Dao is co-founder of Sura Detox, a retreat centre in Devon on the south coast of England. “I was troubled for a long time in bringing people into the retreats. They go through this fantastic process [then] go back out into the world and do exactly the same things and come back next year. The retreats allow me to nail home this nutritional information. It’s about making conscious eaters.”
I thought I knew a fair amount about diet and nutrition until I attended one of Dao’s public talks. I was quickly engrossed, the whole room united – all of us sinners – but I felt inspiration rather than shame. We don’t know any better – until now. Effectively our taste has been corrupted from a finely tuned sensory apparatus and commandeered for use in a pleasure circuit, blurring its capacity for determining the most applicable nutrients.
“Instead of using our taste to define what we are eating, we use taste to define what we’re eating,” said Dao. “It’s a subtle difference in the words, but it’s a profound difference biologically. We are now just flavouring foods to please our palate.”
He sums up his current messasge as, “Do what you can rather than do what you can’t”, an approach honed over many years of nutritional coaching, his zealotry long purged. There is no need for a fundamentalist attitude, to learn arcane rules, arbitrary guides or suffer sad prohibitions. And, yet, the ideal diet he proposes is one radically different to how the vast majority of us presently nourish.
Our biology is fundamentally the same as the bonobo chimpanzee, he points out, and all of the great apes eat, predominantly – though not exclusively – fruit. Dao contrasts the 120 million year evolution of great ape ancestry in tropical forests with the relative blip of 100,000 years of human evolution spent beyond. Backed by scientific research from disparate fields, the conclusion is clear. But, as Dao points out, to improve our diet, as ever, we should attempt what we can, not what we can’t.