When I was little, I wanted to be a cat when I grew up. I used to meow in response to questions and decapitate Barbies so that I could bat around their heads with my paw-hands. When Cat stopped seeming like a viable career goal, I decided I wanted to be an author instead.* I could think of nothing more magical than making words happen. And if I was stuck with my opposable human thumbs, I might as well put them to use.
*This is actually kind of a lie. In preschool, I learned the words “author” and “pilot” around the same time. Neither one made much sense (does an author “auth”? Does a pilot “pile”? What kind of convoluted language is this?), and I spent a while confusing the two. The worst was when a local news channel came in to interview my preschool and ask all the students what they wanted to be when they grew up. I was going to say “cat,” but my mom told me she would give me all my Hanukkah presents early if I didn’t say “cat,” so I decided to say “pilot,” which I thought was the word for a person who writes books. People kept giving me toy airplanes after that, which I tried to flush down the toilet. I never got my early Hanukkah presents, and it was the last time my mother succeeded at gift-bribery (hi Mom I love you!).
Anyway, I thought I’d open with that anecdote to distract you from the fact that I haven’t updated this blog in seventeen months and I disappeared without warning and it was weird and horrible. I’m sorry. But let’s not think about it that way. The real issue here is that I was a really messed up kid, and there’s nothing to be done about it now.
That said, I have some news! The reason I dropped off the face of the earth was this:
This is a book. Some of you know about it; some of you don’t. I started writing it in March of 2011. I thought I’d be done by September of that year. To which my now-older-and-wiser self responds,
But you know what? Something magical happened and the book became done. I’m still not quite sure how that worked.* The important part is that it’s a thing that exists now, and that the end product—with all the craziness it took produce it—is something I’m really super excited about.
*Actually, I am sure how that worked. It took lots of not sleeping, the help and support of my incredible editor Jessica Tudzin, the urging of the Primal Blueprint Publishing team, and making wishes at 11:11 and 12:34 EVERY DAY.
But before I go further with that, some radical honesty.
As it turns out, writing a book is hard. I wish I could say Death by Food Pyramid’s journey into existence was nothing but happy happy rainbow unicorn sparkles, and that I never once felt like smashing things or faking my own death and moving to a felt-lined yurt in Mongolia to live among yaks and my own unceasing shame. But those would be lies. In reality, writing this book sometimes felt like being stuck in a three-year abusive relationship with someone who didn’t let me sleep, go outside, or do fun things. All-nighters were pulled. Eating was forfeited or forgotten. Birthdays whizzed by uncelebrated. Relationships imploded under the pressure of Not Having Time To Do Anything Ever (I imagine the only thing more frustrating than being a writer is dating one). It was kind of awful sometimes, and there were moments where I truly thought the book-baby I’d conceived would be stuck in my womb forever, growing to monstrous proportions and slowly devouring my soul. Death by “Death by Food Pyramid!”, the obituary headlines would exclaim.
There were a few reasons for that long, drawn-out anguish (and the ever-moving publication date, which slid forward for over a year and a half). Part of it was because I’m a pathological idealist when it comes to estimating how long it’ll take me to do stuff, especially writing stuff, and very especially nutrition writing stuff. I often spend hours reading and researching before feeling confident enough to put a single sentence on the page.
Another part of it was because when I first started, I wanted to shove the entire universe inside this book. When I realized that wasn’t possible, I thought maybe half the universe would be sufficient. Surely this book should contain everything I ever learned about everything, and also the things I haven’t learned but will learn after my next eight-month-long research binge, and also the everythings that other people learned, which I will find a way to osmotically absorb. Apparently, books cannot, in fact, contain all of the things. Lesson learned! I’m not going to insert the laughing cat picture again, but now is a good time to retrieve that image in your mind.
But there was another component of this book’s rocky journey, too. Not long after I started writing it, I came down with a serious illness, one that’s generally uncurable and rarely discussed by the medical establishment. It’s called Disillusionmentitis. And it can happen to any of us.
Disillusionmentitis (disəˈlo͞oZHənməntˈītis), noun. A condition in which previously held beliefs become subject to obliteration, once-trusted sources reveal their fallibility, and the accepted course of history takes on new and grotesque shapes in the light of new information.
Let me explain. When I first departed from the raw vegan community a decade ago, I did so in the most bubble-bursted, broken-hearted, eyes-pried-opened way imaginable. I went from tightly embracing everything I’d heard from other raw vegans (we’re not adapted to cooked food! Animal products are toxic! We have the same anatomy as all those other vegan primates!) to believing it was all a spectacular amount of hogwash. I really hoped I’d never have to go through that experience again. You get a bit of whiplash when your world does such a rapid 180; a second round might actually snap some vertebrae.
Unfortunately, this book quickly sparked déja vu in that regard. My next post—which, come heck or high water, will not take another year and a half to write—is going to divulge the specifics, but the nutshell version is: wow, the paleo and low-carb communities hold a lot of unsubstantiated beliefs. Not just about nutrition and anthropology and evolution, but also about more recent history—including all that fabulous drama of the last century involving Ancel Keys, John Yudkin, George McGovern and the Dietary Goals for the United States, and the unfolding of our low-fat message. The process of untangling some myths, healing the face-palm bruises from my forehead, and reorienting myself to a more objective version of events slurped up a lot of time. But I think the delay was worth it. I cherish accuracy. Hopefully you do too. As much as humanly possible, I promise you nothing less.
To be fair, I don’t think anyone will ever top the raw vegans in terms of complete disconnection from historical reality (at least the corner of the raw-vegan world I experienced, which was probably more culty than others). And while I don’t identify with a specific diet, I absolutely support the ancestral health movement and the vast majority of what it pumps out—in terms of research, theory, and genuinely awesome people. But I’ve come to realize that every diet community has its own “creation story” about how our problems all started. And they’re all at least a little bit wrong. And then the depths of Hades rumbled, and from its fiery center emerged [carbs/saturated fat/salt/animal protein/fructose/vegetable oils/Paula Deen], forever destroying the state of human health! With great fervor, these tales are embraced and parroted. Their ubiquity becomes evidence of truth. And when we spend our time hanging out in niche diet circles where most people think the same things and eat same foods and gripe the same gripes, it becomes all too easy to stop questioning what we “know.”
More than ever, I want to help demolish the tribalism existing within the nutrition world—to encourage us to learn from each other globally, instead of listening only to the voices tumbling around whatever dietary echo chamber we’ve locked ourselves into. I think that’s the only way to advance our collective knowledge. Among the rivaling diet communities, we seem to get stuck in a scarcity mentality where the success of The Other is seen as a threat to our own. But that shouldn’t have to be the case. We should approach dietary anomalies with curiosity and intrigue, rather than the knee-jerk reaction to defend our own kind.
What’s it All About, Alfie?
Anyway, back to this book thing!
I’m pretty awful at summarizing stuff, and Death by Food Pyramid is no exception. So I’m just going to drop this little linky-link here and let you guys read the table of contents and first 26 pages, including the incredibly generous foreword by Chris Masterjohn. Hopefully that will give you a decent enough sense to decide whether Death by Food Pyramid is up your ally.
That said, I do want to clarify a few things:
- Death by Food Pyramid is not pro-paleo, per se. Nor is it anti-vegan. Nor is it a platform for promoting any particular eating plan (or excessively bashing another). I’m grateful to Mark Sisson and the Primal Blueprint Publishing team for letting me craft a book that respects the success of paleo and Primal diets, but doesn’t assert them as optimal for all people, and even critiques them in some regards.
- I do, however, explore the reasons why some people are genetically equipped to handle higher-starch diets; why the effects of saturated fat aren’t uniform among all humans; why we should focus on individually tailoring our diets; and where various successful eating programs seem to intersect.
- Although this book certainly takes a swipe at conventional wisdom, I hope it also opens a discussion about some of the dogma existing within the “alternative” health communities as well.
Now the nuts and bolts. If you want to read Death by Food Pyramid, you’ve got a few options:
- Order it through Amazon.com—the least expensive route, though it won’t ship until January 1st (the official release date). The Kindle edition should pop up there on January 1st, too, if not sooner.
- Order it through Primal Blueprint Publishing—it’ll ship ASAP (ideal if you’re thinking of giving it away for Christmas), and if you order it by December 31st, you’ll get some freebies thrown in for good measure.* (You can read the announcement post on Mark’s Daily Apple for the specifics on that.)
*To you lovely folks abroad: from what I understand, the cost of shipping this book to another continent is astronomical. I’m incredibly sorry about that. If you’re trying to be kind to your wallet, you should probably wait for the Kindle version.
I don’t know if it’s possible to really finish a book. There just comes a point where you stop working on it, and you call that the end.
But ultimately, a book is only part of an evolving dialogue. You might divide its physical space with two covers and a spine, and slap an ISBN on there to make it all official-like. But those boundaries are arbitrary. They keep some stuff out, but they hold nothing in. What matters more than a book is the ripples it leaves, the seeds it plants, the fires it sparks—the ways it shapes the course of what follows.
So for those of you who end up ordering Death by Food Pyramid, I hope that you view yourselves not as readers, but as active participants. I hope that when you reach the last page and close the book and go pick your kid up from school or check Facebook or take a shower and sing Journey songs at the top of your lungs, that you don’t stop there—but that the thoughts continue to churn and percolate; that you share what you learn and question what you know; that you never underestimate your own role in this untiring dialogue on health, one relevant to every human alive. This book was my baby, but I’m now handing it to you. (And not just because I’m sick of changing its diapers.)