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I wrote this post in about 45 minutes so excuse the rambling and verbosity. I’ll hopefully get to writing an actual review of the conference this week!
This past weekend, I attended the annual Wise Traditions conference put on by the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF), an event I’ve attended for the past 4 years in a row. I was a little less excited about this conference, partially because few of my friends would be in attendance (as compared to last year) and partially because of the recent paleo-bashing that had gone on in the WAPF journal. I believe Sally had a few good points to make about Robb’s now outdated book in her review, but these were overshadowed by the overall negative tone and subtle digs at Robb’s intelligence and comprehension of nutrition. I can see why many of those who identify as paleo followers would be pissed. Personally, I was just upset because I had worked pretty dang hard to bring the two organizations together last year, and I’ve just about had it with trying to mix what seems like oil and water.
Most people’s comments about the whole drama seemed to stem from the perception that WAPF and its leaders do not want to embrace the paleo community, and that they have a gross misconception about what paleo really means. I feel that this perception is both accurate and inaccurate. It’s accurate because yes, the leaders have been less than welcoming to the paleo community and its leaders, and there is some level of misconception about what the newest version of paleo entails, and what most seasoned paleo followers really eat. (As far as I’m concerned, the use of the word “paleo” to describe the way many people eat is pretty inaccurate.) But on the other hand, the greater WAPF membership as a whole generally is pretty accepting of the notion that some people need to eliminate foods like grains and dairy to truly heal, and that a well designed paleo diet can actually be quite therapeutic for many people. Also, I think there are still many people out there who believe a paleo diet means eating skinless chicken breast with coconut oil and steamed broccoli, and wrapping everything in bacon. Obviously none of YOU readers eat this way (you’re all smarter than that), but I do think there’s a significant proportion of less educated people who conceptualize or practice the diet in this way.
The whole conflict is ridiculous, but I think it mostly stems from the fact that the WAPF leaders feel that a Paleo diet that does not incorporate traditional diet components will be grossly inadequate in the long term, and the paleo community generally feels disrespected by the WAPF leadership and wary of an organization that seems to simultaneously embrace pseudoscience and medical “quackery”** while asserting that the Paleo diet (however it’s defined) is nutritionally inferior and nowhere close to the healthiness of the diet that WAPF promotes.
However, the major reason this conflict needs to stop is that neither movement can survive without the other.
What do I mean by this? Let me explain.
The Weston A. Price Foundation Cannot Survive Without Paleo
One of the biggest points brought up at the closing ceremony of Wise Traditions this year was the fact that the WAPF membership and participation is not growing in the way it should be. There were a few hundred less people in attendance than last year at the conference, and the membership numbers are pretty stagnant. Sally and her colleagues implored us to start recruiting members, especially the “younger crowd” because they didn’t want the Foundation to be seen as a bunch of “old fogies.”
I’m sure I’m not the only one who can see the obvious demographic differences between the WAPF and Paleo communities. WAPF is perceived as being older and family oriented, while Paleo is perceived as being young, hot, and single and/or childless. Obviously these are mostly just perceptions, but I think there is some truth to this. Paleo definitely attracts the young and fit, or those looking to “look better naked” or perform better at Crossfit. I don’t think WAPF has quite the same appeal to that population. But this explains why Paleo has exploded in popularity while WAPF has limped along, despite being a similar movement. If you can’t attract young people, you’ll never change the world. And the only way WAPF will EVER attract young people is if it can somehow hitch it’s wagon to the shooting star that is Paleo. WAPF needs to embrace Paleo and its leaders, and encourage them to share the foundation’s message and promote membership in the organization.
I’m a member of WAPF mostly because I learn a great deal of information from its publications, and continue to learn more from research funded by the organization. Chris Masterjohn’s lab is apparently solely funded by donations provided through WAPF, and that in itself is reason to join the organization. I also think it’s important to give back to those that have worked so hard to share the information that many of us take advantage of, whether that’s by learning more about the importance of fat soluble vitamins or simply when throwing back a shot of fermented cod liver oil because Diane and Liz told us to on a Balanced Bites podcast. (Note the WAPF and Sally Fallon references in this post…)
So I’d like you, dear reader, to consider your diet and really think about whether or not you’ve benefited from the information provided by the WAPF organization, and maybe you’ll rethink your financial support of the foundation. Or maybe not. I can’t tell you how to spend your money. All I know is that I feel somewhat obligated to support the foundation, since without them we’d know very little about proper nutrition and most of us would not be eating a nutritionally adequate diet.
At the same time, I’ll continue to implore the leaders of WAPF that it’s time to lay down the gauntlet and seriously work at embracing the paleo community and looking for ways to collaborate with its leaders, not constantly belittle them and tell the WAPF members that Paleo is a completely wrong nutritional philosophy and its leaders are ignorant to the real principles of a nourishing diet. It’s not only a hugely inaccurate belief, but it’s also an astoundingly damaging PR strategy that has turned off many potential members to WAPF. If you’re looking for people to join a movement, don’t tell them that they’re wrong. At a bare minimum, you can acknowledge that they’re doing a great thing by moving towards a whole foods diet, and remind them that there are certain nutrient dense foods that must be included in a paleo diet to make it truly nourishing. After all, many people in the paleo community are already on board with WAPF principles and are practicing a nearly WAPF style diet daily, perhaps just eschewing gluten, grains, and/or dairy. (For more on this issue, I recommend listening to Diane’s excellent podcast on the topic.)
The Paleo Movement Cannot Survive Without A Weston A. Price Foundation Influence
That said, the Paleo movement also needs WAPF to help educate the community about the principles of a truly nourishing diet. As I mentioned before, a lot of people who are new to paleo, and have not been exposed to WAPF or other Paleo leaders who promote WAPF principles, will end up following an overly restrictive, moderately nutrient depleted diet. Of course they’ll be better off than they were coming from a typical Standard American Diet, but they either won’t last long on such a restrictive regimen, or they will last long and they’ll end up nutrient deficient, hypothyroid, or adrenally fatigued because they didn’t realize carbs were allowed, had no idea that organ meats were an essential part of the diet, or continued to eat low fat while still trying to eat low carb. I’m sure it happens all the time. (Again, not to YOU readers who are oh-so-smart and eat a balanced and nutrient dense diet!)
If Paleo does not have the information provided by WAPF as part of its recommendations, the diet is not healthy. There, I said it. Yes, Robb’s original book has a lot of holes and missteps. Granted, it was published in 2010 and since then Robb has made a lot of corrections to his original views on many topics. But I still appreciate the fact that the book sparked a revolution in nutrition, and has brought many people to a much healthier diet than they ever would have eaten before being exposed to Paleo. That said, I completely discourage anyone from using Robb’s original book as their sole nutrition guide. (I’m wondering if Robb would agree with me on that one?) We’ve learned a lot in the past 3 years, and the explosion of Paleo blogs and other books, such as those written by Diane Sanfilippo, Chris Kresser, and Paul Jaminet, has blown open the original “Paleo Diet (TM)” and has exposed people to a huge amount of information that was missed in the original book. The information available and widespread today was perhaps not something Robb was totally aware of while writing his book. I think he deserves a little slack for that, and a lot of credit for admitting the error of his original beliefs in more recent publications.
Like I said, I understand Sally’s criticisms with some interpretations of the Paleo diet. But she needs to be aware that not all the Paleo leaders (really, not most of them) espouse a low carbohydrate, low saturated fat diet with minimal fat soluble vitamins. In fact, some of my favorite resources for dietary information, such as Diane Sanfilippo and Chris Kresser, constantly refer to WAPF as being an important source of nutrition information. (I just listened to about 12 hours of podcasts driving to and from Atlanta for the conference and I think I heard the words “Weston Price” about 20 times, evenly split between Diane, Liz, and Chris.)
So yes, the Paleo movement ABSOLUTELY needs the Weston A. Price Foundation to continue sharing their educational materials, funding important research like that done by Chris Masterjohn, and promoting important organizations like the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF), which Robb Wolf has passionately supported in the last several months and has made an invaluable contribution to the growth of the organization. At Wise Traditions this year, the FTCLDF leaders could not stop gushing about how much of an incredible difference Robb’s participation has made to their work. It’s just a great example of how much can get done when the two movements come together.
My ultimate point with this long winded opinion post is that despite all the drama and general bullshittery that’s been going on between the Weston A. Price Foundation and Paleo communities, this can’t be something that causes an irreparable rift between the two communities. At the end of the day, neither movement can survive without the other, and we’ll never make any damn difference in the world or the health of our country if we can’t just get over these petty differences and start working together as a unified movement.
I think the Paleo community is ready to embrace and support WAPF, and I encourage you all to take the high road and consider joining WAPF. And I also think WAPF has the capability of embracing the Paleo community, and they need to be really careful about burning any bridges between the groups.
We all need to see the bigger picture here: this country needs a serious, immediate philosophical change about healthy diet and lifestyle, and the Paleo and WAPF communities need to work together to have any significant impact in the future of food in America and around the world. Our own health and the health of future generations depends on it!
**Note: There are some procedures and treatments presented by WAPF, whether through the journal or at the conferences, that are not supported by science. Examples of this include homeopathy, hair mineral analysis, oil pulling, “anthroposophy“, and applied kinesiology. I’m not saying these techniques absolutely don’t work, but I will say that they fall under the category of “pseudoscience” (i.e. lack of evidence for efficacy) and some people may consider them “quack” techniques.