Two Philosophies


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I was getting quite disappointed today reading Art De Vany's new book, which is out on Kindle. He's one of the godfathers of the paleo movement and it was though his essay and blog that I discovered this way of eating. A couple of years ago he put his blog behind a paywall and as a poor undergrad I didn't have the money to spare for it. I keep meaning to subscribe now that I have a "real job," but haven't gotten around to it. Apparently since our parting, my conception of this diet has diverged. Reading his book and Cordain's new cookbook I can't help but think "I don't eat like this at I even paleo?"

The food section of Art's book kind of breaks my heart and make me not want to read the rest:

  • "Red meat is fine, in moderation, but (white-meat) poultry is generally healthier."
  • "because the truth is that no fat is particularly good for you."
  • "But most common kitchen oils—canola, vegetable, corn, palm—are unnecessary. If you must cook in oil and want to do so at a higher temperature than permitted by olive oil, then use canola oil (made from rapeseed but called “canola” because it is a more felicitous name)"
  • "The occasional beet or raw carrot is fine, too."
  • "It goes without saying that butter and lard should be avoided completely."
  • "Make four hard-boiled eggs, but don't eat two of the yolks. Eggs are healthy, but you should skip the yolks now and then."

It's like we don't even eat the same diet. My diet is centered around the idea of fat being something good— a bearer of vitamins and good energy. The idea of restricting beets, egg yolks, red meat, or butter is horrifying to me. As is the idea of using canola as anything but a industrial shoe-cleaner (it works OK for this). Besides, where are the mentions of organ meats? If we are going to be orthodox, let's at least go all out. A commenter on my Cordain post posted out a study that Cordain did on game fat content. Sorry, turkey breast and olive oil are a lame substitute for bacon, but they are also a lame substitute for elk marrow. 

Luckily for Art, he doesn't seem to follow this diet himself too badly, as he describes many meals of ribs, which aren't a heralded lean meat by any stretch. Whatever he's doing he looks great, but as a woman who is planning to bear children, I think his fat and carbohydrate restriction is unnecessary and I'm going to look towards a diet a little more nourishing. Furthermore, it's hard for me to recommend something unnecessarily restrictive to a newbie. Robb Wolf's book gives targeted restrictions and biochemical reasoning behind them. 

In the end his views are colored by how he got into this, which was through a loving effort to help his diabetic son and wife. So carb restriction is probably a residual of that.

But I suspect is that too much interest in our paleolithic past is blinding because we can't know that much about it, so we get locked into just-so stories based on VERY limited datasets and the ultimate premise that we haven't changed much since on a genetic level. But we have.

In the end, my diet is based on my essentially conservative nature, which leads me to put more stock in living traditions than in bones. I'm more interested in Kitavans than I am in cro-magnons. We can learn more, on a holistic level, from them than from our paleolithic ancestors. Yes, "nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution," but I'm interested in evolution as a light to gain more insight rather than as a diet in itself.

Really, how much can you get from paleolithic remains? That we ate animals and fish. What else did we eat? How did we eat them? There are little glimpses here in there in the hearth fires from eons ago, but we mostly have guesses.

It doesn't make sense for carbs to be suboptimal in the light of the Kitavans. Or for red meat, butter, beets, or egg yolks to be suboptimal in light of traditional cultures that eat them. If these things were behind diseases of civilization, we'd see such diseases in traditional cultures eating them. But we don't.

Nassim Taleb rises above this dietary din in his essay in the book, espousing a rather odd diet that seems to be amalgam of evolutionary principles and his own heritage. Apples are OK as long as they are an old variety. "No carbs that do not have a Biblical Hebrew or Doric Greek name (i.e. did not exist in the ancient Mediterrean)." His writing and persona are about the three traditions that formed him: "Greek Orthodox, French Catholic and Arab." His version of the diet seems to meld evolutionary principles to such living traditions, which has always been my own goal. It's interesting because the fasting/feasting traditions of Orthodoxy seem to fit in quite well with intermittent fasting.

As an aside, I love the stubborn complexity of his essay in contrast to Art's writing in the book, which seems to have been watered down for mass consumption by an editor. Taleb's writing has always said to me "I'm not going to dumb this down for you."

More on this matter later...