Not long after I had committed myself to dive down the rabbit hole that is living a life guided by evolutionary biology, I decided to write a blog. I was so excited by this new world which was opening up and so excited by the new research that I was now accessing and reading (actually – it was old research, but like many health professionals, I was just largely ignorant of its existence), that I had to share it. The original premise was to write-up my thoughts around what I was reading and experiencing so that the small handful of people I was working with in Christchurch could follow, come up to speed, and make any changes they saw fit, without the need for me to have the same conversation multiple times.
I was stunned to find out that I was being read globally, had followers in places I had never heard of, and was to eventually become better known outside of New Zealand than I was at home. The more I linked in with others and shared thoughts and collaborated on ideas, the more I realised how isolated I was down in my corner of the world. Eventually I was to find a couple of other practitioners in New Zealand, and I remember becoming very excited by the prospect of finding a doctor (or a med student at least), who had also stumbled and tumbled down the same rabbit hole. But it really wasn’t until I went to Los Angeles in August of 2011 to attend the inaugural Ancestral Health Symposium that I fully realised the potential of this whole thing.
There is a certain feeling of isolation that we all seem to share when we decide to opt out and unplug from the norms of society. It is a strange sensation to eat only real food, to shun fake food, to stand rather than sit, to walk rather than jog, to sprint rather than run, to look for things to pick up and carry rather than wheeling it, to climb rather than keep two feet firmly on the ground, to worship and respect the sun rather than shun it with chemical blockades, and to maintain proximity to a bed rather than a television just after sundown – and to have all of that viewed as fringe, weird, bizarre, faddish, and altogether abnormal. But for a few days that August in LA, amongst a group of friendly strangers and strange friends, I was once again normal.
Relative to 2011, the popularity of this whole ancestral health scene has now exploded – for better and for worse – with the take up in Australia and New Zealand being a lot quicker than I ever anticipated. At the start of this year, Anastasia and I launched Whole9 South Pacific up in Cairns, being hosted by the great folk from the newly opened Paleo Cafe – a cafe that now boasts franchise in Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne. Auckland has similar cafes now open, and we are seeing more examples in both countries of cafes and restaurants offering meals that are paleo in every way except for the name.
Within Australia there are pockets of individuals fighting the good fight against what is a very large sugar and grain industry in Australia, and against the purveyors of conventional thinking who are seemingly more upset about where information is coming from and the loss of their authority than whether the information and discussions are valid. The Rod Taylors, Ken Sakaris’ and the Gary Fettkes are leading the charge in the bed red rock down under. We are also trying to do our bit by taking the good food and lifestyle words of Whole9 South Pacific out to the people, and we have been able to tick Cairns, Toowoomba, Hobart, Melbourne, Port Macquarie, and very soon, Newcastle, off the list of Australian cities (a big shout out to Jason & Sarah, Nathan & Emily, Luke & Amanda, Sal & Bud, Greg, Taya, Ash, and Jess – our home crew from Allegiance for all your recent support).
Whilst everyone is trying to look after their own little pocket of Australia, we have found that the size of the place, the distances and the costs of covering them, and, unfortunately, some of the individual attitudes (not much point in setting yourself up as the central hub of all things paleo in Australia or your state if you are going to largely ignore what people are up to), leaves us feeling that Australia, a bit like the US, is going to be fractured in its approach. People are seemingly happy to be an individual splinter cell in this fight rather than use the power of numbers.
This is where we see New Zealand being different. It has its relatively small size on it size (at 4.5 million people, it is the same population as the city of Sydney), and given that I can fly from Sydney to Christchurch cheaper than I can fly one hour down the road from Port Macquarie to Sydney, New Zealand is very cheap and easy to get around. It is also a very open and progressive country relative to the slightly more conservative Australia (though this is really splitting hairs compared to the US). And more than anything, especially in the last year, we have seen a very cool thing happen – active and open collaboration.
Currently, in New Zealand, we are fortunate to have a handful of doctors, nutritionists, exercise scientists, organisational psychologists, academics, researchers, and plenty of passionate enthusiasts, all coming out of the closet to say they are either already using ancestral health principles in their own lives and in their clinical practices, or they are seriously looking at some aspects of evolutionary biology/medicine, even if they haven’t gone the whole hog on it. We even have the chief science advisor to our prime minister, who has written one of the seminal texts on this topic, who is influencing at least some government policy toward an evolutionary biology approach. And most of these people are reaching out to us and others. They all want to work together, for the good of the nation’s health, well-being, and lifestyle.
To formalise this collaboration, to strengthen our voice, to have robust discussions and debates, to learn more, to help foster Maori health using ancestral approaches, and to give those who produce good food and lifestyle products confidence that there is a market there for them, Anastasia and I, following on from our recent experiences with the AHS, are working with a small group of keen individuals to set up the Ancestral Health Society of New Zealand (AHSNZ).
Whilst it is still early days, we have reached out to a few people and formed a small executive team to get this off the ground, have sought and received the blessing and support of AHS (USA), secured web addresses, and even have waiting in the wings a corporate sponsor who is keen to support this society and see it grow. Our most immediate task is to work on getting all the documentation together to formally register the society, but we also continue to contact people and form the networks that are going to be vital in getting this thing off the ground and in sustaining it into the future. There is already talk of a New Zealand Ancestral Health Symposium happening even sooner than I had anticipated, to which we may even see some of our North American cousins trekking down this way for! Very cool.
There is much to be done, and we are under no illusion that we won’t face a few obstacles and criticisms along the way. But the timing and support for this feels right and we have every confidence that we can do something pretty special here. I don’t want to get too far ahead of the team and pre-empt what the society will ultimately look like, suffice to say that our manifesto will look very similar to that of what will ultimately be our sister society, the American Ancestral Health Society;
The Ancestral Health Society is organized for the purpose of fostering interdisciplinary collaboration and translational efforts between scientists, healthcare professionals, and laypersons that study and communicate about the human ecological niche and modern health from an evolutionary perspective to develop solutions to our current health challenges.
We need health reform, ultimately, in order for any efforts at healthcare reform to succeed sustainably. Modern humans suffer from numerous diseases linked to the metabolic syndrome, such as diabetes, yet these health maladies were virtually nonexistent during most of our ancestry. In modern science, evolution is the default perspective for inquiry. In modern healthcare, however, evolution is almost nowhere to be seen. Neolithic and (especially) post-industrial diets combined with modern sedentary lifestyles have pushed our physiologies dangerously far from their adapted environments, and it is becoming exceedingly expensive and ineffective for medical practitioners to fix the resulting damage done to our bodies or halt the epidemic flood of illnesses collectively referred to as the diseases of civilization. In fact, the current generation of children may live shorter lifespans than do their parents—a startling reality that should shock health experts into creative, collaborative solution-searching.
Recently, research scientists, physicians, health experts/professionals, and e-patients have organized online around a new direction in physiology that respects our evolutionary heritage as human beings. This Ancestral Health community emerged in the Blogosphere as the aforementioned panelists engaged in scientific journalism and spread their ideas, insights, and discoveries with the world openly and freely. Starting out on the periphery, this self-organizing, decentralized community has recently gained momentum through bottom-up thinkering; thus, the time is ripe to capture this energy and cultivate further interdisciplinary inquiry through an event that unites all those interested in advancing the science and practice of human health in the twenty-first century.
With the far-reach that these presenters have on the Web—bloggers like Mark Sisson run some of the top health Web sites in the world, with thousands of readers daily—as well as in academia and in local healthcare communities, the proceedings at this event will touch a widespread audience and will foster new, unique approaches to solving our existing healthcare challenges.
Finally, this is an opportunity to support dialogue and conversation between people who are passionately concerned about restoring, maintaining, and enhancing people’s health. When we understand how our diet and lifestyle choices cause our health states to degrade, we can better implement cost-effective ways to improve health. Not only is an ounce of the right prevention worth a pound of cure, the right ounce of prevention costs a lot less. From this perspective, the health policy and administrative potential of Ancestral Health are both valuable and practical. In light of the resource constraints that our healthcare systems face, implementing concepts and ideas presented at this symposium would be beneficial.
We will aim to keep everyone abreast of developments with this project through various channels, including, I am sure, those of the others helping to get this plan off the ground. If you are a Kiwi at home or abroad, are passionate about taking an ancestral approach to food, lifestyle, and better health, and want to be part of this in any way, please do not hesitate to drop me a comment (all comments go through moderation, so if you wish to contact me privately, leave a comment with a note saying you don’t want yours published – it would be great to hear from you regardless and I will respect your privacy).
We might even let some of you Aussies come and play too when we get a symposium going!
Postscript: For all of those who are unaware of what is on offer through the likes of an Ancestral Health Society, I encourage your to have a look through the channels of the American AHS for the presentations that have been made over the last few years…
Also check out the Journal of Evolution and Health – http://jevohealth.com/ – We hope to get some good Kiwi links to this publication.