My Q&A with Mark Sisson: "If Paleo is a Fad, it's the Longest Fad of All Time"
In 2013, I was the first Australian journalist to interview the world’s most influential ancestral health expert, Mark Sisson. Here's what he had to say.
My interview with Mark Sisson
JW: What the government, food industry and media considers ‘healthy' is very different to a Paleolithic diet. Do you see a future where a primal/paleo template is prioritised over the current ways – for example, the food pyramid, in which grains are king and fat is not? Or when the majority of the Western world will be eating that way?
MS: Honestly? No, not really. I’d love for it to happen, but people are pulled in way too many different directions for the majority of them to decide on a way of eating that contradicts major aspects of the various dietary schools. However, we don’t have to ‘get’ a majority. We have a vocal – and growing – minority of folks eating and living this way, getting incredible results, and telling their friends and family about it. Sure, some just end up being that annoying guy who won’t shut up about his diet, but many make real headway and change how the people around them think about food. There’s a definite ripple effect taking place. It probably won’t reach every shore, but it’s hitting some of them.
What would you say to the people who say Primal/paleo is a fad, unhealthy, difficult to follow or unsustainable?
I’d say it’s the longest lived fad of all time.
Maybe it’s just because I’ve been doing this for so long, but I don’t understand the ‘difficult/unsustainable’ thing. You don’t eat bread and pasta... so what? What about the stuff you can eat – like steak, and eggs, and lamb, and strawberries, and sweet potatoes, and blueberries, and butter, and coconut, and every kind of root, nut, fruit, vegetable, and animal under the sun? You go out for a steak dinner and get to eat the steak, the buttered broccoli, a glass of Shiraz, even the baked potato if you want, but you skip the bread basket. That’s not deprivation, that’s just priorities.
And charges of it being unhealthy are just crazy. Eating whole, natural, unprocessed animals and plants; staying active; lifting heavy things every once in awhile; getting good sleep; avoiding sugar; reducing stress – these are the things just about everyone recommends as healthy (with a few exceptions). You mean to tell me that just because I don’t eat grains, legumes, refined sugar, and processed vegetable/seed oils, nor do I run myself ragged until I can’t bear to think of exercising again, I’m unhealthy? It makes no sense.
Were there many paleo resources out there when you started your site and wrote The Primal Blueprint compared to now?
There were a few. Art Devany is one of the pioneers of evolutionary/ancestral health, as are Loren Cordain, Boyd Eaton, Staffan Lindeberg. They’ve been doing it for a while, and I read all those guys.
While the bulk of the resources came from the ‘experts’ and ‘gurus’, those people are important (I’m now considered to be one, after all), but the real change came when all these blogs from all these ‘regular’ people started popping up. Today, there are many thousands of Primal/paleo blogs, covering all sorts of topics, when there used to be just a couple dozen. It’s a pretty remarkable indicator of the spread of Primal living.
How important is the internet in disseminating your message?
Immensely so. Without the internet, I’d be writing books, giving the occasional interview for a print publication, and hoping that someone, somewhere was reading my stuff and talking about it with others. With the Internet, I know that people are talking about it, because I get to read what they’re saying.
The best part about the internet is not the ease of disseminating or marketing a message, though. It’s the ease of refining the message, or trying to perfect it, based on feedback and discourse with the people you’re serving – the readers. It’s not just a one-way street, where I’m talking at people. I get to hear what they think, what they disagree with, and what I should do differently. And then I can refine my message based on that feedback. It’s remarkable and invaluable.