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AHS 2012 Recap

Jeremy Hendon | August 23

Ancestral Health Symposium

I wanted to get around to posting a recap for the Ancestral Health Symposium for about a week now.  On the plus side to waiting almost 2 weeks, I’ve given myself plenty of time to reflect and think about what I learned, what I liked, and what I didn’t like.  I’ve also read the reactions of many other attendees.

If you weren’t able to attend, then I highly suggest watching the videos, which I believe should be put online relatively soon.  (If last year is any indication, they will be put on Vimeo.

I blogged about some of the talks that I found most interesting, but this recap is more of a general reflection.

1.     Very Well-Run Conference

Look, there were a few hiccups here and there (not enough food at the banquet, etc.), but the glitches were few and far-between.  The cast of characters (speakers) was excellent, and everything ran smoothly.

Every conference can always improve in one way or another, but I can’t really fault the organizers of the Ancestral Health Symposium for much of anything.  Really enjoyed my time there and will be back.

2.     We (Paleo) Often Focus Too Much On the Trees

And we consequently miss the forest.

What I mean is that many of us in the Paleo/Ancestral Health movement are geeks.  We like science, we like information, and we like knowing.  And that’s all great.

But we’ve got to temper that desire for information and optimal knowledge.

Robb WolfRobb Wolf is particularly good at not falling into this trap.  Robb works a lot now with police officers and firefighters, and he’ll be the first to tell you that as much as he’d like to get them to some optimal health point.  However, instead of trying to figure out everything that’s making them less than perfectly healthy, he generally starts by helping them sleep.  After all, if they’re not sleeping, their diet and exercise are of secondary importance.

In general, many (but not all) of the talks at AHS are focused on better understanding how to correct a particular deficiency or optimize a particular aspect of our health.  And that’s what most of us seem to be interested in.


However, I think we’d do better to have at least a few talks and discussions that center on priorities and questions of overall importance.  How about a talk on the first thing a person should do if they’re not Paleo?  A talk on how to better brand the Paleo movement?  These questions are at least as important as iron overload (no offense to Chris Kresser – loved his talk and every panel he was on).

3.     Too Much Focus on Food

This is kinda the same point, but it’s worth thinking about.  As Melissa and Dallas say, It Starts with Food.  Often, though, it seems like the discussion almost ends there.

The organizers of AHS actually did a good job trying to get around this by setting talks about technology, policy, and a few centered on exercise.  Still, I personally feel like there can more focus on other aspects of Paleo.

Stress, for instance, is a constantly referenced and assumed problem with the modern lifestyle.  It gets short shrift, however, when it comes to talk-time.

4.     Outreach and Growth

The Paleo movement has grown a lot over the past decade, but it’s not inevitable that it will continue on that same trajectory.  Everyone at AHS generally has the same goals of helping the world get healthier.

I would have loved a panel discussion on the future of the Ancestral Health Movement, how to grow it, and how to best reach non-Paleo people.

Just something I think would be really cool and useful.

5.     Diversity and Representation

This is NOT something that would be JUST cool and useful.  It’s something that HAS to happen.

AHS and Paleo in general needs to find a way to start better representing and discussing gender, racial, and other socio-economic issues.

Stefani RuperStefanie has already pointed this out in her recap (better than I will), but too many of the speakers were white males, and too little of the discussion mentioned or even accounted for gender and racial issues.

There’s been a bit of debate about this since AHS, and I’m going to stay out of it for the most part, but the Paleo movement really needs to find a way to become more diverse.

6.     Meeting and Reconnecting with People (Who are all Very Nice)

So a few of my thoughts are areas where I feel that we can improve, and might start to sound like I didn’t enjoy AHS.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.  I had a blast, and most of the reason is because of the people.

The people at AHS were amazing.  Everyone is incredibly nice, usually has a great story to tell, and is often doing some amazing things.

As much as I learned, meeting like-minded and awesome people is definitely the best part of actually being at AHS.

7.     The (often divergent) Knowledge

The amassed knowledge is incredible and is the primary reason everyone should watch the videos of the conference.  (If only I were smart enough to actually understand most of Chris Masterjohn’s talk…)

Equally cool, though, is the disagreements between speakers and presenters who generally have the same goal (getting people to eat more whole, healthy foods) but with different views of how to achieve that goal.

I personally think we need more – and not less – of this type of disagreement.  Some disagreements are a bit overplayed (safe starches, anyone?), but most topics can use more debate, and AHS 2012 provided that debate on many topics.

Up Next

Like many of the AHS attendees, I’ll also be going to the WAPF conference in November.  If you are able to get to any of the conferences (AHS, WAPF, PaleoFX, etc.), please do it.  It’s great to just be there, and meeting and getting to know people in the community makes it better for everyone involved.

Did you attend AHS?  Why or why not?  What do you think about Paleo and Ancestral Health conferences?  Are they even useful?