Last year, I decided I wanted to actually do something at UNC to make peoples’ lives better, and to help grow the community of people who acknowledge that the USDA Dietary Guidelines are not the end-all be-all of good health. In my New Year’s Resolutions, here’s what I said:
I think the hardest thing about leading instead of following isn’t the added work or responsibility, but risk of failure. It’s downright scary to try and start something new when there’s a good chance you’ll fall flat on your face. But it’s better to try and then fail than to not try at all, which is why I’m going to try to start the first ancestral health student organization at UNC, called the Healthy Nation Coalition. It will be a branch of the existing Healthy Nation Coalition, which is directed by my good friend Adele Hite, and will unite all of the ancestralites on campus so that we can get to know each other and show UNC what it really looks like to “eat healthy,” whether that’s Weston Price vegetarian or low-carb Paleo.
To an extent, I did carry out that resolution. I hung up flyers all over campus, emailed a bunch of different listservs, held an interest meeting where I felt mildly awkward (as usual), and to my amazement, found a solid group of 8-10 people who care about this food thing as much as I do. We met about once a week from the end of February through May, and discussed topics ranging from cholesterol and ethical vegetarianism to exercise and nutrient timing. There were even a good 5 or 6 of us who are ‘Paleo’! But I was very wrong about one thing: it’s not an ancestral health group.
Reading back over what I wrote back in January, it’s clear to me that I still didn’t fully grasp what Healthy Nation Coalition stands for. ‘No one-size-fits-all diet’ doesn’t mean accepting the Paleo ‘gray area’ foods like white rice or raw dairy, or even traditionally fermented sourdough bread. It means accepting every diet – processed or whole, ancestral or modern, low-carb or high-carb, ‘healthy’ or not – and supporting people on their journey to find what works best for them.
And it’s not just about nutrition. It’s about availability, taste, culture, socializing, cost, and myriad other factors that a lot of people forget about when talking about food. These are all things I’ve failed to acknowledge until recently, and I didn’t fully integrate them into my food beliefs until this summer when I spent a lot of time designing and writing the Carolina HNC website. It’s amazing how putting things into writing can help you see things so much more clearly!
I’ve evolved so much in my beliefs just in the short few months I’ve been working on the organization, and I can say with complete and utter confidence that I am officially off the dietary dogma bus. (Don’t ask me why it’s a bus. Everything’s a bus these days, I’m just going with it.) This means I no longer feel threatened when I encounter people who have success eating differently than me. It means I don’t feel like I have to defend my eating choices to anyone. And I no longer catch myself thinking “if only I could control what that person is eating, they would be healthy.”
For me, completely letting go of dietary dogma wasn’t something that I could mentally force myself to do. You know, sort of like how you can’t tell yourself to snap out of a bad mood, or to stop being stressed out. It was something I had to come to terms with through the evolution of my own diet over the past five years, through talking with others, and through reading enough of the scientific literature to realize how utterly complex the body is, and how ludicrous it is to think that we understand it.
Anyways, I’m really excited about HNC, and spreading our message across campus. We had an awesome group potluck last night, which I wrote about at the HNC website. A friend and I tried to make these Brazilian Cheese Buns, which we failed at monumentally.
We’re still a very small group, but I’m hopeful that we’ll continue to grow and make an impact on campus. If you go to UNC and love nutrition-related stuff, you should definitely join us. I think it’s going to be a good year