#AHS12 – Day 1 recap
After spending 3 days in full-on tweet mode at AHS12, I needed a few days of decompression. Sorry twitter, you wore me out. So, apologies for the tardiness on getting my AHS12 recap written. Here goes…
I drove 9 hours from DC up to Boston to attend the 2012 Ancestral Health Symposium presented by the Ancestral Health Society and the Harvard Food Law Society. Having been to Paleo(fx) earlier in the year, I knew I should expect a “nerdier” affair than before and, as expected, the paleo community delivered. Rather than taking notes on paper, I opted for note-taking via twitter. Here is a link for all my #AHS12 tweets, and here are my photos from Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3.
Our first day of cavemania kicked off with an evolutionary biology primer from Harvard’s Human Evolutionary Biology department chair, Dan Lieberman, Ph.D. This was an essential starting point for any discussions of paleolithic nutrition in the the neolithic era. Lieberman also had some interesting points that struck a cord with endurance athletes like myself:
- Homo erectus walked 9-15km a day. “We see in the bodies of homo erectus an endurance athlete.”
- Bipedalism was an adaptation for saving the high energy costs of knuckle-dragging.
- The body doesn’t want to waste resources on traits that don’t favor reproduction. (i.e. We sacrificed some VO2max for some procreation abilities.)
- We evolved to conserve energy, which is why we hate to exercise.
Lieberman’s lecture was important to set the tone for the vast array of discussions that came ahead. Most importantly, he reminded us that there is no single paleo diet.
David Sloan Wilson, Ph.D. reiterated this statement in his talk just after Lieberman’s. Depending on the tribe, location and moment in time, our ancestors consumed any number of different diets. There was never one specific paleo diet throughout history, but we know the general framework of what was and wasn’t available. All we can derive from anthropology are hypotheses, and these must then be tested through empirical research. Otherwise, these evolutionary hypotheses remain ‘just-so’ stories.
Another Harvard researcher, Mat LaLonde, Ph.D. (aka “The Kracken”), presented what I found to be the most fascinating and useful presentation of the week. Mat discussed the shortcomings of current food-ranking systems that exist today, then presented his own food-ranking system that takes a more thorough and fair ranking based on nutrient density. The currently-used systems rank based on macronutrient breakdowns (favoring low-fat foods) and take little consideration of actual nutrient density (they consider only a few of the many nutrients, generally ignoring the especially-critical fat soluble Vitamins A, D, E and K2). Mat used the USDA food database of 7907 foods and created a spreadsheet ranking foods based on nutrient density, normalizing for things like water volume. As could be assumed, organ meats came out on top, with liver reigning as the king of nutrient density. Grains and legumes at first appeared to be high on the scale, but Mat noticed that they only ranked high when in their raw states. After cooking, grains and legumes lose most of their nutritional value. So, don’t believe the v*gans who tout all their nutritious cardboard-like food. Meat wins by a long shot. Oysters, eggs and cheese are also up there on the scale.
Then came a food policy panel that focused on local government being the most effective vector for creating change in one’s food system. At the higher levels of government, there are more strings pulling in each direction, so it is harder to enact change. Corporate interests aside, panelists noted that research propagating government messages get more funding, so bias exists in all levels of the system. Pay attention to details and make your own assessments.
Peter Ballerstedt presented a talk on sustainability (a topic near and dear to my heart). Overall, I agreed with his messages that “grass-based agriculture is the only true sustainable agriculture” and that grass-fed meat is carbon negative because it fixes 3.2lbs of carbon for every 1lb emitted, but towards the end he appeared to be stating that there are little differences between grass-fed and grain-fed meat, justifying this with comparisons of n3/n6 levels. He then noted he works for a seed company so his interpretation could be biased. I would agree that this is HUGE bias. Takeaway: do everything you can to purchase local grass-fed meat, but if you are unable then don’t fret the grain-fed meat. It’s better than none.
Paleo Baby Jesus presented his “City Zero” presentation and, after talking to him 1-on-1 about some of this other projects, I have to hand it to him – Robb is full throttle doing what he can to make as big and positive of an impact on this world as possible. He has the city of Reno’s at-risk police and fire personnel all on a paleo diet/lifestyle with pretty much phenomenal results across the board (duh). He is working on creating an insurance company for ancestral health providers (hell yeah), and his yet-to-be-discussed projects are equally exciting and game-changing. Bravo, Robb Wolf. Bravo. Robb also noted the intestinal-healing properties of metforming for night shift workers, suggesting that all night workers should be on it. Docs in the audience were quick to grab the mic and note that this should be a discussion between a patient and a provider since metformin carries additional risks (diarrhea, nausea, etc.)
Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm presented the conference’s keynote presentation, entitled “Folks, This Ain’t Normal” (the same name and message as his most recent book). As anyone will attest, Joel is not just a brilliant farmer but also a brilliant wordsmith. If you ever have the opportunity to hear him speak or buy his food, it is worth every penny. His talk focused on how today’s societal norm is so disconnected from our historical and true norm. We are a society of “go, go, go” but we have our eyes set on the wrong sights. We are more concerned with the quality of our gasoline than the quality of our food. Home is no longer the nucleus of where things happen. We need to bring back the historical normal. “Buy from a farmer. Get in the kitchen. Participate.” Amen, Joel.
All of my #AHS12 links: