Nutritional Anthropology
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The science and art of living the way nature intended

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Beyond Broccoli 
Creating a Biologically Balanced Diet When a Vegetarian Diet Doesn't Work 

Susan Schenck
Awakenings Publications (2011)
ISBN-13: 978-0977679522

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Susan comes from that rare breed which can admit that it’s been wrong. Many years ago, in search of health perfection, she set off down the vegetarian road culminating in raw veganism. She even wrote a foodie-popular book, The Live Food Factor. But after 6 years her health began to go wrong – and she started to question her assumptions. 

It is a feeling I know well. I was brought up as a vegetarian and, as an adult, I went through a state of denial before I could admit to myself that it wasn’t the ideal, let alone ‘superior’ way of feeding the human organism. However, unlike Susan, I didn’t have a devoted band of followers to disappoint.

She, under the vituperation that zealots reserve for apostates, ploughed on, researching several hundred books, in the quest for the ideal human régime. The result is this book. It quite naturally bears the marks of the author’s journey to her ‘epiphany’ as she dubs it. So it is that Schenck tenderly suggests to vegetarians not to be judgmental of omnivores and to keep an open mind.

She gently leads them through the many arguments why vegetarianism and especially veganism is risky - notably how deficiencies can take many years to build up. “Don’t delude yourself into thinking that vegetarianism is always most healthful”, she admonishes.

Schenck has little time for the vegan argument that one can easily compensate for dietary deficiencies of, for example, vitamin B12 and DHA fish-oil by taking supplements. “How many vegans ruined their brains and nervous systems before they were discovered” she asks. These are just a couple we know about – there are probably others in animal food that we don’t know about yet, or which need to work in combination. So an unusual and most useful aspect of this book is its exploration of the fallacies of vegetarianism and the debunking of its various myths and totems.

Then Schenck gets stuck into the meat of the question. She fingers grains as being the Darth Vader to our well-being; she identifies our forced starvation of omega-3 as being a health disaster; she exposes the cholesterol myth - a view I've promulgated for years [see Deadly Harvest, Chapter 9, page 239].

In all this Susan speculates that dark forces are conspiring to dumb down the American population. A combination of government policy to make the population more docile and manageable, and agribusinesses like Cargill hooking stupefied consumers onto their grain and soy products.

Somehow Schenck unerringly picks her way through the thousands of pages of diet books that she has read, including my own Natural Eating. Somehow she manages to sort the wheat from the chaff; to select the genuine from the false; to sort the truth from the humbug.

So it is that she threads her path through this minefield, down to the discovery of human origins and the way we lived then. That means [gasp!] that we are supposed to be eating animal food – and to the inevitable conclusion that our ancestral (‘Paleo’) diet is the only way to go.

Even so, she can’t quite let go of some of her earlier preconceptions. Some of it (I feel) is to reassure her followers that she hasn’t totally deserted them. For example, using the ‘metabolic typing’ doctrine (which I belittled, May 2008) she reassures ‘carb types’ that maybe they can get away with being vegetarian – or better still, ‘flexitarian’ (eating animal food from time to time). For Schenck, dairy is not totally off the menu so long as it is raw and fermented.

In fact rawness still permeates Susan’s thinking. She understandably struggles with eating raw steak and liver. I see this as an unnecessary, perhaps dogmatic, extreme. Foragers routinely roasted meat, nuts and tubers. And the evidence supports the idea that, under normal conditions, our bodies cope pretty well with the levels of aggressive substances produced (See ‘Heating Omega-3 Oils’, Sept 2011; ‘Second-guessing Fats’ and ‘What are AGE’s?’, Jan 2012). That is not to say that I go as far as primatologist Richard Wrangham in his book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made us Human. (See my critique: ‘Cooking Helped Evolution?’, July 2009).

What about raw meat parasites and illness? Schenck addresses the question head on. She breezily assures us that, once we are buying quality meat fed its natural diet, disease organisms will be rare and our healthy immune systems will swiftly mop them up. True, foragers from Eskimos to Hadza eat putrefying meat and, on the whole get over any unpleasant consequences. Gut worms? Hey, they may even be beneficial! Indeed, as I have written, some species do seem to be symbiotic with us and are even important for gut health. (See ‘Worms are Good for You’, Nov 1999).

Schenck has some chapters on the morality, spirituality and sustainability of eating meat. On the first two topics (morality and spirituality), these are matters for individual conscience and reflection – so I pass them over. With regard to sustainability, Schenck has some pragmatic things to say:

- “At the root of all sustainability issues is population”;
- “I am not going to let my brain rot while I wait for politicians and corporations to get their act together”;
- “If you are at less than peak health, forget about saving the planet, save yourself”.

The particular value in this book is in giving the route map for vegans and vegetarians to find their way back: the route back to the diet which nature intended.

Do I have any quibbles? Just a minor one. Although Schenck provides copious references, they are largely secondary ones. Indeed, she cites my own book Natural Eating, several times. 

Now I KNOW that my work is authoritative! But Schenck’s readers have to take it on trust – just as they do for all the other citations. But more than that, it is next to impossible for the reader to check out the primary sources. 

However, since she mostly comes to the right conclusions, I have no hesitation in recommending this book to anyone wishing to have an introduction to the Paleo way of eating.