Anthropologist writes that the paleo diet is not the key to a healthy future


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I'm going to call the paleo diet portrayed in the media the PaleoStrawman diet. It contains only lean meat and non-starchy vegetables. The meat comes from factory farms. The latest place it has showed up on is NPR, where anthropologist Barbara King contends that it is not the way to a healthy future for the world. She says she has interacted with paleo dieters online and has read Paleo magazine, but it doesn't show at all.

She says:

  • Paleo means more factory farmed animals
  • Paleo means more grains diverted from feeding the hungry to feeding livestock
  • Paleo has a dearth of carbohydrates
  • Paleo is a monolith
  • Paleo is bad for a crowded planet

I think there are only a few holdouts in the lean meat camp. The no-starch camp is in its death throes as we speak, embracing a doctor who believes anyone who eats carbohydrates has diabetes and drfiting further into denialism territory. There is not a single paleo book on the market that I can think of that advocates eating grain-fed meat. PaleoStrawman has gotten considerable criticism from within the ancestral health community.

But in the end, it doesn't matter, because even if the paleo diet involved chomping down on grain-fed steaks all day, it would have nothing to do with our ability to feed the world. 

We all want to believe our diet has the power to change the world, but it does not. If every person in NYC chose to stop eating grain-fed meat today, it would not help people in Africa. When grain doesn't go to the feedlot, it doesn't get sent to Africa either. Farmers would chose to grow less grain or grow it for biofuels. We already produce enough food to feed the entire population of the world. What is hurting poor countries is political corruption and poor infrastructure. What poor countries need is good leaders and investment in infrastructure and education. 

As for vegetarianism and factory farming, sadly, the worst offenders in factory farming are vegetarian products such as dairy and eggs. Vegetarianism is more efficient compared to grain-fed meat partially because the industrialization of eggs and dairy has made these industries very productive. However, they are the most cruel and environmentally destructive animal industries besides the industrial hog farm industry. Jonathan Safran Foer, certainly no paleo dieter, recommends in Eating Animals that if you care about animals, conventional eggs and dairy are the first foods you eliminate.

As for the anthropology, it makes little sense to worry about australopithecines being vegetarian, a hominid with significantly different morphology. Or to worry about the local context very much. Of course people ate diverse diets then. You can eat a diverse locally-based paleo diet now. And for those of us in the North, it makes absolute sense to eat meat rather than trucked-in grain products. Solutions for world hunger do not have to involve the same diet for everyone. Sustainable solutions will be local solutions.

There was an excellent and rather balanced article by anthropologists on the paleo diet in Good magazine that I do recommend.