An Idiot Abroad Part I: AHS12

With it being just on a week ago that I left Boston after a two-week State-side trip, primarily to attend the 2012 Ancestral Health Symposium, I guess it is time to organise some of my thoughts on the AHS (and perhaps the rest of the trip) – at least so as I can move on to other topics on the blog.

In only its second year of life, the AHS is proving to be different things to different people.  If AHS11 was defined by a shy group of VFF-wearing bloggers, tentatively emerging from the shadows to meet their peers for the first time, this year could be defined as a group of old friends coming together with a new-found confidence (and a distinct lack of 5-toed shoes).  Many of the relationships that were formed online pre-AHS11, secured at that symposium, and nurtured over the last year, were rebonded with hugs and kisses rather than handshakes this year.

This catching up with ‘old friends’ (and the making of new ones) seemed almost of greater importance than the actual symposium itself.  Don’t get me wrong – attending such a gig in order to have some biases confirmed and other’s challenged, was supremely important.  I love learning (hence why I blog – to organise my thoughts around things I am trying to understand), and I find being part of this community provides me with a degree of intellectual stimulation that I find hard to get with my day job.  But this year, I found myself getting more from the behind-the-scenes discussions with friends and peers than I did from a lot of the actual talks… safe starches… zzzz

Some of the talks themselves were brilliant.  Peter Attia’s cholesterol talk was first-rate, for example.  Some were more a reinforcement of my own thoughts, and as such, not overly challenging.  Some of the best, however, were those that invoked a strong reaction, as often this would stimulate further discussion beyond the actual seminar itself.  Again, having one’s thoughts challenged is good… even if, after much machinations, you conclude that the person delivering the talk was a muppet.  Other talks were just a bit of nothing (to me at least), and I had no hesitancy in walking out of those and zooming over to the next room… Or going to get a coffee… Or ice-cream.  I’m not going to name names here as, given a certain degree of jet lag (I was at my best about 10pm at night and a bit useless before 10am), trying to adjust to the heat (hence the ice-cream – purely for medicinal purposes), and my introverted self struggling to cope in a love-fest purpose-built for extroverts, I may have been a bit harsh on some.  I’ll await the videos and reserve my final judgement.

I was given the opportunity to present this year myself, on the topic of applying ‘the rules’ of evolutionary biology to training endurance athletes.  I will write a separate post on the exact subject matter as, with only 20 minutes of speaking time, it was near on impossible to cover the subject matter in any real depth.  On the basis of the approaches made to me after my delivery, I think it went well.  The reactions ranged from “I knew most of that already”, to “how easy is easy training”, referring to the evidence I presented suggesting that overdoing high-intensity interval work was not the way to go.

Two approaches following my presentation really made my day.  The first was from Boyd Eaton  , arguably the grandfather of this whole ancestral health gig.  Apart from congratulating me on the presentation, Boyd really wanted to talk to me about Christchurch and how it was coping post-earthquake.  I know it has been many months since the devastation of Feb 2011, but the city is still on life support and it is nice to have that acknowledgement from afar.

The second approach was from Mark Sisson, who dragged us out into the lobby for a coffee and a chat about the information I had just presented.  This was on top of having had the pleasure of Mark’s company at a dinner a couple of nights before (where he proved that red wine is indeed primal).  And it is perhaps this interaction which underscores ‘my AHS’.  You see, it really wasn’t that long ago, in the grand scheme of things, that the likes of Mark, Robb Wolf, and the cool cats from Whole 9 – Dallas and Melissa Hartwig – were my paleo idols (there were more, but from a purely practical, how-to-do-this-shit standpoint, these were my big three).

That an amateur blogger in small-town New Zealand might so much as get a post linked to, or even more personally, get a reply to an email or tweet, was just a really big deal for me.  Yet in my time at AHS, I was able to have dinner with Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, Mark Sisson, and J.Stanton, and I finally plucked up enough courage to introduce myself to Robb Wolf.  There was some griping about ‘paleo elitism’, and tedious comments made about ‘glitterati’ from some quarters in response to mentions of these meetings and dinners, but for me, they were opportunities to talk with my heroes and to get a better insight into just how ‘normal’ these people are.

Beyond the hero-worship, I was able to link up with many ‘second-wave’ writers and practitioners… those of us who hit the ground after the likes of the Sisson’s, Wolf’s, and Hartwig’s had softened our landing for us.  It was an absolute pleasure to meet Ann and Dave Wendel, Victoria Prince (who kidnapped us to the New Jersey countryside, force feeding us wine and berries, marching us up and down hiking trails, and taking us on a tour of the Jersey countryside [nothing like the Jersey Shore], only to drive by the Philly train station a few days later,  and kick us out without stopping the car…), and Jude Stone (though I’m still deciding if that was a pleasure or not).

There were many other introductions and meetings over the 3-4 days that was AHS12, and as is always the case, it was difficult to spend the time you would have liked with these people.  We met (happy snapper – he knows why) Aaron Blaisdell and many of his gang of volunteers who did a superb job of pulling this gig together to make it all look effortless – Katherine, Beth, and the others – well done!  And it goes without saying, especially given the over-representation of Australia at AHS this year, that there was the usual “are you from Australia?” questions and ribbing… which after a few days made me feel like responding like Murray does below to the band of one-trick ponies…

I’m sure there is a lot more I could write, and I may do yet, but I thought I would close this post with some awards…

Best security detail making it near on impossible to get close – Emily Deans

Best pusher of Icebreaker clothing to people of foreign lands – myself

He isn’t half as tall as I thought he was – Kamal Patel

Poster presenters WHO SHOULD HAVE BEEN PRESENTINGDallas & Melissa Hartwig

Poster presenters who prove less is more when it comes to these things – D&M Hartwig and Ann Wendel

Best cure for insomnia/induction of psychosis – The Safe Starches Debate (with honorable mention going to whoever decided that the low carb king was the best guy to referee that debate)

The mad as a bag of cats but still an awesome guy – J.Stanton

The how to present without technology schooling lesson – Joel Salatin

Most whiniest non-Australian – Stephan Guyenet for whingeing that it cost him $800 to get to AHS (amongst other equally whiney comments)

Most Improved Player from AHS11 – Dr James O’Keefe

West Coast U.S. vs. East Coast U.S. – Boston spanks LA and SFO

Best travel companion in a supporting role – Anastasia Boulais

And the WTF? award – to whoever it was who called attendees out for being just a little bit too healthy and of European descent… don’t hate the players, hate the game.

Geoffrey was shocked that his tail was considered to be too bushy for the AHS.

24 thoughts on “An Idiot Abroad Part I: AHS12

    1. thatpaleoguy Post author

      Thanks, Michelle!! Great to catch up (even if briefly) with you and Keith again… the big fella was a tough act to follow.

      Would love to come to PaleoFX… Hmmm – so decisions to be made for 2013!

  1. annwendel

    We love you, too, T Rex…(even though we can’t understand a bloody thing you say)…

  2. aaronblaisdell

    So now I’m the unofficial paleo paparazzi? Be careful Jamie, or you’ll end up in the National Enquirer, or worse! Remember, I live in LA. I have connections. And I think we need an LA-Boston rematch, this time in the dead of winter. Let’s see how much you like Cambridge, MA in frigid January. You’ll be pining for the sunny beaches and cycling weather of an LA winter.

    1. thatpaleoguy Post author

      It still might be a close run thing… I’m quite partial to a change in seasons and even enjoy a bit of snow. But you are right, by the time AHS rolls around again, I’ll be getting all squirrelly for some sun and heat…

  3. PaleoPeriodical

    Ha! I suspect this whole conference is full of introverts faking their way through with copious amounts of alcohol and ice cream. I’m another one. And yes, thank you for the last observation, working on a post about that very thing.

    It was a pleasure to meet both you and Anastasia. Hope to see you both on our continent again soon, unless of course a cool event gets going down there, in which case I will endeavor to cause an international incident.

    1. thatpaleoguy Post author

      Hmmm… you might be quite right, especially on the alcohol front!!

      The whole thing made for a great study in human behaviour. You take a bunch of people, most of whom I would argue are introverts, and throw them all together at a conference where they now need channel some form of extroversion. I know there were some extroverts there, and they seemed to thrive in that environment. For those [extroverts?] who were moaning, after the event, that many of the bloggers/presenters were inaccessible/unapproachable/snobby, they might like to keep in mind that many of us were well outside of our comfort zone and were balancing mingling, getting to know people, catching up with old aquaintences, and escaping to recharge (or failing that, getting snozzled as a coping strategy).

    2. Anastasia

      It was great to meet you too, Karen, even though you tried to go under the radar with a new hairdo. Don’t feel like you have to wait for an international convention of some sort to visit our hemisphere. There is plenty of ice cream and alcohol here too.

  4. J. Stanton -

    “Mad as a bag of cats?” I guess that’s a Kiwi “compliment” in the same way that Marmite is Kiwi “food” :D Anyway, I enjoyed our dinner conversation, and I’m glad to see your efforts finally being recognized by the community at large.


    PS: My bibliography is up, here.

    1. Anastasia

      JS, it is definitely a compliment. We don’t go much for political correctness Down Under :) Nothing wrong with breaking the cookie-cutter mold.

  5. Melissa Hartwig

    Thanks for the AHS love! It was fabulous to get to spend so much time with you and Anastasia, and your presentation absolutely deserved more time. In fact, I’ve already started applying some of the concepts you discussed, and I’m feeling fantastic (and not at all guilty)!

    Melissa & Dallas

    1. thatpaleoguy Post author

      Eek… you didn’t take anything we said in that seminar seriously did you? Anastasia and I only made it up that morning!

      A pleasure and honour to have been part of that day with you guys. I’ll write it up as a post soon.

      Enjoy Europe!!


  6. Melissa Hartwig


    So great to spend time with both of you in Boston, and thank you for your awesome contribution to our seminar. Your presentation at AHS definitely deserved more time – in fact, I’ve been employing some of your recommendations already, and feeling great (and not at all guilty about it).


  7. healthcoachpenny

    My husband (extrovert) and I (introvert) really enjoyed getting to speak with you for those few minutes. He has been a big fan of yours for quite some time, and I had to muster up my inner extrovert to drag him over and introduce the two of you. Thanks for being so gracious.

  8. Squatchy (Christopher)

    It was nice meeting you Jamie, although I was pretty sleep deprived at the time when I said hey to you, and my brain wasn’t working too well. Maybe I’ll actually have an intelligent conversation with you next time around :)

  9. Pingback: The Ancestral Health Symposium 2012 Highlights « Paleo Diet – Paleolithic Diet Research, Primal Nutrition, Low-carb eating, Eat like a caveman

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