Overall I agree with most of the tenants of the Weston A. Price foundation and I often enjoy reading their quarterly newsletter Wise Traditions. When I read the latest addition, my jaw virtually hit the floor! In her President’s message Sally Fallon Morell decided to discuss “Myths and Truths about the Weston A. Price Foundation” and she then proceeded to slice and die the Paleo diet for various errors and imagined sins including lack of saturated fat, too much lean protein and avoidance of dairy, grains and legumes. She virtually stuck a dagger in the heart of Loren Cordain for his views on what constitutes a healthy diet. On some levels her attack almost seemed personal.
Paleo Takes a Sucker Punch
I won’t go through her post to refute her distorted views point by point because this has already been done quite well by Robb Wolf and Sarah Ballantyne. Jimmy Moore recently interviewed Sally on his Podcast. After listening to her views, there does seem to be some true differences between the perspectives of Weston A. Price and some of the Paelo folks, but when you take a broader perspective these differences seem minor and would fit on the head of a pin with enough room left over a full orchestra! Part of the controversy stems from Dr. Cordain’s initial view put forth in his first book “The Paelo Diet” that we should consume lean meats and avoid saturated fat. His perspective seemed to change somewhat in his latest book “The Paleo Answer” or at least he clarified his views and he now supports consumption of healthy saturated fats. Apparently Jimmy Moore pushed Dr. Cordain to clarify his views in his latest book–a good thing in my opinion.
When listening to Sally on Jimmy’s Podcast I think she made some really good points, but she seems to be hung up on the word “Paleo”. She thinks the name should be changed to something else because of the apparent confusion over the issue of fat. I do have a problem with her perspective on this matter. Most of my patients have never heard of a Paleo diet and many have never heard of the West A. Price Foundation because they are consuming the toxic Standard American Diet mostly out of ignorance. It’s hard to change your behavior if you don’t have access to good information. The term Paleo has gained enough momentum to finally catch the attention of some of the masses. This is a good thing. If these folks start moving even a few steps in this direction they will find that their health immediately starts to improve.
To me it makes little sense to start a food fight among some of the core players in healthy eating movement when we have so much work to do. It’s a distraction we really don’t need at this critical time in our history. Paleo, shmaleo—the words aren’t really that important and we certainly shouldn’t waste our time fighting about it. Paleo currently has momentum, so in my opinion we should just run with it. Whey waste our time introducing a new word when the concepts remain largely the same. The fact that the Paleo concept has slowly evolved over time is merely the reflection that as new scientific information becomes available, we are obligated to incorporate the best of this information into our views. This is the nature of science.
Darwin is Spinning in His Grave
After cleaning the creamed pie off my face from participating in this food fight I was heartened to see Sally’s other article titled “Our Broken Food System”. Fantastic, I thought to myself. This is where she should get up on her soapbox—battling the purveyors of our modern toxic food supply. In the article she reviewed three recent books outlining the woes of our modern food industry: “Salt, Sugar, Fat” by Michael Moss, “Pandora’s Lunchbox” by Melanie Warner and “Foodopoly” by Wenibah Hauter. Overall her reviews of these books were pretty good and she pointed out some of their strong points and flaws.
At the end of the article she focused on solutions. This is where Sally really drifted into Never-Never Land. She apparently doesn’t believe that we can solve the problems of our disastrous food industry from the top down. Instead she proposes a bottom up approach based on “natural selection”. She states: “Those who continue to eat processed foods, drink sodas, insist on pasteurized milk, spray their fields with Roundup, and say yes to pharmaceutical drugs and vaccinations, will gradually die out―either they will become infertile or their children will not reach adulthood. Those who choose nutrient-dense pastured farm foods and artisan products will live long, healthy lives and have families of healthy children. Eventually the latter group will displace the former. It may seem cruel but that is how nature works to help her creatures survive. Truly, the solution to our broken food system will come from the bottom up, not the top down.”
Meet the Walking Dead of Fast Food
Sally, Sally, Sally—I hate to break the news to you–the processed food junkies are not only not dying out, they’re thriving and reproducing like rabbits! How do I know? I’m helping them to survive! I work as a Hospitalist and my job is to put the wheels back on when they fall off after years of dietary abuse. Diabetes, heart attacks, strokes and other disasters are routine matters in my daily job. We are spending a good portion of our gross national product to keep folks humming along despite their diet induced health problems. Because of our efforts they survive longer despite decades of poor health and chronic diseases. They live longer and much of this time is spent in poor health. Sally, I’m afraid when you and your friends are in control it will be your job to take care of these walking dead folks. Are you up for it?
I agree that poor dietary choices can affect fertility, but who cares? We now have IVF available for those who are having trouble with fertility and insurance usually foots the bill. I recently admitted a woman into the hospital who had diabetes, morbid obesity and a host of other problems and a few years ago she delivered triplets through IVF! With half our population on food stamps, just about anyone can afford to feed a small army of kids with cheap, processed food. Your “natural selection” theory is one of the daffiest concepts that I have ever encountered.
When we were first faced with the health horrors of cigarette smoking we didn’t improve the situation by using the bottom up approach you have suggested when it comes to nutrition. Smokers didn’t just decide to quit when the health warnings first surfaced. It took decades of regulations, taxes and educational efforts to gradually reduce the influence of smoking on our national health and the job is still unfinished. I don’t recall anyone suggesting that we should just let all smokers puff away until they were dead so the non-smokers could take over the world.
Put the Wheels Back on, Then Push Them in a Better Direction
When I am faced with a diet-damaged patient in the hospital, I don’t just patch them up and send them on their way. I take the time to educate them about the latest scientific information when it comes to health and nutrition. I outline a pathway back to health and give them recommendations where they can go to get more information. I often send them to Loren Cordain’s and Robb Wolf’s web sites, the very ones you single out for criticism. You would be surprised how effective my 20 minute talk can be on changing my patient’s eating habits and how helpful the Paleo diet has been in improving their health. Perhaps they forgot to read your newsletter.
You’re natural selection approach seems like some nightmare out of Nazi Germany—polish off all the driveling masses who can’t figure out how to eat, leaving behind a strange nirvana society composed of you and your foodie friends. To put things in perspective lets go point by point why your suggestion is 10 miles north of loony:
- I believe that most people truly want to be healthy and parents want to raise healthy children. I have found that if you give them the right information in a caring environment, most will try to change how they eat in an effort to improve their health. The information has to be high quality (meaning it works), easy to understand and possible to implement for the average person. Throwing people who consume a processed food diet on Darwin’s short list is an insult to the intelligence of many people.
- We need to change our dietary patterns both from the top down and the bottom up. In my opinion waiting for those who aren’t currently following your nutritional path to die off is inhuman and cruel.
- In my opinion the top down approach you so readily dismiss is critical when it comes to improving our food supply, as was the case with cigarette smoking. We should work to remove farm subsidies for grains and sugars and subsidize farms that grow whole foods and grass fed animals. We should also tax sugar and processed foods to make them more expensive and less attractive to those on a limited budget. We could also tax advertisements for processed foods. Yes, all of this will be difficult, but once the health consequences of eating processed foods become fully apparent (and they will), these approaches will eventually come to pass. We need to be in this for the long haul.
- You apparently believe saying no to prescription drugs is a solution to our problems. I am a strong critic of the way the medical profession uses most prescription medications. I don’t want to “manage” diseases like diabetes with medications—I want to prevent or reverse them. Despite our best efforts medications can sometimes be lifesaving. Or perhaps these folks who need to take medications are also the ones who are supposed to die off so you and your friends can take over the world. Sally, your views are not only wrong, they are truly scary!
- You seem to imply that only people who choose to eat healthy deserve to live and reproduce. You view goes beyond simple Darwinism—you seem to be passing judgment on a significant portion of our population. As a physician I never judge anyone. I try to help them by giving them high quality information and a new pathway to health. If they choose not to follow my advice, I don’t judge them and I certainly don’t imply they should quickly die before reproducing so healthy folks can take over. You call your approach “Natural Selection of the Wise”. I call it the emergence of the truly scary.
A New Form of Limbo—How Low Can You Go
Sally, in one newsletter you have managed to insult a group of people (Paleo) who share many of your views for reasons that don’t make a lot of sense, diverting our efforts from much more important matters. You then move on to introduce a twisted view of natural selection that implies everyone consuming processed food will die off, leaving the world to be ruled by you and your friends. You also seem impatient for this transformation to happen. I must say that this newsletter lowers the limbo bar for a senseless fight over food and promotion of a ridiculous view of natural selection.
Sally, I have a deal for you. We’ll readily give up the Paleo moniker if you are willing to change the name of your organization to the Alfred E Neuman Foundation. If the shoe fits, wear it. We’ll be anxiously waiting for your response.
The Alfred E. Neuman Foundation