Guest Post by Angie Alt: Can I Paleo-ize You?

May 20, 2013 in Categories: by

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Angie AltAngie Alt is wife, mother, world traveler & blogger. She’s also a warrior in the autoimmunity war. Angie confronts three autoimmune disorders each day, including Celiac Disease, with powerful management techniques like AIPaleo & the Paleolithic lifestyle. She blogs regularly about the emotional side of tackling autoimmunity, adopting Paleo, and how it impacts her, her family, & their way of life. You can read more by Angela Alt at her blog and connect with her on Facebook.

I have a conundrum. For some, it may seem cut and dry, but I have been struggling with it for a year now. Well, maybe more accurately I’ve been struggling with it for about 11 months . . . like since the moment 30 days into AIP when I had the full-blown revelation, “Our food system is killing us.”  The next thought was, “Can I willing give the poison to others?”

No, right? No, I should not feed SAD food to others, if I know it is extremely detrimental to their health. The answer should be no, but I’ve had a hard time with it.

The first time I struggled with this was when we cleaned out our home of the SAD foods once and for all. Almost all the canned goods went, all the pasta (even the gluten-free stuff), all the bars, all the snack foods, and all the store-bought yogurt. All of it got packed up . . . and then sat there for a day, while I wrestled with what to do with it. I tried to talk it through with my husband.  Should we take it to the homeless shelter? Should we donate it to the food bank? At the time we were also moving across the country, so I asked, “Should we give it to the neighbors?”

Honestly, what I wanted to do was throw it in the trash, but I also have this deep aversion to waste, especially food waste. I used to live in West Africa.  After living there calling my feelings about food waste “aversion,” is actually a giant understatement.  Here’s the thing though, I knew the food was not healthy for just about anyone to consume, but I hadn’t quite started seeing it as NOT food. I didn’t want to waste food.

I ended up sheepishly approaching the neighbors and asking if they wanted any of it. They had little kids and were happy to receive nearly a week’s worth of groceries for free. I walked away feeling awful that they were going to feed it to the kids though. I even felt a little bit relieved that we were moving. Talk about a guilt complex. I didn’t want to participate in giving it to others, but I also didn’t want to throw it out.

We arrived at our new home and settled into a routine. My Paleo transformation really began to take off and my improvements on AIP were very noticeable and steady. My household went 100% gluten-free and my husband and daughter soon had health improvements. From there, they agreed to take everything 99% Paleo in the home too.  They started eating mainly AIP dinners with me. We started buying mostly grass-fed, organic meat; we found a local source of farm fresh eggs for them. Our health as a family bloomed. It was plain to me that SAD food was not food at all. I started to see it as food-like substances. A trick played by industry.

That’s when I started to think about Africa again. A large part of US foreign aid is food assistance. A great deal of it is grain. We ship our excess grain to them. It is needed. I’ve seen it first hand, in tiny, remote villages at the end of a long, long dry season.  Our food aid actually matters for them. But, they also need very serious nutritional interventions. Is it nutritionally undermining them further by giving assistance in the form of grains that we are now seeing more and more in the US as negative to overall health? In the last year, I’ve had three doctors, one being a highly respected GI specialist at a prestigious, big name medical school say to me, “Nobody should be consuming gluten.”  Does “nobody” include those that are facing severe food shortages? How do we resolve this dilemma on that scale?

I had struggled with it on the micro level, “What to do when I clean out my kitchen?” and I had tried to contemplate how to navigate it on the macro level, “What about foreign food aid?”  Then my nephew’s birthday came up. For his previous birthdays I’d done something awful, with a capital Auntie. I had sent him boxes of his favorite sugary cereals in the mail. One year on home leave from Africa, I took my other niece and nephew out to breakfast. I bought them the most over-the-top donut AND ice cream, of their choice. I have another niece, the most adorable two-year-old on the planet.  I used to sneak her ice cream and cookies too. I live far away and don’t see any of them often, when I do, I revel in being that special aunt, the one that spoils them rotten. I know now that it really is rotten, though. I can’t feed them poison, but should I be trying to “paleo-ize” them?

This is a real question for me.  Big ethical arguments aside, how are you approaching it or have you resolved it?

Comments

What a great article!I can relate from a couple of perspectives. I work in childhood nutrition food policy with the overall long term goal of improving school lunches. But I leave my Paleo hat at home in this work because at this point in time it’s completely unrealistic. Similar to your Africa view, I can see that for the kiddos on free and reduced lunches this may be the healthiest meal they get all day. For the treats, if that makes you feel good to spoil your nieces and nephews (and why shouldn’t it!) maybe you could do it with something that’s not food related. I’ve had family members that were the same way with my 4 girls and now they understand that it’s just as fun to take them to Target and spoil them with clothes or toys for those special occasions. My girls would much rather have the latest whatever kind of toy or gadget that will last longer than a food treat.

I give people Paleo treats when its a “treat time” for the Normal Folks. Everyone knows how I feel about diet, food, and what its doing to the world though.. if they spend 4 seconds with me. In the last few months I’ve finally had several people message me for help. its been over two years! Im just glad to have them!

When I was first diagnosed with gluten intolerance, I did what you did and packed up all the food I couldn’t eat. I chose to donate it to the local food bank. Even though, at the time, I didn’t know how universally bad gluten is for everyone, even today, knowing that, I would still have donated it to the food bank. Why? because I know that the majority of people out there aren’t following a gluten free/Paleo diet and would be resistant to following it even if they were told they should. Granted, the food is not the best, but when you’re starving, it’s better than nothing.

That being said, since going GF/Paleo, I now only cook that way. Which means, when I cook for someone else, whether dinner or dessert, it’s going to follow the protocol I set for myself. In part, it’s so that people can see that eating this way is delicious, that you don’t have be deprived or eat yucky tasting food (also, so I can share in the eating of it). I figure, I’m more likely to convert folks over if they see what great food they can eat by going GF/Paleo.

When it comes to how the U.S. handles food aid to people starving in other countries, that’s a little more tricky. Regardless of whether it’s grains or something else, the thing about most food aid is that it has to be shelf stable. So *any* food sent to those countries is likely to be highly processed in order to be able to withstand being stored for long periods of time with no refrigeration.

I can relate to your feelings. I felt the same way when I purged my kitchen of non-paleo foods several years ago…I ended up giving it to my local food pantry. I agree that I do not consider processed food “food” and I refuse to give that kind of junk to anyone since. Sparingly/For special occasions, I do make paleo treats…but I choose healthier ones that contain WAY more fiber and healthy ingredients and WAY less sugar. But as far as purging your kitchen, don’t feel bad….for me it helps to remember that there are so many people who will never believe in eating AIP/paleo (there are plenty of people who refute the idea). So you might as well give the food to them.

I don’t know nearly enough about food aid and such. However, I have learned about permaculture and some of the wonderful things the advocates do all around the world. They have helped people build sustainable farming systems in climates as diverse as African deserts, wet Asian fields, and American suburbs. And permaculture would allow for paleo eating since it’s a sustainable way to raise animals and grow foods that thrive in the local climate. So perhaps the answer is to send grain for the short term while sending teams of *knowledgeable* farmers. “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day….” Now…how to make that happen? I have no idea.

Have you ever heard of Heifer International? That’s a lot of what they do. People can “donate” livestock to families who raise them to provide for themselves and as a source of income. They can also use their livestock to help seed other families thus improving the entire community. That’s how I often do my Christmas presents. I send cards to my family and friends with notes like, “Hey! I bought you a goat! I’m having a family in (insert third world country) raise it for you.”

Diet is a very personal choice. As parents (and that umbrella expands to all children that are ever in our care at any time), it is our job to provide and model what is healthy. But, ultimately, these children need to be able to learn to think for themselves and make their own choices, and that includes dietary choices. Likewise, it is not our responsibility as a country to dictate the dietary choices of a group of people. We are providing aid in the form of food, but ultimately, we are providing this aid to people who can make choices. (And don’t get me wrong, I used to live in a third world country so I completely understand the situation is much more serious and the problems are deeper than just telling these people to “get a job” the way it may be here in America). These choices are not as simple as getting to pick what they eat – they don’t really have that option – but they do have the option to start making cultural changes to improve their situation over time and generations. But, that is a much broader discussion.
The point I’m getting at is that ultimately, we’re not responsible for the situation others have gotten themselves into. Just like I’m not responsible for my mom’s diabetes. But, I love her, just like I want to love and help perfect strangers half a world away, so I give her information. No, I can’t dictate every bite of food my mom puts in her mouth, just like I can’t dictate what a poor village in Africa puts in their mouths (even if it is grain I gave them – I’m never actually forcing it into their mouth). But, I can provide information. So, for my mom, the information is how to improve her diet. And for this poor village in Africa, the information is going to be how to start working towards a more self-sufficient future wherein they may eventually be able to have the options to make better food choices, among many other very important choices. In the meantime, I’m at least providing some kind of means of survival.

As for purging your own kitchen, I’d donate it to a food shelter. Again, those people in need that benefit from this service should have a right to survival, but should also be helped with information to help them out of their situation. Of course, you’re welcome to bring them paleo food too (we actually have a local group that donates a grass fed cow once a year to shelters). In the end, though, we all do have to take some personal responsibility in our shared society. It would be insulting to those people in it to take the attitude that people in extreme poverty are not capable of personal responsibility. I actually learned that the hard way when I lived in the Philippines by unintentionally insulting someone through my actions. Poverty stricken people want to be as capable and proud as “first world” people. They are just as human as us.

Casey, thanks for reading. And all points understood. As I said in the blog, I used to live in the developing world too. I also know I am not responsible for everyone’s choice & that it is insulting to think they can not make their own choices . . . I did want to spark a good discussion though. Thanks for your thoughts.

I am still considering these issues on a micro level, but I am truly considering them. Why, for a special “treat” do I purchase nasty, disgusting, unhealthful in every way garbage to celebrate? Isn’t that the time to break out the ice cream maker and find the most amazing homemade coconut ice cream recipe ever? But instead I took them to Dairy Queen. Oh, and then shook my head afterwards because I had an INSTANT sore throat and headache from said food-like substance and the kids were misbehaving near on-coming traffic!

Thanks for posting this, I’m fairly new to AIPaleo, and my husband kindly tagged along for about 5 weeks. He says he doesn’t notoce mich difference healthwise, and finds eating bread so much easier than carrying around a lunch box to client sites. So as of this week he eats his ‘normal’ breakfast and lunch, and eats the AI dinner I make. Not sure what to make of that, nut if he really is not feeling better by eating paleo, than that’s that.. As for my 2-year old daughter, I am really struggling with this question. Didn’t want to change anything big as long as it wasn’t working for me. But I am no much more stable, so the question of ‘what the heck am I doing feeding her this stuff (bread and milk)’ keeps nagging me. Especially as she seems to have some symptoms that could do well with glutenfree life. So do I try full blown paleo (at the moment she is a picky eater), would it help to try glutenfree bread.. Can I wean her of milk.. Not finding it easy at all!

Never mind the even bigger scale..

I struggle with the longterm viability of providing people with enough food if grains are eliminated on a large scale. I’ve seen analyses of CO2 footprint, hydrocarbon use, water usage and pollution, etc. showing improvements from grazing over tilled agriculture. But I haven’t seen any detailed analyses of total food content when changing grain-producing land to free range or pastured animals. So, I struggle with the idea that the wealthy populations can make themselves healthier through a paleo-type diet while the poorer nations struggle with getting enough calories to stay alive. Any links showing analyses of these?

There’s a great youtube video with Lierre Kieth, author of The Vegetarian Myth, that talks about land usage (not sure if she talks about it in her book).

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