How do I love thee, neolithic foods


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Have you seen Chris Masterjohn's latest post? Since his last posts have been rather serious, I thought he was seriously going to write a paleo book. ANd I thought...well that's quite a bit unlike the Chris I know and a little odd to boot. But seriously, it reminds me of all the reasons I'm not writing a book any time soon.

First, my unabashed love of many neolithic things. It brings to mind this comment I saw on a Meghan McArdle blog post about Nestle selling in the Amazon:

Makes me think of an account I read, I can't remember where, of some travelers or explorers in a very remote area on some island I think in Indonesia or somewhere like that. Anyway, the travelers met a local hunter gatherer and shared their dinner of white rice with him. They wrote that he cried because he had never tasted anything so delicious before. Imagine living on roots and leaves and then having people complain if you get something tastier.

I have a little book written by an actual archaeologist on prehistoric cookery. Needless to say, I have not made any of the bland and miserable-sounding recipes in that book.

I have no desire for asceticism for the sake of asceticism. Yes, I like to eat with evolution in mind, but unless someone comes up with a study that shows that my lovely neolithic goose rilettes are culpable for ruining health, I am unlikely to trade them for soggy sea weed and unseasoned muskrat stew.

It's been quite some time since I read this book, but it has the most honest title: Evolution of the Human Diet: The Known, The Unknown, and The Unknowable. Yes, there is much not known and even more that is unknowable. We know very basic things about the paleolithic diet, enough for a very basic framework. But not much more. We know their diets were high in protein from isotope studies, we know they ate nose to tail from butchery marks, we know they ate some plants from coprolites (though these studies have the worst methodology), and yeah...

There is SO much pop anthropology floating out there right now. Like the idea that cultures like the Inuit or the Kitavans are paleolithic relics. It shows just how far this movement has gone away from actual anthropology, which recognizes that the paleolithic is an era that is OVER. There are no more paleolithic cultures. There are some foragers left, but ALL of these groups have had significant contact with agriculturalists and many have also been agriculturalists at some point in history. This is called agricultural regression and its well-known in anthropology, but apparently has not taken hold of pop culture, though the Boston Globe had an article on SE Asia that featured it recently. So most modern foragers are NOT living fossils. Laughably, many of these cultures mistakenly held up as examples of the Stone Age are not even foragers. The Kitavans, for example, are horticulturalists. Horticulture is a form of agriculture, which differs in some very significant social, cultural, and environmental ways from agrarianism. It's shifting vs. settled, communalism vs. private property, hoe vs. plough, agrobiodiversity vs. monoculture. It's different from the agriculture we know and it's almost always accompanied by foraging, but some foraging does not a forager make.

I wish mainly in this post to demolish the arrogance that is pervading the "paleo" movement. It's rather extraordinary since in many ways the movement is a reaction to the arrogance of mainstream health authorities.

I was happy to see that it seems Erwan wishes to do this as well:

The whole Paleo approach has become very fashionable with various camps arguing over a number of things that we really can’t know about for sure. How do you answer the critics who say this approach romanticises a brutish existence?

Let me be a bit provocative here, purposely: I do not care about my ancestors. They’re all dead!

An evolutionary approach is only interesting if it helps us, people of today, people that are still alive. In that sense, I am not interested in a so called “truth”, but in what we can experience today, and how understanding our past may help us improve our present lives. I am not living a caveman lifestyle, I’m sorry. I am a man of today, I’m in the here and now. I am not “sprinting and lifting heavy things” thinking that I am mimicking a caveman lifestyle. That is BULLSHIT. I am sprinting and lifting heavy things (among many other things I train) in order to be ready to do so in today’s world when the need arises. It’s about real-life preparedness and not role playing. MovNat is about connecting to reality, not to a reality that does not exist anymore.