In my case, I have the benefit of being a completely independent researcher, not affiliated with any existing academic institution, and therefore forced to seek innovative answers outside the usual channels. However, I also face the difficulty of being a completely independent researcher -- that is, I lack a mentor and direct connections to academic resources and networking. As a result, I have to also seek those out on my own. So, nowhere could I imagine a more concentrated population of like-minded individuals with whom I could build a support network than the Ancestral Health Symposium, and I was not disappointed.
The symposium ran from August 7th-9th (Thursday through Saturday). On Thursday morning, during the opening remarks and poster previews,* I introduced myself as a full-time barefooter. (I wouldn't learn until a surprise twist later that evening that I wasn't the only one in attendance.)
In contrast to my experiences in Boston, no one I encountered took any issues with my being there barefoot (not even when I was introducing other speakers). In fact, among this crowd, the responses were almost entirely positive, filled with curiosity and open-mindedness, and resulting in many "ah-ha's" as I explained my underlying reasoning and what it all has to do with our shared ancestral heritage (both genetic and social kinship). A number of people said they had enjoyed going barefoot at times in the past, and a few, to my delight, even took their shoes off during the conference.
* Applicants who were not chosen for a full speaking position on this year's schedule were offered the chance to present their work in the form of a poster which was displayed Friday afternoon for observers to stop by. On Thursday morning, we each had about a minute to preview our topic with the full audience in order to entice them to come.
My Poster & Shoes Are Not Paleo
I had been tossing around the phrase "shoes are not paleo" before, but in the process of trying to explain such a complex poster title and concept to the general public, I kept resorting to offering "Shoes Are Not Paleo" as the simplified version. After about two days of this, it finally clicked.
In addition to being much more succinct and catchy, the new name allows me to connect my theories about the physical development of the body to many other topics that are closely intertwined but which didn't fit in the scope of the Human Body User Manual project alone. We simply can't separate our investigation of physical health from an understanding of the broader evolutionary context within which the body developed. That includes topics like how we evaluate nutrition, how we approach mental health, and how we take into account biodiversity in solving food, water, and climate issues, all of which are part of the overall ancestral health perspective. I am very excited about the expanded opportunity I now have for being able to talk about and show how all these things tie together.
Other Symposium Highlights
Here are a couple of my favorite talks. I especially like them because they encourage us to reconsider what we have been taking for granted about some important health issues and how we ought to think differently when it comes to trying to solve them.
We often focus on fat (or lack thereof) as the most obvious marker of health in an individual. Jamie, however, does an excellent job of explaining why our level of muscle mass may be a far better indicator. In addition, I suspect that his observation about nerve innervation at 12:14 ("If we have a nerve that is in effect cut from its muscle, the muscle will decline") may have direct or indirect implications as to why wearing shoes and reducing nerve stimulation in the feet may interfere with developing or maintaining muscular strength in our lower extremities.
As an extremely near-sighted person who began wearing glasses in early elementary school, I have spent a great deal of time thinking about ways to improve vision. I have long suspected that the gradual process of increasing prescription strength is not just a natural inevitability, but rather a result of using the eyes in an improper way. Todd's explanation makes perfect sense as to how we are continually training our eyes to focus on things closer and closer; we have the potential to achieve the opposite result by teaching them to focus farther away. Whether or not all people are able to achieve results with this method, it behooves us, as with other physical ailments, to look at the problem in the way that provides the simplest, most natural solution first, before resorting to heavier-handed interventions.
Fruits of This Year's Symposium
One of the best opportunities so far was being on Nathan Brammeier's ReThink True Health podcast. If you haven't had a chance to listen yet, this was a great interview and allowed me to share quite a lot of the theory behind my perspective. In addition, Dianna Ploss of Dianna's Daily Dose gave me the chance to share more on her local TV episodes twice (so far), a series which I hope to be able to continue in the future.
August 19th, 2014
September 16th, 2014
In addition, the Journal of Evolution and Health has invited all the AHS14 presenters to submit a paper on their work for peer-reviewed publication. This will be a very exciting chance to have a qualified panel of experts critique the theories that form the basis for my work on The Human Body User Manual and will help continue to refine the arguments.
Incidentally, on another ancestral health topic that I learned about as a result of AHS: for those who may be in Boston, I look forward to possibly seeing you at next week's Boston Fermentation Festival (catering to the health of our symbiotic microbiome), where Hannah Crum of Kombucha Kamp (one of the folks who I convinced to go barefoot in California!) will be visiting, as well as master fermentor Sandor Katz and paleo author John Durant.
Next year's Ancestral Health Symposium will be in Boulder, Colorado. I hope to make it on stage this time around to talk about why shoes are not paleo, and I hope I'll see some of you there! :)