger picture in which we all are playing a part to achieve a common goal. Over time, I think folks will realize that (with a lot of hard work behind the scenes), we’re putting in place the organizational structures and institutions (WAPF, AHS, HNC, etc.) that will allow all of us “common folk” to have a say that will change the world. It’s gonna take a lot of Davids to go up against the Goliaths of Monsanto, USDA, Big Pharma, etc. What I’m particularly proud of with the AHS is that it is an organization in which anyone who is a member has a say in governance, and has the freedom to run for office. I won’t be there forever (thank goodness). Instead, new folks will continue to rotate through the organizational governance. I think the diversity of “criticism” I’ve seen about AHS is actually a great thing. It especially shows that just about everyone, including the critics, see that there’s something to AHS that just might change the world. I hope so, because like you, I have children, and I worry a heck of a lot about their future inheritance, which includes everyone and everything else on this planet.

        1. I’m more optimistic now than I’ve ever been in the past decade that I’ve been wrapping my brain around this issue, and certainly AHS is part of that feeling of hope. Without a doubt, one of the strengths of AHS is that–at least in my experience–criticism is allowed and even welcomed. It is not based on a “cult of personality” (as some nutrition reform organizations are) that silences/excludes opposition. Certainly, this is a quality that is crucial to being able to grow its values into a mature movement for social change. I look forward to joining the efforts of AHS for a long time to come.

  7. Adele,
    I am glad to have met you at AHS. Glad we could talk. I appreciate your passion as it matches my own. I am less focused on cultural or race based discrepancies. I just want every single person that walks in my clinic to have a better chance at health. I have treated the dialysis dependent double amputee African American woman you described while working as an internal medicine resident. Now I treat the broken down overweight, weak, poorly nourished, and often affluent white folks in Utah as a physiatrist. I understand the epidemiologic statistics but I only see the individuals in my office one person at a time.
    There may be a fad among a certain “type” but fortunately that type has a voice and means to influence the masses. I see it as a great thing and great opportunity. Those with the most influence need this message first. There may be societal inequalities that have led to this current imbalance but that is for another day and another group to tackle. Let’s get the system within the system in place and create an uprising.

    1. Well said. Yes, it was a pleasure to meet you as well. You gave me some great ideas. It actually took me a long time to start thinking of my work in nutrition within a larger social context. I, like you, tend to be perfectly happy working with individuals. But I have a story (which is turning into a series of blog posts, I’m afraid) about a woman who changed my mind about this.

      I agree that we should use our power (and acknowledge that we do have power where others might not) for the good of all. Absolutely it is a wonderful opportunity. I would agree that there may be social inequalities that have led to some of our current health disparities; I just happen to think that our current approach to nutrition (i.e one-size-fits-all, top-down–not to mention low-fat, whole grain) is one of them. Fix our food-health system and we go a long way towards fixing health disparities, because to fix that system, in the end, we have to acknowledge that there might be some non-white folks out there to whom 97% white nutrition epi studies don’t apply.

      So, yes, the sub-system. Let’s do it. I have an “individualized nutrition” training tool that may be a useful way to create a “personalized meal plan approach” for those of you who need a quick way to discuss essential nutrition needs with patients. I’m sure you all could make it lots better . . .

    1. Thanks Ameer. I’ve been thinking about this stuff so much my brain hurts, so it’s really nice to get positive feedback.

  8. Thanks for this blog post. Eye opening and very well written. I didn’t attend AHS but I see the issue being raised as a real one. However, I have a very diverse set of friends that have tried, and liked, the paleo approach to fitness. They are as diverse as the city I live in and all have had varying degrees of success. I would assume that those attending AHS are quite a biased sample. The group that can afford to fly around the country enjoying their hobby and also to show off their success and share their success. Those with health problems are disinclined to spend their time and money going to AHS when most of it will probably be over their heads or not directly impact their day to day life anyway. Just my 2c.

    Love your mission statement and will be following the blog as I have time.

    1. When I spent a semester in DC, I found the paleo community there to be more diverse that what I saw at AHS. I also heard plenty of remarks about “paleo nutcases” from young white middle class educated Americans, the very demographic to which paleo seems to most appeal. I don’t consider the lack of diversity at AHS a “problem” as much as phenomenon to be looked at carefully. I think you are right that those with current health problems probably have other concerns–and expenses–that outstrip rubbing elbows with the paleo cognoscenti.

  9. I agree with everything you have written and in my opinion, it is a perspective the Paleo community needs. I am new to learning about all the current research concerning nutrition and believe, that for our species to continue to evolve and survive, our current dietary beliefs and practices have to change. And I want health for everyone–not just the wealthy or privileged who can afford to buy grass-fed meat and organic produce as I am not one of the them.

    Thank you so much for writing this and for all you do to help this become a reality.

    Carolyn Curielli

    1. Carolyn, I couldn’t agree with you more about our current dietary beliefs and practices needing to change. Exactly how they should change, or might change, is the tricky part. Right now, because policies and practices surrounding our food knowledge and food production come from the same place (USDA/HHS), these two things have become conflated so that the foods that have been deemed “healthy” are also the ones that are cheap and available (see the list of supported foods at any WIC program). We need to find a way to separate these things so that food knowledge (nutrition) regains the scientific integrity that has been lost by its association with food production, and so that food production can respond to a market that chooses foods based on this new knowledge paradigm.
      I don’t mind that this process all starts with white middle-class educated folks, I just want to make sure it doesn’t stop there.

  10. There should be no paleo dogma and no paleo elite. If “paleo” changes the world it will be because the science builds, the N=1s become legion, and current iteration becomes more inclusive. I’m cautiously optimistic this will be the case.

    1. Ah, I am optimistic as well, although science alone will not ever be enough. Right now, I’m afraid that–short of a widely-publicized, decades long, RCT that is impeccably executed with crystal clear results–the USDA/HHS Guidelines-making-machine is designed to be able to exclude/ignore any science that doesn’t fit their paradigm. If you haven’t seen how that works, see Hite et al, 2010. Working on this paper, I was impressed at how the science really could get misrepresented and excluded. A graduate of my MPH/RD program who spent a semester in Washington, DC working on the USDA’s Evidence Analysis Library said she experienced this firsthand. She kept getting sent back to PubMed to find the “right” science, rather than the answer to the question at hand.

    1. You are right, but a Caucasian-American child is simply more likely to have a social and economic environment–not to mention the genetic makeup–that will allow her to weather the misguided policy and limited science a little better. In a country where the playing field is far from level, having national dietary guidelines and a food system that seem to be especially devastating to the health of minorities is like taking that uneven playing field and seeding it with landmines.

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