» February 26th, 2013

The paleo diet—loosely understood as eating how we imagine humans ate before the advent of agriculture—is wildly popular. It has tapped into something, although I’m not sure what.

Whatever it is, however, it involves our creeping discontent with technological modernity, our desire to strip life down to its caveman essence (granted, in some ways but not others), and a vague notion that humans are behaving in unacceptably artificial ways.

We are, in other words, out of touch. We need to be more natural. Somehow or other, though, natural, at least for a bearded and barefoot cohort, has come to mean not only riding bikes with no gears and running without shoes, but also eating what you can forage and/or hunt. It has been on more than one occasion that I’ve seen listed on the menu of high-end restaurants the name of the establishment’s “forager.” Portlandia lives.

And so does bad science. A critical assumption driving the paleocraze is that humans have, in their everyday activity, exceeded their evolutionary capacity. We are, it is said, acting in ways that we haven’t evolved to accommodate. Our increasing rates of Celiac disease, for example, are supposedly due to the fact that we “weren’t meant” to eat wheat. Same with lactose intolerance and milk. “We weren’t meant,” in fact, is the defining phrase of this weird little fad. (By the way, I recently asked a gastroenterologist why rates of Celiac’s were on the rise and he said, “They’re not. It’s just  a lot easier to test for.”)

This assumption of genetic lag, however, is not borne out by the evidence. Researchers are, as recently summarized by the Chronicle of Higher Education, looking into ancient DNA. In so doing, they are “revolutionizing our ideas about the speed at which our evolution has occurred, and this knowledge, in turn, has made us question the idea that we are stuck with ancient genes, and ancient bodies, in a modern environment. We can use this ancient DNA to show that we are not shackled by it.” Humans, in other words, are “meant” to do what we do. Our genes are right behind our actions. Here’s the article.

Granted, this research is probably not going to stop dingbats writing in Glamour from declaring that “the way so many of us are living now goes against our nature. Biologically, we modern Homo sapiens are a lot like our cave woman ancestors: We’re animals. Primates, in fact. And we have many primal needs that get ignored. That’s why the prescription for good health may be as simple as asking, What would a cave woman do?”

We’re it only so simple. Humans evolve with our environment—that’s what’s natural. Instead of thinking about how we were meant to eat, as if we were frozen in time or detached from the world around us, wouldn’t it make more sense to ask how we want to be? This distinction seems important. It frees us from the anxiety of feeling out of sync with a non-existent golden age of harmonious environmental interaction while challenging us to think how we might use our rapidly evolved frontal lobe to eat in a way that incorporates something the paleofantasy excludes: compassion.


Tomorrow: the bloodlust of a chef

97 Responses to Paleofantasies

  1. IMO, the paleo diet ranks as one of the dumbest pop culture ideas of the last 2 decades. The idea that we’re “meant” to eat x-food reflects such a fundamental misunderstanding of evolutionary theory that they may as well be creationists.

    • Kelly says:

      I’m a creationist and I too believe that the Paleo diet excludes compassion.

      • CaptainSakonna says:

        Bravo. I’m a creationist too. As such, I happen to think that 1) humanity was originally vegetarian, and 2) early humans were more creative than we give them credit for, and agriculture has been around practically since the beginning of time. There were cave-dwelling hunter-gatherers of course, but people raising plants were present at the same time. Also 3) creationism does not deny natural selection and adaptation, it just rejects them as a mechanism for creating all the diverse species we see today. So I see nothing wrong with McWilliams’ point that our genes adjust to accommodate what we choose to eat.

    • Mountain says:

      You have a fundamental misunderstanding of the paleo diet. It isn’t that we are “meant” to eat certain foods, it’s that we are not well-adapted as a species to eating certain foods. All it does is embrace the idea that evolution is a useful tool when it comes to food– not the end of all inquiry, but the beginning.

      • Hm, I’d have to ask what you mean by “well-adapted,” since the “certain foods” most paleos are concerned with avoiding have been a net boon to humans’ evolutionary fitness.

        • Mountain says:

          Did the health of human beings improve or decline when grains became a major part of the human diet? It plummeted.

          Perhaps you mean grains have been a net boon to humans’ evolutionary fitness because they permit more humans to exist on earth. By that standard, factory farming has been a net boon to cows’ evolutionary fitness, since it permits more cows to exist on earth. I’ll take quality over quantity, and reject both claims.

          • Yep, that’s what I mean. That is all fitness means in evolutionary terms. It isn’t anything else. This is what I mean by “fundamental misunderstanding of evolutionary theory.”

            Adoption of grains increased human birth rates and population. Assuming such foods are acting as a selection pressure, then humans are amazingly well-adapted to them, by definition. If we weren’t, we’d have died off.

            You can reject the claim if you like, but you’re rejecting evolution itself in doing so. Which is what I meant by, “they may as well be creationists.”

            Factory farming is a slightly different case, since it’s artificial rather than natural selection. Absent technological interference, cows in the factory farm environment would not likely be successful. So, you’re not on particularly strong ground there.

          • Mountain says:

            So, we were discussing how an understanding of evolution can be used to improve the quality of life of individuals, and you added to the discussion by informing us that grains have increased the quantity of humans on planet. Well, thanks for the info. As people who care about animals, and the ethical treatment of animals, do we want more humans on the planet?

            I’m not rejecting evolution, or the claim that grains have contributed to the overpopulation of humans. I’m rejecting the claim that we should embrace grains because of this.

          • Your original claim was that grains are problematic because humans are not well-adapted to them. Now, you’re turning around and saying grains are problematic because humans are well-adapted to them. You can’t have it both ways.

          • Mountain says:

            No, I’m am not saying that humans as individuals are well-adapted to grains. I am acknowledging your remarkably narrow and irrelevant point that grains have contributed to the overpopulation of humans on the planet, and the consequent suffering of animals because of that overpopulation.

            The ability of humans to use grains as a food source is an evolutionary advantage. That doesn’t mean humans are well-adapted to grains or a grain-heavy diet.

          • Narrow, perhaps. Irrelevant? Not in the least.

            See, my point here is that paleos don’t understand evolutionary theory, and you continue to prove my point with every post you make on this subject.

            Evolution is about reproduction, not “health.” It’s also about populations and genes, not individual organisms. Any organism functional enough to make it to reproductive age is already as healthy as it needs to be for natural selection’s purposes. If that organism possesses traits that don’t prevent it from reaching reproductive age, then those traits are irrelevant to evolution (unless they become subject to some kind of selection pressure). They’re often the results of genetic drift, gene flow, or the side effect of selection for or against some other trait the gene codes for.

            It’s clear from the fossil record that adopting grains as a major part of the diet did not appreciably prevent H. sapiens as a population from reaching reproductive age. Quite the contrary, it helped produce a dramatic increase in birth rates at the Neolithic transition.

            So, either grain-eating acted as a positive selection pressure on our species, or the adoption of grains was itself an adaptation to overcome some other selection pressure. Either way, the only relevant fact with regard to whether we’re “well-adapted” to grains is whether they hurt or helped our ability to successfully reproduce.

            Much the same can be, and has been claimed, about increased meat-eating. But in neither case does a conferred adaptive advantage at the population or gene level mean that the new food becomes either “healthy” or “unhealthy” for individuals. That’s a separate question, because individual organisms are not the unit of evolution. A trait that produces negative health consequences from an individual standpoint can still be adaptive at the population or gene level if it confers a reproductive advantage (by, say, providing a reliable source of calories that helps the population avoid starvation).

            Almost all adaptations come with a cost, or as part of a trade-off. This idea implied in your comments that evolution somehow produces optimal health reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what evolution is and how it works.

          • Mountain says:

            Not to cast aspersions, but you seem positively aspergian.

            The fact that you fail to understand the point people are making when they say evolution is a useful tool doesn’t mean they fail to understand evolutionary theory.

            I never implied that evolution somehow produces optimal health. I’m sorry that you inferred something that wasn’t there; this seems to be a pattern for you.

            For anyone facing the decision of whether to eat grains, or to make them a major part of the diet, it doesn’t matter whether they are adaptive at the population level. What matters are the consequences for the individual.

            Those consequences are grave. According to your own link, the transition to agriculture and large-scale grain eating led to”an abrupt increase in the proportion of juvenile skeletons.” Meaning, a higher proportion of humans died as juveniles, never reaching reproductive age. So, though higher birth rates mean more total humans reached reproductive age, any individual human was more likely to die before reaching that age.

            As you say, adaptations come with a cost. Knowing what we know now, why would any human want to pay that cost? So we can have a higher human population? That doesn’t fit with the goals of ethical veganism.

      • vbaculum says:

        The begining and end of would is best for us to eat is modern dietetics.

      • Let’s sum up, Mountain:

        – First, you claim that humans are not well-adapted as a species to eating certain foods.
        – I point out that this is simply wrong. The only thing “well-adapted” means in terms of evolution is reproductive success. Therefore, we are well-adapted as a species to “certain foods.”
        – Then, you say that humans are not well-adapted as individuals to eating grains, a change from the claim I was originally addressing. This is often called “moving the goalpost.”
        – So, I explain how this is a nonsensical statement in evolutionary theory, because individuals are not the unit of evolution, and evolution is not concerned with individual health.
        – Now, you’re reduced to name-calling, and move the goalpost again, this time to a toothless position to which few people could actually object: “evolution is a useful tool.”

        I’ll hand it to you, it’s a nice bit of sleight of hand, but I think most readers here are too smart to fall for it. When called on a blatant misuse of evolutionary theory to justify your ideology, you resorted to tactics right out of the creationist playbook. Thanks for proving my point. Again.

        BTW, did it ever occur to you that “more people born = more people in the fossil record” doesn’t necessarily equal “greater proportion of people dying young”? I’ll leave you to your own devices to contemplate the math on that one.

        Also, even if it were the case, the fact that grains became a major part of the diet can’t really be used as evidence that grain was the cause of this trend. Isn’t it a paleo mantra that correlation is not causation?

        • Mountain says:

          Did it ever occur to you that I used quotation marks because it was a direct quotation? Your own link used the word “proportion.” Do you agree, then, that proportion = proportion?

          You can start by understanding your own evidence.

          • The quote marks don’t let you off the hook. The abstract is not saying that more juveniles died as a proportion of the total population, compared to previous times. It’s saying that more juvenile skeletons are found because more young were being born relative to previous generations, and that the proportion of young to old at the NDT is higher than in previous generations.

            This is easily deduced by reading the very next sentence: “This expresses an increase in the input into the age pyramids of the corresponding living populations with an estimated increase in the total fertility rate of two births per woman.”

            In other words, the evidence is interpreted as an increase of the distribution of young people in the total population. That is, far more young lived than died, and more young were born at a greater rate than in previous generations.

            So, I understand my own evidence quite well, thanks.

          • Mountain says:

            “The quote marks don’t let you off the hook.”

            Oh, I thought that as an ethical vegan you were supposed to show compassion to sentient beings. How come you won’t let me off the hook?

            Well, I guess I’ll take myself off the hook, then. I don’t have access to the entire text, but I did find a graph from the paper that makes clear that the juvenile skeletons (age 5 to 19) are, in fact, in proportion to all skeletons 5 or more years old.

            If it was simply a matter of higher birth rates, the numbers of skeletons age 20 and older should have increased at the same proportion as the juvenile skeletons. But all the evidence I can get a hold of shows they did not. Again, I have limited access to evidence, so I can’t be 100% sure of my interpretation of the quotation. Bu,t from what evidence I do have, my interpretation sure looks a lot more sound than yours.

          • the juvenile skeletons (age 5 to 19) are, in fact, in proportion to all skeletons 5 or more years old.

            That doesn’t actually contradict what I said, Mountain. The young were a larger proportion of the population relative to previous generations. Hence, it’s not surprising to find they’re a greater proportion of the skeletal record.

            This isn’t evidence that grains injured humans’ reproductive success. Grains have fueled an exponential population explosion for 10,000 years. By definition, we are well-adapted to them, and then some.

        • Mountain says:

          First, I said humans are not well-adapted as a species to eating certain foods, as opposed to other species that are well-adapted to eating those foods. For example, humans are not well-adapted to eating poison oak, but many herbivores and some birds are well-adapted to eating it.

          Second, you falsely claimed that I was wrong about that. You made an irrelevant point about one particularly narrow meaning of the word “adapted.”

          Third, I pointed out to you that we were discussing individuals, since you were confused on that point.

          Fourth, rather than address my actual claim, you made a baseless slur against all paleos. Then, you talked some more about species.

          Fifth, you claimed I was reduced to name-calling even though I didn’t call you any names.

          Sixth, you accused me of “moving the goalposts” by pointing you to the actual claim I actually made in my actual original post.

          Finally, you accuse me of sleight of hand and creationist tactics, which amounts in my book to fighting words.

          • That “particularly narrow meaning of the word ‘adapted’ ” is the only meaning that’s relevant when evaluating whether our species is well-adapted to certain foods (or to anything else). If you want to use evolutionary theory properly, it’s the only meaning you should have in mind, and it is the one that experts in the field will assume you mean when they hear you using it. When it becomes evident that you’re using it in some other way, it’s not “aspergian” on their part to point out that you’re using it incorrectly. If you persist in using it incorrectly, it’s appropriate for them to call you on it, and to caution others against taking you seriously.

            Words have narrow definitions in science. Get used to it. If you try to broaden those definitions for other purposes, you’re not applying the science to your purposes, you’re just diluting the science for them.

          • Mountain says:

            Here, let me Google “adapted” for you:


            Oh, what? You mean, in normal speech– in what one might call human communication– it means exactly what I have said I meant by it? Well, I’ll be…

            If I were lecturing on science, or attempting to publish a paper in a scientific journal, your criticism might have some teeth. But I wasn’t. I was engaged in normal human communication. Your failure to grasp this point is exactly what I was getting at with my use of the word “aspergian.”

            If you have anything further to say to me, I’d appreciate it if you would kindly “move the goalposts” into an anatomically implausible position instead.

          • ROFLMAO.

            Look, Mountain, if you want to to define your “paleo” diet with colloquial definitions of science-y words, that’s fine. If you want to frame your diet philosophy around a naturalist-fallacy/fall-from-grace narrative, that’s fine, too.

            Just don’t go around pretending that this paleofantasy is based on actual evolutionary science.

            Cuz, y’know, it’s not.

  2. Sharky says:

    The nostalgic backward glance at an imagined past–it’s been around forever. Even the ancient Greeks lamented a long lost golden age. And so today’s paleohucksters and reactionary bloggers prey on those ignorant of science (a pretty big pool). I was glad to see Zuk’s piece prominently featured in this week’s Chronicle.

  3. Gabby says:

    What was the life expectancy of cavemen? I don’t know the answer but I’m just assuming it was rather short in comparison to our current life span. I’m sure there were other factors involved too (other than eating primarily meat) but I still don’t know why you would mimic them or their diet. I just don’t understand why you would think a diet made up of fatty meat would bring you good health. That just sounds so backwards.

    From what I understand vegans/vegetarians live longer than heavy meat eaters. So then why would you follow a diet containing mainly meat in order to improve your health??? Just weird.

    Common sense is the best sense.

    • Mountain says:

      You assume incorrectly.

      Among hunter-gatherers who lived past the age of 15 (since infant mortality was unimaginably more common then), the most common age of death was 72. We didn’t get our average life span that high until the last 100 years.

      In most locations, hunter-gatherers did not eat primarily meat, and what meat they did eat wasn’t fatty (though many hunter-gatherers ate fatty organs).

      And how is meat in the diet backwards? It was a giant leap forward for humans.

      You understand incorrectly about vegans/vegetarians living longer than meat eaters. Mormons and Seventh Day Adventists have very similar lifestyles, excluding many of the unhealthy habits of contemporary Americans. Adventists don’t eat meat; Mormons do. Mormons live significantly longer.

      Common sense, informed by reality, is the best sense.

      • Gabby says:

        I still don’t understand why you pick a random period in time and say this is how we should eat. You say they ate lean meat (to which they actually had to physically HUNT. Do you hunt your wild meat down in the woods, jungle, etc?).

        What’s so magical about this point in time? Life is TOTALLY different today. We have to make the best choices for our health TODAY, not for a life that was lived a couple of millions of years ago. That makes no SENSE. Common sense has left the building. The reality in that is an alternate one. Our reality is our lives today, not a million years ago. That’s someone else’s reality.

        Our typical American lifestyle today does not agree with a diet high in meat, low in carbs. If you believe it does then god speed. I’ll stick to healthy fruits, veggies, whole GRAINS (Gasp!), legumes, nuts and seeds.

        • Sailesh Rao says:

          Gabby, you hit the nail on the head. We have to do what is right today. Today, there are billions of tons of carcinogens strewn throughout our environment as a result of our industrial processes. And all those carcinogens are bio-accumulating their way up the food chain making it increasingly hazardous to consume animal and especially fish products. Dr. Michael Greger has been compiling peer-reviewed scientific studies on this issue at

          Those carcinogens are everywhere. We have even found them in the firewood smoke in remote villages of India, villages that were connected by roads just 4 years ago. Unfortunately, wind currents and rainfall don’t need roads to transport dioxins and other carcinogens and dump them on the poor villagers.

        • Mountain says:

          It isn’t a random period of time, Gabby. It is the entirety of human existence up to 10,000 years ago.

          What’s so magical about this time period? Mainly, the fact that it constitutes more than 99% of human existence. To borrow an idea from the OCCUPY movement, we can learn a lot more from the 99% than from the 1%.

          You’re right, we have to make the best choices for our health today. My argument is that evolution is an important consideration (maybe the most important) in how we determine what the best choices are. Your argument is… well, you don’t seem to have an argument.

          Our typical American lifestyle today is high in meat, high in carbs. If you want to embrace that, then godspeed. But I don’t. Paleo doesn’t have to be high in meat, or low in carbs. I’ll stick to healthy veggies, fruits, nuts, eggs, fungi, and (gasp!) meat.

          • Gabby says:

            It isn’t random to pick a period in time where these people HUNTED down their OWN WILD meat??? Since when have you made a bow n arrow then went hunting in the woods for wild game? You haven’t because it’s 2013 and the world has drastically changed.

            That is my argument.

            You can’t compare men making weapons out raw materials, going out all day long to hunt some wild meat, then bringing it back, chopping it up and eating it to…. you driving in your car to your local farmers market and asking the farmer for a grass fed steak.

            No comparison. That’s why it’s random. You’re trying to mimic the impossible. It’s not goin to happen no matter how much you try to justify your behavior.

          • Mountain says:

            No, still not random. The fact the our activity levels diverge from those of hunter-gatherers is just another way we set ourselves up for sickness and ill-health. Whether we’re talking about James’ endurance running (which resembles one form of paleo hunting), or my hours of lifting, carrying, and climbing, people who move more like hunter-gatherers live better. So, you rather than using your lack of activity as a justification for eating things which are ill-suited for you, you should try becoming more active.

            I work all day, hauling loads (usually around 100 lbs) up a steep hillside, building fences and shelter by hand to help keep birds safe, and shoveling & raking the compost piles to do the heavy lifting the chickens can’t do. And then I enjoy a paleo meal of fruits, vegetables, and nuts, plus eggs from our chickens (raised with less harm to animals than the grains you eat) and sometimes meat. There’s no trying to mimic anything, no trying to justify anything, just fully expressing my humanity and building the most beautiful world possible.

          • Gabby says:

            Well, Mountain, all that you do does sound like the making of a beautiful world…. outside of the slaughtering of the animals part. And I do believe there is a compassionate way to eat eggs btw, like eating eggs from rescued hens. Maybe those eggs are better than your current eggs and SOME of my current grains. IDK???

          • Lori says:

            Mountain, just wonder where you get that meat. And wondering if the place where you get it is as “beautiful a world as possible.” ;-)

          • Mountain says:

            Well, Gabby, since we don’t slaughter animals on our farm, it sounds like you’re saying that everything we do is toward the making of a beautiful world. Thanks.

            And I agree that rescuing hens (and roosters) is the most compassionate way to raise chickens, and that’s why many of our chickens are, in fact, rescued.

            Lori, we get our beef (which is the bulk of what we eat) from a local grassfed ranch which I’ve visited many times, and which really is a beautiful world. It isn’t the most beautiful world possible, since obviously it isn’t harm-free. But the steers live much better lives, live nearly twice as long, and never suffer the torture of feedlot “living.” It’s worth continuing to push our diet in a less harmful direction, but I don’t think it’s fair to ask me to be perfect, anymore than it’s fair to ask vegans to be perfect in the grain consumption. Ideals are for pursuing.

          • Lori says:

            Not asking you to be perfect Mountain. However, perhaps a little less hypocritical? Surely Paleos ate birds. It seems to me if you wanted to do the least harm, you’d eat your chickens when they got to a certain age (killed by you so you could be a real caveman and make sure it was done properly too) rather than cows from a business. They may live in a beautiful place, any maybe live to be 2-3 instead of 1-2, and they may not endure a feedlot, but I’m betting they still have to be shipped off to a slaughter house.

          • Mountain says:

            Hypocritical, Lori? How ’bout you work to change the regulations so that the grassfed steers don’t have to shipped off to a slaughterhouse? And I’m not concerned about contamination occurring on the ranch, so I wouldn’t even need it to be done in a chemical-laden mobile slaughterhouse.

            And while I’m not categorically opposed to eating chickens, it seems like a bad idea to me. One steer is enough to feed me & my family for a year or more. If we replaced that meat with chicken instead, we’d have to kill a lot of birds instead. Again, not categorically opposed to eating meat, but I don’t think we should kill more sentient beings when we can kill fewer.

            If you’re serious about reducing harm, I should be eating more eggs, less beef.

          • Lori says:

            Mountain, I’d prefer you don’t eat any meat at all. Of course that’s what I advocate for (thought you knew that by now. Not opposed to you eating eggs from your own chickens. You seem like you take care of them well. It’d be better if they were all rescue chickens, but still, from what you’ve told me, I’m not opposed.) And are you sure that it was only one cow killed for your family for an entire year? I’d say if that were true, you’d have to be eating leg, head, butt, and a lot of other parts of the cow.

            My point is that if you are going to eat meat (and it seems you are going to), and you claim that you want to do the least harm, I’d say an occasional killing of your own chickens, along with eating their eggs, would be less hypocritical to your paleo hypothesis than buying slaughtered beef from a business that grows cows for the purpose of slaughter and causes much methane gas production in doing so. Not to mention a lot of cow fear and suffering while being sent off to slaughter. I’m not going to advocate for home slaughter or any other kind of slaughter, as I prefer no slaughter. But you are welcome to try an change those laws yourself. :-)

          • Mountain says:

            I’m sure it’s just one steer because we buy the entire steer. Typically, a steer produces more than 300 pounds of meat, which is almost one pound per day. That’s more than enough. To get that much chicken meat, you’d really have to kill somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 chickens– that’s wrong on so many levels.

            Obviously, as a vegan, you don’t believe in killing any sentient beings, but why kill 75 instead of 1? That argument just makes zero sense to me.

            Sentimental reasons aside, by killing those chickens, we would miss out on all the eggs they would have laid that year (and in subsequent years). Assuming relatively young chickens, that would be something like 15,000 eggs (something like 2000+ pounds of eggs). Even assuming older chickens who lay only an egg a week, that would still be nearly 4000 eggs (or 500+ pounds of eggs). And chickens have so many positive side effects on the soil, and on the environment, even if those effects are harder to quantify.

      • Lori says:

        Mountain, you do realize that the Seventh Day Adventist study is not the only one that shows vegetarians live longer, healthier lives, right? I’m sure that you also know saturated fat in the diet needs to be limited for good heart health, right? I’m sure you also (may) know that there are dozens of studies showing people who eat diets high in whole grains have lower incidence of heart disease and cancer, right? I’m sure you’ve also seen the studies that show eating more than several eggs per week is unhealthy too, right?

        As for your claim that meat eating was a “giant leap forward for humans.” New research shows that the claim that meat eating helped our brains to grow larger is overstated at best.

        “…it’s more appropriate to say that a “broadened niche” is what helped fuel evolution of larger brains.”

        At the very least, there are a wide variety of opinions about it in the science world. But it just so happens that the meat = smarter scenario makes it into the media a lot more. (People LOVE to justify their desire for flesh.)

        I would argue that cooking was a bigger leap forward than meat eating and that agriculture was a bigger leap forward still yet.

        I think the larger issue here is that what our ancestors ate isn’t as important as what we’ve evolved to eat now. And we have a lot of science to help us decide that, as well as, like you say, common sense, reality and, hopefully, compassion and responsibility. These all MUST be combined.

        • Mountain says:

          Lori, you do realize that any diet other than the Western diet will lead to longer, healthier lives, right? This is true of vegetarian diets, paleo diets, the Mediterranean diet, native diets of any kind. That’s because the Western diet is an incredibly low bar, probably the worst diet known to mankind. When you compare vegetarian diets to other alternatives to the Western diet, the advantages fail to materialize.

          You say saturated fat in the diet needs to be limited for good heart health? I’ll be sure to tell that to the French, who eat more saturated fat than Americans but have less heart disease. Maybe they can tell the Inuit, whose diet is even higher in saturated fat (with over 50% of calories from fat, and all the fat from animal sources), who have even lower heart disease than the French. And perhaps they can tell the Masai, whose diet is even higher in saturated fat than the Inuit (66% of calories from fat, all animal sources) and have even less heart disease.

          So, there go your first two claims. Do you want me to debunk each of your subsequent claims one-by-one, or can we just say that there is a lot of bad science out there? What our ancestors ate (and more importantly, didn’t eat) has more to tell us about what we’ve evolved to eat than all the bad nutritional science combined.

        • Mountain says:

          Just got around to reading that article, and it really doesn’t negate that meat eating was a giant leap forward. It says it was a giant leap forward, but just because it freed up glucose to fuel the brain (whereas before the glucose had to be used to fuel the rest of the body). So, while the author does his best to deny credit to meat eating, he still ends up admitting it was a giant leap forward.

          As for the broadened niche quote, what do you think broadened our niche? Meat. Before that, we only ate plants. By adding meat to our diet, we broadened our niche.

          • Lori says:

            I don’t blame you for picking and choosing. We all do it. So let me pick a few. It also states the broadened niche included cooking, more flexibility, cooking tubers and possible shore-food. Cooking allows for more digestibility not just with meat but with plant-based foods too.


            “So the ‘paleo-diet’ idea that our ancestors were all heavy meat-eaters doesn’t acknowledge the likely large variation in % meat / % plant. Anyway, nowadays vegetarians have about the same body mass index as meat-eaters. So meat doesn’t seem to do much to affect energy gain. (But raw-dieters, whether vegetarian or meat-eaters, are much thinner on average than cookivores, whether vegetarian or meat-eaters.) Bottom line: meat is less important than cooking when it comes to energy gain.”

          • Rudy Steffen says:

            @Mountain: Care to clarify on the comment “his work isn’t impressive?” Thus far, I’ve yet to see anyone stand toe to toe with him on the comments of his videos and am truly interested in hearing what you have to say.

            On the other hand, you side-stepped the fact that those videos show proof that you are wrong with your claims on the supposed health that the Eskimos and Masai enjoyed regardless of a diet high in sat. fat. I share Humane Hominid’s criticism that you “move the goal post” when confronted with substantial rebuttals. Instead of commenting on the content that Plant Positive provides concerning those two peoples, you only offer vague accusations on his entire work in an unfortunate attempt to debase him entirely.

            With all fairness, however, I see that you are quite busy with replies on this particular post.

          • Mountain says:

            @Rudy– I mean, I’ve seen 10-12 of his videos and haven’t been impressed with anything other than his volume. I haven’t seen anywhere all of his videos, but will continue to see more over time. It doesn’t help that his delivery grates on me.

            I looked at the Inuit section, and it doesn’t look anything like proof that Eskimos don’t have dramatically lower heart disease than the French or Americans. It looks like the remains of two Inuit women who died young, and not of heart disease, who seemed to have some damage to their arteries. This is interesting evidence, and it suggests to me that I need to do more research into Inuits, Masai, and other groups with little to no exposure to a Western diet.

          • Mountain says:

            Lori, you mention cooking, cooking of tubers (which I’m pretty sure means cooking), and shore-food (which I’m pretty sure means meat). So, both meat and cooking were very important leaps for mankind.

            The blogster you quote seems determined to use the importance to cooking to dismiss the importance of meat, and I just don’t see it. Cooking was a huge leap forward, as was meat-eating, as were the combination of the two.

            People who are interested in our past, and concerned about their energy (weight) gain, should find it fairly easy to lose weight by dropping meat, dropping cooking, or dropping both.

          • Rudy Steffen says:


            I was going to discontinue this conversation as you can tell by this delayed reply. However, after giving it some serious thought I have come to the conclusion that it is my responsiblity to correct your following statement in case someone comes along and reads these commments:

            “I looked at the Inuit section, and it doesn’t look anything like proof that Eskimos don’t have dramatically lower heart disease than the French or Americans.”

            Here is a link to the exact moment that Plant Positive provides a slide by the journal (?) ‘Atherosclerosis’ and states that “[t]he myth of low cardiovascular disease among Eskimos was examined by these researchers. They found heart disease was not less common in Eskimos than in whites.”

            If you pause the video at the linked time, you can read the abstract for yourself and see that such a view is blatantly divulged.

          • Rudy Steffen says:

            The link didn’t work as intended. The slide that I discussed can be seen at 3:09. Sorry about that.

          • Mountain says:

            Hi Rudy,

            That is exactly what’s wrong with Plant Positive’s work. The raw numbers from that study show significantly lower mortality from heart disease.

            “Mortality statistics and studies based on death certificates from 1955-1965 showed a low mortality from all cardiovascular diseases among the Alaska Eskimos compared with the general population of the USA…”

            “Our own studies, which have been extensively cited in support of a low IHD mortality in Greenland, compared mortality among the Greenland Inuit from 1968 to 1983 with the general population in Denmark in 1980 and found relative risks of~0.5 for men and
            women [24,28].”

            The authors then assumes that there are many deaths from heart disease that did not get classified as such in the death certificates– which is actually a reasonable assumption, but it’s still just an assumption, not data. The authors then make a statistical adjustment based on that assumption, and find that death from heart disease is still lower, but not significantly lower:

            “After adjustment for this the IHD mortality in Greenland was not significantly lower than in Denmark in 1965-1974 and 1995-1998, and only slightly lower in 1975-1994.”

            The authors then note that Inuit have a higher rate of stroke (much like the Japanese, who are often held up as a model of heart health), so Inuit have roughly the same level of total cardiovascular disease as westerners.

            So, the raw numbers support my statement that Inuit have lower rates of heart disease than Americans, regardless of their higher saturated fat intake. The statistically adjusted numbers support my statement. Technically, even the addition of the stroke numbers don’t contradict my statement, since stroke is a vascular disease, but not a heart disease. Finally, the point I was making (that Lori was mistaken in claiming that saturated fat needs to be limited for good heart health) is supported by the example of the Inuit, even if we assume their level of heart disease is the same as ours. After all, if there higher intake of saturated fat doesn’t lead to higher heart disease, it suggests that saturated fat intake does not need to be limited to support heart health.

          • Mountain says:

            One more thing: we have an interesting timeline on heart health of Inuits.

            Earliest reports of contact with Inuits noted a remarkable lack of heart disease. This can’t mean heart disease was completely absent, since we’ve found mummies with some progression of the disease, but if numerous reports from the 1800s are to be believed, they had far less heart disease than westerners when their diet & culture were still almost entirely traditional.

            By the 1950s, diet & culture were approximately half-traditional, half-westernized:

            “Studies from 1952 estimated that 54% of the daily energy intake in the villages of Northwest Greenland came from traditional food [46] compared with 25% in 1991 [47].”

            This is roughly the time frame of the study Plant Positive cites, and you parrot, showing lower rates of death of heart disease among Inuits, but not nearly as dramatic as the early reports. Of course, those early reports were of a people with a very different diet & culture from the Inuit of the 1950s.

            Finally, we see that from the 1990s onward, the Inuit diet & culture are almost entirely westernized, with the staples being such “healthy, plant-based foods” as sugar, white bread, rolls, crackers, margarine, white rice, Tang, Kool-aid, and soft drinks. [Nobmann ED, Byers T, Lanier AP, Hankin JH, Yvonne Jackson M. The diet of Alaska Native adults 1987-1988. Am J Clin Nutr 1992; 55: 1024-32.] And now we see different health outcomes for the Inuit and other natives:

            “cardiovascular disease mortality rate was 30% higher for First Nations men and 76% higher for First Nations women.”

            So, over the course of 100+ years of westernization, we see Inuit diets go from almost completely animal-based to almost completely plant-based, and we see their heart disease go from remarkably low to remarkably high. It’s just a correlation, but it’s a mighty powerful correlation.

      • vbaculum says:

        The best data we have on vegetarians longevity shows that vegetarians live longer than carnists.

        • Mountain says:

          According to the study you linked to:

          “There were no significant differences between vegetarians and nonvegetarians in mortality from cerebrovascular disease, stomach cancer, colorectal cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, or all other causes combined.”

          The only place they found differences in mortality rates was with ischemic heart disease, and those differences were very interesting. They showed that people who eat fish (but not other forms of meat) had significantly lower death from heart disease than vegans. They also showed that lacto-ovo-vegetarians had lower death from heart disease than vegans.

          If this is the best data we have (your claim, not mine), you might want want to get some fish and eggs in your diet.

      • Gabby says:

        Mountain, in order to eat meat the animals must be slaughtered (obviously) so not all is beautiful. I will concede that maybe I need to do some more research on what grains may or may not be harmful to both me and the environment. I also agree that no one is perfect…. well… except for me of course.

        Kidding. ;)

  4. Sailesh Rao says:

    Here’s Dr. John McDougall on the Paleo diet:

    Plant Positive has done a brilliant point-by-point refutation of the Paleo diet claims here:

  5. Susan says:

    Nice piece!

  6. Dustin Rhodes says:

    The paleo fantasy is so seductive, because the argument seems, on the surface, perfectly rational, if not smart. It really pains me to admit it, but I was pretty much one of those people in the late 1990′s (I didn’t eat grain/bread, etc., and only organic meat, no dairy, etc.) — although, at that time, paleo wasn’t a word I knew. Even though I knew nothing about evolutionary biology or science in general, it made sense to me. But compassion made more sense. Plus, the dietary aspects completely grossed me out (at least eventually).

    I’m a completely different person now, with a completely different worldview, but it’s shocking to me how I often I am seduced by arguments about natural-ness when it comes to just about anything. It’s only my extreme vanity that keeps me away from those GODAWFUL barefoot shoes…and I sometimes feel guilty about not just eating, but LOVING, bread. Every time my back aches, the thought crosses my mind that it’s the fault of my unnatural, evil lifestyle.

    Thank goodness I have the sense not to listen to myself. Alas.

    • Sharky says:

      I too once fell under the spell of paleo, Dustin–butter, bison, the whole nine yards. The outcome was unsavory and painful to recall. After spending 8 months on the folly, I re-read Peter Singer, and Coetzee’s “Live of Animals,” and said farewell to paleo. I also love bread and lamented the loss of the Great Harvest Bread Co. store in my neighborhood (landlord jacked up rent to force them out). The appeal to nature is so seductive; to the inhabitants of a fallen world, it never loses its charm .

  7. Lori says:

    Even if one really wanted to eat a “paleo” diet, new evidence is showing or ancestors ate much less meat than was originally thought. And where they lived also had a lot to do with what they ate. It’s just as ludicrous to think that eating one kind of a diet reflects what our ancestors ate as it is to think that this is what we SHOULD be eating.

    I recently read an interesting study that concluded dogs can easily digest starch (something wolves can’t do), which indicates that they too evolved, along with humans, to be able to eat a more varied diet.

    Another important point: why not really go back (why stop at the paleolithic era?) to when we were likely eating shoots and branches and leaves? And our closest relatives (great apes) eat almost entirely plant based diets.

    Yes, the idea of what is “natural” is a rather silly notion these days. Like James says, we should instead strive to eat and live in an ideal of what we want to be, rather than what we might have once been.

    • Mountain says:

      Lori, like The Humane Hominid upthread, you’re making a fundamental mistake about the paleo diet. It doesn’t say what you should eat– since hunter-gatherers around the globe ate widely different diets– but what you shouldn’t eat.

      And really, it isn’t even making that strong a claim. What it really boils down to is this: if there are problems in modern life, the first place to look (but not the only) is at the most novel elements of modern life, the ones to which we are least likely to be well-adapted. Whether it’s novel foods in the diet, or the novelty of sitting for hours at a time (at a desk or in a car), or the novelty of not allowing our feet to move freely.

      Finally, eating nothing but shoots, branches, and leaves would be a paleo diet. I’d recommend adding the nits, grubs, and other small insects the great apes eat, but do whatever makes you happy.

      • Lori says:

        What we shouldn’t eat should be determined by science, how we feel when we eat it, and by how much harm it may cause to others, not by some notion of what is “novel” to us in modern life. Yes, there are some things that we do now in our technologically driven world that are not good for us…sitting all day, like you said, is one. But I’d argue that many things we did a hundred, few hundred or a thousand or thousands of years ago weren’t good for us either. As for grains, I’d say we’ve been eating them long enough to have adapted, and science seems to agree, as long as they are whole grains and processed as little as possible. (BTW, I’d really love to see the evidence of your claim that the most common age of death for the Paleo was 72 that isn’t from a Paleo person or site.)

        • Mountain says:

          Does UC Santa Barbara count as not a Paleo person or site? I hope so:

          You can find the average modal adult life span of 72 on page 334 of the publication (which starts on 321, so it isn’t that far into it).

          • Wait, your claim seemed to be about prehistoric hunter-gatherers, not extant ones. What’s your evidence that actual Paleolithic humans had average lifespans of 72 years?

          • Lori says:

            While it may be possible to extrapolate information from modern day hunters-gatherers to the paleo ones, the process is fraught with problems.

            In addition, this particular study doesn’t conclude anything earth shattering. It merely states that after age 40, hunter-gatherers live about as long as other humans living in the “modern” world.

            Further it states that acculturation adds to the hunter-gatherer and horticulturist-forager life span.

            More importantly, the life expectancy at age 15 of these cultures is quite low…in order of culture studied: 48, 52, 51, 31, 36. Not very impressive.

  8. markgil says:

    “I did not become a vegetarian for my health, I did it for the health of the chickens. “–Isaac Bashevis Singer

  9. CQ says:

    I’m sure glad I was ignorant of the paleo diet when I told fellow-commenter Mountain I’d stop eating monoculture grains for ethical reasons last month. My offer was based solely on what ethical vegan agricultural ecologist Helen Atthowe writes about her experiments with perennial polyculture grains grown veganically:

    In no way do I subscribe to paleo — or any other diet — for physical health reasons or in order to mimic distant ancestors. The one way I’m “healthier” after that month of abstention from grains (and the second half of the month from sugar) is mentally: I no longer have an inordinate craving for pasta, bread, cereals, crackers, rice, etc., nor are sweet desserts any longer a must for me.

    It feels great to be balanced in my thinking and eating habits. It also feels great to know that this balance came about from my earnest desire to do less harm/more good to others and earth. And, I might add, it feels great to achieve this aim, if gradually, in an intelligent, evolved way.

    I subscribe 100% to this blog’s last paragraph. Thanks for explaining me better than I can, James. :-)

    • Mountain says:

      Ah, CQ, I’m disappointed. How can you subscribe 100% to the last paragraph when it claims that paleo excludes compassion. While paleo doesn’t require compassion, it doesn’t exclude it in any way. After all, you spent a month eating (very nearly) paleo, and your diet was loaded with compassion. Even now, your diet is more paleo than it was in 2012, and I certainly think it is no less compassionate than it was then.

      • Gabby says:

        Will you please explain how paleo is compassionate? I’m genuinely curious.

        • Mountain says:

          I didn’t say it was. I said James was wrong to claim that it excludes compassion, since it doesn’t require anyone to eat anything they don’t consider compassionate. Since it is entirely possible to eat a vegan paleo diet (I know, because I did so), it is entirely possible to eat a paleo diet that is compassionate even by vegan standards. All you have to do is not eat grains, legumes, or sugars.

          • Gabby says:

            Vegan-Paleo? The bulk of the Paleondiet is to be made up of meat. Every Paleo diet pyramid shows MEAT as the main source of calorie intake. So again Vegan-Paleo? How did you manage that? Vegans intake ZERO cals from meat. Perhaps you ate a vegan diet with no grains but there’s no way to Vegan-Paleo. That’s just an oxymoron.

          • Alex says:

            I’m curious, why legumes? I can certainly see why it would be good to eliminate sugars and perhaps even some types of grain, as I have see improvements in my own health after reducing these, but what is wrong with legumes?

          • Mountain says:

            Alex, legumes carry a decent load of lectins and antinutrients, which can be harmful to your gut and bone health. They also elevate insulin levels, though not in as spiky as manner as sugars & processed grains. And their primary role in agriculture is to enable more growing of grains.

            Long story short, though, they are much less of a problem than grains or sugars, and you get much more payoff for your efforts by eliminating grains and sugars from your diet. Assuming you’re a vegan, and therefore have limited protein sources, I’d go ahead and eat legumes. It’s possible to eat a legume-free vegan diet (as I discovered), but it takes a lot of effort.

          • James says:

            I eat at a macrobiotic place routinely and they are big on legumes. My guess is that if beans are served in the right combo with other foods, the negative consequences you cite are mitigated. Yin yang and all that jazz. As for studies, I avoid citing them because it seems there’s always a counter study out there, and the next thing you know your playing dueling studies.

          • Lori says:

            James, good point about the dueling studies. Nothing more frustrating and time wasting. Common sense says eat what is best for you and take into account your own personal health, the health and well being of the animals and people who produce it, and the environment.

            I feel great from eating whole grains and legumes and terrible from eating meat. Common sense for me what to eat. Next step, getting those grains and legumes from best source possible given my location and financial situation, knowing it won’t be a perfect source, as nothing we consume is.

        • James, I know it often seems that way, but objectively, this is rarely the case. Confusionists get a lot of mileage out of giving marginal studies more weight than they carry. Preponderance of the evidence over long periods of time is what matters, and when looked at in a macro-scale, issues like evolution, global warming, and cholesterol almost never shape up as “dueling studies.” Usually, it’s the preponderance of the evidence on one “side,” and a handful of contrary studies with problematic experiment design on the other.

          This is part of the reason for Plant Positive’s volume of material: he demonstrates that the preponderance of the available studies support the lipid hypothesis, and that the studies low-carbers and paleos cite in support of their position don’t actually say wha LC and paleos say they do.

          He gets dismissed by them a lot, but none of them ever seem to be able to demonstrate what he’s wrong about.

          • Mountain says:

            You need to account for the asymetrical nature of knowledge and science. A refutation means a lot more than a confirmation.

            For example, if I claim that all vegan diets are unhealthy, and I can make a million observations of unhealthy vegans, and it doesn’t prove my claim (it would only show that there are many unhealthy vegans). But if you show me one example of a healthy vegan, my claim is proved false.

            Likewise, if you claim that all meat-eating is unhealthy, a million unhealthy meat-eaters doesn’t prove your claim. The demonstration of one healthy meat-eater would prove your claim false.

            Most of the nutritional studies we see in the media are, at best, useful starting points. But they are almost never proof of anything.

      • CQ says:

        Weighing in a little late, sorry…

        I certainly didn’t mean to offend anyone.

        I am under the impression that the paleo diet is about the health of the human and in some cases the health of the planet. Was it you, Mountain, who told me that most paleos aren’t on the diet for ethical reasons? And that I am an exception? (I don’t recall the exact words.)

        My understanding of compassion is that when someone truly feels it, they take actions that align with those feelings. In my mind, those actions would naturally include ceasing to exploit animals for food and other uses. They would also include, I now believe (thanks to Helen Atthowe’s website and your prompting, Mountain), taking steps to minimize one’s harmful impact on non-utilized animals — reducing or eliminating the purchase and consumption of animal-destructive monoculture-raised plant foods, for example.

        That paleo does not require compassion doesn’t speak very highly of its promulgators. Given that demerit, yes, I *do* think its emphasis on eating animal parts excludes compassion in the hearts of most practicing paleos. Obviously not all of them. Not you for one month.

        Certainly, if animals were left off the paleo menu, I’d consider its adherents to be acting compassionately. Hence my adoption of some ethical aspects of it. If I were to have switched to a normal (I realize there is no single standard) paleo diet from a vegan one, I’d call myself distinctly uncompassionate. And that, I think, is what James meant.

        When Helen markets her polyculture/permaculture/perennial/veganic grains, I guess I’ll no longer be part-paleo!

        Selective compassion, wherein one has the ability to act in the best interests of all animals but choses not to, doesn’t sound like compassion to me.

        Here’s a newly released example of compassion that I think will resonate with you, Mountain:

  10. Taylor says:

    Here are some more articles on the subject.

    Neanderthals roasted vegetables

    …and ate grains.

    Our digestive systems have evolved to deal with agriculture

    …and even dogs evolved by eating grains and potatoes.

    Now I’m just waiting for someone to discover that cave people ate soybeans.

  11. Brian says:

    Great post, paleo dieting is pseudo-scientific nonsense. I wish our education on evolutionary theory was better so people don’t fall for the idea that evolutionary theory has any role in our dieting, because if it did, it would prevent some very unhealthy people from procreation.

  12. CaptainSakonna says:

    Just coming from a psychological standpoint, I’ve never understood the attraction of trying to eat like a caveman. We don’t emulate cave people in any other aspect of our life style, and most of the changes we’ve made since the time when cave people lived are considered “progress.” So why eat their food? I much prefer a techno-futurist philosophy that says we tinker with things (including our own diets) to make them better, rather than clinging to the past.

  13. Lori says:

    Mountain. I actually really do respect you and I enjoy reading your posts. I like getting other opinions and views. So thank you. I also think your idea of the Paleo diet is quite different from everything I’ve read and seen. It certainly doesn’t seem to be the mainstream Paleo view.

    But I refuse to believe that we can draw any real conclusion about what we shouldn’t be eating from studying what our ancestors ate. From everything I’ve seen, they didn’t indeed live the long lives you Paleos claim, but let’s say they did. There are so many factors that that could be attributed to (they walked long distances, they were mostly outdoors getting lots of sun and vitamin D, and again, they most likely ate diets very high in fruits, nuts, seeds, roots, etc. and fish.) We know that fish can be a healthy food for humans (except now we have so many chemicals that are ingested along with fish, it’s debatable), but that doesn’t mean we need to be eating fish. We can get pretty much the same results by taking flax oil. We have science and modern day knowledge and techniques to eat a good, healthy diet that doesn’t require the exploitation of animals. Just because most humans don’t eat a healthy diet doesn’t mean we can’t. I don’t see looking back to people who ate what they could find as being a very good model for the future.

    In addition, I don’t have the time or energy right now to link you to the myriad of studies that show saturated fats to be bad, or that show whole grains to be good (and I doubt you’d change your mind anyway), but as to the French, I’ll just point out that they eat LOTS of bread. And the Japanese, who live some of the longest lives, eat lots of rice and soy.

    • James says:

      Since when is an act morally justified on the basis of life extension?

    • Brian says:

      Comparing groups of people’s diets, also known as ecological studies are by far one of the weakest evidence with regards to nutrition.

      The problem with Paleo isn’t the arguments over whether we eat is healthy or not. If they can show with randomized case/control studies that eating grains increase risk for x disease, then fine. I’ll listen to the evidence, just don’t go making naturalistic fallacies and appealing to evolution and romanticizing about how our ancestors lived.

  14. Lori says:

    Mountain, I was thinking that it would be more Paleo to eat a few chickens killed by your own hand rather than supporting a killing business. And I figured that since you eat eggs, you wouldn’t need that much meat. As a matter of fact, that you eat that much meat (300 lbs) is quite shocking to me. (Perhaps you have many children?)

    To me killing chickens and killing the cow are both wrong. Particularly considering that there is so much evidence that vegetarian and vegan diets and whole grains and legumes are healthy.

    Let’s talk 2013. Not Paleos, but science savvy Moderns. (I told myself I’d not get into the study citing circle, but really, I’m sick of the whole grain and legume bashing when the science that they are healthy is so overwhelming.

    Yes, the second link is a list on a website that promotes whole grains, however, the number of studies and the quality of studies can’t be ignored. And yes, some studies are comparing whole grains to refined grains, but many are not. Many compare people who are lots of whole grains with those who ate smaller amounts. The larger amounts correlated with lower risk of disease and higher health.

    The proof of how the body reads Sat Fats.

    And though I understand the claims of grass-fed beef, it still contains sat fats.

    Sat Fats and refined grains…bad. Whole grains, lugumes…good.

    There are so many more studies and articles and recommendations from impressive institutions, it’d take me all night to cite them all. But to say that whole grains and legumes are not healthy is just not supported by the majority of the evidence. It’s a fad. I’m convinced, by Paleos to sell books and products and justify eating animals. I think when you have such overwhelming evidence of saturated fat being bad and whole grains being good, it pretty much makes the argument about Paleos and evolution moot.

    So why not admit it Mountain? You like meat. You want meat. So just say that.

    • Mountain says:

      I’m a fan of you and most of your posts, Lori, but not this one. Think about how that ending would sound if I turned it back on you:

      So why not admit it Lori? You like grains. You want grains. So just say that.

      It’s rude. It suggests I’m being intellectually dishonest. Is it that hard to understand that I believe what I believe as sincerely as you believe what you believe? Maybe I’m dumb, or just flat-out wrong, but I’m not dishonest.

      Finally, I’ve given up meat. It was only for a month, but I gave it up. Simultaneously, I gave up alcohol, grains, and dairy. Of the four, meat was the easiest commitment to stay true to. Grains, even though previously I only ate them a few times a month (in what the paleo world refers to as cheat meals), were the hardest. Have you given up grains, even for month? Would you ever dare to try?

      • Lori says:

        Mountain, I wrote a long (and I thought kind of clever) comment apologizing and explaining my two forays into grain deprivation, which didn’t seem to make it on here. I hit submit, but ran off to meet friends at a vegan restaurant afterwards. Maybe didn’t hit submit hard or squarely enough. And now I’m too stuffed with vegan cashew cheese and butternut squash quesadillas to reconstruct it.

        The short of it: I apologize for coming across rude. I know you believe what you say.

        Yes, I’ve gone without grain on two separate occasions, to personal ill effect.

        So, I will end this comment with a sincere statement: I like grains. I want grains. I will continue to eat grains. :-)

  15. Rudy Steffen says:

    Here is an interesting read; new evidence is showing how celiac disease, the inability to digest gluten, is a result of a lack of breast feeding as an infant, diet and antibiotics. All of these factors, of course, influence the homeostasis of gut bacteria.

    If you didn’t know already, 80% of the US antibiotics go to farmed animals.

    • Mountain says:

      Rudy when it comes to that aspect of farming, I am in complete agreement with you. Obviously, we don’t agree on every last detail, but I think my position is far closer those of any of the vegans on this blog than it is to our current farming practices.

      • Rudy Steffen says:

        It was not my intention for that post to be directed at you Mountain. The “you” in the last poorly implemented sentence was to the general reader.

  16. Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten says:

    There seems to be quite a few public paleo or ancestral diet advocates who claimed to have migrated from vegetarian diets.

    However, if these former vegetarians actually undertook it not as an ultimate health diet, but as a principled position that’s keep it from dying out as mere health fad long ago, they might have done a little bit more historical homework that would have helped avoid repeating the mistake that the vegetarian movement had frequently engaged in, and unfortunately in many cases, hasn’t fully out grown. Vegans and vegetarians really shouldn’t be surprised, puzzled, or smug here.

    Throughout health advocacy of vegetarianism, Western vegetarian history has entertained the idea that it would be best for humankind pursue a diet from our more natural Golden Era.

    The biblical Genesis narrative described the first man and woman on Earth as herbivorous before the Fall. While most of us accept this as myth now, Christianity was a bit more entrenched in culture. Even for religious thinkers who didn’t accept the account as literally true, they did feel that the Biblical parable was communicating an allegorical divine truth.

    Early understanding of evolution lent a scientific veneer and secular concept of the noble herbivorous savage. Our early ancestors, those human-like primates that were encountered during global European expansion, seemed to thrive on fruits and vegetation. When Europeans encountered “lesser-developed” or “primitive” peoples elsewhere on the planet, they seemed to consume a lot less meat than Europeans, yet appeared to have robust health, strength and spiritual intuitiveness.

    With such evidence both divine and naturalistic, surely, humankind’s natural state of diet must have been that of phytophagy.

    We can appreciate why a vegetarian in the eighteenth or nineteenth century would hold such views, but as a modern thinkers, vegetarian, vegan or otherwise we look back at these ideas as quaint and misguided. Luckily for vegetarianism, the advocacy doesn’t need these erroneous claims.

    The problem isn’t that the data was poor back then. The root of the problem is the assumption of ascribing diets of some yesteryear to the way humans are meant to eat and live. It didn’t pan out over the centuries for vegetarianism, so there’s little reason to anticipate that the “fresh” new assumption inherent in the paleo or ancestral diet would pan out now.

    Not that evolutionary biology concerning human well-being is worthless, but there are far less subjective data regarding why foods behave a certain way in out digestive tracks verifiable through biochemistry (and other observable methods) rather than running with the ideologically driven starting point of eating like out ancestors; whether they be apes, cave-peoples, or our great-great-grandmother, romanticized into mythological Adams and Eves.

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