A Libertarian's Take on the First Ever Ancestral Health Symposium

Recently by Karen De Coster: When the Sugar Police Go MarchingIn

I just returned from California, where I attended the first Ancestral Health Symposium in Los Angeles on the UCLA campus, which Dr. Loren Cordain, an early advocate of the Paleolithic diet, has described as “the Woodstock of evolutionary medicine.”

Indeed it was — plenty of minimalist shoes, bare feet, pony tails, shaved heads, colorful clothing, muscle shirts, ripped bodies, anti-state talk, food choice advocacy, fat-fortified beef jerky, and wonderful waist sizes. However, instead of smoking pot and dancing naked, most of us were busy polishing off all of the wonderful, grass-fed food being passed out, for free, by US Wellness Meats. Considering the campus cafeteria and its mostly slop food — aside from the salads, which were overpriced and required a long wait in line — I discovered that I had a choice of either nibbling at the US Wellness beef jerky, pemmican, and grass-fed cheese all day, or settling for a couple of days of involuntary fasting. Actually, I did a little bit of both, and indulged in satisfactory provisions at local restaurants each evening.

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Readers not so familiar with this movement will ask: what exactly is ancestral health? The Ancestral Health website describes it this way: "The Ancestral Health Symposium fosters collaboration among scientists, healthcare professionals and laypersons who study and communicate about health from an evolutionary perspective to develop solutions to our modern health challenges." The conference speakers and attendees included MDs, scientists, PhDs-to-be, medical school students, health and medical writers, authors, fitness specialists, nonconformist nutritionists, filmmakers, psychologists, bariatric specialists, bloggers, health hobbyists, lifestyle writers, and intelligent laypeople who understand that they don't need a special degree from the education establishment to learn about, and live, the ancestral health lifestyle.

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The ancestral health audience is often synonymous with the paleo culture (Paleolithic-type lifestyle/diet); the primal lifestylers as championed by Mark Sisson; the real foodists (natural, whole foods; not industrial-chemical concoctions); and the eco-agricultural lifestylers (such as those who associate with the magnificent Weston A. Price Foundation). I would describe the ancestral health movement as a force for educating people in order to equip them with the intellectual tools that are necessary to deny the conventional wisdom of the special interests and the government-medical corporatocracy so they can become accountable for their own health and life. This movement strives to educate people through science — and so many people do so much hard work for free, and that is because it is a purely grass-roots movement dedicated to spreading knowledge and helping others through voluntary and cooperative efforts. I know, that sounds mighty darn libertarian, doesn't it?

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Certainly, libertarians and anarchists are drawn to this lifestyle because of our innate ability to see through the façade of conventional wisdom that is built by political interests and buttressed by an assortment of money trails. We do not deny conventional wisdom for the sake of being anti-mainstream, as some people opine; rather, we naturally tend toward the procurement of skepticism, critical thinking, and other skills that the rank and file just do not seem to possess. For instance, the average person reads a headline such as, "Fat makes you fat," and they will believe that it must be true because it was based on some "official" study that is misrepresented in the story. Conversely, we libertarians tend to say, hey, wait a minute — how was the study interpreted by the media, who performed/funded the study, and how scientific was the study? Mark Sisson, perhaps the most visible person within the ancestral health community, calls this taking responsibility for your "own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we've assumed to be true about health and wellness."

I recall the days on the old libertarian listservs and email lists where libertarians eagerly debated Dr. Atkins and his high-fat, low-carb ideas and supported his fight against the medical-nutritional oligarchy. The interest in Atkins led libertarians to study and comprehend the faulty research of Ancel Keys and the government-endorsed lipid hypothesis, as well as the role of the government in setting dietary guidelines that would benefit Big Agra, Big Pharma, and the industrial food machine. My personal interest in Atkins, that commenced in the 1990s, led me to write a lot of non-byline, website content for Atkins Nutritionals as a freelance writer. This happened when an editor for Atkins was looking for a writer to work Thanksgiving weekend and clean up some poorly written copy that was lacking some bolstering facts. She found me through a Google search, liked my acerbic writing approach, and contacted me about taking on the work. We hooked up, and about two years of paid work was the outcome. The glories of the information revolution.

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I'll get back to the culture and content of the symposium. In fact, I'll start with a few cynical observations that I must let rip. What stands out, for me, is that there were some painfully predictable patterns in this 2-day PaleoLand — well, at least they were predicted by me – especially the bare feet and the Vibrams shoes and the cross-fit guys in muscle gear and weightlifting shoes. It sort of reminded me of my Harley-Davidson homies who all dress alike, in black vests, patches, and black everything, in order to be "different" from all the others. Kind of makes my eyes roll. Undoubtedly, some of the me-too fashion was a bit daft, but then again, who am I to diss these right-thinking, health-conscious, kindred spirits who were there because they are more astute than 98% of their fellow human beings? After all, we were all there because we are unorthodox in one form or another. Weird, crazy, and frenzied come to mind. To be sure, "no shoes, no shirt" would not have been a problem at this conference. In fact, most of this crowd, unlike the general masses, would not have scared anyone away in a no-shirt mode. Lots of beautiful people, as you would expect. Remarkably, there were whole rooms of people with shoulders wider than their waists. So, the occasional uniformity gets a pass here — with a smile.

One thing that was missing from many of the speakers and informal conversations, that I noticed, was spirited discussion of the root of the problem for our obese, sick, unhealthy society: omnipotent government and its creation and perpetuation of the medical-pharmaceutical-nutritional-corporate state complex that makes people sick and keeps them sick for the sake of market share and continuing profits. I think this is because the paleo movement, overall, tends to operate in a very narrow silo. Many of the paleos, for whatever reason, deny or just don't pay attention to the fact that, yes, there is a force, an invincible monster — the state – that uses its monopolistic power to influence science and force its health and nutritional policy upon the masses in order to benefit the rent-seeking special interests that make up the core of the medical-nutritional establishment. These state-empowered interests benefit from cancer, chronic disease, and obesity, yet oftentimes the folks in PaleoLand naïvely act as if it is a mystery as to how the Conventional Wisdomists have become so formidable. Only an entity with a monopoly on coercion — the state — can possibly create so much misinformation and fraudulent advice, backed by enforced policy, on such a massive scale. Yet, thanks to the Internet and social media, the ancestral health enthusiasts are starting to bring the state's monopoly on information to its knees.

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Now remember that many of the folks who spoke at the symposium are hardcore libertarians, anarchists, or either that, it's very obvious to me that they tend toward libertarianism: Dr. Michael Eades, blogger Richard Nikoley, author Gary Taubes, Fathead filmmaker Tom Naughton, Don Matesz, Mark Sisson, John Durant, Denise Minger, and many others.

Interestingly, I was approached by many libertarians who introduced themselves to me, telling me that they had been reading my work, either on my website or on LewRockwell.com. Several folks told me that it was my writings on paleo-primal lifestyling, food freedom, and the medical establishment that got them absorbed in the topic and led them to their newly-acquired healthy living choices. So no, not everything in the libertarian world can be couched in terms of "speaking to the choir," as people tend to pontificate.

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Unlike most of the symposium attendees, I sit in this odd space where I span different movements, or spheres: (1) libertarianism and Austrian Economics (or anarcho-capitalism) (2) eco-agricultural interests and anti-state food freedom, as well as the (3) primal-paleo or ancestral health movement. All three are areas of interest to me, and all are indispensable in the battle to establish self-ownership and keep the state out of our bodies and out of our kitchens. As much as the paloes are inherently libertarian-ish, it is my hope that more of the ancestral health proponents will learn from libertarianism as it applies to understanding the state as a monopolistic entity so they can better grasp how the state uses its power and propaganda to feloniously indoctrinate the masses and hammer home its totalitarian agenda.

Comedian and filmmaker Tom Naughton gave the most stellar presentation of the symposium. Being the perpetual comedian, he likes to make fun of himself, but in reality, it's hard to beat that guy's combination of intelligence, passion, humor, and creativity. Even his voice and narration is marvelous. Here is a version of Tom's presentation, "Science for Smart People," on YouTube, which was presented on Jimmy Moore's Low-Carb Cruise earlier this year. I thought that Naughton's presentation clearly pointed to the medical establishment and the kept media as being indebted toward special interests, and thereby intentionally spinning science to benefit the domain of conventional wisdom.

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Scientific giants who were present included Dr. Robert Lustig, MD, a prominent scientist known for his work on fructose and sugar, and Dr. Richard Feinman, PhD, from the Nutrition and Metabolism Society. Although Dr. Feinman and I had a tit-for-tat on Jimmy Moore's Facebook page (about my article on Dr. Lustig) prior to the event, I had an opportunity to talk to him about Lustig and some of his disagreements with Lustig's positions. I found Dr. Feinman to be very brilliant, engaging, and sweet. He and Lustig, who appear to be friendly colleagues with much in common, attracted a lot of attention when the two stepped outside to discuss their contradictory ideas. Enquiring minds wanted to know what they were saying to one another.

Also presenting at the symposium was low-carb veteran Dr. Michael Eades, MD, who, along with his wife Mary, also an MD, has written a slew of books on the health, nutrition, exercise, and low-carb living. Dr. Eades, like most of the ancestral health community, also blogs and tweets, and being about mid-sixties or so, he looked like a movie star. Clearly, low-carb has been kind to him. I was fortunate enough to spend some time talking to him, and I found out that he has his roots and family in Detroit, my hometown.

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I also met Mark Sisson of Marksdailyapple.com for the first time, after many correspondences. Mark is an author, blogger, and all-around evangelist for good living, and his topic was “Play: A Lost Art,” which is an area where he has established an unquestionable expertise. It was the only talk where smacking beach balls around the audience was not only allowed, it was required that everyone touch a ball at least once. I reviewed Mark’s book, Primal Blueprint, a pioneering work on ancestral health, last year on LewRockwell.com. The buff and blond Mark is so debonair, and he was very approachable for so many of the attendees who hoped to get a glimpse of the guy who helped them reshape their lives through a new health paradigm. Mark’s business manager, who I also spoke with, told me the web stats for Marksdailyapple.com, and it left me with a “Wow.” Fortunately, the unconventional media continues to steer attention away from received opinion and toward critical evaluation of science and the established media mechanism.

My "biggest surprise" award for the symposium goes to Nora Gedgaudas, author of Primal Mind, Primal Body: Beyond the Paleo Diet for Total Health and a Longer Life. I admit I had not paid enough attention to her in the past. I had not read the first edition of her book, and I am glad I never got around to it because she recently joined with Healing Arts Press to release a new edition this year. I've been looking through the book — and I'll read it in total — and it is splendid and solid, including the striking cover. It's a no-B.S. book on evolutionary science that speaks to really basic concepts in a straightforward manner. Everything that should be in the book is in the book. I've always advocated and recommended Mark Sisson's Primal Blueprint as the quintessential read for ancestral health newbies, but Nora's book is so readable and polished that it may go right up there with Mark's epic work. I also got to meet and talk with Paul Jaminet and his wife Shou-Ching, authors of Perfect Health Diet: Four Steps to Renewed Health, Youthful Vitality, and Long Life, which is another innovative work that is perfect for new students of ancestral health. Both of these books come highly recommended from all folks around the paleosphere.

The "biggest badass" award, for the entire symposium, goes to Dr. Jack Kruse, a neurosurgeon, who was not even a speaker at the event. I lay my bet right now that he will be a speaker next year, and he will pack the room to the gills. If you talk about smart as a whip, articulate, and passionate, you are talking about this very libertarian-ish Doc. Dr. Jack even gave me a slight spanking – very slight – for calling out Dr. Lustig on his call for state intervention to conduct a war on sugar, because he believes that we need Dr. Lustig's knowledge and audience, and that we can educate him and "bring him on over to our side" on the issue of intervention. That sounds like a worthy project.

I met Dr. Jack when, during the last presentation of the last day, some of the speakers on a panel, “Integrating Ancestral Health Into Our Healthcare Systems,” proposed that we work from within the system to change the system. The speakers proposed that we could work with the Kaiser Permanente or VA models of health care to create this glorious, new model for health care based on an ancestral health model. My blood pressure was skyrocketing in the back of the room, almost causing my head to burst open. Before I could pipe up on the topic and speak my mind, Dr. Jack did so, and he spoke for all of us health anarchists and libertarians when he said the naked truth in one short sentence (to paraphrase): “The system wants to keep you sick because everyone makes money from you being sick.” Shockingly, many people in the room furled their eyebrows at that comment and seemed confused. I deliberately watched the reactions in the audience knowing that people would think Jack's statement to be a bit outrageous. This was another indicator, for me, that the paleo and/or ancestral health movement is, in part, operating in a silo.

A circle of folks gathered at the back of the room as the presentation ended and an impassioned Dr. Jack stole the floor and ran with it. It started when I introduced myself to him and we started discussing u2018the system.' Folks listened and just started gathering around this fetching bloke. He argued and lectured and taught — with a mix of intellect and well-placed f-bombs – for this group of onlookers who gathered in a Socratic circle, of sorts. It was a great display of passion and knowledge from a guy who has worked within the medical establishment-healthcare system, and who now works outside of that monster. He blogged about that informal session here, and he writes:

The last talk I went to……was Brent Pottenger's et al. And while I never expected it to raise my BP and ire…….WOW did it. It may have been the quickest talk but most important. The point of the talk was how can we bridge the gap of evolutionary biology and our current healthcare system. Brent and Joe Sobolewski think Kaiser's or the VA's model may hold the answer. This surgeon could not disagree more vehemently. I think all those who heard me speak post meeting know where I stand. Seth Roberts, Karen DeCoster and Jolly all saw it…….and Jolly photographed the jugulars bulging from my neck. I definitely think Brent's idea to make a Paleo ACO or insurance pool is a great idea…….but how we implement it is another story for another day. Those young bucks who have just begun to play in the healthcare cesspool system we have have much to learn. I bet Brent changes the most as he enter's medical school in 5 days. When he comes out of an orthopedic residency I already know what he can not fathom yet……..Kaiser is the last place on earth he would ever practice orthopedics when he knows what this surgeon knows today. Paleo needs a system that is completely free of the hospital complex in my view. This maybe a place I take my blog now……not sure my health could handle it though.

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As one who is employed in the system Dr. Jack talks about, I have nothing but praise and agreement for the good doctor's excellent comments and libertarian take on the solution: we can only change the system by denying the establishment's conventional wisdom, creating our own paradigm, and working outside of the system, making the system irrelevant. Whether or not he is an anarchist, Dr. Kruse is my new anarcho-ancestral hero.

I also want to give special mention to Dr. Doug McGuff, whose talk titled "Body by Science," was notable for its mention of cross-fit as a less-than-ideal form of fitness. Doug is an old-fashioned weightlifter who stresses high-intensity (HIT), low-frequency training and recommends that one avoid aerobic-centric training. I do both HIT and my own “cross-fit” type workouts, however, my cross-fit work is of the solo brand and not the club-based, group-collective type that crossfitters practice at a very fast pace in a WOD (workout of the day) format.

I don't mean to diss the crossfitters, but timed workouts at specific times on specific days, with a group of people against whom you compete (as well as the ticking clock), is not my idea of primal, self-governed fitness. I don't count times, laps, calories, sets, reps, weight, days, or clock time, and I'm a far better — and more fit — person for having given up all of the routines and performance measurement. I believe I have far better measurements such as how I feel all day each day, my physical conditioning level as played out in my activities, my medical feedback — both the objective measurements and my holistic MD's assessment, and lastly, the naked view in the mirror. All of those evaluations tell me what I need to know about my state of health and quality of life.

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Overall, the symposium was a smashing success, but there are a couple of minor improvements I'd like to see for next year. For one, I'd like to see the symposium held in a larger space so there could be many more vendors that would set up tables, hand out stuff, and mingle with potential consumers for their products and/or ideas. There were very few vendors, and I thought that was disappointing. Additionally, there needs to be a talk or two on the state and its role in creating and maintaining the Unhealthy Society, as I wrote above.

Another notable mention about the ancestral health community is its masterful use of social media. Libertarians, as much as they tend to run wild on the web in brilliant fashion, can learn something from this community when it comes to using social media. The ancestral health community is so good at using Twitter as a timesaving intelligence tool that transmits relevant data right to your phone, right now, when the story, blog, or research link is fresh and relevant. Twitter is a tool that circumvents the gatekeepers of conventional wisdom and keeps the facts and truth circulating in spite of what the media and establishment want you to know. Twitter represents freedom, in spite of the attempts of the police state to corral it, under the facade of protecting us all from society's multifarious boogeymen. Blogger Jimmy Moore, of Livin' La Vida Low-Carb fame, told me he thought he was acting less than primal by Twittering away the whole conference from his iPad. He said it gave him a headache! But people like Jimmy are the peaceful soldiers of the information revolution, restoring facts and freedom one Tweet at a time.

It is because of the blogging community, Facebook, and Twitter that this landmark conference was able to take place, and in a manner that was beneficial for both the scientific community and interested laymen. In an age where obesity and chronic disease has become so commonplace within one generation, folks are desperate to be freed from these abnormalities and live a thriving life in a thin and healthy body that embraces the natural human state of wellness. I can only hope this symposium is the onset of something so monumental and so accessible that the government and its gatekeepers are powerless to stop it.

For readers who are interested, here is the Ancestral Health Symposium website that includes links to the schedule with speakers, presentation abstracts, and videos of the presentations on Vimeo (not all are available yet). Also see Richard Nikoley's post collecting AHS rundowns.

August 15, 2011