WHAT a week it was! On August 6th I was standing on a stage at UCLA in front of a podium and microphone I somehow bewilderingly managed to share with the likes of Boyd Eaton, Loren Cordain, Robb Wolf, Mark Sisson, Gary Taubes, Michael Eades, Staffan Lindeberg and Robert Lustig, to name a few of the many other legendary luminaries here in the realm of Paleolithic nutrition. The collection of ideas and lifetime contribution to this field represented by these presenters is staggering. It was also an amazing thing adding three plus full dimensions and a full face-to-face persona to what had been an adult lifetime of merely reading and being so influenced by the works of so many of these individuals. There I was…feeling like a mere “Serf” among the “Caveman Royalty”. Like, pinch me. Seriously. What an incredible, mind-blowing honor.
I remember standing in a bit of a daze waiting to be introduced to the vast paleolithically devoted audience by Aaron Blaisdell wondering if it was all real. I had trimmed my talk back from more than double the number of slides I had originally created for this presentation and was still tense about whether I could get through all the material in time. Toward the end of my talk I undoubtedly sounded a bit more like an auctioneer determined to get through it all, which I finally did. Whew! The time just seemed to fly by. Gratifyingly (and with some sense of relief), the feedback I have subsequently received has really been exceptionally positive. I was overwhelmed by the number of fans I met at AHS and it was a privilege to speak to so many from all over the world and learn more about them and their wonderfully changed lives.
Those I was eager to hear on the other stage at the conference included the irrepressible Richard Feinman (also head of the Nutrition and Metabolism Society, of which I am a member), Craig Stanford, Emily Deans, Denise Minger, Richard Nikoley, Frank Forencich, Tom Naughton and a host of others whose work either greatly interested or influenced me. It was also fun finally meeting Mark Sisson. There were too many brilliant and talented individuals presenting and attending this event to even mention…but the one I was perhaps the most grateful to finally meet face to face was none other than the wonderful Brent Pottenger, who had contributed such a superb foreword to my own book and with whom I had developed such a warm rapport over e-mail in the last couple of years.
Yes Virginia…fairy tale dreams do come true. And this symposium was head-spinningly dreamlike in its mix of brilliant ideas, shared enthusiasm, camaraderie, energy, lean tissue mass and some serious Primal brain power! The people watching alone was marvelous. It also managed to attract the healthiest looking audience I’ve ever seen, numbering in the hundreds, of any conference (among dozens over the years) I have ever attended– including numerous health-related conferences. Even the very few individuals I spoke with who appeared somewhat overweight had typically already lost quite a bit of weight and were reporting a variety of personal health improvements–many claiming as a result of my book (very cool). It was really an impressive crowd and a genuine testament to the healthful promise of this paradigm. (photo: Nora Gedgaudas and Brent Pottenger)
In both mornings we were all lured out of bed with (on Friday) the presentations of Boyd Eaton and (on Saturday) Robert Lustig. No matter the early hour…I can sleep when I’m dead. I wouldn’t have missed these for the world. Immediately following Eaton’s presentation the first day was the legendary Loren Cordain. Cordain was an early influence in all of this for me (and many others there) but he had sort of lost me years ago as he seemed to be stuck in an over-attachment (in my view) to the mainstream “low fat” paradigm. It was a jaw-dropping and joyful moment in the conference for me when Cordain finally stood up and retracted his previous attachment to this idea and said he no longer maintained the same negative view of dietary fat (of course, I am paraphrasing here). I didn’t quite jump up and launch into the chicken dance but had a moment of thinking about it.
Gary Taubes was distinguished here as being the most publicly visible presenter for this conference, having the unique distinction of being an award-winning journalist, writing for the New York Times and having additionally appeared on mainstream television. I understand Gary had an unpleasant confrontation with Stephan Guyenet at the symposium which I was not a witness to so I cannot comment on the drama from a first-hand perspective (though I’ve since heard a recording of their exchange there and hope to write more about the substance of their disagreement in the future). From most accounts it was an unfortunate encounter and did not reflect well on Taubes. Meeting and speaking with Gary Taubes in person nonetheless was an exciting experience for me. He is certainly one of the finest journalistic science writers of our time and a brilliant credit to the field, regardless of other criticisms.
I also loved the presentation by Nutrition and Metabolism Society head, Richard Feinman. Richard, himself from Brooklyn, is self-described as being a “cross between Woody Allen and Tony Soprano”. A delightfully brilliant and fun man to talk to. We had quite a bit of opportunity to converse and he seemed especially supportive of my presentation after-the-fact, for which I was both flattered and grateful. Richard chooses his praises carefully, after all. Although Richard has his beef with both Taubes and Robert Lustig (neither of whom in the end he in truth overly disagrees with), I found Lustig’s presentation to be utterly fascinating in its indictment of fructose as arguably the most damaging dietary sugar.
Richard Nikoley (Free The Animal) was and is a class act from the navel-out in all directions, even in his characteristic bare feet. Richard and his wife are gracious, kind and wonderful human beings as well as being justly valued assets to this field.
Me-n-Richard here…bare feet not shown.
I was especially impressed by research-goddess extraordinaire, Denise Minger (her blog) and found a kindred “soul-sister” of sorts in getting to know her there. It turns out that like me she calls Portland home (though she has been living in Hawaii lately as a temporary arrangement, the poor dear). Her presentation was incredibly smart, funny, incisive and extremely entertaining—to a standing room only audience.
I had been long waiting to finally meet my talented friend Tom Naughton (Fat Head Blog) in person and it was for me like seeing a beloved long lost friend finally encountering him (bleary eyed as he was from a nightmarish all-night flight there). His presentation on the subject of “Bad Science” was side-splittingly funny and sharp as hell. Between Denise and Tom, those out there publishing bad science should be losing sleep at night and looking over their shoulders. No one can catch those guys out there with their proverbial pants down manipulating statistics to fit their insidious agendas like Tom Naughton and Denise Minger can–each with effectively delightful and incisive humor. We are damn lucky to have them on our side!
I was disarmingly pleased to get to know Robb Wolf (The Paleo Solution) who brings a certain affable and energetic charm to his role as one of the most successful Paleo authors and speakers in the field. Robb is simply a really good guy and a shining credit to the Paleo genre. His comes across as a non-ego driven persona with tremendous likeability. He comes to this field through his own personal journey through severe health challenges and owes his extraordinary recovery to a self-discovered Paleolithic approach to eating. His science ain’t half-bad, either, bitches (inside joke).
I had grand intentions of seeing most of the presentations but in reality found myself unable to attend near as many as I’d planned due to running into people constantly—either those I’d wanted to meet or those that wanted to meet me. In effect, many wonderful connections were made and it was probably an equitable trade-off from the otherwise amazing presentation content.
My greatest regrets were missing Thursday night’s barbeque at Aaron Blaisdell’s house (damn it all–my plane didn’t arrive at LAX until later that night), Emily Deans and Frank Forencich’s presentations and failing to meet Patrik from PaleoHacks. It was also sadly unfortunate that Angelo Coppola (host of the terrific podcast “Latest In Paleo“) as well as Lierre Keith could not be there–I was pretty bummed about that. As always, it was great seeing “Livin’ La Vida Low Carb“‘s Jimmy Moore again–a truly warm and wonderful guy. Gotta love “the Jimmy”.
I would personally like to thank Brent Pottenger and Aaron Blaisdell for their tireless and passionate work putting this extraordinary event together–plus seeing fit to invite me as a presenter. I would also love to thank Alissa Friedman and her partner Victoria (sorry–can’t remember the last name), Tara Grant and Gavin Impett who expertly interviewed and video recorded many of us one on one, plus the many, many other talented volunteers who helped this huge event to go off without a hitch. (Oh and I can’t forget Dr. Lauren Noel who gave me a ride back to my hotel on Saturday evening!)
I would also be remiss if I did not thank US Wellness Meats (one of my all-time favorites – www.grasslandbeef.com) and Sophia Dubrovina of www.grassfedjerkychews.com for generously donating such wonderful samples of their culinary delights and for preventing mass starvation at the symposium, where finding a healthy bite to eat was otherwise impossible (unless you happened to be packing your own provisions).
All in all, the First Annual Ancestral Health Symposium was a grand event and a rip-roaring good time. There was certainly room for improvement in certain areas—expansion of ticket availability for the future not being the least of these things. Attendance could easily have been ten times what it was had they planned for it. A healthy food court would have been a considerable plus. I would also have liked to see many more quality vendors there of all kinds, as well as memorabilia items such as T-shirts, canvas bags, coffee mugs and commemorative loin cloths….but maybe that’s just me. The focus instead, perhaps appropriately so, was mainly on first rate content, bringing hundreds of exceptional people together and generating a congenial and energetic fellowship of networking among some of the most incredible minds in the field.
Who can possibly complain about that?