I finally moved into my apartment at UNC and made it through my first week and a half of classes, so now I want to tell you guys about my weekend at the Ancestral Health Symposium! This was the first big conference I’ve ever been to, and it was amazing. I drove down to Atlanta on Wednesday and drove back on Sunday, and my time there was absolutely jam-packed with people and speakers and events. And food.
This is going to be a really long post, because a) I want to remember in detail how awesome it was; b) I always write too much; and c) I’ve had to experience AHS and other similar conferences vicariously through others’ blog posts for the past few years, and I always appreciated it when they were long
One of the most exciting things about AHS for me was that for once, I wouldn’t be the oddball with weird food restrictions. I never had to worry about gluten in any of the symposium food, and we had plenty of restaurant recommendations to accommodate Paleoish diets.
Wednesday night, Adele and I drove all over creation trying to find Kevin Rathbun Steakhouse, with the help of my endearing iPhone GPS who tried her darndest to get us to turn onto the correct street. It probably didn’t help that we were trying to catch up on all of our latest food-related shenanigans while trying to navigate an unfamiliar downtown.
Luckily the food was worth it – I got a ribeye burger with cheddar cheese, ketchup, mustard, bacon, and a fried egg on top, plus a pickle, some pickled okra, and a twice-baked potato. I took a picture of it, but it was too dark to see anything and I’m not dedicated enough to turn on my flash just to display my half-eaten dinner. (Naturally I didn’t think to take a picture before I started eating.)
The symposium breakfasts for all three mornings were pretty good. They had raw milk yogurt, which was delicious (most other plain yogurts I’ve tried are too strong without some kind of flavor or sweetener), but difficult to eat because it was soupy and they didn’t have bowls (or spoons. Fail.). Chris Masterjohn was at my breakfast table and drank his yogurt out of a mug, which I thought was pretty genious. At one point, I was at the same table as Stephan Guyenet, Chris Kresser, and Chris Masterjohn, and they talked about Sally Fallon’s recent bashing of the Paleo diet. Meanwhile, I tried to keep my brain from slinking off to a dark corner to curl up and nurse its inferiority complex. (Really though, the three of them were completely friendly and approachable, as were all of the ‘stars’ I talked to.)
One of the best parts about being at AHS was all of the vendors. For three days, I was never more than one minute away from amazing, high-quality food that I could just buy and eat on the spot. Granted, this set-up wasn’t great for my cash stash, but it was so worth it. My favorite vendors were Miller Organic Farms and High Country Kombucha.
Miller Organics had a ridiculously amazing selection, and if I’d had a bigger fridge in my hotel room I probably would’ve bought everything. As in, their entire stock. They had tons of raw dairy, including cream, milk, chocolate milk (whoah. I know.), strawberry milkshakes, kefir, and egg nog. (I bought the egg nog, and it tasted like clouds and angel songs.)
They also had more than 10 different types of raw cheeses, and set out free samples of all of them. I ended up buying the sheep feta, which sounds weird but is actually amazing. They also had an impressive array of fermented vegetables, bone broth, soaked and dehydrated nuts, and even some coconut flour muffins (which looked super good).
I bought some beet kvass, which I am now addicted to. It was the first time I’d tried it, and I suppose it’s an acquired taste for some people, but I loved it after my first glass. It sort of makes me feel like I’m drinking the ocean, but in a good nourishing way, not an overly salty and disgusting ‘did somebody pee in here?’ way. (Can you tell I’m tired?)
On to kombucha – the kombucha people are the bomb. Steve (aka ‘the kombucha guy’) explained to me why not all kombucha is created equal, which was interesting. I didn’t realize that the specific strain of bacteria in kombucha has a unique relationship with the compounds in black tea, and it’s that interaction that makes the kombucha work so well. Unfortunately, GT’s kombucha (my standby brand) is not the ‘real deal,’ so I guess I’d never really had kombucha until AHS!
Anyways, they had three huge vats of kombucha on tap in different flavors, and I was impressed with their generosity in giving out samples. I tried the ginger, root beer, and elderberry, and the rootbeer was probably my favorite, although the ginger was a close second. They also supplied kombucha at all of the symposium lunches, which was a luxury I could definitely get used to! I might have to start making my own.
The Speaker Dinner
The speaker dinner on Thursday night was definitely one of the highlights of the weekend. This was apparently the first time all the volunteers were invited to something like this, so it was a huge privilege! The dinner was held at Boyd Eaton’s house, which was absolutely beautiful.
The food there was really good, although I couldn’t eat a lot of it because of FODMAP/fiber issues. But the balsamic-fig glazed beef was the BOMB. In fact, I tried making a lazy version of it this week because figs were on sale at Whole Foods, but I can’t say it quite lived up to the original.
I met Kevin Boyd, who did a presentation called “Sleep Apnea, Attention Deficit Disorder and Small Jaws: Not Likely Things of the Past.” He was so nice, and gave me some great feedback on my plans for future education and career goals. It felt like the night ended way too soon; there were so many people I wanted to talk to!
I was at AHS as a volunteer, so I spent Wednesday afternoon checking people in at the registration desk. It was really strange (but cool!) seeing people like Chris Masterjohn and Mark Sisson in person, especially under such mundane circumstances as handing them their badges and informing them about meal tickets. I have to admit I was a little starstruck at first, but I think I got over it by the end of the symposium. Kinda.
I didn’t get to see all of the talks I wanted to because of my volunteer shifts, but I still got to see quite a few! My favorites were Why Women Need Fat: Three Evolutionary Puzzles by Will Lassek, Parasites are Paleo: The Hidden Cost of Modern Hygiene by Chris Kresser, and Walk the Talk by Esther Gokhale.
Will’s talk approached women’s BMI and the birthweights of their babies from an evolutionary perspective by solving three ‘puzzles’ that don’t initially make sense in terms of natural selection. One of the most interesting points he made related to women’s need for adequate DHA stores in their hip/thigh fat, in order to support the development of the baby’s brain during the last part of the pregnancy and during nursing. He speculated that the DHA concentration of a woman’s diet is a large determinant of how much hip/thigh fat a woman stores, which could partially explain why Japanese women are so thin compared to American women.
Chris’ talk on helminths was awesome, despite the AV issues that resulted in Chris Masterjohn’s voice being projected over the speakers in our room during the presentation. (I tried to listen to both at the same time…didn’t work.) His slides were some of the most effective I’ve ever seen – almost all pictures. Helminth therapy is something I would consider trying in the future, so I was happy to hear more about it!
Esther’s talk was probably the most entertaining. She had everyone up out of their seats trying to perfect their posture while she walked around squeezing everyone’s butts to make sure they were engaging their gluteal muscles as they walked. She also tied a baby to her back, which was cool. (Surprisingly, the baby was totally okay with it!) I ended up buying her book and am really looking forward to working on my own posture.
I spent a lot of time just chillin at the registration desk, which I was completely fine with because I had awesome volunteers like Jessica, Carmila, Brady, Sam, Shirley, and Rodger to talk to. Also, vendors kept bringing us potato chips fried in coconut oil and samples of grass-fed beef. I really couldn’t complain
I also helped out with the book signings, so I got to hang out with Mark and Carrie Sisson, Darryl Edwards, Esther Gokhale, Shauna Young, and some other great authors. Mark and Carrie were both really nice, and Mark gave me a signed copy of the Primal Connection, which I’m excited to read! Darryl gave me a copy of his book too, and he kept us all entertained by picking people up.
After the symposium was over, a bunch of us got together for a final dinner catered by FarmBurger. I ate so. much. food. They had a never-ending supply of grass-fed burgers, bacon, cheese, condiments, and potato chips fried in duck fat, and boy do I wish I had some more of that food right now! I had a ton of fun hanging out with Adele, Christina, Tara, Jessica, Chris, Carmila, and many others, and it was the perfect ending to an awesome weekend.
I was completely exhausted by the end of it, and the timing was horrible with classes starting again so soon after, but I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to go and I hope I’ll get to go to future symposiums! If you want to see even more pictures, you should check out my Facebook page And if you read this and are thinking ‘wow, that looks like fun,’ come to the next one!! Yes, it can be expensive, but it’s definitely manageable if you go as a volunteer, and it’s worth it. The online ancestral health community, however awesome it is, is no substitute for actually meeting people face-to-face.