For someone interested in ancestral health and nutrition, Atlanta was the place to be in 2013.
Both the Ancestral Health Society and the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) held their annual conferences at the Sheraton Hotel downtown which means that I had access to world-class speakers, research and networking a mere five miles from my house twice in the past few months.
That’s just all good, right?
As you know, I describe myself as a Paleo-ish type of gal who incorporates as many traditional foods as I can and has to omit some foods that often irritate folks with autoimmune issues. My family consumes dairy, so if you wanted to strictly define us, we’d be a Paleo/Primal/WAPF/AIP family.
When you put it like that, it sounds kind of silly, no?
The label sounds pretty silly because it really doesn’t matter much. Unless you are hip to the “real food” lingo, it doesn’t really tell you much.
Operationalized, it means we eat a lot of grassfed and pastured meat and eggs. We eat some grassfed dairy, including lots of butter. We eat all three macronutrients (fat, protein and carbohydrates) with gusto. We strive to eat as seasonally and as locally as possible. We minimize refined foods and are careful about the amount of sugar we consume. We incorporate “functional foods” like ferments into our meals whenever possible. And, we have a lot of fun eating really delicious vegetables, meats, and fruits.
Because of all this, I can move pretty seamlessly from the Paleo crowd to the Primal crowd to the WAPF crowd. All those folks are united by common goals: to promote the consumption of optimally nourishing foods, to support local and sustainable food providers, and to minimize the availability and influence of processed foodstuffs.
And. Yet. Still.
Over the past few months, the WAPF, notably President Sally Fallon Morrell, has launched something of an assault on what she terms “the Paleo diet,” under the guise of distinguishing it from WAPF principles.
Now, first, let me back up a little and say that Morrell’s book Nourishing Traditions rocks. If “real food” is your thing, it’s a must-own.
And for the past six years, that book defined what Sally Fallon Morrell stood for to me. Then, this past spring, a controversy arose in the breastfeeding community about some assertions from the WAPF camp that mothers eating a vegan diet would be better off feeding formula to their babies because their breast milk lacked nutrition. Suffice it to say that the breastfeeding blogosphere erupted. Unlatched does a great job both outlining the drama and countering the assertions made. The last word came for me when Dr. Jack Newman, a breastfeeding luminary, posted this statement to his Facebook page.
The whole WAPF breastfeeding debacle made me worry a bit about WAPF. My takeaway was that the group seemed to be more of a cult of personality focused around Dr. Price and Sally Fallon Morrell than an organization committed to sound evidence-based nutritional information.
Fast forward to this past summer, when the WAPF newsletter Wise Traditions featured a bit from Morrell distinguishing the WAPF diet from the Paleo diet. Many of her assertions struck me as odd. For example, she talks about the burden a Paleo diet is on children because they don’t get to enjoy fun things like ice cream and cake. The WAPF, mind you, holds that all dairy should be raw and all grains should be soaked and sprouted. I can tell you, as a mom in Georgia, soaking and sprouting grains and acquiring raw dairy would be far more burdensome to our family than the coconut milk ice creams and cakes that I make.
Paleo thought-leaders responded. Diane Sanfilippo, author of the New York Times best seller Practical Paleo and her co-host Liz Wolfe offered a rebuttal to Morrell in their Balanced Bites podcast #97. And Jimmy Moore, the uber-popular blogger behind Living La Vida Low Carb interviewed Morrell on his podcast to discuss her claims.
So, I thought, that was that. Morrell was clearly operating off some misconceptions about what Paleo is and what the community is trying to accomplish but surely, I thought, between Jimmy Moore and Balanced Bites, all that’s been cleared up.
Except that on October 7th, this piece was posted to the WAPF website, attempting to differentiate the Paleo diet from the WAPF diet. And, on the same day, this “thumbs down review” of Wolf’s New York Times best seller The Paleo Solution was also posted here.
While I am sure Robb could offer up a litany of ways that Morrell gets what he said wrong, I’d like to point to the most glaring issue in Morrell’s Paleo/WAPF comparison. Under the “carbohydrates” side-by-side, she says of Paleo, “Carbohydrates not necessary. Avoid both refined and unrefined carbs.”
No. No, no, no. Paleo does not globally espouse a zero carbohydrate diet.
To give you just a taste, you can read Chris Kresser’s discussion of carb consumption here or more recently here. And Robb Wolf wrote a very comprehensive three-part series on the carb issue that starts here. A quick perusal of popular Paleo recipe sites will offer up bountiful carbohydrate-rich recipes. A Stalkerville search on “butternut” yields eight pages of recipes. And Diane Sanfilippo offers up many recipes at the bottom of her post on dense carb sources for a Paleo diet.
So clearly, Morrell has it wrong on that front. But, also clearly, her message has resonated with the WAPFers because at breakfast on Saturday at the conference, upon hearing that my family ate mainly Paleo, one of my table mates said, “Now, that means no carbohydrates, right?”
Later that Saturday, day three of the conference, I’m enjoying an absolutely fabulous presentation from Chris Masterjohn and live-tweeting like a fool to get his info out there when I see this tweet from Jimmy Moore:
— Jimmy Moore (@livinlowcarbman) November 8, 2013
I replied that it was ironic because much of the literature about the conference seemed Paleo-friendly.
Jimmy’s tweet provoked a lot of conversation including replies from Robb Wolf, Diane Sanfilippo and Laura Schoenfeld of Ancestralize Me who, like me, attended the conference. I won’t link to them all, but a hashtag search on #WAPF2013 will offer up many of the threads.
Laura, who was a live-tweeting fiend throughout the conference … definitely go to her Twitter page for the best info … evidently got up the (substantial) nerve to challenge Morrell at the conference’s closing session:
— Laura Schoenfeld (@AncestralizeMe) November 10, 2013
According to Laura, Morrell’s reply was something along the lines of “tell them they’re wrong.”
Friends, let me just remind you that the world that we inhabit right now looks like this:
- More than 1/3rd of American adults are obese. (CDC)
- The estimated annual cost of obesity in the US is nearly $150 billion. (CDC)
- On average, every 40 seconds, an American dies of a cardiovascular event. (American Heart Association)
- Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and more than tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. (CDC)
- The food and beverage industry spends, on average, $2 billion per year marketing to children. (Prevention Institute)
You know from my past posts that I care deeply about bridging the gap with others who, although we may disagree about the how, believe fiercely in the whys of healthful eating. So this “false dichotomy” between WAPF and the Paleo movement that Morrell seems to have created really gets my goat. It is a supreme waste of time, energy and (most importantly) momentum that we could be using to start to chip away at some of those statistics above.
Here in the South, this whole debacle is kind of like a Presbyterian calling out the Methodists for having the whole God thing all wrong.
So, I just have to say, for the love of cod (liver oil), can’t we all just get along?