Friday, August 01, 2014

Hunter-gatherers: who’s for the paleo diet?

Forget gluten-free. Forget vegan. Forget vegetarian. (You have to be kidding…)

Nope, these days, the way to go is paleo.

I had vaguely heard of it. And I was vaguely associating it with Gwyneth Paltrow, perhaps because her last name has a paleo ring to it. Turns out associating Gwyneth with paleo is a BINGO. (Why am I not surprised?)

But it really rose to the fore of my consciousness when I read Elizabeth Kolbert’s account in The New Yorker on her week-long experiment feeding herself and her family on a caveman diet:

The Paleolithic diet—“paleo,” for those in the know—represents a new, very old form of eating, one confined to the sorts of food available in pre-agricultural days. These foods, as it happens, were not many. According to Sarah Ballantyne, the author of “The Paleo Approach,” a paleo diet consists of “meats, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.” According to John Durant, the author of “The Paleo Manifesto,” even seeds are suspect and should be avoided. (A genuinely Paleolithic diet, Durant concedes, probably ought to include human flesh; however, he does not advise this.

Now there’s no doubt in my mind that the world would be a better fitter place if we down on processed foods, carbs, and sugars.

There’d probably be less obesity, fewer cavities, and diminished spare tires all around.

I suspect that if I cut out carbs (and chocolate) for a couple of weeks, I’d be a thinner person. But where’s the fun in that?

And there’s a reason why I crossed out better and replaced it with fitter up there.

The last time most of humanity followed, by necessity, a paleo diet, there were maybe five million people on the planet…With a global population of seven billion people, heading rapidly toward eight billion, there’s certainly no turning back now (even if paleo does, in fact, prevent zits). Pound for pound, beef production demands at least ten times as much water as wheat production, and, calorie for calorie, it demands almost twenty times as much energy. Livestock are major sources of greenhouse-gas emissions, not just because of the fuel it takes to raise them but also because they do things like belch out methane and produce lots of shit, which in turn produces lots of nitrous oxide. …Eating a pound of whole wheat, by contrast, is like driving less than a mile. All of which is to say that, from an environmental standpoint, paleo’s “Let them eat steak” approach is a disaster.

Swell! You’ll look better, but the world will go faster to environmental hell in a shopping basket.

And, come on, how long did the average hunter-gatherer get to enjoy his or her hunter-gatherer lifestyle? Twenty-five years? (Ah, but, they were twenty-five years spent as svelte and toned as Gwyneth Paltrow.)

Not content to just eat like a paleo – or come as close to authentic paleo as you can when your hunting-gathering involves tossing a plastic-wrapped package of grass-fed beef into your cart at Whole Foods – some folks are embracing their inner-Stone Ager and going whole hog.

Paleo sleepers don’t use mattresses. (Wonder if they also sleep on stone floors, and avoid use of heat and AC?) When they wake up and head out for a run – not for purposes of hunting-gathering; they’ve found the hambone to gnaw on in their decidedly non-paleo fridge – they wear “minimalist shoes,” which attempt to replicate the barefootin’ experience that would be too chancy on city streets.

There are even signs of a paleo hygiene movement: coat yourself with bacteria and say goodbye to soap and shampoo.

I can pretty much guarantee that Gwyneth Paltrow has not kissed soap and shampoo aside. But with celebrities, you never know. I’ve read in a couple of places that Brad Pitt smells pretty bad.

I will not be taking on the paleo diet. If anything, I’d find myself veering in the vegetarian direction. Not that I’ll fully go there, either. The occasional hamburger, BLT and steak tips are just too darned good.

But maybe I’ll forage through the freezer and see what’s there in terms of meat.

I know that there is some grass-fed hamburger, purchased last winter when this was one of the few food stuffs that appealed to my husband as his life ended. There are some chicken breasts. Some bacon. Maybe some ground pork I used to make the spicy Chinese green beans that Jim liked.

At some point soon, I will be replacing my fridge as part of my kitchen do-over. (I’ve been watching too much HGTV, plus I need a project.)  So I might as well start working down the inventory.

I will ignore the gnocchi, the frozen lasagna, the last sheath of Girl Scout Thin Mints that I spied just the other day. I will spend a day or two as a paleo – a paleo with a George Foreman Grill, at any rate – and see if I start to look like Gwyneth Paltrow.

Gosh, I feel trendy already!


Frank Lesser has an amusing take on all this over on Slate, with a Victorian Orphan Diet, a Founding Fathers Diet, etc.

No comments: