Listening to as many podcasts as I have, I’ve heard several questions addressed to the presenters along the lines of “How can I spread the word better?”, “What name could we use instead of ‘Paleo’ to get more people interested?”, “How can I convert my family/friends?” etc. etc. More often than not the response is something like “Why waste your breath? If people want the information they’ll come looking for it.” The trouble is that the answer is probably being given by someone who receives 100’s of emails every day seeking help, and that’s not the case for the amateurs out there like me, who are excited by what they’ve learned and want to pass it on.
It’s a cliche for good reason that people who have successfully given up smoking become the most vigorous advocates for going smoke-free. Perhaps it’s deep in our DNA to be this way. Since discovering and embracing the primal lifestyle I’ve seen in myself an apparent need, reflex, desire, urge… (one or more of those) to evangelise about food. Specifically the food that I believe it’s right to be eating. I was a vegetarian for many years (there’s that reformed smoker thing), and quite a stroppy one at that. I was younger, it was an emotional/sentimental thing, and there may have been a girl in the picture that helped my choice to give up meat. I don’t think that I was quite as enthusiastic about spreading the vegetarian word as I am at spreading the primal/paleo word, but I certainly wasn’t shy about letting people know what I felt about meat eating.
I know that I am not alone in wrestling with the problem of not being able to shut up about nutrition – the friend that showed me the path to the paleo way has had his own struggle with this. It appears that a lot of people in the paleo ‘community’ latch on to the idea very strongly because the framework of evolutionary biology seems so logical. Perhaps it’s inevitable that if something works for you, and resonates with you, the urge to spread the word is strong. I had back problems for about 18 months before someone pointed me toward Pilates, and in a very short time the practice of Pilates had ‘fixed’ me. I was pretty excited, and convinced that everyone with back problems should do Pilates. And hey, why just back problems? Anyone with any physical problem or injury will surely be fixed by Pilates. As a teacher I’ve seen this pattern repeated many times – Pilates helps someone overcome chronic pain and consequently changes their life. As a result Pilates then becomes ‘bigger’ than a mode of exercise, and reaches the status of miracle, at which point evangelism may well follow.
What drives us to evangelise? I realise that in choosing this word I’ve gone into the realm of religion, and this highlights for me the whole problem of feeling the need to share. I’d rather base my ideology in science, and specifically evolution. I think I can reconcile this, and perhaps simply need to choose my words more appropriately. While Christian evangelism is dedicated to saving people from one unprovable idea (hell), and giving them hope of another unprovable idea (heaven), the lifestyle that I’m espousing offers the real possibility of health and longevity, and salvation from the equally real possibility of ill-health and disease. Surely that’s a reasonable thing to be trying to share?
I had a great lesson recently in the value of sharing information with people that aren’t very interested. We had family staying with us, part of the Belgian arm of my family, for whom bread is the principle component of, typically, two of their daily meals. Perhaps I was conspicuous in my non-eating of bread (perhaps I may have said something about the evil of wheat-but I don’t think so…), either way, one of the teenagers in the family asked me what the problem was with wheat. I launched into an explanation of the trinity of bad things about wheat (gluten, lectins, phytates), and quite succinctly, as I recall. I didn’t have high hopes but still felt slightly crushed when he, and the rest of the family, still attacked the bread with gusto at the next meal. As my wife is inclined to say to me when I tell her about an exciting new nutritional nugget that I’ve picked up: “It’s just someone’s opinion”…. (Of course that’s often not the case, but it serves to reign me in a little).
I’ve noticed in my 8 year old son an enthusiasm for acquiring knowledge that often extends to an enthusiasm for sharing that knowledge. On the whole it’s quite charming in a child, but perhaps not so much in an adult. I recognise in myself the danger of sharing information with too much of a “listen to how much I know” motivation – definitely something that I would like to control as much as possible. The struggle is to balance this with wanting to pass on things that I imagine others might want to know. I’m reminded of reading John Pilger years ago and feeling sure that lots of people would want to know about all the evils that he described being perpetrated in our names. Even as I write this the parallel seems even stronger than I had thought – the collected information from sources such as ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories‘, ‘Wheat Belly‘, and ‘The Vegetarian Myth‘ adds up to something looking very much like governments and vested interests misleading the people, disempowering them and making them sick (while multinational corporations make VAST profits, and public and private healthcare costs spiral beyond comprehension). Who wouldn’t feel pissed off about that?
What to do? I care about the health of my family and friends. I care about the well-being of the people that I teach. What does that require of me? Respect for their values, certainly, and support too. I know that my vegetarian friend doesn’t want me trying to persuade her of the merits of eating meat, but if I hear her talking of trying to lose weight by eating carbohydrate, instead of protein and fat, I’m bound to say something….
So here’s a pledge to everyone that knows me: I will try really hard to only offer information when there’s a hint of invitation, and to assume that, if you take soy milk in your coffee, you probably don’t want to know why that’s a bad idea.