Years ago one of my clients experimented with raw milk and dairy in her diet. Her C reactive protein levels, a marker of inflammation, dropped from 5.5 to 0.5. That got my attention. In 2o1o the USDA updated the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Frankly, I thought the The Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) offered a better guide. I finally took the opportunity to learn more about the teachings of WAPF at their 2014 annual conference in Indianapolis.
Everything I ate at the WAPF Conference showcased much of what I am used to serving at home: grass fed meats, wild caught fish, pastured chicken and eggs. Organic produce, raw milk cheese and milk products were served alongside a wide array of fermented foods. For once I celebrated eating all my meals catered at a hotel.
For the past five days I lived, breathed and ate the Weston A. Price Foundation food and philosophy. Unlike any other conference I have attended, WAPF brings in their own food, much donated by members and exhibitors. Most meals were included in the conference fees, and the meals that weren’t were prepared as a fundraising vehicle for a like minded organization, The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund.
WHOLE FOODS, HEALTHY FATS
The meals at this conference typically offered abundant protein and plentiful healthy fats, generous servings of vegetables and modest servings of fruit. Grains were soaked, sometimes fermented, with a fair share baked into sour dough loaves. Desserts were built on a foundation of coconut, cream cheese, whipped cream, fruits, and honey– all in line with WAPF guidelines.
Every meal offered an array of fermented condiments including sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables. Attendees quenched their thirst with hibiscus tea and kambucha. A few dinners offered a no host bar offering an array of other fermented beverages. I can’t help but reflect on my previous blog highlighting the ADA microbiome conference. I was grateful for a wonderful balance of protein and produce, but food at the WAPF conference topped that and then some.
I pay a great deal of attention to the quality of food that I prepare in my kitchen. The WAPF community mirrors and usually trumps that dedication. Throughout the conference, I appreciated that buffets and even the plated meals offered enough choices for me to choose what I needed. I found myself enchanted with the ease of mealtime, and the interesting conversations at communal tables.
Everyone had a story. I soon became aware that many attendees found their way to WAPF because their health needs were not adequately addressed by Western Medicine. My heart went out to many as they shared their stories of frustration with a system seemingly more preoccupied with treating symptoms that getting to the root cause of a problem.
TREATING SYMPTOMS AND BEYOND
I share their frustration. Over 20 years ago I realized that the high carbohydrate, low fat diet of the day completely failed me. I learned I needed more protein and fat in my diet and that I didn’t tolerate the ubiquitous refined grains and sugars offered in the standard American diet. Years after that transition I came to appreciate how my food is grown and how animals are fed.
At the WAPF conference I found many kindred spirits from a most diverse mix of people. Professionals mixed with interested lay persons. Healers of many different persuasions offered their ideas and therapies. I decided early on that I would maintain an open mind and listen as much as possible.
WHAT I LEARNED
I mostly learned that people desperately want to feel better. Many of the WAPF followers spend a great deal of time preparing their own food and sourcing approved products. Most people don’t eat out, as the foundation of their diet rests on generous servings of bone broth, fermented foods, soaked nuts and sprouted grains. A new app and website aim to make that easier for everyone.
Practical workshops included how to make sourdough breads, raw milk cheese, and fermenting your own vegetables. Other workshops discussed microbial diversity in the soil, and organic gardening, and food rights. Some workshops delved into healing through movement. A number of the lectures introduced and reviewed the basic tenants of the WAPF lifestyle.
Core classes investigated controversial issues in health and nutrition, with topics ranging the entire alphabet from “The Acid-Alkaline Myth” to “Vegetarian Myths.” Several speakers explored “The Health Secrets of Indigenous People” and others explored the impact of pesticides and other toxic agents in our food supply. I appreciated the message in most of these sessions: high carbohydrate and vegetarian diets do not offer everyone good health and well being. Our food supply is highly adulterated and we need to take matters into our own hands. I tend to agree.
EDGES OF EVANGELISM
Some of the attendees I spoke with embraced the WAPF food model with the fervor of an evangelist. This food, along with the encouragement of chapter leaders and president, Sally Fallon, had saved their lives. I get that. Changing my diet allowed me to regain my health, and saved my sanity as well.
Western medical practitioners drew the ire of many attendees, although not all. Speakers specifically called out registered dietitians, mostly for their dogmatic approach to a high carbohydrate diet. Denise Minger, the spunky key note speaker at Saturday night’s banquet known for effectively debating many tenets of The China Study, shared even stronger words for the FDA and USDA. She told her story and showcased her book, Death by Food Pyramid.
I squirmed with every criticism brushed over the conventional health care community. WAPF is an organization that repeatedly differentiates itself by claiming that both the government and medicine fail consumers. I felt both humbled, and a little bit defiant.
In many ways conventional medicine does fail. Conventional medicine doesn’t pay adequate attention to food or support adequate food based research. Too often doctors dismiss anything that doesn’t fit into neat algorithms of care all too often shaped by the pharmaceutical industry. Too little time and too many responsibilities sap the curiosity out of many good clinicians.
But the tenets of scientific investigation also endeavors to protect people from bizarre and potentially harmful practices. Too many supplements, tinctures and ointments offered at the WAPF conference were promoted and sold just like pharmaceutical products: mostly as antidotes for conditions or symptoms without regard for the whole person. The “gentle detoxing” advised in one session involved repeated purging with Epsom salts and coffee enemas as a lifestyle. These are potent laxatives and I wondered, “What would be considered harsh?”
On the food front I couldn’t help but notice the gleeful and almost frenzied consumption of “healthy fats”. I silently wondered how many followers used WAPF tenets to justify what some would consider a rather disordered pattern of eating. No one seemed to be talking about how much was enough.
HOW WILL CONVENTIONAL AND ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE INTERSECT IN THE FUTURE?
Ironically conventional medicine is changing and becoming more aware of food practices already incorporated in the WAPF world. I readily hear calls for more personalized treatment and greater appreciation for how food is grown. Just in the last month
- I viewed the documentary Resistance at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Doctors want to stop the use of antibiotics as growth enhancers in feed animals.
- I attended a microbiome conference in Chicago sponsored by the American Diabetic Association. There physicians and researchers acknowledged the desperate need to work with our gut flora to improve our health.
- I found Health Care Without Harm (a global effort to improve the food and chemical purchasing practices at hospitals) when researching Food Day, 2014. Health Care Without Harm pushes for a plant based diet, encouraging institutions to source grass fed animal products and organic produce.
Over the course of the conference some attendees at the WAPF conference quietly confided their confusion or ambivalence. I sensed they were seeking a more grounded scientific foundation for what they were hearing. Speakers often contradicted each other or with WAPF principles, frustrating both novices and veterans alike. While some of the presenters were excellent, others demonstrated exactly why alternative medicine is often dismissed by a medical community preoccupied with evidence based practices.
CELEBRATING A FOCUS ON FOOD
I am mostly impressed with WAPF’s consistent focus on food, quality ingredients, the environment in which it is grown, and the care in which it is prepared. These people are clear about their priorities: food first. In the world of conventional medicine, food get’s too little attention. Medical nutrition therapy and preventative nutrition counseling to help consumers are inadequately funded, often not reimbursed by insurance companies, and poorly utilized.
Fiscal constraints keep most people from eating food that is better for them and better for the environment. Both government and private health institutions serve mostly cheap and subsidized food that actually contributes to the environmental and health problems of today.
I can’t help but wonder what would happen if everyone enjoyed access to grass fed animal products and organic produce? All doctors discussed antibiotic free animal protein, endocrine disruptors, pesticides and other toxic agents in our environment? All patients were offered access to nutrition counseling and advice meaningful for them? The glaring void in conventional medicine is that it mostly fails to honor food’s rightful place. No wonder WAPF devotees look for answers someplace else.