The Health Dialectic (Author Interview)

The Health Dialectic looks like a great guide.  Can you tell us a little about it?

The Health Dialectic is my attempt to deal with a problem. The things most of us have today – smart phones, computers, cars but most importantly chocolate bars and a refrigerator full of food – are not things that our ancestors would have had access to. Yet our our brain, our pleasure centers and so on, those are ancient. They probably haven’t changed significantly in at least 200,000 years.

When you spend a lot of time thinking about early human evolution, you begin to understand that our hard wiring makes us more able to manipulated. In evolutionary terms, independent reasoning is something that might be valued, but group think is far more valuable. The person who wasn’t listening to the elders and doing their share of work was going to get kicked out of the community and most probably die.

Early human communities relied on everyone doing their fair share of productive and reproductive work and had strong social structures – often rooted in religion, we think – to ensure that people did as they were told. So we’re hard wired to listen to other humans. That makes us extremely susceptible to advertising. Companies in the modern context are designed to maximize profit and market share. Those companies would be negligent if they weren’t using the human brain and human pleasure centers to more effectively sell their product. So we see the creation of these food labs where they test new chemicals to see if they can create the most appealing flavor of potato chip, for example.

The result is that when chip companies are saying “bet you can’t eat just one” sometimes that is literally true. They’ve hacked into our brains so effectively that once we’re exposed to certain tastes we are compelled to seek out more. And this has been a driving factor in the epidemic of chronic disease we see today – diabetes, heart disease, cancer and so on. I’m not saying these things wouldn’t exist without modern food environments, but they would be much less common.


Any plans to turn it into a series?

This was really meant to be a short handbook. I am writing another book, which is much longer and connected with my PhD thesis which is really all about how the colonialism of the past 500 years has created a world out of balance on many levels.


How long did it take you to write The Health Dialectic?

Like I say, this was a short book, designed to be of maximal utility to the reader with minimal effort in terms of actual reading time. I think the actual writing time may have been three months. From the moment it was envisioned to publication was about six months.


What inspired the idea for your book?

It really was a person journey for me. I’ve always been somewhat interested in health and nutrition. As a young adult this led to me going completely vegan, but I had a lot of problems with my health during that time. Nothing too major, but my digestion was never very good, for example. And then in my 30s, despite being a vegetarian (which I thought was relevant) I developed knee pain, poor eyesight, pre-diabetes and a number of other health issues. That led to me starting to question everything I thought I knew about nutrition and finally understanding that we’re not eating a diet that our genes know how to cope with, especially when it comes to the processed foods. I think it took about 3 months after I changed my diet for all of my symptoms to reverse. Now I can’t even remember what my knee pain felt like. I used to wake up in such pain I had to stretch before going down the stairs!


What will readers get out of your book?

I hope I’m giving readers a framework for understanding human health in general and their own health in particular. My background is in anthropology and the social sciences but there’s a lot of biology and microbiology in the references as well. The last half of the book is really about practical tips that readers can use to begin their own journey towards long term health and wellness.

What part of the book was the most fun to write?

The conclusion of the book is titled “The Modern World Wants You To Fail. How Will You Succeed?” It’s really a call to action. Once the reader is armed with this knowledge it’s really not enough. Since writing this book I’ve come across many people who feel paralyzed by knowledge. There’s so much out there, so many experts saying contradictory things, where does one begin? I don’t claim to have the answer to that question, but I do know that if you don’t start walking you’re never going to get anywhere at all. That was fun to write as it really gets to the core of what it’s all about. If you don’t like the state of your health, do something else.


Did anything stick out as particularly challenging when writing The Health Dialectic?

Not really. I wrote this at the same time as I was researching and writing my PhD thesis, so compared to that, this was easy writing. These are also things I had been thinking about for a long time as I had just finished my qualification in Nutrition and Health Coaching. Part of my need to write this book was to codify what I’d learned through that process.


Can you tell us a little about your background?

I grew up in Washington, DC at a time when it was a very insular place. Everyone seemed to hold more or less the same opinions. When I went to high school at St. Albans the pressure to conform became even stronger. We were the future leaders of our country, or so we were told every day.

In some ways I’ve spend the last few decades rebelling against that notion. I’ve lived most of my life outside the USA (I’m now based in South Africa) and I’ve worked for various non-profits including Oxfam and ActionAid. I’ve always seen my mission as being to empower those who are disempowered by the global capitalist system in which we live. In the context of The Health Dialectic that means looking to indigenous communities and asking what they can teach us about health, wellness and nutrition. Turns out the answer to that is “a lot”.


Where can readers find out more about your work?

My website is I’m also on youtube, twitter and facebook.