Is the Paleo Diet more than just nostalgia for the (very far) past?

Paleo Diet

Most people interested in food-related matters are certainly aware by now of the Paleo Diet - but may not really understand it. This article from Epicurious, Scrutinizing the Paleo Diet presents a fair analysis of the pros and cons. It's actually a review of a new book,  Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us about Sex, Diet, and How We Live by  Marlene Zuk. The Epicurious article also links to an excerpt of the book in The Chronicle of Higher Education,  Misguided Nostalgia for Our Paleo Past. It's quite an interesting article, especially where it elaborates on Zuk's concept that we're suffering under "paleofantasies," i.e. 

"Given this whiplash-inducing rate of recent change, it's reasonable to conclude that we aren't suited to our modern lives, and that our health, our family lives, and perhaps our sanity would all be improved if we could live the way early humans did. Our bodies and minds evolved under a particular set of circumstances, the reasoning goes, and in changing those circumstances without allowing our bodies time to evolve in response, we have wreaked the havoc that is modern life."

Yet, as Zuk explains,  it really isn't that simple. "The paleofantasy is a fantasy in part because it supposes that we humans, or at least our protohuman forebears, were at some point perfectly adapted to our environments." And she asks some reasonable questions, "Recognizing the continuity of evolution also makes clear the futility of selecting any particular time period for human harmony. Why would we be any more likely to feel out of sync than those who came before us? Did we really spend hundreds of thousands of years in stasis, perfectly adapted to our environments? When during the past did we attain this adaptation, and how did we know when to stop?"

And going back to looking at just the diet, it's evident that it's actually impossible to follow a true Paleo diet, "even if we wanted to eat like our distant relatives whose diets we do know about, we couldn't because most of the plants and animals they were eating don't exist in the same form today." 

That's not to say that following a Paleo diet may not be a good thing, especially for people who, by following it, find it easier to give up unhealthy eating habits. As Zuk writes, "But in a larger sense, we all sometimes feel like fish out of water, out of sync with the environment we were meant to live in. If gnawing on that rib or jogging barefoot through the mud is therapeutic, enjoy. But know that should you wish to join us, the scientific evidence will gladly welcome you to the 21st century, in all its inevitable anxious uncertainty."

So if you want to pursue this further and are curious to try out the Paleo diet, here are the cookbooks from the EYB library that will help you along, sorted by popularity. And let us know how you're doing.

Photo by CastleGrok

2 Comments

  • sir_ken_g  on  4/29/2013 at 11:58 AM

    Rule #1 - AVOID all fad diets. 80% of nutrition information on the internet is false.

  • Fuzzy Chef  on  4/30/2013 at 1:03 AM

    I'm all for the paleo diet, I just don't think that people are taking it far enough. None of the paleo dieters I know are eating live grubs, rotting carrion, raw organ meats or much of anything in the way of raw roots, leaves and stems -- let alone fasting for 11 days while hiking cross-country naked and barefoot. Get with the program, people! Make your flint-knapping ancestors proud!

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