The paleo diet has been gaining in popularity recently. But it’s more than just a diet. It’s really about eating the kind of food our body expects. And, for some people, it might also serve as a point of personal departure toward a more authentically human mode of living in general.
The basic idea behind eating paleo mirrors the main thesis of my book, Born Expecting the Pleistocene. Human DNA does not reflect the Neolithic in any meaningful way. Our physiological systems—like our social and psychological tendencies—have evolved to accommodate foraging hunter-gatherer lifestyles. Legumes, grains, and dairy—let alone high fructose corn syrup, GMO soybean oil, and factory-farmed meat—were not a regular part of the Pleistocene menu.
There are a number of good paleo blogs with recipes and other tips aimed at accommodating our evolved dietary needs to the realities of life in modern industrial technoculture.
I have been eating mostly paleo for several years now, and can offer anecdotal support for every one of its purported benefits. For example, I noticed an immediate and dramatic change in my energy levels and overall mental clarity the moment I stopped eating wheat products and reduced dairy to an occasional condiment. At this point, I have completely eliminated dairy and all grains (even starchy grain-like seeds such as buckwheat). I eat a lot more meat than I used to, most of it either grass-fed or wild. I found that I have a real affinity for buffalo. Four-season cold-frame gardening keeps me supplied with fresh organic greens year-round. An occasional hummus jones has kept me from completely dropping legumes. And then there’s alcohol—which is why I say “mostly paleo”—although a sizable proportion of my (moderate but regular) alcohol ingestion comes by way of homemade mead. Honey wine, by the way, is remarkably easy to make, although it takes considerable willpower to keep from drinking it before its flavor reaches full maturity.
Food is important, but it is only one part of an authentic human lifestyle. We are also being forced to engage in artificial “processed” behavior and to participate in unnatural forms of interpersonal interaction that leave us socially and emotionally malnourished as well. Civilization deforms and destroys the social and environmental input that is essential for healthy human maturation, and replaces it with conditions that engender chronic immaturity, acute dependence, and a perpetual state of emotional need—a state of need that is easily exploited by the superficial enticements of consumer culture with its technological trinkets and two-dimensional community affiliations.
The increasing popularity of the paleo diet might simply reflect a point in the natural life course of yet another consumer fad. But maybe, just maybe, some of those who choose to eat from an undomesticated plate might start to wonder what it would be like to think with an undomesticated mind.
Dairy, grains, and legumes today. Oil, iphones, and the international monetary fund tomorrow.