At time during our various yogi diet discussions, someone has mentioned — even as just a question — the paleo diet fad.
I’ll admit, it always struck me as yet another silly tweak to our basic diet that is well packaged for media re-consumption. Not that it doesn’t work. I don’t know, as nothing I read about it made me want to try it. It sounded .. well, as I said, silly.
I also tended to be turned off by the … hmmm… caveman-like attitudes of a lot of the people promoting the diet I encountered online. Anybody who doesn’t see the obvious benefits to eating like our fore-fore-fore-fore-bearers was not much better than a Neanderthal. Certainly not as smart.
But wait, you’re saying (or should be). You two are all about your raw, wheat-free diet.
True. So, so sadly true. I hope, though, that in discussing this diet we never say, “You have to eat this way.” We suggest it, yes, as something to try. (That was how it started for Bobbie.) If you get results and like those results, then you can consider continuing. But always make sure it is making you healthier and feel better.
We like the results, and so are sticking with the diet. (Doctor’s visits suggest it is healthy for us, too). I think it is fair to say we hate the diet, itself. (For me, at least, I guess our diet and our asana practices are much the same in that.) We aren’t going to lord our diet over anyone. It’s silly, too. But for us, it works.
And that brings me to the paleo diet. A new book is out, Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet and How We Live, that cooks up a bunch of the paleo diet claims more tenderly than a wooly mammoth stew. The author is evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk. Salon has a nice quick piece summarizing things, including how Zuk first encountered paleo diet chief Loren Cordain four years ago. Two key errors are the book’s focus:
Although she writes, “I would not dream of denying the evolutionary heritage present in our bodies,” Zuk briskly dismisses as simply “wrong” many common notions about that heritage. These errors fall into two large categories: misunderstandings about how evolution works and unfounded assumptions about how paleolithic humans lived. The first area is her speciality, and “Paleofantasy” offers a lively, lucid illustration of the intricacies of this all-important natural process. When it comes to the latter category, the anthropological aspect of the problem, Zuk treads more gingerly. Not only is this not her own field, but, as she observes, it is “ground often marked by acrimony and rancor” among the specialists themselves.
To that first error, Zuk presents examples of how quickly evolution can work: five years in the case of one species of cricket and something along the lines of several thousand for humans, including changes in how we digest (or fail to) some foods. (Hi cow’s milk!)
As for how our ancestors lives, Salon sums of Zuk’s argument this way:
For this reason, generalizations about the typical hunter-gatherer lifestyle are spurious; it doesn’t exist. With respect to what people ate (especially how much meat), the only safe assumption was “whatever they could get,” something that to this day varies greatly depending on where they live. Recently, researchers discovered evidence that people in Europe were grinding and cooking grain (a paleo-diet bugaboo) as far back as 30,000 years ago, even if they weren’t actually cultivating it. “A strong body of evidence,” Zuk writes, “points to many changes in our genome since humans spread across the planet and developed agriculture, making it difficult at best to point to a single way of eating to which we were, and remain, best suited.”
In other words: We don’t know what they ate. So to plan out a diet in 2013 that captures it is a bit difficult. And, I think the implication is, kind of stupid.
The Salon piece then moves to a final point that, on reflection, bears some relevance to us yogis and our “5,000-year-old” tradition:
Why are we so intent on establishing how paleolithic people ate, exercised, coupled up and raised their kids? That’s a question Zuk considers only in passing, but she hits the nail pretty solidly on the head: “We have a regrettable tendency to see what we want to see and rationalize what we already want to do. That often means that if we can think of a way in which a behavior, whether it is eating junk food or having an affair, might have been beneficial in an ancestral environment, we feel vindicated, or at least justified.” Even if we wanted to live like cavemen, Zuk points out (noting that the desire to do so somehow never seems to extend to moving into mud huts), we couldn’t. In reality, we don’t have their bodies, and don’t live in their world. Even the animals and plants we eat have changed beyond recognition from their paleolithic ancestors. It turns out we’re stuck being us.
I think if you replaced “live like cavemen” with “live like ancient yogis,” you might capture a bit of the yogi spirit, as well as some fundamental problems with our attempts to grasp at whatever it was that was going on 5,000 years ago. I’ll admit it isn’t a perfect analogy: We’re trying to practice or follow activities that have been passed down through those thousands of years, at some point codified into writing, and not recapture how yoga was practice in 3,000 BCE. Or are we?
I think I’ll grab a carrot stick and chew on that some more.
Posted by Steve