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2013 Update: unfortunately, there have been some very deliberate displays of animosity from the leadership of the Weston A. Price Foundation directed toward the Paleo movement as a whole. This is unnecessary and unworthy of what the larger Real Food movement represents, and while it’s important to separate the “figureheads” from the actual movement itself, it’s also important to WATCH for whether individual venom is allowed to poison the entire organization. I still plan on attending the WAPF conference this year, because the community and the speakers are generally truly phenomenal, but I will also be MORE vocal about an organization also doing amazing work – the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, who are deeply involved with my Nutritional Therapy certifying organization, the Nutritional Therapy Association.
Original post created January 2, 2011:
I began my Primal-Paleo journey a few years back. I leaned into it, leaned out of it, failed miserably, tried again, and finally settled in to a good rhythm once I realized that this way of life doesn’t fit into a “diet” box. As I began to allow the underlying ideals to absorb and permeate, I realized there was more to it than what I put on my dinner plate.
In short, this journey was like learning to read. Suddenly you can’t help but see all the words around you. “Paleo” isn’t just about food. It’s about opening up a new world of learning, applying and progressing; Taking the wisdom of the Paleo movement (not the “Paleo rulebook,” which does NOT exist, despite many claims to the contrary) and using it as a guide to blaze your own path of independent thought and health.
The key is getting to know yourself better as you execute the principles that speak most to you – all while getting in touch with your instinct and trusting it moving forward. What’s more Primal than that?
Some time ago I discovered the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation and the Weston A. Price Foundation, as well as the annual Wise Traditions Conference of the WAPF, which often features “Paleo-friendly” movers & shakers like Chris Masterjohn and Denise Minger.
I talk about the WAP Foundation often. Dr. Weston Price was a dentist who, in the 1930s, set out to understand why the modern American experienced such profound dental problems, from a crowded mouth to dental decay. A broad history with the WAP recommendations that resulted can be found by clicking here, and more on the Price-Pottenger connection can be found here.
As detailed in Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, (buy it. Read it.) Dr. Price spent years researching and documenting the lives of indigenous and non-Westernized cultures across the world – cultures that suffered none of the diseases of civilization. The people of these cultures, untouched by modern foods, not only had perfect health…they had perfect teeth.
Dr. Price wanted to know what these cultures did to remain so healthy.
Dr. Price found that “traditional diets,” as different as they were in different parts of the globe, all contained ten times the fat-soluble vitamins of, and had far greater minerals content than, modern diets. These vitamins and minerals were obtained through various combinations of animal products, organ meats, cholesterol-rich foods like eggs and raw milk, and shellfish – and some cultures, bound by resource availability, also made grains and beans work through processes of soaking and sprouting to disable anti-nutrients.
(Luckily, we aren’t really bound by resource limitations in the modern world, so we can focus more on the most nutrient-dense foods from animals and roots, tubers and veggies lower in digestive irritants.)
Most importantly, upon introduction of modern foods like refined flour and sugar, these well-structured faces of the people Dr. Price observed narrowed, health problems took root, and tooth decay set in. A modern comparison: the introduction of vegetable oils into the modern diet have likely led to a similar epidemic of health problems. (For more on that, browse Chris Masterjohn’s site.)
Check out this video:
A paragraph from Dr. Price’s records filled me with admiration for the man:
We have shown a most laudable and sympathetic interest in carrying our culture to the remnants of these primitive races. Would it not be fortunate to accept in exchange lessons from their inherited knowledge? It may be not only our greatest opportunity, but our best hope for stemming the tide of our progressive breakdown and also for our return to harmony with Nature’s laws, since life in its fullness is Nature obeyed.”
To summarize: “why are we forcing our unhealthy crap on healthy people? Why aren’t we learning from THEM instead?”
This utter respect for what he called “primitive” (I call them “ancestral” or “traditional”) cultures’ deep and profound understanding of what nourishes is inspiring and his message is worth repeating and preserving.
Dr. Price understood how much there was to learn from the peoples he studied. He respected their knowledge enough to give it due credit, and devoted his life to documenting and preserving it. These people were healthy, and they were alive – not just as caricatures in the anthropological record, but as thriving examples of ancestral wisdom passed down over generations. They may not have known the science behind their ways, but they knew that these “ways” kept them strong and in perfect health.
Now, we know the science. Best of both worlds.
Does this all sound familiar? The “Paleo” movement has the same set of larger values – using our understanding of history to inform our lives in the modern world. This means learning, applying what we learn, and learning more. It means emulating the spirit of community we also see in ancestral cultures and embodying these values together. That’s what makes a movement.
We are not cavemen; neither were these isolated cultures who maintained extraordinary health without modern foods or medicines. (This may not all fit into a soundbite, but whadyagonnado?)
There are differences, of course, between the Paleo, Primal, and Weston A. Price “out-of-the-box” recommendations. (Update: see my post on “Troubleshooting” the “is it Paleo?” question.)
On top of their recommendations for a diet rich in cholesterol, animal products and saturated fat, The Weston A. Price foundation advocates plenty of raw milk and “properly prepared” grains. While there’s likely something to be said for raw milk, grains are generally cast off by Paleo and Primal folk.
Paleo folks argue that grains are never, ever a GOOD idea. I generally agree, as do other Nutritional Therapists certified by the Nutritional Therapy Association, which is tightly linked to the Price-Pottenger Foundation.
I don’t see the “properly prepared” grain-friendly attitude as a problem, because what works for others isn’t my beeswax. There are “ancestral” strains of grain that may be better-tolerated than the modern garbage we call “whole grains.” There are gluten-free grains, like buckwheat, that probably won’t attack your intestines with an anti-nutrient machete. I simply hope that if a certain food – whether “Paleo Approved” or “Weston A. Price Approved” – doesn’t work for someone, they’ll be in-tune enough with their own journey to stop eating it.
Being open to ideas instead of dogma is step one in making the principles of ancestral eating work for you.
You don’t have to agree with every ideal from every mouthpiece of every camp to put the best of all worlds to work for your health, longevity, nourishment, and happiness.
Plenty of Paleo folks realize that a food shouldn’t be eaten just because a caveman might’ve eaten it. (‘Scuse me, but…duh.)
Similarly, a food shouldn’t be eaten just because the people of the High Alps of Switzerland (a population Dr. Price researched) ate it. We all aim to eat the most nourishing foods possible, and it just so happens that those foods are…wait for it…real foods like pastured meats, veggies, fish, eggs, fruit, and anything and everything you can make (or pickle…or ferment…) using those same things.
It also “just so happens” that pastured, hormone-free, locally produced meats are more nutritious, better for the environment and our bodies, AND we can support local farmers by seeking them out. Which is why both movements support the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.
This brings me to my favorite part about the WAP Foundation. Quoting directly:
The Foundation supports raising animals on pasture as much of the year as possible, and opposes confinement operations, feedlots, debeaking, growth hormones, routine antibiotics in feed, inappropriate feed such as soy, and other practices that harm animals’ health and well-being, harm the environment, and result in animal foods that are not optimally nutritious for humans…
The Foundation is dedicated to restoring nutrient-dense foods to the human diet through education, research and activism. It supports a number of movements that contribute to this objective including accurate nutrition instruction, organic and biodynamic farming, pasture-feeding of livestock, community-supported farms, honest and informative labeling, prepared parenting and nurturing therapies. Specific goals include establishment of universal access to clean, certified raw milk and a ban on the use of soy formula for infants.”
Now, we all – Paleo, Primal, PPNF and WAP-ers alike – realize that modern Soy (and processed food, and GMO grains) can be pretty evil, that babies need nutrient-dense diets, and that grass-feeding of animals creates a superior product. Isn’t that where it all starts? Common ground, baby!
There seems to be a bit of animosity between Sally Fallon, the President of the WAP Foundation and author of Nourishing Traditions and co-author of Eat Fat, Lose Fat; and Loren Cordain, author of the original The Paleo Diet and The Paleo Diet for Athletes. I believe this is a result of Fallon’s extreme passion and uncompromising nature, which leads her to be incredibly specific about the “Okays” and the “No Ways,” of a “nourishing” diet, and Cordain’s deep steeping in anthropology that led to his recommendations based on replicating ancestral norms.
Personally: I think Sal should take a chill pill, because we’re all in this together. I appreciate her work and her passion, but as each movement grows, we will only continue to grow closer to one another.
If I got the two in a room together I’d make them hold hands and sing, because the two of them, along with folks like Robb Wolf, Mark Sisson, Chris Kresser, Chris Masterjohn, Denise Minger, and basically the entire docket of the Ancestral Health Symposium are pret-ty much the Power Rangers of the Foodocalypse. When their powers combine, they’re the Real Food Captains Planet! (Captain Planets?)
(Yes, that was a Saturday Morning TV two-fer!)
To wrap it up, check out my Nutrition in 100 Words post. Share it far and wide. Call me Paleo, Primal, Pottenger-y or Price-tastic, it’s all about seeking nutrients and moving forward together!