Eating, Old Style

Can the carbs! Eat all the meat you want! Maybe even kill it yourself, but no worries if you don‘t – you can get a fridge just for those organ meats and deer ribs someone else dresses for you! No legumes, either, or potatoes. Lose weight, curb your hunger, improve your health!

A new fad diet? Nope, just the oldest diet known to Homo sapiens sapiens, enjoying a renaissance.

Lost in the supermarket, circa 10,000 BC

The Sunday Times featured the cavemen (and some women) of New York, mostly younger folks who have adopted the paleo diet, long championed by Professor Loren Cordain of Colorado State University. He and other promoters of the paleo approach to dining say modern humans screwed themselves, dietwise, when they domesticated plants and animals and switched to food based on agriculture, rather than hunting and gathering.

I had a couple of immediate reactions as I read. Some of these guys seem a little smug in their certainty, as some vegans can be in defending their choice (yes, I know, the latter argue from ethics mostly, not health or doing what is “natural” for the species. It can still get smug in some circles). Then I thought, “Hey, different strokes and all that.” And finally I got my dander up a bit when some paleos (or the writer speaking for them) referred to vegans as a “rival, misguided tribe.”

OK, I don’t think whatever eating habits, or other habits, I happen to share with fellow humans makes me part of  a “tribe.” And I certainly don’t feel like a rival to guys who think it’s hip or smart of whatever to fast for 36 hours, because our paleo ancestors went for long periods between kills, or frequently donate blood because “various hardships might have occasionally  left humans a pint short” (leading some, perhaps, to speculate that the modern cavemen who walk among us are short of something too, but it ain’t a pint of blood).

But that word misguided…hmm.

Careful with that grain, Eugene

I admit, I searched the net, albeit only briefly, to find research undercutting the health benefits of the paleo diet. We’ll see who’s misguided. Not much luck. The only criticism came from the folks at the Weston Price Foundation, who advocate their own food fetish (More dairy and eggs! Soy is poison!). So, darn it, maybe on the health score, I am deluding myself by thinking veganism is ok. Or by thinking grains are ok, since they seem to be a main culprit to the cave folk. Maybe evolution will eventually equip our bodies to better handle carbs not found naturally, like the wild fruit and veggies eaten in ancient times. But for now, the neo-paleos say, they are anathema.

Of course, I didn’t hear any of the NY cave people vowing to eschew all the social and material benefits that came with the development of agriculture. You know, like cities and high art and such. And cities, of course, give the young paleos all that they want within a short distance, so they can walk, as the cavemen did, providing exercise and another health benefit. Though I would like to point out to one caveman quoted in the article, he needs to leave his cave more often; New York is hardly “the only city in America where you can walk.” Proof, again, that eating so much meat does not do much for one’s IQ.

Of course, diet is not only about health. It reflects social and moral realities too. And the reality is, most vegans I know don’t want animals to suffer, as they do on factory farms, or even the supposedly more humane family farms that provide some meat and dairy. Some cavemen go for the grass-fed, free range meat, but in the end, it’s still dead flesh, killed for human consumption. Vegans say there is a way to avoid slaughter and maltreatment of any kind in producing food.

This caveman eats raw meat and avoids tomatoes, since they didn't grow where humans first lived. Don't you want to be him?

But, the article makes me think, are we healthier for it? Well, perhaps not. Though the paleo diet is so new, this time around, and not really that well studied. Who knows what its long-term health benefits or drawbacks may be (especially for those especially macho cavemen who eat their meat raw. Uh, dudes, they did have fire, you know). So, I may not be healthier, but I feel like I’m being true to my sense of what is right and wrong (while being the first to admit, as I have here before, that I can be a bad vegan). And as I write this, I feel that smugness creep in that I bemoaned above.

Food can be so difficult.

Must...have ...chickpeas!

So I come back to the different strokes. I would prefer  more people become vegetarians or vegans (maybe then I could find a vegan pizza in CT that didn’t come from my own kitchen). I know most will not. But probably many won‘t go paleo either. I suppose for most people, just eating healthy, with any diet, is the first step. And lord knows economic issues can make that tough, though that‘s a subject for another day. But for now, I will eat my pasta and roast my chickpeas. And walk past that first paleo restaurant when it invariably opens in the wilds of Manhattan.

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~ by mburgan on January 15, 2010.

One Response to “Eating, Old Style”

  1. Hmm, and what was the lifespan of the average caveman? And I suppose these neo-paleo’s are giving up all processed foods, alcohol, cigarettes, vitamins, and other nutrients, too, that didn’t exist way back?

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