Paleo or Not, Here I Come

Today’s rant is in response to several fad diets going around, commonly refered to as “Paleo” or “Cave-Man” diets. The general recommendations are to eat everything in as raw a state as possible and to avoid anything that would not have been available in the Stone Age: grains and dairy (products of agriculture/domesticization).

Please note — this is very important — that my response is in no way an analysis of the actual health benefits/nutrition of this diet. Oh no. My rant runs on other currents.

Item 1: Part of Your Full and Complete Diet
Proponents argue (note my highly scientific lack of actual citations) that it is possible to get all the nutrition you need through this diet. I agree. Of course you can. But could a cave man? Or, for perhaps a better example, someone in Alaska? Or the Outback? Or the African bush?

Anyone with a credit card and Amazon account can eat a pleasurable Paleo diet. A local health food store sent us a magazine with a tasty recipe for Paleo Brownies, which called for Paleo ingredients from five continents. Well, of course, now they could probably all be cultivated on one continent, but I doubt if any Stone Age community could gather them all. In December. In Alaska.

This now converges with my “Gathering Roots and Berries” rant from fantasy and adventure stories. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a fruit tree in your yard. The one’s we’ve had bear abundant fruit, generally from August to September. The rest of the year they just stand around, looking pretty or getting diseases. Going by averages, there’s just not a whole lot of food that is just lying around, ready to be harvested. The idea that we can just waltz around a wild countryside and subsist on a tasty, well-rounded diet is generally complete bosh.

Granted, there are a good many tribal people still eating Stone Age diets: Eskimos, Aborigines, tribes in Papa New Guinea, etc. People who subsist on Paleo diets do so by vigorously adapting to what is available here and now. Their “tasty Paleo diets” often consist of bugs, or blubber, or the half-digested contents of a seal’s stomach. It seems the true principle of the Paleo diet is: if it’s edible, you eat it. You’ve got to admit . . .

Item 2: Our Ancestors Really Had it Together About This Hunter-Gatherer Thing
I will not say that communities living a hunter-gather lifestyles do not have dynamic, rational, and valuable cultures.

I will say that communities that have developed an agrarian culture have certain benefits (albeit from the longstanding and biased perspective of members of those cultures).

This is not the post to argue whether one culture is better than the other, but it is worth pointing out that hunter-gatherers have traditionally less time to devote to other areas of culture that agrarians — again, as biased members of those cultures — value. We’ve also developed our own set of problems, of course. Both societies still deal with disease, war, and famine, but in different ways.

That is probably because . . .

Item 3: Grain and Dairy Are the Downfall of Civilization
It was at the start of the great age of agriculture and domesticating of animals that human health as a whole started to go downhill. You can tell by the all the magnificent ruins of our great Paleo ancestors and the rubble our more recent ancestors left behind. You can tell by how the traces of human remains have proven that we progressively got shorter, smaller, and shorter-lived. You can tell because Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel bombed on the bestseller lists and totally did not get picked up as course textbooks at major universities nationwide.

Which is not to say that our modern wheat has the same health effects as ancient wheat, or that Americans and other “Northeners” (which are evidently the new “Westerners”) eat too much dairy.

But it is to say that agriculture and domestication of animals has given cultures the ability to feed high concentrations of people year-round in a settled area. It has allowed us and our ancestors to arrive here, where we are right now, allowing us to choose to follow a Paleo diet. Which means . . .

Item 4: Don’t Be a Prick
This part also converges with my vegan rant. I have nothing against vegans. In fact I really respect people who live out their beliefs, especially against the unethical treatment of domesticated animals in this country.

But I do get very irritated when anyone thinks their diet is a protest against our culture, or that their choice of diet lets them somehow operate outside of our culture. Because the very ability to choose a diet, to select options that are pleasing, wholesome, and righteous in your eyes, or to choose to start your own organic farm, or to participate in a veggie co-op is a direct result of our consumerized, mechanised, agriculturalized, industrialized, modernized culture that each of us is an active participant in. It is practically an antithises to the principle of the actual Paleo diet.

If you really want to choose to operate “naturally” and “outside” of the culture, you could always go Into the Wild, though it is likely very difficult to survive (as shown in the movie) without your own community of fellow hunter-gathers.

So . . .

Item 5: Be Healthy . . . and Intelligent!
If you’re on the Paleo diet, well done! Enjoy your meat and veggies. Meat and veggies are healthy! But be aware that whatever you are eating is not a realistic actual Stone Age diet. Unless you are spending eight hours a day searching out (native!) wild roots and berries and hunting (native!) wild animals, you are fully embracing the agrarian, domesticated culture, where our plants and animals have gone through hundreds of generations of selective breeding to allow you to eat freshly and cheaply while going around doing your no-relation-to-food-procurement job, whatever that is.

But if you think that somehow your diet extracts you from our modern American culture, you will make people like me very irritated.

Plus you’ll just sound silly.

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2 thoughts on “Paleo or Not, Here I Come

  1. In case you were interested, here are the ingredients for the “Awesome Fudge Brownies” from “Paleo Desserts” by Jane Barthelemy, which got this rant going on this particular afternoon:

    – walnuts [Eastern N. America or Europe/Middle East/Southern China]
    – pecans [a small swathe of southeastern North America]
    – Just Like Sugar Table Top natural chicory root seetener (because THAT was available) [Europe; process fail]
    – coconut [Indo-Pacific]
    – cacao [north-central South America]
    – carob [Mediterranean]
    – coffee [north Africa]
    – salt [by the ocean or a salt mine]
    – baking powder [completely man-made and mined: FAIL!]
    – nutritional yeast [isolated by man: FAIL!]
    – eggs [available everywhere, but only certain times of the year, and not without trouble, and fertilized: domestication FAIL!]
    – vanilla extract [Mexico, but extract contains alcohol: FAIL!]
    – almond butter [Middle East/southern Asia]
    – yacon syrup [South America; process fail]

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