[This is a complete replacement of my previous post announcing the debate, so as to keep the existing comment thread intact.]
So the debate went off last night, on time, and without a hitch. Thanks again to Steve Prussack of Raw Vegan Radio for doing such a masterful job in putting it together and executing flawlessly. Steve was pro throughout, even in the face of a few problems in the preparation phase. In terms of success, well, he had capacity for 1,000 listeners via the phone lines provided and that was "sold out" to capacity. There was unlimited capacity to listen online and I have no idea how many listened that way. So, worth it? On that basis, I’d have to give a thumbs up. Who knows how many vegans and raw vegans heard things they never hear from within their cloistered circles?
For those who did not get a chance to listen live, there is a recording which I understand will be available as early as today, as well as a transcript that will be ready in a few day’s time. You can purchase that as a package here.
The debate was a real debate and my first experience with such a thing. There was a 2-minute introduction for each party to give background about themselves, who they are, etc. Then there were six questions, known only by the moderator, except for the first question that was basically: tell us about your diet and its benefits. Each party had 5 minutes to answer and we alternated who went first for each question. After the 5-minute answers, we each had a 2-minute rebuttal. The final question was couched sort of as a conclusion: anything else you wish to add? That too was followed by 2-minute rebuttals. In total, the debate ran about 90 minutes.
If you think that I might have been at a disadvantage having a raw vegan as a moderator, put it out of your mind. Steve was meticulously objective and I’m sure those who listened would agree that there was no question asked that would have given any inherent advantage to one or the other of us. This whole thing grew out a a recent series of debates called The Great Health Debate with a lot of well knowns in the Paleo, WAPF, and vegan communities, but from what I gather, there was a lot of dissatisfaction; that it was really just a recorded phone conversation between the participants, and not a feet-to-the-fire debate. Steve did something about it and intends to carry it forward. So, if you’re interested in supporting that sort of thing, you can do so by purchasing the Mp3 and transcript. And if you’re wondering, I absolutely trust raw vegan Steve to carry it forward with the same level of professional objectivity. He understands the absolute essential requirement for transparency.
You want to know how I think it went. Well, judging by the comments already in place below that began popping up during and after the debate, it was a resounding success for me. Oh, there was this one comment, which reads, in part:
You made the whole paleo community look bad.
He or she — I don’t know because it’s an anonymous comment and not anything like putting yourself out there live in front of 1,000+ people in a debate — thinks I ought to leave this to the real experts like my friend Mark Sisson, or Loren Cordain, going forward, to which I say: gladly!
In terms of approach, that was a tough one. It was about a month ago that Harley issued the challenge, so during most of that time I collected dozens upon dozens of references, the usual stuff. Then in the run up, I began constructing a complex topical bibliography and notes, numbered, so that I could simply reference the number, giving a link during the debate and publishing the page immediately after. All neat and tidy. Well, "the best laid plans…," so they say. I began to question this strategy in the last couple of days and ended up dumping it completely. I decided that instead of quoting references, dropping names and so on that I would simply approach things as generally as possible, paint veganism as somewhat of a religious-like cult, and contrast "Paleo" as open-ended, flexible, inclusive, guilt shattering.
About four hours before the debate I had a nice long phone conversation with my good friend and intellectual soul-mate, Dr. Kurt Harris at Archevore, and it became increasingly clear that my newer strategy was essential. "STOP READING THE REFERENCES, NOW!" Kurt told me. I complied.
So basically, it ended up me being the inclusive generalist, and Harley using every version of the tired apple and rabbit in a baby’s crib bromide he could come up with. Oh, and saturated fat and cholesterol clog your arteries; and we’re all such nice [fat] guys and he really hopes we don’t keel over with a heart attack or succumb to cancer. And did he mention? He rides a bike. A lot. Apparently, he’s date-smoothie drinking buddies with Lance Armstrong. [After the debate, Harley posted in comments below that he drank a 3,000 calorie date smoothie during the debate. I, on the other hand, ate my first meal around noon, a big ribeye and raw vegan salad. I wasn’t even very hungry when I finally accepted my wife’s invitation to dinner around 8:30pm. He had more calories by far, I had more nutrition, by far.]
Once I get the transcript, I will tear Harley apart as I do best, in writing. It will be the death of a thousand cuts. In the meantime, here’s my opening and closing from the debate:
My diet is omnivorous and here’s why: because human animals are omnivores. This is a simple fact accepted by the vast majority of biologists and anthropologists worldwide, and for good reason. The natural selection logic of the evolution of species in the face of geographic and climatological upheaval over millions of years makes it perfectly clear that in order for human animals to have migrated to, inhabited and thrived over all corners of the globe — from equator to arctic circle, and from sea level to elevations in excess of 16,000 ft — it was essential to have evolved the capacity to exploit sources of nutrition in a general manner, from plants and animals alike. I take full advantage of that.
Benefits for me have been the loss of 60 pounds with massive strength increase, normalized blood pressure, off allergy meds, off GERD meds, better sleep, better self esteem, improved blood lipids with HDL that runs in the 120s and triglycerides under 50, and on and on. So why didn’t I try vegan? I’ll tell ya.
A fruit-based, raw vegan diet that excludes all animal nutrition is only theoretically possible in narrow, niche environments such as a rain forrest. I say "theoretical" because even supposed primate herbivores are importantly omnivorous, from bug, worm, grub and termite eating to actual predation and eating of other primates. So, veganism in general and raw veganism in particular, is a recent human phenomenon that constitutes a mass nutritional experiment with basis more in ideology, feeling, and myth, modern production, and delivery to market than in biology, physiology and nutrition.
It’s important to draw a clear distinction: vegetarians traditionally consume nutritionally dense animal nutrition. Vegans do not. Nutritionally, this makes a world of difference. A vegetarian society such as India, for example, has thrived for millennia whereas, there is and has never been any such thing as a vegan society. So you’ve embarked on a massive experiment and mostly what you have to look for is pictures on the internet — and don’t forget to but the book. So where is your long term successful experiment to point to? You don’t have one. You’re experimenting with your life in a hugely profound degree far removed from tweaking a variable or two. Rather than eliminate the most egregious neolithic agents like wheat, sugar and high-omega-6 industrial oils, you eliminate everything going back more than 4 million years.
Worse, you subject your unborn fetuses, developing babies and children to your precarious and I would say, precocious self-experiment.
What I’m getting to is that veganism in general strikes of religion. Most specifically, the mode of reason and argument is that of creationists. As someone brought up in a fundamental Baptist, "born-again" home and having attended private indoctrination at both the high school and college level, I retain a keen perspective on the power of guilt & shame, the promise of redemption, and the key to it all: the terrestrial motivation of social separation as both a tool of control and a source of feeling superior.
Vegans begin, as do many Western religions at base, with their own version of the doctrine of Original Sin. You’re guilty by nature. You love the taste & smell of grilling animal flesh. You sinner. But unlike a celestial fantasy that doesn’t play out until your life on Earth is over and the full context of your life is weighed for the balance of your deeds, good & evil, you do have a chance to make amends now. How? Well, we’re back to the catechism. You sacrifice your desires of the flesh in favor of "higher ideals" — as if there was anything higher than to live the life of a human animal on Earth as nature has suited.
You’ve heard here tonight from two proponents of health and fitness. But don’t think or assume that what you’ve heard was from two dietary extremes. Because you have not. You have heard from one far-reaching extreme that goes so far in its restrictions as to eliminate nutritionally dense foods that even primates in the jungle eat as we sit here.
In stark contrast, what you have heard from me is that it’s far simpler than that, far less restrictive than that, does not require any counting or macro-nutrient apportioning, and is flexible enough to allow you to eat what you desire amongst a vast array of cooked foods and raw foods, from nutritionally dense animal sources to fiber rich plant sources. Allow me to reiterate: "Paleo" is not really a diet. Rather, it is a framework within which any individual determines their own lifelong, sustainable regime.
In answer to my first question I used the phrase "from equator to arctic circle, and from sea level to elevations in excess of 16,000 ft" to describe the human experience in the context of migration. And this is a good way to think of the Paleo framework. Or, in terms of primitive humans at dietary extremes, from Kitavan to Inuit and everything in between. Now, you see, Kitavans eat about 70% of energy as carbohydrate primarily in the form of starchy tuber while the Inuit have a very low carbohydrate intake and only in the spring and summer. On average, they are 70% or more from animal fat.
And allowing for each to escape the harshness of childbirth and growing up in the hostile, unprotected wild, both reach advanced age in excellent health presenting with none of the diseases of civilization such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, autoimmune and others.
And in between, there are numerous examples of primitive people who have been studied who equally enjoy good health. Their diets vary dramatically, but they all include animal products.
What’s ideal? Who’s to say? Your only task is to find what’s ideal for you and the options are open-ended.
I agreed to this debate not to convince Harley Johnstone of anything, but primarily to speak to those vegans out there who may not be convinced that what they are doing is ideal for themselves, long term. I’m here to tell you that you should not let anyone shame you, or make you feel guilty for your own desires as a human animal. I’m here to set you free, should you desire it.
The choice is yours: live a life of restriction, denial, hunger and potentially far more serious long term problems everyone knows about so I’ll not review, or live with open-ended possibilities to discover your own diet for life within the framework of a real-food paradigm, only with ALL real foods available.
Finally, the folks from 30bananasaday are perfectly welcome to come and engage here, as a few brave souls have already in comments below. I promise on my own account to treat you with relatively the same respect and decorum you show me (but I don’t moderate and can’t speak for other commenters). Tit for tat. It’s open. There’s nothing to hide here, shield my readers from, or anything of the sort. Apparently, there’s a thread going on over there about the debate (Harley only announced the debate to the 30bad crowd in the last day) but of course, that’s not an open debate since you have to adhere to strict guidelines to even be a member. Dissent is not tolerated. What I find interesting is that in perusing those forums now and then, there are some obviously smart and talented people over there. Apart from questioning their dietary wisdom, I have to wonder how a science minded, smart person would ever be a part of a moderated group of separatists.