Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Impressions from the Wise Traditions Conference

I spent last weekend at the Weston A. Price Foundation Wise Traditions conference in King of Prussia, PA. Here are some highlights:

Spending time with several people in the diet-health community who I’ve been wanting to meet in person, including Chris Masterjohn, Melissa McEwen and John Durant. John and Melissa are the public face of the New York city paleo movement. The four of us spent most of the weekend together tossing around ideas and making merry. I’ve been corresponding with Chris quite a bit lately and we’ve been thinking through some important diet-health questions together. He is brimming with good ideas. I also got to meet Sally Fallon Morell, the founder and president of the WAPF.

Attending talks. The highlight was Chris Masterjohn’s talk “Heart Disease and Molecular Degeneration: the New Paradigm”, in which he described his compelling theory on oxidative damage and cardiovascular disease, among other things. You can read some of his earlier ideas on the subject here. Another talk I really enjoyed was by Anore Jones, who lived with an isolated Inuit group in Alaska for 23 years and ate a mostly traditional hunter-gatherer diet. The food and preparation techniques they used were really interesting, including various techniques for extracting fats and preserving meats, berries and greens by fermentation. Jones has published books on the subject that I suspect would be very interesting, including Nauriat Niginaqtuat, Plants that We Eat, and Iqaluich Niginaqtuat, Fish that We Eat. The latter is freely available on the web here.

I attended a speech by Joel Salatin, the prolific Virginia farmer, writer and agricultural innovator, which was fun. I enjoyed Sally Fallon Morell’s talk on US school lunches and the politics surrounding them. I also attended a talk on food politics by Judith McGeary, a farmer, attorney and and activist, in which she described the reasons to oppose or modify senate bill 510. The gist is that it will be disproportionately hard on small farmers who are already disfavored by current regulations, making high quality food more difficult to obtain, more expensive or even illegal. It’s designed to improve food safety by targeting sources of food-borne pathogens, but how much are we going to have to cripple national food quality and farmer livelihood to achieve this, and will it even be effective? I don’t remember which speaker said this quote, and I’m paraphrasing, but it stuck with me: “I just want to be able to eat the same food my grandmother ate.” In 2010, that’s already difficult to achieve. Will it be impossible in 2030?

Giving my own talk. I thought it went well, although attendance was not as high as I had hoped. The talk was titled “Kakana Dina: Diet and Health in the Pacific Islands”, and in it I examined the relationship between diet and health in Pacific island cultures with different diets and at various stages of modernization. I’ve covered some of this material on my blog, in my posts on Kitava, Tokelau and sweet potato eating cultures in New Guinea, but other material was new and I went into greater detail on food habits and preparation methods. I also dug up a number of historical photos dating back as far as the 1870s.

The food. All the meat was pasture-raised, organic and locally sourced if possible. There was raw pasture-raised cheese, milk and butter. There was wild-caught fish. There were many fermented foods, including sauerkraut, kombucha and sourdough bread. I was really impressed that they were able to put this together for an entire conference.

The vendors. There was an assortment of wholesome and traditional foods, particularly fermented foods, quality dairy and pastured meats. There was an entire farmer’s market on-site on Saturday, with a number of Mennonite vendors selling traditional foods. I bought a bottle of beet kvass, a traditional Russian drink used for flavor and medicine, which was much better than the beet kvass I’ve made myself in the past. Beets are a remarkable food, in part due to their high nitrate content—beet juice has been shown to reduce high blood pressure substantially, possibly by increasing the important signaling molecule nitric oxide. I got to meet Sandeep Agarwal and his family, owners of the company Pure Indian Foods, which domestically produces top-quality pasture-fed ghee (Indian-style clarified butter). They now make tasty spiced ghee in addition to the plain flavor. Sandeep and family donated ghee for the big dinner on Saturday, which was used to cook delicious wild-caught salmon steaks donated by Vital Choice.

There were some elements of the conference that were not to my taste. But overall I’m glad I was able to go, meet some interesting people, give my talk and learn a thing or two.

40 comments:

Nathaniel said...

Wow Stephan.... that sounds amazing.

damndirtyape said...

Stephan,

After reading Chris Masterjohn's article you linked to (High Cholesterol And Heart Disease — Myth or Truth) I noticed Chris mentions vitamin C.

So what's you take on the Pauling/Rath theory of heart disease that theorizes when the body is low in available vitamin c it recruits similar looking lipoprotein(a) to repair collagen depleted areas of the arteries where mechanical stress is causing lesions.

I never hear much about it in the mainstream, but I do wonder where vitamin C really does fit into the equation.

trix said...

You said: "There were some elements of the conference that were not to my taste."

I'd appreciated it if you'd expound on this a bit.

Lillea said...

Thanks so much for this report. It sounds like a good experience overall. The food sounds wonderful!


Just like trix, I would like to know the elements that weren't to your taste.

Greg said...

I enjoyed your talk. You might have had better attendance in a different time slot; a lot of folks had already left by 4pm on Sunday.

I'm also interested in knowing what you disliked about the conference. Outside of the facilities being a little worn, I thought it was an excellent conference.

Kat said...

Stephan your talk was great. I was disappointed there weren't more people attending all of the native diet talks. The three I attended were really interesting talks, but low attendance. As someone else said, maybe if it had been on the Friday or Saturday there would have been more people there.

fraz said...

Hearing about the conference, I was tempted to attend (living in the Philadelphia area). However, looking at the conference program, I was appalled by the infiltration of pseudoscience and “alt-med” woo. I don’t think that I could have tolerated the junk to extract the few bits of genuinely valuable information.

Michael said...

Stephan,

Sounds like you had a good time. I was kind of disappointed when I saw you were scheduled for Sunday since IIRC attendance is typically lower.

Still, good for you to remind people the WAP is not a low carb paradigm per se. :-)

By the way, unless something has changed I think Dave Wetzel is the only producer of traditional cod liver oil and Ron Schmid carries his brand under his own name.

Dr. B G said...

Wish I was there *SIGH* Awesome speakers and attendees!

Helen said...

I would have attended your talk! If you ever give a talk, WAPF-sponsored or otherwise, in Massachusetts or thereabouts, be sure to alert your New England fans.

Rob A said...

Hi Stephan,

I appreciated getting a chance to meet you. Thanks for your patience answering my poorly stated question about set point and its relation to insulin and leptin resistance.

Hope I didn't come across as too much of a groupie to Matt Stone. I really do want to come to an understanding of how to effectively recompose our body composition and regain our health. Despite great efforts and patience, simply following a whole foods, Weston A Price inspired path and a sensible exercise strategy hasn't accomplished all of my health goals, and that's motivated my investigations, and was behind the questions I asked at the conference.

In any event, I do appreciate your work and your rigor, and wanted to thank you again for your talk.

David Csonka said...

Stephen, it would be a mistake to associate your talk's attendance with your perceived worth on these topics. Your blog posts and articles are always insightful and most appreciated - keep up the great work!

Melissa said...

Yeah, a lot of people had to leave early. Plus I think you have more paleo groupies than WAPF groupies :)

Chris Masterjohn said...

Stephan,

I was also disappointed that your talk didn't have more attendance. I do think the native diet track was less well attended overall, as reflected by the smaller room size, and it is possible the timing was an issue. You may have more paleo groupies, but that would change very quickly with more exposure to your writing in Wise Traditions, which I think would be very beneficial for everyone.

However, in retrospect I think your talk would have been much better attended had your title capitalized on the carbohydrate tension there. Many people newly exposed to the idea that zero-carb is the best diet because carbohydrates are poison in other talks would definitely have gone to a "Diet in the Pacific Islands: Proof That Carbohydrates Don't Cause Disease" talk! Unfortunately I don't think this could have been seen with foresight very easily.

That said I think you should write an article for the journal based on your talk, with a more expanded argument about carbohydrates, with some technical information but relegated to sidebars. I know Sally would love to get that message out, and I do think she's quite a fan of you.

Chris

Colson said...

Chris and Stephan,

Unfortunately I didn't attend either of your talks. There were so many great topics and by mid-Sunday I about threw my arms up in frustration because I couldn't be at them all.

Can you give a brief rebuttal to the low carb info raised in a number of the lectures? Nick Gonzalez was not a low carb promoter and emphasized the need to tailor the diet to the person.

Thank you so much!

Laura

Michael said...

"Diet in the Pacific Islands: Proof That Carbohydrates Don't Cause Disease"

Well there you go. A working title for your article in Wise Traditions. :-)

You might also want to touch on the idea that a high carb diet provides less satiation than a high fat diet (i.e. eating more carbs makes people hungrier or less fulfilled everything else being equal). I think that would get Sally's attention as well. ;-)

"Guppy" Honaker said...

I would have loved to have heard your " . .. Diet and Health in the Pacific Islands" talk. Here in Arizona the Native Americans used to have a very, very low rate of Diabetes. Modern diets and lack of traditional foods have caused the diabetic rate to skyrocket. One researcher had Native Americans with Diabetes go back to traditional foods (including flour made from the seeds pods of the mesquite tree, rather than the white flour at the store) and the Diabetes was again under control without insulin or other meds. Amazing, what our "white" culture has done to the health of others.

- David

Top 10 Aloe Vera Juice Benefits
Holistic Nutrition and Health

Bryan - oz4caster said...

Sounds like it was a fun time. I wish I could have gone. I hope you won't be discouraged from giving another talk at the next conference in Dallas next year. It's close enough that I should finally be able to attend and I'd enjoy seeing you talk. In the mean time, keep up the good work :)

Stephan said...

Hi damndirtyape,

I don't know much about that theory but I'm skeptical.

Hi Kat,

Thanks, and nice meeting you last weekend. You have a good point, none of the native diet talks were very well attended.

Hi Michael,

Thanks, I think you're right. I'll fix it.

Hi Rob,

Nice meeting you at the conference. I'm not necessarily opposed to Matt Stone's overall approach. I don't agree with him that overfeeding increases insulin sensitivity (at least at the point where fat mass has increased), but he is correct that overfeeding increases the metabolism due to increased leptin signaling. There may be some instances where that is therapeutic. It may also be damaging to health. I don't really have any way to evaluate the claim because there's virtually no research using it to treat health conditions. I do find it an interesting idea though.

Stephan said...

Hi Melissa,

I think you're right.

Hi Chris,

I'm not bitter about the attendance, I was still happy to give my talk and putting it together was a good learning experience for me. Good point about the title. That didn't occur to me. I don't know if I would have done it anyway though, because I didn't want to kick up too much dust at my first WAPF conference.

Hi Colson,

Yes, here's my rebuttal: there were/are many cultures around the world that ate very high-carb diets and were healthy. I think carb intakes up to 70% of calories or so can be compatible with health as long as overall diet and lifestyle quality are top notch.

I do acknowledge that some people do seem to benefit from low-carb diets. As counterintuitive as it may be, I don't think starch per se caused the problem to begin with.

Ailu said...

I think that is awesome that they served Kombucha. I started brewing my own kombucha at home when I realized how much money I was spending on it at the store. Many of my friends started home brewing it as well after they saw how easy it was. My goodness, it's easier than making pickles. If anyone is interested, step by step instructions are given by blogger Hannah Crum at http://www.kombuchakamp.com

trix said...

So, many were purporting the benefits of low-carb at the conference this time and that is what you don't go along with, right?

(I've never been to a conference, though I probably would like to attend if it were closer.)



Lucy

Dana Seilhan said...

I don't think carb is *necessary* to human health unless the human in question is not eating organ meats. Then plant foods that make up for the nutritional loss are useful, perhaps even necessary--but in that case it's for the micronutrient content, not the carbohydrate.

However, I think it is possible for humans to thrive on a higher-carb diet if other dietary conditions are also met. You can't just eat nothing but carbs and expect to not get sick. Not even if they're traditionally-prepared whole-food carbs.

The Kitavans you mention do not eat wheat but they do eat lots of coconut, meaning they have a relatively high-fat diet, much of it from saturates.

I'd be surprised to hear of any indigenous group, in fact, that was not eating lots of saturated fat. And none of them are vegetarian or vegan either, not willingly and not the healthy ones.

(When I say "indigenous" I mean equivalent to what we call the Paleolithic age in Western culture. That age never ended for some people. They may be edging slowly into a modernized way of life but they're not here yet.)

That said, if your metabolism is already screwed up from too much wheat, sugar, and industrial food oils and not enough sleep, low-carb eating is therapeutic. But I think people are going to get the most benefit out of it if they also greatly increase their saturated fat intake, animal fats or coconut and palm oil or all of those. I'm curious how many folks who have "failed" on low-carb diets bothered researching the health benefits of animal and tropical fats before starting, or if they just cut carbs out of their diets without changing anything else. If the latter, I guess I'd fail too.

Anecdotal evidence for ya: I lose weight better on low-carb, but as long as I keep eating animal fat and coconut oil in large enough quantities, I can weather quite a bit of dietary self-abuse without feeling like crap afterward. The difference in me now versus five years ago is stunning. I still have depression, I'm still "stuck," but I'm not having the insane emotional ups and downs anymore unless something extremely stressful occurs--and even then I weather stress much, much better than I used to.

I wonder how much of the mental illness and antisocial (in the psychiatric sense) behavior we're seeing out there is due to fat starvation.

Dana Seilhan said...

I don't think carb is *necessary* to human health unless the human in question is not eating organ meats. Then plant foods that make up for the nutritional loss are useful, perhaps even necessary--but in that case it's for the micronutrient content, not the carbohydrate.

However, I think it is possible for humans to thrive on a higher-carb diet if other dietary conditions are also met. You can't just eat nothing but carbs and expect to not get sick. Not even if they're traditionally-prepared whole-food carbs.

The Kitavans you mention do not eat wheat but they do eat lots of coconut, meaning they have a relatively high-fat diet, much of it from saturates.

I'd be surprised to hear of any indigenous group, in fact, that was not eating lots of saturated fat. And none of them are vegetarian or vegan either, not willingly and not the healthy ones.

(When I say "indigenous" I mean equivalent to what we call the Paleolithic age in Western culture. That age never ended for some people. They may be edging slowly into a modernized way of life but they're not here yet.)

Dana Seilhan said...

That said, if your metabolism is already screwed up from too much wheat, sugar, and industrial food oils and not enough sleep, low-carb eating is therapeutic. But I think people are going to get the most benefit out of it if they also greatly increase their saturated fat intake, animal fats or coconut and palm oil or all of those. I'm curious how many folks who have "failed" on low-carb diets bothered researching the health benefits of animal and tropical fats before starting, or if they just cut carbs out of their diets without changing anything else. If the latter, I guess I'd fail too.

Anecdotal evidence for ya: I lose weight better on low-carb, but as long as I keep eating animal fat and coconut oil in large enough quantities, I can weather quite a bit of dietary self-abuse without feeling like crap afterward. The difference in me now versus five years ago is stunning. I still have depression, I'm still "stuck," but I'm not having the insane emotional ups and downs anymore unless something extremely stressful occurs--and even then I weather stress much, much better than I used to.

I wonder how much of the mental illness and antisocial (in the psychiatric sense) behavior we're seeing out there is due to fat starvation.

Ned Kock said...

On the topic of vitamin C, not only is it a powerful antioxidant, but it also has the ability to reversibly bind to proteins at the sites where glycation would occur. That is, vitamin C has the potential to significantly reduce glycation:

http://bit.ly/9scctd

Rob A said...

Dana,

I'm not sure it's the case that low-carb dieting is a solution to a metabolism damaged by too much wheat, sugar, industrial food oils, lack of sleep, etc. And this is why Matt Stone's arguments are compelling to me. Of particular interest are his posts on low carb's tendency, over time and uninterrupted, to lower the metabolism, mentioned here: http://180degreehealth.blogspot.com/2010/07/low-carb-lowers-metabolism.html

Also, by way of an explanation of why low carb seems to have such great results initially, but why it sometimes has such lousy long-term effects, he writes of the Catecholamine Honeymoon here: http://180degreehealth.blogspot.com/2010/06/catecholamine-honeymoon.html Catecholamines are the stimulatory adrenal hormones that promote fat loss while sparing or even building lean tissue, among other great effects. But an uninterrupted surge stimulated by an uninterrupted stint of low-carb dieting tends to downregulate the adrenal receptor sites and/or slow or shut down the glands themselves.

Matt's take on metabolism is that it is a prime factor in our health- a high metabolism as indicated by high basal body temperature, fast transit time, etc. is closely tied to a robust immune system, and a resistance to many modern diseases of civilization, including heart disease and diabetes. This he bases on the work of hypothyroid specialist Broda Barnes and the contemporary endocrinologist Mark Starr- they each found that if thyroid levels are optimized, as indicated by body temperature readings, their patients had tremendus resistance to many of the ailments affecting the rest of the population. Matt departs from them by asserting that replacement thyroid medication is unnecssary because the deficiency is most often functional rather than an organic inability to prduce thyroid hormone, and that
treatment can be accomplished through dietary means, specifically overfeeding.

So the take home is- if many of us are sick due to depressed metabolisms, low carb diets may ameliorate the symptoms provisionally but aggravate the underlying cause, and leave you worse off in the end than before the low carb stint.

This might not be accurate- I can't say for sure, but it's a compelling argument.

Gluten Free Sourdough Baker said...

Hi Stephan,
Thanks for your post about the WAP conference. I was a vendor, selling my gluten-free sourdough bread book. I wasn't able to get to any lectures but if you ever get to speak in the New England area, please post it. I would love to hear you speak.

In any very passionate community there seems to be a group that espouses the philosophy to an extreme that becomes exclusive of others. WAP is very focused on raw milk and while I support the raw milk farms by making donations to the legal fund, I myself cannot drink raw milk or any milk being allergic to it. I donate because for me it's a freedom of choice issue. People should be able to procure the foods they believe are the best for them.

I cannot tell you how many members of this wonderful organization have insisted that I can indeed drink milk, I just need to have it raw and maybe I should just start with a little and build up so I can get used to it.

I've tried raw milk, it makes my stomach contract and I get dizzy for about 15 minutes. I simply stopped talking about my milk allergy to avoid all the well-intentioned people who seem to know what I need better than I.

Finally, last year Sally Fallon, in one of her talks said that some people will never be able to drink raw milk because of their allergy. Phew! What a relief!

As long as we're on the subject, I am also gluten intolerant with other major food sensitivities and have devoted 4 years of my life to creating bread that I can eat. Turns out there are many others with the same sensitivities as I have so I wrote my book and people are very grateful to be able to make this bread for themselves and their families.

There was someone at this conference saying that the sourdough process renders the gluten in wheat and rye safe for everyone. I really disagree with this blanket statement. Besides creating potential danger for people with extensive intestinal damage, there is no basis for this theory. I feel sure there are no tests backing up this data and the tests would need to be done on people with a lifetime of damage as well as people with a small amount of damage.

Anyway, my point is is that passionate people can get carried away with theories, especially if the theory helps sell a product.

That said, I greatly enjoyed the passion of this group of people devoted to wholesome, old fashioned food.

Thanks for letting me rant.

sharon a. kane

Helen said...

@ Sharon,

I was happy to see your comments, because I can relate. People not afflicted with a serious allergy or autoimmune disorder (or fill in the blank) don't always get the absolute nature of avoidance or the intransigence of the problem. Whether it's someone advising me that chamomile tea always "puts them right to sleep" (friend, if so, you don't really have insomnia), or someone thinking "just a little" egg/gluten/nuts might be fine for my daughter, or that "overprotectiveness" will only make her allergies worse, or that a raw diet will cure my diabetes, the alternative health communit(ies), god love them, are often evangelistic and solipsistic about health issues.

There must be a way to share the valuable information of "what works for me," and "what I've learned," without assuming that someone else's issue or solution is the same as ours or that they're just stubborn or unenlightened if it's not.

I hope I'm not that person to anyone.

I was excited to see your link to gluten-free sourdough. I'm going to check it out!

Dane Miller said...

Stephan, I saw you Friday evening up in the dinner room. I did not have a chance to say hello but it was nice seeing you. The conference was quite enjoyable and the food was absolutely on point!

Dane
www.GarageStrength.com

MsCFaith said...

What's good about conferences is that you get to share ideas with some of the best people in a certain field. I'm glad you had a great time. Must be nice to voice out your opinions and give your thoughts.

Natural wellness blog

Jeremy said...

Hi Stephan,
It was so great to meet/hang out with you last weekend! Excellent talk, and I think not such a bad turnout given that (1) it was late on Sunday and (2) you didn't provide any self help, which is always the biggest draw. Chris's suggestion of advertising it as disproving the criticisms of high carb diets would probably have increased turnout, but I think your instincts are right on not kicking up too much dust. We have lots of aggressive voices for truth already -- I think you should cultivate the image of the neutral, honest, respectful scholar. It suits you, and I think in the long run you'll get more mileage out of that, even if you attract slightly less attention in the short run. Anyway, I really enjoyed talking with you, Chris, and the rest of the gang. Let's keep in touch -- if you're interested I can send you some of my (preliminary) work on diet, methylation and body shape that I mentioned on Sunday.
- Jeremy

Joe S said...

Like others have commented, I would have loved to hear you talk. Was it possibly recorded and could be posted, similar to the TED talks?

abhi said...

I spent last weekend at the Weston A. Price Foundation Wise Traditions conference in King of Prussia, PA. Here are some highlights: Spending time with several people in the diet-health community who I’ve been wanting to meet in person..
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Peter said...

In healthy high carb cultures, do blood sugars spike after high carb meals?

mr holiday help said...

Interesting insight on cholesterol. The genetics aspect can't be changed.However with diet it is manageable.

Peter said...

What cutures eat non-industrial diets and have significant levels of diabetes and heart disease?

Jeffrey of Troy said...

Re: beets.

Have you read "Jitterbug Perfume" by Tom Robbins? It's a trip!

Infoturn said...

Sounds fantastic!

Jack said...

Made homemade ghee for the first time last night. Sooooooo cool.

I was going to purchase a batch from Pure Indian Foods (mentioned in this article), but instead decided to just venture out and make my own. It was SUPER easy and a total success on the first try.

-melted six 4 oz sticks of pasture butter in a sauce pen on med-low heat
-skimmed off and removed the gathering milk solids from the top of the melted butter with a spoon (as it was simmering)
-let it cool a bit
-strained with cheesecloth over a strainer

Bam! perfectly yellow crystal clear grass fed ghee. It is delicious.

It's a huge savings to spend the 20 minutes to make it yourself. So excited about this :)